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BOOK REVIEW

Stuart Bradley – JOHN MORTON: adversary of Richard III, power behind the Tudors (Amberley 2019)

 

John Morton served the English crown for a almost forty years during one of the most turbulent periods in English history. He wielded considerable influence at the courts of three kings. First, in the Lancastrian household of Henry VI: as an eminent lawyer, he was one of the draftsmen of the bill of attainder against the Yorkists in 1459, which triggered Richard, duke of York’s claim to the throne. In 1471, after the final defeat of the Lancastrians, Morton entered the service of the Yorkist king Edward IV, by whom he was pardoned. He soon became a valued member of Edward’s inner circle of advisors and was appointed Master of the Rolls in1472. Following the death of Edward IV in 1483, he rebelled against Richard III and became a pivotal player in the subsequent Tudor conquest of England. From 1485 until his death in 1500, Morton served as Henry VII’s Lord Chancellor, and as Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury. At various time during his career, therefore, Morton had been head of the judiciary, head of the church in England and head of the king’s government. For the last fourteen years of his life he was, excepting the king, the most powerful man in England. He was the archetypal Tudor enforcer: a model for the likes of Wolsey, Cromwell, Cranmer and the Cecils. And yet despite his fame, a serious study of Morton’s life has been much neglected. Although historians have explored aspects of his career, Dr Stuart Bradley’s recent book is only the second biography of Morton to be published in the five centuries since his death and the first to be published since Victorian times. It seems strange that such an important historical figure is chiefly remembered — if he is remembered at all — for his association with a shabby piece of Tudor logic known as Morton’s Fork. A reassessment of his whole life is, therefore, well overdue.

 

A major difficulty facing any biographer of John Morton is that we know so little about the private man. What we know of his character and interests we get only from his public works and from what others tell us about him. We know of his personal interest in religious architecture from the church building works he commissioned or patronized. We know of his preoccupation with civil and canon law, and oratory from his few surviving books, and we can gauge his piety and his spirituality from his will. But we have little from him that provides insight into his political reasoning or actions. Even examples of his signature are rare. His cenotaph at Canterbury Cathedral was broken centuries ago and his bones scattered. All that remains of the earthly John Morton is his skull. We do not even have a painted portrait of him.

 

It is against that background that Dr Bradley has approached his task. He believes that John Morton was a “…man whose story needs to be told in full and who deserves to be brought from the obscurity where for too long he has remained hidden.” To that end he has published a volume containing 288 pages, of which less than half (125) are devoted to a narrative of Morton’s life. In addition, there are 75 pages of appendices, 44 pages of footnotes and an extensive bibliography. The narrative comprises a conventional rendering of people, dates and places in more or less chronological order, and is focused mainly on Morton’s contribution to the Tudor state. Consequently, the major part of Morton’s life and particularly his career during the reigns of Henry VI and Edward IV, and his controversial rebellion against Richard III receive substantially less consideration. That is a regrettable lacuna in this biography, which is made worse, for me, by the author’s rather glib analysis of Morton’s political motives after 1471.

 

I mention these things now because they are relevant to a question that has puzzled me from the start: is Dr Bradley’s book aimed at the general reader or the scholar? The book’s subtitle, the presentation of the sleeve and the scarcity of detailed analysis in the narrative suggested to me that it is intended for a general readership; however, the quality and the quantity of the footnotes are more indicative of a book aimed at the specialist scholar. If Dr Bradley was writing for the casual reader, his tendency to quote from medieval manuscripts written in 15th century English or Latin, without a modern English translation, is baffling. It is a problem with the main narrative but more particularly with some footnotes, which are written in Latin. Moreover, some of the footnotes might in my personal opinion have been better incorporated into the main narrative, to aid the reading flow and prevent the crosschecking of footnotes becoming a distracting chore.

 

It would also have helped, I think, if Dr Bradley had included in his introduction information about the process of writing and publishing this book. There is no indication, for instance, whether other scholars saw the manuscript before publication, or commented on it with advice or correction.  Finally on this aspect, the schedule of Morton’s clerical and secular appointments was an invaluable source in helping me to quickly chart Morton’s career and his rewards. Similarly, the schedule overview of Henry VII’s and Morton’s itineraries, though long-winded, provided a visual representation of the author’s assertion that Henry VII relied completely on Morton to protect the crown’s interests during his own absence from London.

 

Even so, and despite my reservation, it is impossible not to admire the depth of Dr Bradley’s research of original manuscript and calendar sources, and of secondary works. This is nothing if not a thoroughly researched account of Morton’s life, which brings to life his learning and the softer, artistic side of his nature to counter the harshness of his reputation as a wily and inveterate schemer.

 

Dr Bradley makes a good case for Morton’s value and effectiveness as a royal servant. The longevity of his service, the speed with which he became one of Edward IV’s intimates, the trust placed in him by Henry VII and the rich rewards he received for his services are testament to his efficiency and capacity for hard work in a royal cause. His political acumen and his networking skills were particularly important to Henry VII in establishing his reign against the Yorkist remnants after Bosworth. Morton had learned the lessons of the past. He understood the damage done to the authority of the crown by ‘over-mighty subjects’ during the Wars of the Roses. Throughout the closing decades of the fifteenth century, therefore, he worked tirelessly to enforce law and order, and the primacy of royal authority. It was principally with his advice that Henry established his authority, rebuilt royal finances and founded the Tudor dynasty. Morton was also a restraining influence on Henry; a feature that is more obvious after Morton’s death, when Henry’s avaricious nature becomes more pronounced.

 

The claim that Perkin Warbeck was the youngest son of Edward IV had, if true, obvious, serious consequences for Henry and for Morton. When asked by the Milanese Ambassador if Warbeck was really one of the Princes in the Tower, as claimed by the King of Scots and the Duchess of Burgundy, Morton replied: ‘indeed he is nor reputed the son of King Edward in this kingdom.’ It is a curiously oblique answer and certainly not a plain denial of Warbeck’s claim. “Was this duplicity?’ asks Dr Bradley “Was Morton so implicated in the Tudor regime that recognizing the true claimant was impossible and that by standing with Henry he was seeking to save his own skin? “ Those are good questions and they are important ones. The fate of Edward IV’s sons is the defining mystery of the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII, and it is immensely disappointing that having asked these questions, Dr Bradley dismisses the various possibilities out of hand (“It seems highly unlikely”), on the basis that Morton believed the two Princes were already dead and that Warbeck was obviously an imposter – a ‘mawmet‘.

 

Dr Bradley’s treatment of Morton’s life and service during the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III is perhaps one of the least satisfactory aspects of this book. Central to his vindication of Morton’s behaviour is the notion that he was a honourable man whose loyalty to the crown was both absolute and principled. For example, he justifies Morton’s ten year rebellion against Edward IV after Towton thus: “This behaviour pre-figures his actions between 1483 and 1485 when he actively worked against Richard III during his second period in exile. When reviewing Morton’s career it seems he held firmly to principles of hereditary and legal legitimacy, and while Henry may [sic] have been defeated comprehensively in the field he was still the anointed king to whom Morton had sworn allegiance.” To be frank, this statement smacks of special pleading since it ignores the facts. Richard Duke of York claimed the throne in 1460 by right of inheritance; subsequently, the combined lords in parliament confirmed the superiority of his hereditary title over that of the Lancastrian incumbent. As York’s heir, Edward IV confirmed the lords’ judgement in trial by combat at Towton. The corollary of Yorkist legitimacy is, of course, Lancastrian illegitimacy. It was the central tenet of York’s claim that Henry VI, his father and his grandfather were — and always had been — usurpers. In that context, Morton’s adherence to the claim of a usurping Lancastrian and his efforts to gain the support of a foreign power against the legitimate Yorkist king of England can be seen for what they were: treason. To suggest that he remained loyal to Henry from his belief in ‘principles of heredity legitimacy’ is implausible. As an attainted traitor, he had no choice but to flee the realm and join Henry’s retinue if he was to avoid the consequences of his actions. The death of Henry’s heir in battle at Tewkesbury, followed soon afterwards by the death of Henry himself, marked the end of the Lancastrian cause but not the end of Morton’s political career. He accepted an offer to serve at the court of Edward IV.

 

Dr Bradley’s reason for this volte-face is simply that, “Henry [VI] was now dead and the dispensation of God had to be accepted. It was not what Morton had foreseen, or even wanted, but this was how events had transpired and now he must accept divine justice and accept the new status quo…He was there to serve and serve he did. The principles of hereditary and legal legitimacy came to the fore again.” It is, I have to say an unconvincing explanation, which ignores the possibility that Morton was motivated by political expediency and personal ambition to accept service with Edward IV, a motivation that might better fit what we know of his character. Mancini, writing about the events of the summer 1483 described Morton as being ‘trained in party intrigues under Henry VI’. Francis Bacon, Henry VII’s seventeenth century biographer wrote rather more on Morton’s character. “He was”, we are told “a wise man, and an eloquent, but in his nature harsh and haughty; much accepted by the king, but envied by the nobility and hated by the people.” He won the king by his ‘diligence and secrecy’, and his ‘subterfuge’. By contrast, Thomas More who knew him personally, thought Morton was be a great man and an exemplar of ethical and moral behaviour; I am, nonetheless, mindful of professor Sylvester’s sardonic caveat to More’s opinion: “A less shrewd man than More might well have seen a good deal of political conniving in Morton’s career

 

Similarly, Dr Bradley justifies Morton’s implacable disloyalty to Richard III on the rather limited ground of his unswerving loyalty to Edward V, who was the legitimate king (“Morton was clearly not swayed by the tales of bastardy…”). He is depicted as a leading member of the ‘resistance’, and his behaviour is rationalised only “…in terms of what he [Morton] regarded as Richard’s unacceptability as king…..He had no obligation of loyalty to the usurper; indeed, Richard’s actions gave him a moral responsibility to act against him, and the events of 1483 to 1485 show him doing just that.” A few weeks after being arrested and imprisoned by Richard, Morton transferred his allegiance to Henry Tudor. “The single logical explanation for this” suggests Dr Bradley ” is that he along with others …was convinced of the death of the two princes by this time.” It is a view that runs contrary to the opinion of Francis Bacon, who wrote that Morton won Henry Tudor’s favour because he had’…an inveterate malice against the House of York, under whom he had been in trouble.”

 

I am not going to enter the heated debate between Richard’s critics and his apologists, concerning the events of 1483. However, Dr Bradley’s analysis into Morton’s involvement in those events is, in my personal opinion, so punctuated with misconceptions and anomalies that it is positively misleading. No review could be complete if I didn’t at least mention some of these matters. For example, he dismisses without reason the possibility that Edward IV’s progeny were illegitimate. The Lords petition to Richard asking him to assume the throne and the parliamentary confirmation of his title in Titulus Regius are not even mentioned. Not only that, but Dr Bradley ignores the complex political dynamics of 1483. Edward IV’s legacy to his heirs was a kingdom divided. The force of his personality and his political acumen had held things together for many years. However, following his sudden and unexpected death, the fear of Woodville power resurfaced among the old nobility. William Lord Hastings and the other Yorkist lords were desperate for the duke of Gloucester to come south as Lord Protector to counter Woodville aspirations. The Chronicles and some private correspondence confirm that initially at least Richard was seen as a force for good, since the fear of another civil war was very real. Of course, support for Richard ebbed away once a rumour was spread that the ‘sons of Edward IV had been done away with’. Dr Bradley does not analyse or discuss these issues or the fact that the accusation of regicide against Richard III is based entirely on that rumour, which in all likelihood was started deliberately (possibly by Morton) to subvert a plot to seize custody of Edward V, into a rebellion aimed at putting a Lancastrian pretender on the throne.

 

But most problematic of all is the absence of any critical analysis of Morton’s motive for transferring his allegiance from Edward IV’s sons to Henry Tudor and also of what he knew about the fate of the two princes. Dr Bradley recognizes the significance of these issues but does not address their complexities. He is satisfied simply to argue that Morton thought the boys were dead. In accepting this explanation so readily, he seems to have overlooked Vergil’s account of a conspiracy that took place during August 1483 between Morton, Henry Stafford the ambitious duke of Buckingham and Margaret Beaufort the equally ambitious mother of Henry Tudor. If it is true, the implication of Vergil’s account is that by early August at the latest Morton had decided to support a Tudor invasion to depose Richard III. Did he know then that the boys were dead?   If so, when, why and how did he know? What role did the Tudor conspirators play in the fate of the princes? Furthermore, the rumour of the boys’ death began only after Buckingham had joined the conspiracy. So, when Buckingham wrote to Henry Tudor on the 24 September, inviting him in effect to claim the English throne, he must have known the boys were dead, or he was keeping a guilty secret. It is disappointing that Dr Bradley chose not to explore these questions or to deal with the inferences arising therefrom.

 

Dr Bradley’s stated aim was to tell John Morton’s story in full. And, it would be churlish not to acknowledge the value of this contribution to that story. This is a reasonable, modern reassessment of John Morton’s life and career, which raises Morton’s historical profile beyond mere responsibility for Morton’s Fork.It demonstrates that despite his softer side, he was in fact the archetypal early Tudor enforcer: a model for the likes of Wolsey, Cromwell and Cranmer. Though by no means a panegyrical work, this biography lacks, in my opinion, a balanced critical analysis of the contentious aspects Morton’s actions and his behaviour prior to 1485: particularly his political motivation. I think, therefore, that the full story of Morton’s life and career is still not written.

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Keeping it in the family

You will have seen him if you have been to Richard III’s final resting place. There are eight small statues on the main entrance (the Vaughan Porch, left) of St. Martin’s Cathedral but only one of them is wearing a doublet and hose, showing him to have lived a century later than the others. This is Lord Henry Hastings, as he was during his education alongside Edward VI and participation, with Northumberland’s daughter Lady Catherine Dudley in the triple marriage of May 1553. He was still Lord Henry as he served in the household of his great-uncle Reginald Cardinal Pole, travelling to Calais and Flanders and escorting Phillip II to England for his marriage to Mary I, whose succession had been aided by Lord Henry’s father, Francis, despite the family’s overt Protestant beliefs.

In 1562, two years after succeeding to the Earldom of Huntingdon, he was considered by some for the throne had Elizabeth I not recovered from a bout of smallpox. By 1576, on the death of his mother Catherine (nee’ Pole) he was the senior post-Plantagenet, barred from the succession maternally only by the Clarence attainder but he had a junior claim through his grandmother Anne Stafford, whose father and brother both had their attainders posthumously reversed.

From 1572 to his death in 1595, Huntingdon was Lord President of the Council of the North, a position previously held by Richard as Duke of Gloucester and then by the Earl of Lincoln, in which he ruled the part of England north of the Trent from the King’s Manor (above), formerly home to the Abbot of York. During this tenure, he re-established royal authority in the region after the Northern Earls’ Rebellion failed, attended Mary Stuart’s trial, ensured good relations with James VI and his regents, the Earl of Morton in particular, also helping to prepare defences against the Armada. For his long service for more than half the reign of the last “Tudor”, Huntingdon deserves to be remembered alongside Lord Burleigh and his brother-in-law the Earl of Leicester, although his Calvinist beliefs set him apart from them and their Queen. During his time, in 1586, the recusant Margaret Clitherow was pressed to death at York.

As Claire Cross points out in her iconic biography The Puritan Earl, Huntingdon took his role as head of the family seriously. We can read how his assets shrank during his lifetime and how his 42 year marriage was childless, such that his brother Sir George succeeded him as Earl, with senior descendants still alive in Australia, as Jones has shown. He died eleven days before Christmas 1595 and was connected to all four later “Tudor” monarchs but his strongest connection was to Elizabeth I. Just like her, he had been imprisoned at the outset of Mary I’s reign, probably because he was Northumberland’s son-in-law, although his father’s loyalty soon extricated him from this.

Uncle Richard?

richard-iii-huffington

A long time ago, I posted a short article about one of my ancestors, Thomas Snellgrove, who was a portrait artist and painted an actor portraying Richard III. Here is the link.

Portrait of actor playing Richard by Snellgrove

George Frederick Cooke playing Richard III by T.W. Snellgrove

I have been researching my family history for over thirty years and it used to be a very slow and painstaking process. The internet has obviously made things easier and quicker in many ways and I now have some other interesting Ricardian links to report.

I found a probable direct ancestor called Sir Henry Vane, the Younger – I had not heard of him, but discovered that he was a Parliamentarian in the Civil War and was beheaded on Tower Hill after Charles II returned to the throne. Interesting, so I started tracing his family back further and came upon a Vane who had married a lady called Joan Haute. As you probably know, there was a Katherine Haute to whom Richard gave an annuity of £5 and this was considered suggestive of her having been his mistress and mother of one or both of his illegitimate children. I did find a Katherine, married to a James Haute, brother of my ancestor.

I carried on further and found that Joan Haute’s grandfather, Richard, was married to an Elizabeth Tyrrell, sister of James Tyrrell, one of Richard’s henchmen, accused of murdering the ‘Princes in the Tower’ on his orders. It was odd to think I had recently visited the Tyrrell chapel at Gipping and seen the memorials for the Tyrrell family in the church at Stowmarket – how strange that these could be my relatives!  James was executed at the Tower too, by Henry VII.

And Richard Haute’s mother was a Woodville, sister to Richard Woodville, Elizabeth Woodville’s father. Elizabeth, as we know, was Richard’s sister-in-law (or at least was thought to be until it was found the marriage was invalid).

Sir Henry Vane’s wife was Frances Wray, and I next followed her line back. Her father married Albinia Cecil, great granddaughter to William Cecil, advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. One of his sons (half-brother to my presumed ancestor, Thomas Cecil) was Robert Cecil, who was thought to be the ‘model’ for Shakespeare’s Richard III; he was an unpopular politician of the time and also a hunchback.

Pic of Robert Cecil

Robert Cecil

Thomas Cecil meanwhile was married to a Neville! This was Lady Dorothy Neville, descended from George Neville, brother to Cecily Neville, Richard’s mother! This would make Richard my 1st cousin 17 times removed.

It’s not all good though; there are four connections to the Stafford family, two of which are direct lines to Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who betrayed Richard and was called by him ‘the most untrue creature living’ – another executed ancestor.  And, of course, via the Nevilles, I would also be related to Margaret Beaufort and Henry Tudor through the John of Gaunt line. ☹

Another not-so-good link is to the Percy family and thence to Henry Percy, who was lynched by a mob when he tried to raise taxes in Yorkshire, for not supporting Richard at Bosworth.

Yet another is to the Brandon family via the sister of William Brandon, Henry Tudor’s Standard Bearer, whom Richard personally killed at Bosworth. He would be my 16 x great uncle.

Other significant names that I haven’t fully explored yet are: Howard, Harrington, De Vere, Zouche, Somerset, Bourchier and  Clifford.  I haven’t found any Stanleys yet!

One of the Stafford links also leads to Margaret, daughter of George of Clarence and there is another to Margaret Courtenay, whose mother could be Katherine of York, the daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville (her father married twice and it isn’t known which wife Margaret was born to – the second one was descended from John Neville, brother of Warwick the Kingmaker). These connections would make Richard also my 16 x great uncle. This would mean that one 16 x great uncle (Richard III) killed the other (William Brandon)!

Graham Turner painting of Richard III at Bosworth killing William Brandon

The Battle of Bosworth (Richard III killing William Brandon) by artist Graham Turner, copyright Graham Turner. N.B. Prints and cards of this and many other Ricardian scenes are available – click on the picture above to see.

How convoluted and complicated were the relationships in those days. But it just reveals how, if you can just find one key link into the nobility, you are basically related to them all!! It is also said that nearly all English people are descended from Edward III, so going by my experience (and Danny Dyer’s!) it could be true. I encourage anyone to have a go at researching their family – it is fascinating.

One caveat if you use the internet to do your research though – you have to be careful not to replicate others’ mistakes – I have found Cecily Neville given as the mother of Elizabeth Woodville and someone getting married before they were born – I know they married young in those days, but really!

 

 

Cecil image credit: John de Critz the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

THE MALIGNED RICARDIANS

Part 1 – Sir William Cornwallis the younger

“ His virtues I have sought to revive, his vices to excuse”

(The Encomium of Richard III, Sir William Cornwallis)

It is conceivable that historians do not take the early revisionist histories of king Richard III seriously owing to an assumption that the authors were not themselves serious. If so, they are probably mistaken about Sir William Cornwallis (1579-1614) the author of the ‘Encomium of Richard III’, the earliest extant defence of the last Plantagenet king and the subject of this post. And they are definitely wrong about Sir George Buck, the author of a second and more substantial defence of Richard entitled ‘The History of King Richard the Third’. My purpose in this post and a further one about Buck is to draw attention to these undervalued and misunderstood revisionists, whose pioneering works have provided the template for subsequent defences of king Richard.

Life

Sir William Cornwallis the younger (so called, to distinguish him from his uncle) was probably born at Fincham, Norfolk. He was the eldest child of Sir Charles Cornwallis a diplomat and court official. The Cornwallis’ were well known recusants and too prominent during catholic Mary’s time to prosper much under protestant Elizabeth: they were always under suspicion. Within that parameter the young Cornwallis’ upbringing was gratifyingly orthodox. He studied at Queen’s College, Oxford. In 1595 he married Katherine Parker; they had thirteen children, eight of whom survived him. In 1599 he saw action in the earl of Essex’s Irish campaign, and was knighted by the earl for his service . On his return to England he lived quietly during the remainder of Elizabeth’s reign.

In 1603 on the accession of James I he was appointed a member of the king’s Privy Chamber. In 1604 he was elected MP for Orford in Suffolk in support of the union between England and Scotland, and in 1605 was sent on a minor diplomatic mission to Spain. His extravagant lifestyle resulted in considerable debt and despite a gift of £2000 from the king he died in penury in 1614, leaving his widow and eight children destitute.

Literary works

Cornwallis’ literary career was that of a gentleman amateur writing ‘familiar’ paradoxical essays at the turn of seventeenth century. According to Kincaid “His style is fluent but incursive, his periods short but balanced. Illustrative examples are drawn from his own experience, though with evident modesty. He is concerned with self-improvement, particularly for statesman, stressing stoic virtues such as resolution, fortitude and endurance. His method is influenced by Montaigne, his ethics by Seneca . The paradoxes range from satirical praise of misfortune (e.g. ‘The French Pox’ and ‘Debt’) to what seem, at least partly, serious defences of historical figures (e.g. Julian the Apostate and Richard III).” Even though the contemporary essays of Sir Francis Bacon and John Donne overshadowed Cornwallis’ own literary achievement, the paradoxical essay tradition as it re-emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries owes more to his method than to theirs.

The Encomium of King Richard III – Background

It was commonplace for the original manuscripts of familiar essays to circulate among groups of literary friends. It was also commonplace for the author and for others to copy the manuscript: sometimes adding further comments, sometimes correcting errors. The Encomium of Richard III was no exception to the rule; there are ten surviving manuscript copies of it, each being different from the earliest and from each other. Although many of the changes are minor and stylistic, there are some important ‘political’ interpolations in later versions.

Cornwallis’ original manuscript is a mixture of the serious and the paradoxical. It does not sit easily in the form of a paradox. However, later additions indicate crude attempts to formalize it as a conventional paradox. Efforts have also been made to de-personalize it; whereas Cornwallis attacks a single ‘corrupt chronicler’, later versions change that to ‘our corrupt chroniclers’. The most interesting additions are those that are politically motivated. These additions though ostensibly enhancing Richard’s defence are really political propaganda linked to the Essex plot of 1600, and have wrenched Cornwallis’ original Encomium out of context. It is not surprising, therefore, that so many literary scholars regard the Encomium as a rather poor paradoxical essay and so many historians disregard it as a serious defence of king Richard III. It is also unfortunate that the latest version was published in 1616, as it is the one most commonly known and it distorts Cornwallis’ own views. It is in this context that we should assess the worth of the ‘Encomium’. In this post I am concentrating on three aspects of the Encomium. First the questions of authorship and motive, second an overview of Cornwallis’ technique for defending king Richard’s reputation, and finally the influence of late Elizabethan and early Jacobean politics on later versions of the Encomium.

Authorship

In the first half of the twentieth century, Professor W Gordon Zeeveld argued that ‘The Encomium of Richard III’ was in response to a manuscript account of king Richard’s reign written by Cardinal John Morton soon after Bosworth. This manuscript had been circulating amongst Tudor intellectuals for many years. According to Zeeveld it was copied by Sir Thomas More and published by his nephew John Rastell as More’s ‘History of King Richard III. Zeeveld argues that the traces of personal hatred towards Morton contained in early versions of the Encomium are evidence that it was inspired by Morton’s tract.

Zeeveld also believed that the Encomium was a palimpsest concealing an earlier defence of Richard, with Cornwallis as the continuator rather than the originator of that work. He postulates that an anonymous contemporary supporter of Richard took it upon himself to defend his dead master from Morton’s tract. Unfortunately there is no evidence that this earlier defence existed; neither does it follow that the personal bitterness evident in the Encomium places the author in the 1490’s. As Dr Kincaid points out, it could just as easily result from intellectual stimulus affecting somebody in the 1590’s.

Nobody knows why Cornwallis wrote this essay or why he chose to do so in a hybrid form. His animosity towards one Tudor chronicler suggests an emotional involvement that is at odds with his otherwise reasoned and intellectual approach. However, the editors of Kincaid’s excellent edition of the Encomium have conducted a careful and minute study of all ten original manuscripts and they are perfectly satisfied about two things: first, the Encomium is not a palimpsest, it is Cornwallis’ original work; second, Morton wrote a tract about Richard that was still extant in the 1590’s.Notwithstanding these conclusions, the evidence of a link between Cornwallis and Morton’s tract is circumstantial at best; it does no more than establish the possibility that Cornwallis had access to the tract.

Last on this aspect, the suggestion that Morton wrote a tract which was still in circulation well into Elizabeth I’s reign has wider significance, particularly regarding the authorship of More’s ‘History’ and its impact on Sir George Buck ‘History of King Richard the Third’. I hope to address both these issues in a future post.

The defence of king Richard

Cornwallis’ defence of Richard is unique in pro Ricardian literature in that generally he does not challenge the traditional Tudor version of the facts. The importance of the Encomium to the Ricardian narrative is simply that it is the first reasoned defence of Richard. The absence of an evidence base to accompany Cornwallis’ reasoning does not damage his contribution to that narrative, since Buck and others have been well able to supply that evidence. Although largely ignored by academics and historians, the Encomium has had a significant influence on future revisionists. For example, Buck structured his first three books around the Encomium (though he was working from a later manuscript) and Walpole adopted a similarly reasoned approach. The Encomium contains most, if not all, of the reasoned, logical defensive arguments that we see in modern Ricardian literature to this day.

Cornwallis makes four broad points. First, some of the accusations against Richard are so frivolous that they must have been prompted by malice (e.g. his physical appearance, born with teeth etc.). Second, there is no objective evidence that he committed many of the offences alleged against him (e.g. the murder of Henry VI and the allegation that he ‘commanded’ Dr Shaw’s sermon on the 22 June 1483, for which others are clearly implicated). Third, he is not guilty of usurpation or of regicide by reasons of state. It is only the third point that I want to explore in a little detail since the allegation of regicide is by far the most serious charge laid against king Richard III.

In 1601 Cornwallis (and not the later interpolators) wrote this about the disappearance of the two Princes: “In this time chanced the death of his two young nephews in the Tower, whose deaths promising quiet unto him, are wholly imposed upon him, how truly I have reason to doubt, because his accusers are so violent and impudent, that those virtues which in other men are embraced, for which they are esteemed as gods, they impute to him to be rather enablers of vices than really virtues. His humility they term pride, his liberality prodigality, his valour cruelty and bloodthirstiness and so through malice, not truth turn all things to their contrary. But if it were so that he contrived and consented to their deaths the offence was to God and not to the people, for the depriving of their lives freed them (the people) from dissention and how could he demonstrate his love more amply than to venture his soul for their quiet, But who knows whether it were not God’s secret judgement to punish the father’s transgressions on the children, and if so complain their fate, not his cruelty.”

Turning his attention to the grim realities of medieval power politics, Cornwallis continues: “…yet in policy princes never account competitors however young or innocent since the least colour of right provokes innovating humours to stir-up sedition, which once being kindled threatens both the subversion of princes and people. Therefore, the removing (of) such occasions of civil wars is well governed. (The) commonwealth is most profitable, most commendable, being no cruelty but pity a jealousy of their subjects and a regard for their own safety”. However, king Richard does not entirely escape Cornwallis’ censure: “If for this action he ought to be condemned, it is for indiscretion in the managing; for as safely might he have had the realms general consent in disposing of their lives, as in disposing them from the crown, and had he held a secret execution best he might have effected it more secretly…”

Cornwallis eschews a substantive defence of king Richard; instead, he emphasizes his personal virtues and his good works, and excuses his actions as being in the public interest and done from a high sense of public duty. Albeit we cannot establish a firm link between Cornwallis and Morton’s tract it seems that the Encomium was indeed a response to More/Morton account. For instance, when condoning Richard’s seizure of the crown, Cornwallis refers to Edward IV’s betrothal to ‘Elizabeth Lucy’. That is a name he can only have found in the work(s) of More/Morton.

Politics

Cornwallis had ‘ high views of the royal prerogative and his Encomium shows no exception.’ For example, he writes “…chroniclers should not criticise kings because kings are accountable only to a jury of kings and to God.” In Kincaid’s edition of the Encomium, the editors identify four distinct ways in which later additions of the British Museum manuscript turned this essentially pro-monarchist work into a revolutionary text.

The first change is subtle alteration to the notion of divine authority. The most obvious example of this occurs in the extract I have referred to above. At the point where Cornwallis suggests that the death of the Princes might be God’s judgement on the sins of their father we get this interpolation (highlighted): “…if so complain of their fate, not his cruelty (FOR IN THESE FATAL THINGS IT FALLS OUT THAT HIGH WORKING POWERS MAKE SECOND CAUSES, UNWITTINGLY ACCESSORY TO THEIR DETERMINATION) yet in policy princes…” This insertion introduces a controversial, political tone; though the point being made is hardly new or novel. The notion that temporal kings were subject to God’s law, which upholds truth and justice against deceit and injustice, was argued by the Yorkists in the 1450’s to justify their rebellion against the misuse of royal authority. It follows that if God’s law forbids tyranny it must be His will that subjects should resist and even overthrow tyrants, by force if necessary. This interpolation reflects the seventeenth century’s revolutionary agenda whereby the exponents of change rejected the divine right of king, in favour of the principle, enshrined in Magna Carta, that the king was subject to the common law of the land. Rex is not lex; lex is rex (The king is not law; the law is king.).

Second, the text was changed to show the Tudors in a much worse light than hitherto. For example, Cornwallis praises Richard for abolishing forced loans. However, this is altered slightly with the insertion “ THOUGH HE CAME TO MANAGE A STATE WHOSE TREASURE WAS EXCEEDINGLY EXHAUSTED.” It is a comment that would strike a cord with late Elizabethans struggling under an inequitable tax system. The costs of the continuing Spanish war and the troubles in Ireland had increased the parliamentary subsides granted to the Crown fourfold between 1589 and 1601, with a disproportionate burden falling on the poor. Indeed, the demand for increased subsidy in 1589 was so onerous for the rich that Sir Francis Bacon declared in parliament: “Gentlemen must sell their plate, farmers their brass pots ere this will be paid”. In desperation the Queen resorted to levying forced loans and benevolences on the wealthy through the privy seal. She also imposed ship money on inland towns; yet still the exchequer was in deficit. In 1601 parliament debated the plight of the poor. There were calls for the wealthy to pay more: “Some thought that three-pound men should be spared; others that four-pound men should pay double, with a corresponding increased charge on the rest upwards.” The tendency of Stuart monarchs to raise taxes without the consent of parliament through forced loans, increased custom duties and ship money was an issue (there were others) that eventually led the king to kill his subjects and his subjects to kill their king.

Third, Cornwallis defends Richard’s seizure of the throne on the basis that Edward V was too young to govern himself, much less the realm; anyhow, he would be too much under the bad influence of his mother and maternal uncles who were “…the duke’s mortal enemies such as through the lowness of their birth had never been inured to government, whose new nobility was more likely to ruinate than to fortify the Ancient, could not but draw a true discerning spirit to favour himself to maintain the ancient nobility to commiserate the people much wasted by dissensions…” This can certainly be interpreted as a veiled criticism of William and Robert Cecil, who between them controlled the queen and the government in the 1590’s. However, the later insertion of the words “ AND OPPRESSED” between ‘wasted and ‘by’ in the above extract is a much more explicit reproach of the Cecil’s. A reproach that becomes even more obvious in the interpolation at the point where Cornwallis justifies Richard’s execution of Rivers and Grey: “…jealous of his own preservation OF THE SAFETY OF THE COMMONWEALTH AND OF THE ANCIENT NOBILITY with great reason and justice he executed them.” The reference to the safety of the realm is an allusion to England’s Cecil-inspired foreign policy . The criticism is even more explicit in an insertion at the point when Cornwallis is defending the summary execution of William Lord Hastings, which he says was just because Hastings was in the pay of the French king; furthermore, it was he who persuaded Edward IV not to support Burgundy against the French: “WHEREAS NOW IN A FEW YEARS IT IS DEVOLVED TO A PROUD AND INSOLENT NATION (Spain) WHO HAVE GRIEVOUSLY OPPRESSED THOSE NETHERLANDS WITH EXECRABLE CRUELTIES AND ARE AT THIS DATE CAPITAL ENEMIES OF OUR STATE…”

At the turn of the seventeenth century England was in turmoil; people were uncertain about the future, confused and frightened. The queen was ageing and various political factions were jockeying for power and influence in preparation for her demise. Poor harvests had brought famine, the war with Spain dragged on accompanied by genuine war weariness and the economy was a shambles. Militarily and diplomatically England was weaker in 1600 than it had been in1588, whilst Spain was stronger.The Spanish army occupying Holland was a direct threat to England’s flank and her independence. On top of all this the protestant reformation was not secured, nor the succession settled. Of the two foreign candidates, one was a Roman Catholic and the other a protestant flirting with Catholicism . The Cecil clique, pacific by inclination, wanted peace with Spain, which was abhorrent to the protestants. In 1601 Robert Devereux the earl of Essex accused Robert Cecil of favouring the succession of the Spanish Infanta to the English throne. It was dismissed as nonsense at the time. However, with the benefit of five hundred years of hindsight and official correspondence we can see that at best, Cecil’s behaviour was disingenuous.

Fourth, and perhaps most significantly, is the insertion of an unambiguous appeal to force against legitimacy. Cornwallis is writing of the necessity for Richard to assume the crown for the common good and in particular to prevent another civil war, then this paragraph is inserted into Cornwallis’ narrative: “…THE DUTY WE OWE OUR COUNTRY EXCEEDS ALL OTHER DUTIES, SINCE IN ITSELF IT CONTAINS THEM ALL. THAT FOR RESPECT THEREOF NOT ONLY ALL TENDER RESPECTS OF KINDRED, OR WHATSOEVER OTHER RESPECTS OF FRIENDSHIP ARE TO BE LAID ASIDE, BUT THAT EVEN LONG HELD OPINIONS (RATHER GROUNDED ON SECRET GOVERNMENT THAN ANY GROUNDS OF TRUTH) ARE TO BE FORSAKEN SINCE THE END WHERETO ANYTHING IS DIRECTED IS EVER TO BE OF MORE NOBLE RECKONING THAN THE THING THERETO DIRECTED, THAT THEREFORE THE PUBLIC WEAL IS MORE TO BE REGARDED THAN A PERSON OR MAGISTRATE THAT THEREUNTO IS ORDERED…IF ANY MAN SHOULD OBJECT TO THIS COURSE LET HIM KNOW THAT NECESSITIES REQUIRE NEW REMEDIES AND FOR HIM (Richard) THERE WAS NO REMEDY BUT THIS ONE.” It is a sentiment that needs no explanation.

Kincaid and Ramsden argue that this insertion was probably aimed at Sir Henry Neville who had an ambiguous role in Essex’s attempted coup of 1600 and who was related to Robert Cecil. They postulate that Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton sent this amended copy of the Encomium to Neville to reassure him that he could disregard ties of kinship since it was God’s will that the Cecil’s should be overthrown. It is, they say, the only explanation for this insertion, which is so contrary to Cornwallis’ own philosophy.

[1] Elizabeth I was furious with Essex for personally knighting so many of his officers in the wake of his shameful truce with the Irish rebels; the queen called these officers ‘idle knights’ and there is no suggestion that Cornwallis’ preferment suggested a softening of attitude towards him. The Cornwallis’ – we are told – ‘were always under suspicion’.

[2] Michel Eyquem Montaigne (1533-1592) was an influential French renaissance philosopher who wrote anecdotally on the human condition. His stated objective was to describe humanity and especially himself ‘with utter frankness’.

[3] Seneca the Younger (BC1-AD65) was a Roman stoic philosopher. He was forced to commit suicide after being implicated in a plot to assassinate the Emperor Nero.

[4] Arthur Kincaid – Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online edition, ref:odnb/6345) (DNB)

[5] Arthur Noel Kincaid- The History of King Richard the Third by Sir George Buck (Alan Sutton 1979) at pp.civ-cv: Kincaid writes: ‘Rosalie L Colie in her study of paradox’s gives Cornwallis’ Encomium as an example that fails because it does not surprise of dazzle by its incongruities, for it strikes the reader as an all but serious defence. Instead of appearing skillful many of its arguments give the impression of being sincere but lame…” (See Rosalie L Collie – Paradoxia Epidemica (Princeton 1966) at p8)

[6] Arthur Kincaid and J A Ramsden – The Encomium of Richard III by Sir William Cornwallis the Younger (Turner and Devereux 1977) at p.5 (Kincaid)

[7] Kincaid at pv

[8] Kincaid at p20: interestingly, this was Charles I’s grounds for refusing to recognize the jurisdiction of the court appointed by Parliament to try him for crimes against the State in 1649. In 2001 Slobodan Milosevic also pleaded sovereign immunity when arraigned for war crimes (See Geoffrey Robertson – The Tyrannicide Brief (Vintage 2006) for an illuminating discussion on the powers of the law to bring tyrants to book for their crimes.)

[9] Kincaid at p17

[10] Kincaid p14

[11] Professor J B Black – The Reign of Elizabeth I (Oxford 1987) pp. 228-234.

[12] Black at p231

[13] Kincaid p9

[14] Kincaid p8

[15] Kincaid p10

[16] It was Philip II’s ambition to launch an invasion of England from the Netherlands

[17] Christopher Hill – God’s Englishman (Penguin 1972) at pp.20-25: Dr Hill suggests that the Elizabethan golden age was long past: if it ever existed. The legend of a time “…when parliament and crown worked in harmony, in which the Church was resolutely protestant, in which bishops were subordinated to secular power and protestant sea dogs brought gold and glory back from the Spanish Main…owed more to a criticism of what was happening (or not happening) under Stuarts than anything that had really existed under Elizabeth.”

[18] James VI was a Protestant and his apparent willingness to convert to Roman Catholicism was only a diplomatic/political ploy to unsettle Elizabeth and the English: it worked.

[19] Black at pp.445-451: Professor Black refers to correspondence, which suggests that Robert Cecil sounded out the feasibility of the Infanta and her husband the Archduke Albert succeeding Elizabeth. He certainly seems to have considered the ditching James VI of Scotland as heir to the throne.

Robert Cecil–Was he Shakespeare’s Real Richard III?

Robert Cecil—Was He Shakespeare’s Real Richard?

It is quite astounding that many traditionalists still trot out the old ‘Shakespeare was right’ trope when referring to Richard III, even though more statements in his famous depiction have been proved to be wrong than ‘right’ in regards to this maligned king.
Shakespeare was, of course, a dramatist, a writer of fiction, and his work should have no more significance as a historical document than that of any fiction writer, even if he was using a historical basis for his creations (as many authors do, with varying degrees of success!)
Indeed, it seems that his character of Richard III may have had only a partial relationship to the actual man his play purported to be about, although this is often overlooked as if this author was some kind of top modern journalist or historian and not merely writing to entertain.
Many of Shakespeare’s plays, however, are known to have some grounding in reality, but not so much in regards to the historical figures he wrote about, but to the leading lights of his own time. Frequently there is a political basis (and bias) disguised within the context of his fiction. The play Richard III is no exception, and the main target of the Bard’s vitriol may well not be the historical Richard, but the powerful and devious Elizabethan politician Robert Cecil.
Cecil was the son of the great statesman William Cecil, who lived in the palatial Burghley House outside the town of Stamford in Lincolnshire. He had a Cambridge education and became a powerful statesman himself in the reigns of both Elizabeth I and James I. Robert Cecil was also known to have clearly noticeable kyphosis, possibly since birth or early infancy.
His physical description in 1588 is described in Motley’s History of the Netherlands:

“A slight, crooked, hump-backed young gentleman, dwarfish in stature, but with a face not irregular in feature, and thoughtful and subtle in expression, with reddish hair, a thin tawny beard, and large, pathetic, greenish-coloured eyes, with a mind and manners already trained to courts and cabinets, and with a disposition almost ingenuous, as compared to the massive dissimulation with which it was to be contrasted, and with what was, in aftertimes, to constitute a portion of his own character…”

Now, does this not sound more ‘Richard III’ than Richard himself, whose only mentioned ‘deformity’ (and that not written about till after his death) was a raised right shoulder?
So, why would Shakespeare wish to slander Robert Cecil? It seems like Shakespeare’s two most famous patrons, Essex and Southampton, were the arch-enemies of Cecil, so it would be politic of him to write in the ruthless character that these powerful lords would recognise and appreciate, without openly damning the man who Elizabeth I called ‘my little Imp’ or ‘my elf.’ The man who was Secretary of State and one of the most powerful personages in the realm.
Additionally, Cecil may have ordered the murder of Shakespeare’s very first patron, Ferdinando Stanley, whose mother was heiress presumptive to Elizabeth I. Stanley of course was a descendant of those Stanleys, and also maternally of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. He appears to have been poisoned; his body giving off such an unnatural reek that even months after his death, no family members could bear to approach his crypt. There is also a line of thought that Robert Cecil was heavily involved in the Gunpowder plot, having black-mailed Robert Catesby (yes, a descendant of that Catesby too) into proceeding with the fatal plot; Cecil’s intent was to inflame the public so that he could pass a series of anti-Catholic bills.
A devious man and with the physical attributes of Shakespeare’s character, Cecil may well be the ‘Real Richard III.’

sources: The Assassination of Shakespeare’s Patron: Investigating the Death of the Fifth Earl of Derby (2nd Edition) by Leo Daugherty
British History-John Simkin.

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