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THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF EDWARD IV

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Edward IV 1442-1483

For a king whose reign is otherwise well documented it is curious that the cause of Edward’s death remains a mystery.  It would appear that his death was unexpected.  It seems he was first taken ill at the end of March and despite having access to some of the best medical care available at that time, died on the 9 April at his Palace of Westminster.

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Edward IV’s Coat of Arms, British Library royal manuscripts

Mancini attributed his illness to a cold caught while fishing.  Commynes mentions a stroke while the Croyland Chronicler wrote he ‘was affected neither by old age nor by any known kind of disease which would not have seemed easy to cure in a lesser person’ – in other words the doctors didn’t have a name for the illness that sent Edward to his grave.  How strange.  Rumours abounded of death by poisoning some even going so far as to blame it on a gift of wine from the French king.  Molinet ascribed it as the result of eating a salad after he had become overcome by heat (in April! in England!!)  which caused a chill, others said it was an apoplexy brought on by the treaty of Arras, malaria was even suggested.  Later,  Sir Winston Churchill in his History of the English Speaking Peoples,  would put it down fair and square to debauchery.  But at the end of the day , as Richard E Collins points out (1) most people were concerned with what happened AFTER Edward’s death, rather than what caused it.

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The Old Palace of Westminster where Edward died 9 April 1483

Collins wrote an essay on Edward’s death that was included in Secret History the Truth About Richard lll and the Princes.  He had a considerable knowledge of medical matters and having done some very through research into the death of Edward presented his findings to other medical professionals for their opinions.  They all concluded ‘that the cause of death which best explained all the known facts was poison, probably by some heavy metal such as arsenic’.

First of all an attempt to solve the mystery  was to run though Edwards symptoms but first of all deal with the timescale.  Given that the Croyland Chronicler wrote that Edward took to his bed around Easter and since Easter Sunday was on the 30 March ‘we are dealing with a period of around 10-12 days from inception to death.  If peoples behaviour was anything to go by his death came as a surprise to the Court’.    As Edwards body was laid out naked for viewing,  Collins was then able to rule out death caused by violence, there being no traumas/injuries, accidental or deliberate, no puncture wounds, bruises etc.,  Furthermore there were no marks to be seen of specific diseases such as mumps, smallpox, measles, scarlet fever, chicken pox, bubonic plague, typhus, enteric fever.  Other non-infectious conditions that mark the skin are also able to be ruled out such as purpuras (blotches caused by bleeding under the skin) which can be caused by leukaemia, haemophilia, plague and alcoholism.  Thirdly there was not the  ‘wasting’ caused by cancer, unrelated diabetes, septicaemia or starvation caused by malabsorption.

Anything sudden such as a massive coronary, stroke, pulmonary embolism or a perforated ulcer can be ruled out due to the timescale.  Long drawn out conditions such as ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis and cancer can also be ruled out.

Collins then considers the contemporary sources beginning with Sir Thomas More, who writing 30 years after the event makes no comment on the cause of death save ‘he perceived his natural strength was so sore enfeebled that he despaired all recovery’.  More, as was his wont, wrote a pages long speech delivered on his deathbed.  Collins who had been present at  least on 200 natural deaths had never heard a deathbed speech.  However as we know More never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.  The Crowland Chronicler also gave no cause while Vergil wrote that ‘he fell sick of an unknown disease’.  The only definite accounts actually come from those who were least likely to be in the know such as Mancini and de Commines,  Mancini puts Edward’s death down to a mix of ‘sadness’ plus a cold he caught while on a fishing trip.  According to Collins this does not add up as the suggestions of Edward dying of grief cannot be taken seriously and as for the chill he would not have been able to indulge in such a frivolity during Holy Week – therefore the latest this trip would have been taken place was the 22 March –  which would mean that Edward hung around in a fever for 10 days without treatment which is also unlikely.  Collins add ‘Mancini is remarkably popular with those who dislike Richard and it is sad to proclaim that their supporter is a speaker of Rubbish’ – priceless!  De Commines ascribes his death to apoplexy and ‘while it is possible to have a stroke 10 days apart, the second proving fatal, it is quite impossible to believe that no-one expected him to die after the first, but obviously they didn’t’.

Hall later wrote ‘whether it was with the melancholy and anger that he took with the French king…or were it by any superfluous surfeit to which he was much given, he suddenly fell sick and was with a grevious malady taken, yes so grievously taken, that his vital spirits begun to fail and wax feeble..’.  Basically Hall didn’t know how Edward died either.

Collins makes the observation that ‘medieval physicians had at best a poor understanding of medicine and at worse a ridiculous and dangerous one.  This represented a falling away from the common sense views and practices of the Greeks, which if they could not cure much knew how not to make a patient worse.  In 1483 most medieval practices were designed to do just that – make the patient worse that is – and they succeeded well.  Almost any condition was treated by drawing off a pint of blood or more and administering emetics and laxatives to ‘purge evil humours’.  Such a regime is seldom good for a sick person and will often kill rather than cure by dehydration if you go slowly or by shock if quickly.  Only rarely did they have a treatment that was effective, one case in point is apoplexy where bleeding will reduce the blood on the cerebral vessels…medieval medicine was more often more dangerous than the disease and most people avoided doctors if they could.  Despite this medieval doctors were rarely at a loss for a diagnosis and the terms they used are a joy to read – Chrisomes, Frighted, Griping-in-the-Guts (a small town in Gloucestershire?), Head-moult-Shot, Rising of the Lights Lethargy and meagrome’.

Collins sums up with it may well worth be listening to Crowland after all, he may have been present at Westminster at the time and spoken to physicians about the case, when he said that Edward was affected by ‘no known disease’.

As to why someone would want to send Edward to an early grave by poisoning, that dear reader is another story.  I have drawn heavily from R E Collins excellent treatise on the subject but would mention that anyone who is interested in this theory would do well to read (if they have not already done so) The Maligned King by Annette Carson, who also covers this theory thoroughly in chapter 1.

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ELIZABETH WYDEVILLE, EDWARD’S ‘QUEEN’ WHOM HE MARRIED BIGAMOUSLY

  1. Secret History Part II  R E Collins

 

 

 

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1066: THE YEAR OF THREE KINGS

“History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days”

(Winston Churchill)

 

“I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention.”

(Catherine Morland on ‘history’ – Northanger Abbey)

 

Prologue

In the summer of 1066 William the Bastard, seventh duke of Normandy, prepared to launch and king Harold II to repel an invasion of England. William was coming, or so he said, to take the English throne that was promised to him by the late King Edward and to punish Harold for his perjury for breaking his oath of fealty to the duke. At the same time, the Norwegian king Harald Sigurdsson (Hadradi–‘the ruthless’) was also planning to invade England with the same intention of seizing the English crown, which he claimed was his by right of a promise made by king Harthacnut to the king of Norway. Meanwhile, King Harold assembled the largest army England had ever known to defend the south coast opposite Normandy against the invasion he expected to come from across the English Channel. As summer gave way to autumn and William had still not come, the concentration of English land and naval forces became problematic since they could no longer be victualed and their temper was uncertain. The fleet, which was stationed off the Isle of Wight, was therefore ordered to sail for London and the army stood down. It was undoubtedly a setback for King Harold, which was made worse by the surprise news of an invasion in the north: not by Normans but by Northmen.

 

In early September, the contrary wind that had kept William’s ships in port, swept Harald Hadradi’s fleet across the North Sea to land on the northeast coast of England. Hadradi came with between six and eight thousand Viking warriors in three hundred ships. Reinforced from Scotland by Harold’s estranged younger brother Tostig, the Vikings met and defeated a Northumbrian army at Fulford, and captured York.[1] Harold, having hastily reassembled his army, forced-marched them north as soon as possible; on the 25 September at Stamford Bridge near York he surprised and defeated the Norse invaders. At the end of a vicious no-quarter battle the gigantic frame of Harald Hadradi, the most fearsome warrior in Christendom, lay dead in the field together with Tostig and ninety per cent of the Viking force. The survivors were so few they were allowed to sail back to Norway in twenty-four ships.[2] The battle of Stamford Bridge marked the end of Viking power in the North Sea and two centuries of conflict with the English. It also bought honour and disaster in equal measure to the last of the old English kings. Four days later, the Norman army landed unopposed at Pevensey Bay, Sussex.

 

Harold was probably at York on the 1 October when he heard the news of William’s landing. In what was by any standard an impressive military achievement, he had resettled the north, re-organised his army and force-marched them 200 miles to London by the 6 October; once there he ordered the Fyrd to assemble for a battle against William. Two days after leaving London, Harold was approaching the battlefield near Hastings. Next day the 14 October 1066 the two sides met in perhaps the most decisive battle fought on British soil. The battle of Hastings is generally depicted as a classic English infantry battle. The men standing stoically behind their shield wall repelling repeated assaults by Breton infantry and Norman cavalry. It was a bitter fight, which lasted all day; but eventually, the English were undone by indirect fire. A chance arrow fired over the shield wall found its mark in king Harold. Whether it killed the king instantly or disabled him is immaterial since he was very quickly hacked to pieces where he lay. Soon after, the English shield wall, being much reduced, was overwhelmed[3]. Within two months, William was crowned King William I of England. The Norman Conquest was a defining moment in history. It bought an end to the old Anglo-Danish kingdom of England and changed the history of Christendom. Henceforth, English attention was focused south towards the Latin world and not north to the Nordic one.

 

The period between 1042 and 1066 is veiled in a mist of legend and half-truths in which fact has become almost indistinguishable from fiction. Penetrating this mist to learn the truth about the years leading up to the Conquest is no easy matter for three good reasons: first, the passage of time, second the nature and relative scarcity of contemporary chronicles, and third because I am conscious of Miss Morland’s stricture that much of what we call history is invention. Nor should I ignore Winston Churchill’s memorable description of the historians’ burden, from a speech given in 1940 when Britain faced a greater existential threat from across the Channel. Later scholars have echoed Churchill’s meaning, albeit with less eloquence. Professor Frank Barlow makes the point rather better than most: “To write a history of Edward (the Confessor) and his reign (1042-66), we have to scrape the barrel with care; every scrap of information is precious… Any historical reconstruction must be a personal creation, and the scarcer and more untrustworthy the evidence the greater the artifice. The facts simply do not speak for themselves. Nor can facts and the historian’s contribution be separated. A history is not made of bricks and mortar. The historian does his best and writes in good faith. He meets uncertainty at every turn and offers his solution. Sometimes, the only course that he can honestly follow is to offer several equally plausible possibilities between which he cannot decide. He has to steer between bland assurances for which he has no warrant, and complete scepticism, which denies his craft.”[4]

 

More recently, Dr Michael Lawson has focused on the practicability of extracting the truth from the available material, which he likens to a jigsaw with pieces missing and without a picture as a guide. The problem is further aggravated by the fact that (to continue Lawson’s metaphor) we are dealing with puzzle pieces from different jigsaws. What students of the Norman Conquest have to work with are two incompatible versions of history: the Norman narrative and the English narrative, neither of which prove anything.[5]

 

According to the Norman narrative, William never did a bad thing or fought an unjust war. He was promised the English throne by a grateful King Edward and denied it by the treacherous Harold. However virtuous the Normans may have thought William was and regardless of whether they actually believed he was promised the English crown, the reality is that the duke of Normandy made no impression on the English chroniclers. His activities obviously did not affect them and there is absolutely no suggestion in the contemporary English sources that Edward ever considered duke William, or any foreigner, as heir to his throne. Insofar as king Edward nominated a successor, he only ever considered Englishmen.

 

Historians have been trying since the early twelfth century to interpret the Norman Conquest in the context of these contrasting historical narratives. Their general opinion is that the Norman sources can be accepted despite their faults for want of anything to disprove them. The passage of time has seen the emergence of a number of different theories, which for the most part are little more than variations of the traditional narratives. William may be presented as a little less virtuous and Harold as a little more so, but the pro-Norman opinion is broadly intact. Lately, however, a school of thought has emerged that challenges the traditional Norman narrative. Modern historians seem more disposed to criticise Norman sources for being partial, and spreading propaganda intended to justify the Norman Conquest and to placate a critical Pope. There is even a modern insinuation that the whole thing was a monumental misunderstanding, which was caused by a renegade Norman cleric called Robert Champart former abbot of Jumiéges, who misled William into thinking that King Edward had bequeathed the English crown to him. It was untrue, of course, but the duke believed it implicitly.

 

To an objective observer, none of these theories is convincing or complete, since none explain the inter-relationships between England’s three kings in 1066: Edward the Confessor, Harold II and William I. Their inter-personal relations are the ‘hidden history’ that traverses this period; that, between Edward and William being of singular importance: “With both Edward and William, so much was taking place within their minds and the minds of others that the roots of the drama are ultimately unknowable. The thread that runs through everything is Edward and William’s personal relationship, a story during which nothing discernable happened for years on end, yet, which was constantly ongoing. That they met only once between 1041 and 1066 should give pause for thought.”[6]

 

It is regrettable that efforts to resolve this evidential conundrum have divided historical opinion and unwittingly diverted the historiography of the Conquest from its proper course. Instead of enlightening us, it has become in professor Bates words a ‘barrier to the truth’.[7] It seems, therefore, that to understand the Norman Conquest one first has to understand the history of its historiography. Since it is ridiculous to think that I can solve mysteries that have puzzled scholars for centuries, I will not try to do so. In this article, I am focused on what I believe are the important issues: the relationship between the three kings, Edward’s ‘promise’ and Harold’s ‘oath’. These are the elements that I believe form the basis of William’s claim to the English crown and his justification for the Conquest. But first things first: I need to start with a brief explanation of the sources I have used.

 

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle et al

The main contemporary English source is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC).[8] Written in English, the ASC is a series of seven separate manuscript annals of English history from the late ninth to the mid twelfth centuries. They were probably copied from a common source (now lost) and completed at different monasteries each with its local interest, priorities and political bias. Historians have always treated the seven manuscripts as one chronicle; though for convenience, each is designated by a letter: Ã, A, B, C, D, E and F. My interest is in manuscripts C, D and E, which cover this period of the eleventh century. In view of the number of manuscripts and the regional variations, the ASC contains errors of fact and chronology.[9] Nevertheless, these faults notwithstanding, it has great historical value as the relevant parts were written contemporaneously, without the benefit of hindsight or the necessity to explain the Norman Conquest.

 

My other primary English source is the Vita Edwardi Regis (the ‘Vita’), which was written in about 1066 by an anonymous Flemish monk for king Edward’s queen Edith. Its express purpose is to glorify her father earl Godwin of Wessex, and her siblings Harold and Tostig. Consequently, the Vita is prone to exaggerate their role and importance during the period concerned. Broadly, the Vita’s message is that king Edward and his kingdom prospered whilst he was being advised and mentored by earl Godwin and his sons.. The Vita makes use of a lost original of manuscript E and provides a few facts not in the ASC. However, its bias and the author’s relative ignorance of English history, reduces its evidential value. It should be used cautiously, even though it is a useful balance to hostile Norman accounts.[10] There are also references to twelfth century historians in my text. I have used these selectively where I believe they add value to this piece. Anglo-Norman chroniclers such as Florence of Worcester (also called John of Worcester), William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon, Orderic Vitalis and the Saxon monk Eadmer, wrote their histories within a hundred years of the conquest. They relied principally on the remnants of an oral tradition and the written sources, some of which are no longer extant. Naturally, they should be used cautiously since they are not contemporaneous and authors were writing under Norman hegemony. Nonetheless, it would be foolish to disregard them altogether since, as Professor Frank Barlow points out, ‘they may help’.

 

The Normans writers – William of Poitiers and William of Jumiéges

The Norman written narrative is contained in the works of William of Poitiers and William of Jumiéges. Poitiers (1020-1080) was a Norman knight turned cleric who served as duke William’s chaplain and accompanied him on campaign. He wrote ‘The Life of William Duke of Normandy and King of England’ (Gesta Willelmi ducis Normannorum et Regis Anglorum). It is by his own admission a long and detailed panegyrical account of the duke’s achievements. Poitiers missed no opportunity to exaggerate William’s virtues and Harold’s vices. Jumiéges (b 1000) was a Norman monk who wrote ‘The Life of the Duke of Normandy’ (Gesta Normannorum Ducum). It is a plain tale of the Norman victory over the ‘perfidious’ English. It lacks Poitiers’ embellishments and is generally regarded as the more reliable of the two sources. The fundamental weakness in the Norman narrative is that it did not emerge in written form until after the Conquest. Inevitably therefore, it has drawn criticism from suspicious scholars who regard it is as propaganda, concocted with the benefit of hindsight after the event to justify the Norman Conquest.

 

The Bayeux Tapestry

In his monumental six-volume history of the Norman Conquest, Edward Freeman held the Bayeux Tapestry to be the highest of the Norman authorities. His belief was founded on the way the Tapestry’s narrative unfolds. It is told from the Norman perspective but ” …with hardly any of the invention, exaggeration, or insinuation of the other Norman authorities.” [11] The Tapestry is without doubt a masterpiece of medieval narrative art and an important historical document. It records in pictorial form a course of events in England and Normandy between 1064 and 1066, and it has moulded our perception of the Norman Conquest in much the same way as a Shakespearean melodrama has for the life and reign of Richard III. So much has been written about the Tapestry since it was rediscovered in the early eighteenth century that it is impossible for me to do it justice in a paragraph or two. I will, therefore, confine myself to a couple of general but important observations. First, notwithstanding its artistic merit, the Tapestry is not art for art’s sake. Although its antecedents are uncertain, the bulk of modern scholarly opinion is that William’s half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, commissioned it between 1077 and 1082 as a public testament to William’s conquest of England but more particularly to glorify bishop Odo’s part therein. Traditionally it is regarded as a pro-Norman story of English oath breaking.[12]

 

My second point is that the storyline is not as simple as first thought; modern re-interpretations of the Tapestry bear witness to its complexity. One of the main problems is that observers can only interpret the tapestry from what they see. The images are not accompanied by adequate textual explanation or dialogue; furthermore, the text is confusing and possibly even misleading. There is, therefor, a natural tendency to interpret the Tapestry’s story by reference to the written works of Poitiers and Jumiéges, which results in its pro-Norman treatment. In the last fifty years, however, a different interpretation has emerged, as Professor Bates explains: “ Over recent decades, its allusive captions, often ambiguous imagery, and likely audience, its treatment less often as a source that tells the story of William’s triumph and more frequently as one that in significant respects echoes Eadmer and the Vita Edwardi Regis, together mean it is taken as a moral tale relevant to all the participants in the story.[13]

 

Dramatis personae

Edward Æthelredesson, the eldest son of the Saxon king Æthelrede and his second wife Emma of Normandy, was born at a time of great tribulation for the king his father and the Saxon people. The golden age of Anglo-Saxon England had long waned. The last decade of the tenth century and the first, of the eleventh saw a new wave of Viking raids from across the North Sea. King Æthelrede, who was not called the ‘unraede’ (ill-advised) for nothing, adopted a policy of appeasement. He paid the Norsemen to go away. It was a futile policy, which imposed an unpopular tax on the Saxon population without stopping the raids. Sensing Æthelrede’s weakness, Viking ambition turned from plunder to conquest. The Danish king Cnut invaded England in early 1016 bent on seizing the English throne; before the year’s end he had destroyed the royal Saxon house and was acknowledged king of all England by the Saxon thegns. Æthelrede was dead and his widow Emma fled to her native Normandy with their two sons Edward and Alfred. Although we know little of Edward’s life in Normandy the experience affected him profoundly in later life. He left England as a child and returned in his middle age. It will be necessary to deal with his treatment in the duchy in more detail later; for now, however, I wish only to draw attention to two contextual points.

 

First: even though England’s and Normandy had a close alliance at the turn of the eleventh century, it was not a love match but an alliance driven by force of circumstance and ballasted by Æthelrede’s marriage to Emma of Normandy in 1002.[14] Both sides were adversely affected by the resumption of Viking raiding and fearful of Scandinavian territorial ambition. From duke Richard’s perspective, Emma’s marriage secured a useful alliance that gave the duke some influence at the English court. Æthelrede’s death and Cnut’s succession did not affect this arrangement since almost immediately the duke offered Emma as a bride for her late husband’s antagonist. Emma married Cnut in 1017. She bore him one son, Harthacnut, who displaced Edward and Alfred from the English succession. The secure possession of the two English Æthelings (princes of the royal blood) was of great political and diplomatic importance to successive Norman dukes as pawns in their relations with England’s de facto Danish king. The alacrity, with which uncle Richard and their mother discarded the Æthelings’ cause in order to secure an alliance with Cnut, indicates that their value as political levers outweighed family sentiment. [15]

 

Second: there is no evidence other than what the Normans tell us that Edward felt any filial connection with his maternal relatives. It is true that he was treated honourably as a member of the ducal household; yet, he was kept in the background and his cause as the senior English Ætheling was not taken seriously until the Anglo-Norman alliance began to break down in the 1030’s; at which time, it suited the duke to use the threat posed by Edward’s Ætheling status as another control mechanism against Cnut

 

William the seventh duke of Normandy was the bastard son of duke Robert and his concubine Herleve. He inherited his ducal title at the age of seven in 1035 together with his birthright: “relations with England were…conditioned by an interconnection between the Duchy and the Kingdom, which had been formed before his birth.”[16] Of course, by 1035 that relationship had changed dramatically. The alliance with Cnut was worthless and duke Robert became increasingly involved in English affairs on the side of Edward and his younger brother Alfred. Theoretically, that policy continued after William became duke; in practice, however, there was very little that he could do to support his English cousins. As a bastard son, his minority was a tumultuous time for Normandy. The ducal court was a shambles, William’s guardians were nearly all murdered and he himself was frequently moved from place to place at night to escape his enemies. Elsewhere, the Norman nobles pursued their own private wars and vendettas. It was a time of lawlessness, which William survived only because of the inherited authority invested in his ducal office. Despite the unrest and the violence, ducal revenues continued to be collected and the church remained supportive of him.

 

David Douglas described William’s character as paradoxical. There is little doubt that the general impression of William that emerges from the pages of history is repellent (to use Douglas’ words): though not, of course, to everyone. A Norman monk, writing after William’s death, described him as the wisest prince in Christendom of his generation; he possessed ‘the largest soul’, was brave, intelligent, determined, articulate and temperate, and a good Christian. Others thought differently: an Englishman who met William and lived at his court agreed that he was a wise and powerful king, possibly the most powerful yet known to English history. He was, however, also a ‘harsh oppressor’, brutal, avaricious and above all cruel. Whilst these characteristics were not uncommon among secular leaders of the time, William was considered to have been exceptionally wanton in his disregard for human suffering. Examples of his tyranny abound in Norman and English history; suffice to say that William had an unattractive personality. Despite that, Douglas tries hard to defend him from the accusation that he was nothing more than a ruffian, a brute. He was a clever and able man, and an effective war leader. Despite his rough justice and harshness William restored the rule of law to Normandy. As king, he enforced English laws strictly; so much so, that It was said that any innocent man could wander the realm without fear of bandits or cut purses. He was also abstentious and pious. No doubt his childhood experiences had much to do with his savagery in war; but as Douglas points out it was not mindless savagery. For example, his sack of Romney in 1066 allowed for the bloodless occupation of Dover. The devastation of London and its surrounds in 1066 was a strategic necessity, which crushed defiance in the south. And his brutality in the north was successful in finally quelling resistance to his rule.[17]

 

Poitiers writes that Edward loved duke William ‘like a brother or son’; if so, such a close relationship can only have developed while Edward was in Normandy, since if they ever met afterwards (and that’s a big ‘if’), it was not more than once. It is not impossible that William, who lost his own father in 1034, regarded Edward as a father figure or perhaps as an elder brother, but it is unlikely to have occurred before duke Robert’s death. It is possible that as the Æthelings’ stock rose, Edward was admitted into the duke’s inner circle as a confidante to the boy duke; he may even have bonded with William on an emotional level. The fact remains however, that as the duke got older he became increasingly adept at separating his emotions from his political sense. Neither was Edward so foolish nor so saintly that he did not understand the political imperative of not allowing emotion to govern state policy, especially when was a king.

 

Harold Godwinson was the second son of Godwin earl of Wessex and his Danish wife Gytha. He was born sometime between the years 1020 and 1023. His father, even then, was the most famous and the most influential of king Cnut’s English earls, and the king’s principal enforcer. Earl Godwin was the son of Wulfnoth a minor Saxon thegn and a pirate; his rise under a Danish monarch is remarkable, since he was a staunch supporter of king Æthelrede during the Danish invasion. Indeed, his efforts on behalf of the doomed king so impressed Cnut that Godwin was quickly recruited as one of the ‘new men’ with whom the Danish king intended to rule his new kingdom. Godwin’s subsequent rise to the summit of the Anglo-Danish nobility was due to his achievements in royal service at a time when the king was struggling to control his dual kingdoms of England and Denmark. We cannot be certain whether Godwin led an elite force of English soldiers on Cnut’s Danish campaign or whether, more importantly, he held England as Regent for the king during his frequent absences on campaign. What is certain, however, is that by the time young Harold reached puberty his father was the established power behind the throne. Moreover, his prestige and influence continued after Cnut’s death. Earl Godwin survived the uncertain and dangerous reigns of Harold I and Harthacnut, and prospered during the reign of king Edward. It was during these years that Harold established himself as his father’s most loyal and effective lieutenant: his ‘eldest and wisest son’ and earl of East Anglia in his own right.

 

Earl Godwin’s unexpected death bought Harold to the fore in 1053.[18] He succeeded to the earldom of Wessex and to his father’s place at King Edward’s side. His role as the chief administrator of the king’s household and government (‘Mayor of the Palace’) is acknowledged by modern historians; though, there is no consensus on the nature of his influence over Edward: was it benign or malign? The ASC for all its faults has a singular advantage over other sources; it was compiled from annals written before Edward’s death. Its matter-of-fact reporting of historic events between 1053 and 1066, including war with the Scots and with the Welsh, and the steps taken to ensure an English succession does not suggest any cause for concern about the king’s relationship with Harold. Manuscripts C and D capture the prevailing contemporary English opinion of Harold as “The noble earl who ever faithfully obeyed his noble lord an words and deeds, neglecting nothing whereof the national king stood in need.[19] Predictably, the Vita Edwardi gives an even more impressive report of Harold’s service: “He wielded his father’s power even more actively and walked his ways, that is in patience and mercy, and with kindness to men of good will. But disturbers of the peace, thieves and robbers this champion of the law threatened with the face of a lion.”[20] The Vita also describes Harold as being (I paraphrase): ‘distinctly handsome, graceful, and brave. He possessed great stamina and strength, being able to go without sleep of food, which was coupled with a mildness of temper and a ready understanding. He took contradiction in good part without retaliating even once where Englishmen of compatriots were concerned. He was not rash or flippant. He was also good at concealing or disguising his intentions, so that someone who did not know him was in doubt what to think. Alas, he was also rather too generous with oaths’.[21]

 

This assessment of Harold is born out by entries in the Waltham Chronicle, which Harold’s twenty-first century biographer summarises: “The [Waltham] Chronicle too saw Harold as a fine soldier, tall in stature and incredibly strong’ more handsome than all the leading men of the land’. He was skilled in the military arts, knowledgeable, astute, vigorous, prudent, with all knightly prowess and wisdom, and well conversant with the laws of the land. Yet he could be headstrong and prone to trust too much to his own courage.” [22] We also have what is said to be a copy of Harold’s epitaph written on his tomb at Waltham (now destroyed): ” [he was the]…blessed father of our country…brave…renowned among men, a man of character and authority.[23] If these English sources are agreed on Harold’s virtues, the Norman’s are equally agreed on his vices. Though they accept he was wise and brave (thus, making William’s victory all the greater), the Normans regarded Harold as a treacherous perjurer who usurper the English throne and met a just end.

 

His contemporary reputation notwithstanding, it is difficult to make an objective judgement of Harold’s life and reign without taking account of his ambition. Due to the efforts of earl Godwin, his family were already immensely rich and powerful before his death. They were, however, politically isolated and unable to overcome opposition to their own foreign policy proposals or to resist the machinations of Robert Champart who seems to have been pushing the king towards a pro-Norman policy. Harold was every bit as ambitious as his father and even cleverer. He quickly built on the late earl’s legacy by building a pro-Godwin consensus among the English nobility. He achieved this by the force of his personality and , more importantly, by ensuring that as far as possible the key government offices and titles were filled by members of his family or their proxies. Consequently, on important issues, such as the succession he carried the weight of opinion in the Witan. Furthermore, he assiduously increased Godwin wealth, power and prestige by the acquisition of significant land holdings in the south. The Doomsday Book provides ample evidence of the massive increase in the House of Godwin’s estates during Harold’s tenure as earl. It has even been said that he was richer than the king. Such ambition raises the inference that Harold might well have considered himself to be the next king of England in the absence of a suitable English prince of royal blood. It is also a reasonable inference in these circumstances that King Edward might have felt threatened by Harold’s power. In which case, he might well look to his second cousin William as an ally against the over-mighty Godwins.

 

The English succession in 1042

Medieval English monarchs reigned with the consent of their subjects; that much is implicit in the coronation oath, which has been sworn by every English (later British) monarch since 973. By their oath English kings swore to uphold the law of the land, to protect the English church, and to be merciful and just in their governance. In return, they were crowned and anointed, which is a process that transformed their status from human to divine. As God’s representative on earth, kings could not be judged or chastised by mortal man. Indeed, the history of the British Isles gives many examples of how difficult it is to remove a bad king once he is crowned and anointed. Nevertheless, there were no hard and fast rules governing the royal succession in pre-conquest England; the guiding principle was political pragmatism, rather than hereditary right or precedent. The Anglo-Saxon Witan considered the royal succession to be far too important to be decided by the lottery of birth and they introduced a strong (occasionally decisive) element of election into the process. It is axiomatic, therefore, that nobody no matter how high born they were, nobody could expect to succeed to the throne unless they possessed the necessary qualities to rule according to their oath. It was important but not critical that any contender was of royal blood, though not necessarily the late king’s heir. A good example of this constitutional flexibility can be seen in the accession of Harold Harefoot in 1035. He was Cnut’s eldest son but not his appointed heir. Yet, he seized the throne, disinherited his half-brother Harthacnut and reigned for five years until his death in 1040. His success was due principally to the support he received from the English nobility who preferred the ‘English’ Harold to the ‘Danish’ Harthacnut.

 

In the absence of a suitable royal candidate, the throne might pass to an acceptable commoner, which is precisely what happened in 1066. The Ætheling Edgar was passed over because he was considered too young to reign; instead, Harold, a commoner was nominated by the late king and recognised by the Witan as king. It was always useful to have the late king’s nomination, which raised a presumption of competence. However, the deceased king’s wishes were not paramount, they could be, and sometimes were, ignored. For example, Cnut’s nomination of Harthacnut was ignored by the bulk of the English nobles in 1035.

 

Edward’s returned to England only twice between 1016 and 1042. His first visit, in 1035, was a foolish attempt to assert his title as Ætheling. However, he lacked English support and his mission was unsuccessful. Alfred’s later visit in the same year was equally foolish since it resulted in his capture and death in circumstances that were to blight Edward’s later relationship with earl Godwin.[24] Edward’s second visit in 1041 was presumably at the king Harthacnut’s invitation, since he still lacked support in England. Harthacnut’s reason for inviting his half brother to England is obscure; it is, nevertheless, evident that Edward was ‘associated’ with the crown from the beginning and was nominated by Harthacnut as his successor. This was doubly significant since it put Edward in a strong position to compete for the crown ahead of other claimants and it bought Edward and Godwin earl of Wessex into an association that was to prove important in the future. For the present, however, Harthacnut’s sudden and unexpected death in 1042 placed the sovereignty of England in jeopardy.

 

Edward was well qualified to wear the crown. He was the son of a king, he was Harthacnut’s nominated successor and he was born in England of mixed Saxon and Nordic blood; yet his succession was uncertain. The Scandinavians Swein Estrithson and Magnus the Good (king of Norway) also had claims to the English throne. Swein Estrithson was the grandson of Swein Forkbeard and the best Danish bloodline candidate. Magnus’ title was based on the terms of his peace settlement between with Harthacnut, in which — he claimed — Harthacnut had promised him the English throne should he (Harthacnut) die first. There was by now a well of support for Edward among the English laity but it was not limitless. Some key players maintained cautious neutrality in the beginning. Edward had to make a positive case for his succession. Ultimately, Edward’s descent from the West Saxon line of Cerdic ensured his succession in preference to the Scandinavian claimants. Swein Estrithson accepted f Edward’s succession but Magnus continued to assert his prior claim until he died. Although, Norman knights accompanied Edward on his return to England, they were an honour guard rather than a fighting force with which he could enforce his claim. If Edward owed his throne to anyone other than his parents then according to English sources that man was earl Godwin. In the English narrative, there is no doubt that it was Godwin’s status and influence that persuaded the doubtful Witan to acknowledge Edward as their liege lord.[25]

 

It is tempting to look back on Edward’s life as the story of his path to sainthood and his reign as merely the prelude to the battle of Hastings, during which time the Norman threat was ever present. However, we must resist that temptation, since that was not how it was, or even how it seemed to people at the time. Edward canonization in 1161 had more to do with twelfth century politics than with events prior to 1066. His enrolment into the ranks of the ‘Holy Confessors’ (hence his title) has influenced some modern interpretations of his kingship; however, its connection with the Conquest is so tenuous that I need say no more about it.

 

It is true that the question of the succession occupied English minds for much of Edward’s reign; however, it only became a problem once it was realised the he was not going to sire an Ætheling. The lack of a royal birth left the way open for Magnus to press his claim. Indeed, he was only prevented from doing so in 1045 by the distraction of his continuing war with Swein Estrithson. In the event, Magnus’ sudden death in 1047 probably saved Edward from disaster; it did not, however, end the Norse threat, since Harald Hadradi inherited Magnus’ claim and posed a formidable threat to Edward’s crown. Consequently, it was the risk of invasion from Scandinavia that continued to drive English foreign policy.

 

The Promise

William’s justification for the conquest of England and the validity of his title to the throne is devastatingly simple. Poitiers conveniently summarises it in the form of a message from the duke to Harold before the battle of Hastings: “The duke instructed a monk from Fecamp to carry a message to Harold. ‘It is neither boldness not injustice but mature reflection and the quest for justice, which have led me to cross to this land, of which King Edward, my lord and relative, made me the heir, as Harold himself admits, because of the high honours and benefices which I and my ancestors conferred on him and his brother, as well as their men, and because all the men of his race, he believed me to be the most worthy and capable of supporting him in his lifetime, and of governing the kingdom after his death. He would not have done this without the agreement of his magnates, by the advice of archbishop Stiggard, earl Godwin, earl Leofric and earl Siward: all of them subscribed under oath that they would receive me as lord after the death of Edward and would never in his lifetime attempt to seize the kingdom by plotting against me. He gave as hostages Godwin’s son and grandson. Finally, he sent Harold himself to Normandy, so that he and I, both being present, he would swear what his father and other men already named had sworn in my absence. But in this voyage towards me, he was in danger of being taken prisoner and I rescued him by strength and wisdom. Harold made himself my vassal by doing homage and gave me surety in writing for my claim for the kingdom of England.[26]

 

Jumiéges’ version of events is simpler: “Edward, king of the English, being according to the dispensation of God, without an heir, sent Robert [Champart], archbishop of Canterbury to the duke with a message appointing the duke as heir to the kingdom which God had entrusted to him. He also at a later time sent to the duke, Harold the greatest of all the counts in his kingdom alike in riches and honour and power. This he did in order that Harold might guarantee the crown to the duke by his fealty and confirm the same with an oath according to Christian usage…Harold thereupon…performed fealty to him in respect of the kingdom with many oaths.”[27]

 

These two sources lie at the heart of our understanding of the Norman Conquest. For centuries, historians have disregarded their deficiencies because they believed that the authors were honest reporters and duke William’s claim was essentially just. Take, for example, the following comment by Sir Frank Stenton: “William of Normandy had a direct claim to Edward’s interest as the son of the man who protected him in exile. That he carried his interest to the point of recognizing William as his heir is placed beyond reasonable doubt by the reiterated assertions of the Norman writers that there was on occasion when he promised the kingdom to William. They do not agree about the date of the promise…but there is much to suggest that some recognition of the kind was an incident … in the English revolution of 1051.[28] Sir Frank Stenton is such a distinguished historian that it is difficult to accept that he believed its repetition was sufficient to prove the Norman claim ‘beyond serious doubt’. Proof to that high standard requires independent corroboration or unimpeachable documentary evidence, neither of which is present for this claim. It is an example of the tendency of some historians to accept the Norman account without any genuine critical analysis. Dr Michael Lawson makes an even stranger assertion about the credibility of the Norman narrative as evidence: “Even though they (Poitiers and Jumiéges) had every reason to be biased on the issue, and say some things that are difficult to believe, much of what followed becomes intelligible if this an other statements by William of Jumiéges and his fellow Norman writer William of Poitiers…are accepted.[29]

 

Inevitably, some historians dismiss the Norman narrative as propaganda on the several grounds that it is biased, unsubstantiated and incredible.[30] Professor Frank Barlow baulked at describing it as ‘wholly fictitious’ but he did think it was ‘ex parte’ (one-sided) and ‘ex post facto’ (after the fact).[31] The accusation of bias, though undoubtedly true, goes only to its evidential value; it is not proof of its falseness. Similarly, the lack of corroboration by an independent source goes to the weight to be attributed to the Norman texts as evidence; it does not disprove them. Indeed, in the context of eleventh century diplomacy and international politics, it is questionable whether an independent witness actually existed: they all had an axe to grind. The force of the sceptics’ argument lies in the cumulative effect of all three grounds advanced, especially the last. The assertion that the Norman tradition is far-fetched provides disbelieving scholars with the means to probe for and to exploit the flaws of commission and omission contained in it.

 

The contention that Edward bequeathed his throne to William out of gratitude does not bear close examination.[32] Whilst in exile, Edward never abandoned his Ætheling status or allowed people to forget his noble lineage. His actions after he left Normandy in 1041 certainly support the view that his thoughts about exile were not particularly kindly or forgiving. Indeed, such was his bitterness towards Emma, the mother who abandoned him, that in 1043 he reduced her to penury and kept her in close, though not uncomfortable, confinement. William of Malmesbury also relates how earl Godwin convinced Edward that the ‘miseries and poverty’ he endured in exile would discipline him to be a just king.[33] Neither is there any evidence that the Normans did much to promote his succession. Malmesbury wrote this about Edward and Alfred’s situation in 1017: “I find that their uncle Richard took no steps to restore them to their country: on the contrary, he married his sister Emma to the enemy and invader; it may be difficult to say whether, to the greater ignominy of him who bestowed her, or of the woman who consented to share the nuptial couch of that man who had cruelly molested her husband and driven her children into exile”[34] It’s true, as Malmesbury states, that duke Robert considered restoring Edward to his inheritance in the 1030’s after he and Cnut became alienated, but that came to nothing. When Harthacnut died in 1042, William was still struggling to establish his own hegemony in Normandy and anyhow Norman help was unnecessary since “ …the whole nation then received Edward as king, as was his right by birth”. [35]   In fact, he seems to have been ‘elected’ even before Harthacnut’s funeral

 

Neither is it true that Edward deliberately packed his court and the Church with influential Normans, in preparation for an eventual Norman succession. Of the five nobles he created, none were Norman; of his twenty-nine ecclesiastical appointments, seven were foreigners and three of those were Norman.[36] Most of the men who accompanied Edward to England were friends and acquaintances from his time in exile; few, were men of substance in their homeland. They came to England to make their fortune. Edward actually promoted more Lotharingians than Normans. Robert Champart the former Norman abbot of Jumiéges, was the only Norman chosen for high ecclesiastical office and that was a disastrous appointment.

 

Sceptical historians also assert that regardless of what Edward may or may not have wanted, William was barred from the English succession because he was a bastard. The ancient Synod of Chelsea (787) proclaimed that only legitimate kings were to be chosen ‘none resulting from adulterous or incestuous relationships.’ The weakness of this argument is that although it represented the considered policy of the English church and English custom, it was not representative of Scandinavian or Norman culture at the time.[37] Bastardy was not the stigma on the continent that it was in England. That said, it is inconceivable that the English nobility would have considered it an honour to have a foreign bastard on the throne. This is an important point because it highlights the cultural and constitutional difference between England and Normandy, where inheritance was by primogeniture (the inheritance of the first born son). I think this point further militates against the view that Edward’s promise, if he made it, was valid or even that he meant it to be taken seriously.

 

It is a curious feature of the English narrative that it is not based on what is written in the ASC or the Vita Edwardi, but on what is omitted therefrom. Neither text contains any reference to Edward’s bequest. There are two references to the English succession in the ASC. The D and the E manuscripts each refer to the fact that in 1057, king Edward recalled his nephew Edward the Exile from banishment in Hungary. William of Malmesbury adds that the king specified that Edward the Exile was to be accompanied by all his family, since it was the king’s intention “ as he declared that either he or his sons should succeed to the hereditary kingdom of England ”, Florence of Worcester concurring. [38] Unfortunately nothing came of this, as Edward the Exile died en route to England, leaving his infant son Edgar as the remaining English Ætheling. The other reference to the succession is for the year 1066, when king Edward was on his deathbed: “ yet did the wise king entrust his kingdom to a man of high rank, to Harold himself, the noble earl who ever faithfully obeyed his noble lord in words and deeds neglecting nothing, whereof the national king stood in need.” [39] This leads me to an argument raised by the late Peter Rex; he argues that whatever Edward may or may not have promised to William, he changed his mind twice; first in 1057 and again in 1066. According to Rex Edward was entitled to do this under English civil inheritance law, which held that each new bequest superseded the previous one. Consequently, any bequest he might have made to William was cancelled in any event. While this is an attractive argument, it fails because it is based on the premise that English ‘kingship’ (i.e. the ‘Crown’ as a concept) is the heritable property of the royal family, which is wrong. The office of king (the crown) is not royal property to be bequeathed as though it was land or jewellery or money. The analogy with civil law is inappropriate because, as I have already said elsewhere, the succession is a political process and not a legal one. The reality is that Edward could not promise, bequeath or grant the throne to anybody, since that person would only ascend the throne if he had the support of the Witan. King’s could and often did make their preference known, which may or may not be accepted by the English nobility.[40]

 

The only reference to duke William in the ASC, is the following entry in manuscript D for the year 1051/52: “Then soon came duke William from beyond the sea with a great retinue of Frenchmen, and the king received him and as many of his companions as it pleased him, and let him go again.”[41] It is odd that this entry is unsupported by other contemporary English sources, especially in view of the tense political and diplomatic situation at the time. It raises two possibilities: i) that there was no contact or diplomatic arrangement between England and Normandy, or ii) it was of no consequence to the English chroniclers. Though this silence cannot be ignored or dismissed, it doesn’t actually prove anything. There are many reasons why Edward’s bequest was not recorded by the English; for example: it never happened, it was not newsworthy or perhaps they did not realise they needed to refute a hypothetical future claim of Norman legitimacy.

 

The combination of Norman ambiguity and English reticence has forced historians to speculate about if, when and how Edward might have bequeathed the throne to William. The general opinion is that, if it happened at all, it probably happened during or soon after a conflict between the King and Earl Godwin that erupted in 1051. Edward had not forgiven earl Godwin for his part in the death of Alfred the Ætheling and, stirred-up by Robert Champart the archbishop of Canterbury, wanted to bring Godwin down a peg or two. Godwin, for his part, resented his loss of influence at court caused by Champart’s machinations. The tension between king and earl came to a head in the summer of 1051. A violent clash in Dover between the townsfolk and the retinue of Count Eustace of Boulogne proved to be the catalyst for rebellion. Many people were killed in the affray and Eustace complained to Edward about the violence done to his men. The king therefore commanded Godwin to sack Dover as punishment for the brawl. The earl refused to do so on the grounds that the town lay within his estates and he did not wish to impose such a crushing punishment on his own vassals; especially if, as he believed, the king had acted hastily without knowing all the facts. Thus, it was that Godwin and his sons assembled a ‘great army’ and marched to within fifteen miles of where the king held court at Gloucester.[42]

 

The ASC (D) reports that the rebels were resolved to fight the king, unless count Eustace was handed over to them. However, the more sympathetic (to Godwin) E manuscript reports that they merely wanted to get the king’s and his council’s advice on how they might redress the wrongs done to them. It doesn’t really matter which of these two versions we believe since despite his wealth and power, Godwin was in this instance politically isolated. Loyalists’ flocked to Edward’s cause with their retinues and Godwin was soon outmuscled. Both sides withdrew from armed conflict to consider their positions. The king, now further reinforced, demanded that Godwin and his sons should appear before the Witan to explain their conduct. Unfortunately, the breach of trust was too serious for Godwin and his sons to place themselves at the king’s mercy. They refused to appear and were forced to flee the country. Earl Godwin went to Flanders with three of his sons; Harold went to Ireland with his youngest brother.

 

One of the significant features of the rebellion was the king’s repudiation of his wife Edith, which may have been at the behest of Robert Champart. In David Douglas’ opinion, the importance of this whole episode is that it bought the king’s childlessness and the problem of the succession to the fore at a time when earl Godwin’s influence at court had been removed. It is about this time, ‘before the end of 1051’ as Douglas writes, that Edward nominated William of Normandy as his heir.[43]The rebellion of the earl of Wessex may even have been caused by knowledge of this transaction and the affair at Dover would in that case have been regarded as a secondary cause of the upheaval that followed.”[44] In any event, and this is the point, Edward was now free to establish closer ties with Normandy. it has been suggested that William came to England personally to receive Edward’s promise. The authority for this proposition is the single entry in manuscript D of the ASC to which I have already referred. Florence of Worcester’s repetition of this entry may have led some historians to link William’s visit to Edward’s royal promise. Others doubt the visit ever took place.[45] Fortunately, we do not need to decide between the different opinions, since even if the visit did take place, there is nothing in manuscript D or in Florence of Worcester’s account or even in the Norman texts to suggest it was concerned with the English succession. Neither William of Poitiers nor William of Jumiéges ever assert that William received his promise directly from Edward, which they surely would have done had they known about it; it would have strengthened William’s claim immeasurably.[46] In fact, they do not mention the visit at all.

 

If we accept that William’s visit did take place, it is inconceivable that he would have come uninvited. So, why would he come? It was not for his aunt Emma’s funeral, which he never attended. If William came to see Edward at all, it is probable he came as a petitioner to seal a treaty of friendship between Normandy and England. Pete Rex thinks that is a possibility based on his interpretation of the single entry in the ASC (D): “ When king Edward accepted William and some (not all of) his men, he accepted them as vassals…William had done homage and fealty to Edward, probably to seal a treaty of friendship or alliance between them.” [47] On this interpretation, William’s visit had ‘no connotations’ of making him king of England. If William came as a petitioner, it might explain why the Norman writers do not mention the visit. They could never bring themselves to represent William as a petitioner seeking a favour of Edward. Equally, William may have come to support his cousin against the English rebels, or even to size-up his chances of claiming the English throne. In view of this last possibility, Sir Frank Stenton’s speculation that William might have had ‘designs’ on the English crown from as early as 1047 has implications he might not have intended. It implies that William’s aspiration for the English crown may have stemmed from imperial ambition rather than the recovery of his inheritance.[48]

 

The Norman sources are, however, explicit. It was Robert of Jumiéges who conveyed Edward’s promise to duke William. Unfortunately, they do not date Robert’s visit, which has given rise to some intense speculation about when it might have taken place. If, as some scholars suggest, it was in 1051, during Robert’s visit to Rome for his pallium as archbishop of Canterbury, one wonders why no mention of it is made in the ASC or in the Vita in the context of earl Godwin’s rebellion, which they report in great detail. The difficulty is that Poitiers asserts that the three great English earls and archbishop Stigand agreed with Edward’s promise. If that is true, it dates the promise to 1052, after Godwin had recovered his authority with the king. In which case, Robert of Jumiéges could hardly have been the messenger since he had fled the country by then.[49] There is no right answer to this conundrum; the ‘evidence ‘ is just not there to do other than theorise.

 

The Oath

Harold’s visit to Normandy provides different challenges. It is possibly the most important episode in the pre-conquest story since it goes to the core of the William’s claim. Harold’s perjury was his raison d’etre for invading England. The whole episode as it is described stems from the pens of the Norman writers. They assert king Edward sent his greatest lord, Harold Godwinson, to Normandy to guarantee Williams succession on oath. On his way to Normandy, Harold was captured and imprisoned at Ponthieu by Count Guy of Abbeville. Harold was released following the duke’s personal intervention and taken to Normandy where he ‘sojourned’ as the duke’s ‘guest’ for a while. Whilst in Normandy, he swore an oath of allegiance to the duke ‘according to Christian usage’ and as he had been commanded to do by king Edward.

 

The challenge for those writing about this affair now is that the truth cannot be established. The evidence is too unreliable. For instance, there is obvious confusion about the venue for Harold’s oath swearing: Poitiers puts it at Bonneville, the Bayeux Tapestry shows Bayeux, Orderic Vitalis suggests Rouen and William of Jumiéges says nothing. What are we supposed to think? We also have to take into account Poitiers’ tendency to exaggerate, which is apparent in the passage where he suggests that Harold’s embassage was meant to increase Edward’s honour; presumably, by the acquisition of such a distinguished heir. That is nonsense, since it is patently obvious that it was the king who honoured the duke if he named him as heir.[50] Despite his position in the duke’s household and despite his glorification of William’s character and achievements, Poitiers is evidently not an eyewitness to the events he describes.  It is most likely that he was using information contained from a complex and sophisticated legal case, which William had submitted to his fellow Christian Princes and to the Pope, in support of his title to the English crown and to reassure them about his intentions.[51]

 

Finally, on the issue of Norman credibility, I refer to Poitier’s statement that Harold gave his oath willingly as a quid pro quo for retaining his titles and estates after William’s accession. This version of events is too improbable to accept. Harold was the king’s wealthiest, most powerful and most important subject. He was England’s most redoubtable warrior, an excellent diplomat and a wise administrator. As head of the king’s household and his principal advisor, Harold took on the burden of the governance and administration of the realm while the king concentrated on his own priorities: religious devotion and hunting. The political reality is that Harold was easily the best person to succeed Edward after his death.[52] The idea that Harold would willingly give this up merely to maintain his status quo as an earl in William’s court is absurd. Paul Hill regards this whole thing as akin to a negotiation in which Harold was bargaining for his own demands.[53] Even if we accept Hill’s analogy, it is impossible to think that Harold would accept so little in exchange for so much unless, of course, he had no choice.

 

Even though the truth of Harold’s visit can never be known, there are some agreed facts that need not trouble us. First, it is indisputable that Harold visited the Continent probably in 1064. Second, it is accepted that, whether by design or misadventure, Harold fell into the hands of duke William and spent time in Normandy as the duke’s guest. Third, we can be sure that whether under duress or voluntarily Harold swore an oath to William of some sort. What remain in dispute are: (i) the purpose of Harold’s visit, (ii) the type and meaning of his oath and (iii) whether the oath was given as a result of deception and/or under duress.

 

The Tapestry’s treatment of this episode is revealing. As Freeman recognised and others have argued, it owes more to Eadmer’s Saxon tradition than Poitiers’ or Jumiéges’ Norman one.[54] According to Eadmer, Harold persuaded a reluctant king to allow him to travel to Normandy to bring back his brother and his nephew who were hostages there. The king did not trust William; he believed he would seek to gain ” some great advantage to himself. ” Despite his fear that the trip would end badly for Harold and for the kingdom, the king did not veto it. Harold sailed for Normandy but was shipwrecked in a great storm, captured by the Lord of Ponthieu and imprisoned. He managed to bribe a guard with the promise of reward and the duke of Normandy was told what had happened. The duke secured Harold’s release and took him to Normandy ‘for a few days’. William agreed to release the hostages on condition that Harold supported his claim to the English crown, which, he said, was promised to him by Edward when he was in Normandy and “when they were both young.”   Perceiving the danger, Harold agreed to William’s condition; whereupon, he was made to swear an oath on holy relics. Harold returned to England with his nephew (his brother remaining as surety for Harold’s help). “When, on being questioned by the king he told him what had happened and what he had done, the king exclaimed: ‘Did I not tell you that I knew William and that your going might bring untold calamity on this kingdom!’ Shortly after this Edward died.” [55]

 

The Tapestry gives no hint as to the purpose of Harold’s visit and to understand the Saxon interpretation we must begin at the end, with the scene showing Harold’s return and his meeting with the king: “It captures the scene of Harold’s return to Edward brilliantly. Harold is shown in an astonishingly but deliberately contorted stance; his head is bent low, his neck stretched out, his shoulders remarkably hunched, his hands raised in a vain attempt at explanation.”[56] It is plain to see that Harold is no longer considered to be a knight above reproach; indeed, “he is an outcast devoid of honour, his hunched and twisted figure announces his moral depravity much as does Shakespeare’s that of Richard III.” [57]

 

  1. The Bayeux Tapestry: Harold reporting the outcome of his journey to Edward Bayeux Tapestry 02.jpg

 

The artist’s skill is in the fact that a Norman audience (for whom this was intended) would see exactly what they expected to see: perfidious Harold. Whereas, on a more thoughtful appreciation, we can see that this scene does not depict Harold returning from a successful mission upon which the king had sent him (and as the Norman case requires). Edward’s admonishing finger pointed at the earl only makes sense in the context of Eadmer’s account that the king disapproved of the trip and even more of the outcome. This interpretation might explain the ambiguity of the opening scene of the Tapestry; wherein, the king and the earl are portrayed in a master-servant relationship.

 

  1. Edward and Harold ‘discuss’ the earls planned journey to NormandyBayeux Tapestry 01.jpg

The Norman lord who commissioned the tapestry and Norman the audiences would have little difficulty in perceiving this as Edward commanding Harold to go to Normandy to confirm William’s designation as heir to the throne; though, significantly that is not at all obvious from the accompanying textual inscription. The reason for the visit is not made clear from the text, as it very easily could have been. This ambiguity may have been deliberate so as to make a dual interpretation possible without it being obvious to the Normans. Furthermore, in the context of the final scene, Edward’s finger pointed at Harold’s chest coupled with the king’s facial expression and the manner in which he leans towards Harold suggests that he could very easily having been making the point forcefully that Harold’s proposed journey was a bad idea.

If Harold was not sent by Edward to guarantee Williams succession, then why did he go to Normandy? It could have been, as Eadmer states, to recover hostages. We know that William held two English hostages, one of whom returned to England with Harold.[58] That said, the question of hostages is a matter of some controversy among scholars. Poitiers declared that in order to confirm his grant of the succession Edward surrendered Godwin’s unnamed son and nephew as hostages to the duke. Eadmer not only names the hostages as Godwin’s son Wulfnoth and his nephew Hakon but he also links their presence in Normandy to the reconciliation of the king and earl Godwin in 1052. According to Eadmer, Edward demanded hostages as sureties for Goodwin’s loyalty. Eadmer implies that Robert Champart, archbishop of Canterbury, conveyed the hostages to Normandy at the same time as he fled there to avoid Godwin’s vengeance.[59] The ASC (E) supports Eadmer’s account. According to it, bishop Stigand and the ‘wise men both inside and outside the city’ intervened with God’s help in what was a standoff between the king and the earl “…and advised that hostages should be given as surety on either side, and so it was done.” Barlow is inclined to regard this as ‘unconvincing’ support for Eadmer; he quibbles about whether hostages were actually exchanged. The fact the ASC says explicitly ‘this was done’ is convincing enough for me.

 

Harold may have been trying to arrange a dynastic marriage between the duke’s family and his own. The author of ‘King Harald’s Saga’ certainly thinks that the problem between the two men was caused by a broken marriage promise; it seems, that much of Christendom thought the same.[60] According to Peter Rex: ” Most accounts of the matter, outside Normandy, state that Harold had agreed to marry a daughter of the duke and that the quarrel between was because he broke his word to do so. It was that and not an oath about the English succession that was widely known throughout Western Europe.”[61] William of Malmesbury is not sure what to believe. He half-heartedly rejects the claim that Edward sent Harold to Normandy to confirm William’s succession, on grounds that “he imagined (that) device to extricate himself…(from the clutches of Guy of Abbeville).”[62] In Malmesbury’s view, it is ‘nearest the truth’ to say that Harold went sea fishing and was blown onto the shore at Ponthieu by a tempest, and seized by Guy’s men, who imprisoned him. Subsequently, he was liberated at William’s command and taken personally to Normandy by Guy. There he ingratiated himself to the Normans by his courage and ability: “Of his own accord (he) confirmed to (William) by oath the castle of Dover, which was under his jurisdiction and the kingdom of England, after the death of Edward.[63] It is at this point that Harold is supposed to have been betrothed to William’s daughter.

 

Peter Rex offers what he considers to be the natural explanation for Harold’s journey; namely, that he was scrutinizing the possible opposition.[64] The Vita Edwardi describes Harold’s fondness for using foreign trips to spy out the land, and to familiarise himself with the character, policy and strength of the princes of Gaul. This is espionage, which Harold carried out “…personally and adroitly…and by God’s grace, he came home passing with watchful mockery through all ambushes as was his way.[65] The simplest explanation of a mystery is often the correct one and it may be so here: who knows? Rex is surely right, though, to conclude that none of these conflicting accounts are watertight or compelling. What they do tell us, however, is that the Norman narrative was not universally accepted outside the duchy.

 

I turn now to the third question. The belief that Harold was an oath breaker was widespread Europe after of the Conquest. The Norman sources are partial and they have embellished the circumstances of the oath; nevertheless, they are unlikely to have fabricated it. Given what we are told of his character, the idea that Harold was tricked is preposterous. The relevant question is whether he swore an oath readily rather than willingly to escape the danger he perceived. It would be the rational thing to do and in keeping with his apparent fondness for oath taking. By all accounts, Harold was a savvy politician, diplomat and soldier. He was well able to conceal his feelings and his intentions, and to dissemble if necessary. It is inconceivable that he was not aware of the posturing taking place in Normandy. He surely realised that, in the absence of a suitable prince of the royal blood, he was the best English candidate to succeed Edward. And he must also have realised, if not before then certainly during his sojourn in Normandy, that William was a rival for the throne. There were other rivals, he knew, but William was the most dangerous. I don’t think Harold had any intention of curtailing his own regal ambition by supporting William’s claim, or of marrying the duke’s daughter. Yet, discretion being the better part of valour, he probably thought there was less risk in pretending he might.

 

Eadmer’s ‘History’ supports the above interpretation. Even though he is not an eyewitness and his account is unique, Eadmer is probably reporting a Saxon tradition current in England after the Conquest. Indeed, we can infer as much from the Bayeux Tapestry, to which I have already referred. The importance of this is that it confirms that even the Saxons believed Harold swore an oath of some sort about the English succession. Eadmer describes how William wrote to the newly crowned Harold, demanding that he send his sister to Normandy as he promised and reproaching Harold for violating his other promises, given on oath. Harold’s reply as described by Eadmer is a potent mixture of sarcasm and contempt, which indicates that Harold was not inclined to appease the duke: ” My sister, whom according to our pact you ask for, is dead. If the duke wishes her body, such as it now is, I will send it, that I may not be held to have violated my oath. As to the stronghold at Dover and the well of water in it, I have completed that according to our agreement, although for whose use I cannot say. As for the kingdom, which was not then mine, by what right could I give or promise it? If it is about his daughter he is concerned, whom I ought, as he asserts, take to be my wife, he must know that I have no right to set any foreign woman upon the throne of England without having first consulted the princes. Indeed, I could not do so without committing a great wrong.”[66] Harold’s scornful attitude is even clearer as the continuing ‘correspondence’. William, now incensed, replies that unless Harold keeps his promise to marry his daughter, he will enforce his right to the English succession by force of arms; to which, Harold replies: “I will not do the one and I do not fear the other.” [67]

 

The point that Harold had no authority to promise the throne to William is certainly true, as both men well knew. It is, however, beside the point since that is not accusation made against Harold. He is alleged to have pledged his support for the duke’s succession. The reply that Eadmer attributes to Harold avoids the issue, possibly because the accusation cannot be denied. The possibility remains that Harold was confident he could wriggle out of an oath obtained under duress and, furthermore he didn’t fancy the duke’s chances of enforcing it. This is pure speculation of course, since we cannot know the absolute objective truth after the passage of nine hundred and fifty years.

We covered a sequel to Hastings here

[1] Tostig Godwinsson was the former earl of Northumberland. In 1065, the Northumbrians rebelled against him and rejected him as their ldeao Stephen Morillo (Ed) – The battle of Hastings (Boydell 1996) rd. He fled to Flanders where his wife’s kin were. He was resentful of Harold for not coming to his aid and threw in his lot with the Norwegians in 1066. Harald Sigurdsson said he had inherited King Magnus of Norway’s title, which was derived from a treaty with the late king Harthacnut of England. Tostig had attempted his own invasion in May but was driven northwards where he harried the English coast until he sailed for Norway. Harold perceived Tostig’s raiding as a precursor to William’s planned invasion. The actual number of warriors involved on both sides is unknown but best estimates suggest between 5-6000 men on each side at Fulford and probably similar numbers at Stamford Bridge. However, the English losses at Fulford were heavy in their best troops, who could not be replaced in time to face the Normans in the south. These northern troops were sorely missed at Hastings. It is probable that Harold would have defeated the Norman invaders, were it not for the distraction of the Norwegian invasion. This is all I propose to say about the Norwegian invasion and the role of Tostig in English politics since they are not strictly germane to my main article.

[2] Magnus Magnusson and Herman Pálsson (Trans) – King Harald’s Saga from Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla (Penguin Classics 1966) pp.140-155; this is the most detailed Scandinavian source for the Norwegian invasion of 1066. It cannot, however, be taken literally since it was not written contemporaneously with events and Snorri was an inveterate storyteller with a tendency to embellish the facts.

[3] The battle of Hastings is itself the subject of a controversy that raises issue I cannot deal with in this article. The traditional depiction of the fighting and the course of the battle have been contradicted by military experts, as has its location. See, for example, Stephen Morillo (Ed) – The battle of Hastings (Boydell 1996); MK Lawson   – The Battle of Hastings 1066 (The History Press 2016 edition); John Grehan and Martin Mace – The Battle of Hastings 1066: the uncomfortable truth (Pen & Sword Books 2012).

[4] Frank Barlow – Edward the Confessor (Yale 1997 edition) p.xxix

[5] Lawson, p.17

[6] David Bates – William the Conqueror (Yale 2016) p.7

[7] Bates, ibid

[8] GN Garmonsway (ed and trans) – The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (JM Dent, Everyman edition 1972)

[9] Ian Walker – Harold: the last Anglo-Saxon king (Sutton 1997) p.xx

[10] Frank Barlow (ed and trans) – Vita Edwardi Regis (The Life of King Edward) (Nelson Medieval Texts 1962) pp.9-10; Thomas Forester (trans) – The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester with two continuations (London 1854) passim; see also Barlow (Edward) passim: esp Appendix A, pp.291-300.

[11] E A Freeman – The Authority of the Bayeux Tapestry [published in ‘The Study of the Bayeux Tapestry’ [Richard Gameson (Ed)] (Boydell 1997) pp.7-15]; this essay was reproduced from Freeman’s ‘The Norman Conquest of England: its causes and results (Oxford 1875) pp.563-575

[12] Lawson pp.77-85 for example; Dr Lawson’s interpretation of Tapestry is a typical example of the general opinion that its storyline has a theme of English oath breaking.

[13] Bates p.194; Peter Rex – Harold II: the doomed Saxon king (Tempus 2005) passim, but esp pp.157-178; NP Brooks and HE Walker – The authority and interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry: published in Richard Gameson (Ed) – The Study of the Bayeux Tapestry (Boydell Press 1997) pp. 63-92; this is a seminal article on modern thinking about the Tapestry; see also Andrew Bridgeford -1066: the hidden history of the Bayeux Tapestry (Walker & Co 2006) et passim; see also Carola Hicks – The Bayeux Tapestry: the story of a modern masterpiece (Vintage 2008) Chp 1 passim.

[14] Emma was the half-Viking sister to Richard I duke of Normandy (942-996). Her nephew, Richard II (996-1027) was Edward’s first cousin. As the (illegitimate) son of duke Richard’s younger brother Robert (1027-1035), William the Bastard was Edward’s second cousin

[15] Mk Lawson – Cnut: England’s Viking king (The History Press 2011 edition) pp.104-107. Dr Lawson raises the possibility that Cnut offered to share the of England kingdom with Æthelrede’s sons; however, duke Robert death in 1034 and Cnut’s death soon after prevented this proposal being taken forward.

[16] David Douglas – William the Conqueror (Yale1999 edition) pp.160-67 (esp161)

[17] Douglas pp.364-376. I make no apology for extrapolating this paragraph from Douglas’ biography; Bates pp.513-528 offers a different approach. He rejects Douglas’ straightforward ‘paradoxical’ interpretation of William’s character in favour of a more subtle judgement, which frankly was too elusive for my taste.

[18] Vita p.30; Swein Godwinsson was the eldest of Godwin’s sons; however, he died in 1052.

[19] Garmonsway pp.194-195

[20] Vita; ibid

[21] Rex (Harold) pp.86 and 87; Vita p.30

[22] Rex (Harold) ibid, citing L Watkins and M Chibnal (Eds) – The Waltham Chronicle (Oxford Medieval Texts 1994). the author of the Waltham Chronicle claimed that his information came from Turkill the Sacristan, an old man who was a contemporary of Harold.

[23] Rex (Harold) p.87 citing: Harleian MS3776. Fol. 62n & 62v.

[24] Alfred was captured on his way to London by earl Godwin and his men, and handed over to king Harold I’s men who killed him in particularly gruesome circumstances; whether this was through negligence or by design is not known. Edward never forgave Godwin for his part in the death of his brother.

[25] Frank Stenton – Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford 1971 3rd edition) p.560

[26] Morillo, p.11; this is a useful text book because it contains extracts from the Norman and English sources, from which my quote is taken

[27] Morillo p.18

[28] Stenton p.561;

[29] Lawson pp.23 and 97; even though Dr Lawson acknowledges the difficulties of the Norman accounts (see also my note 3 above) he chooses to either reject or ignore his own concerns.

[30] Barlow (Edward) passim; Rex (Edward) chapter 13 et passim; Peter Rex – Harold II; the doomed Saxon king (Tempus 2005) Chapter 8 et passim. All these authors challenge the Norman tradition in detail that is impossible to repeat in this article.

[31] Barlow (Edward) p.107

[32] Barlow (Edward) ibid: citing Poitiers pp. 30-32,158,168 and 174-176, and Jumiéges p.132.

[33] William of Malmesbury p. 217

[34] William of Malmesbury p 198

[35] Garmonsway pp.162-163 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle record of Edward’s succession with its accustomed brevity

[36] Rex (Harold) p.35; Walker p.25

[37] Rex (Edward) p.173; of course, bastardy was treated differently in Norman culture, which was Scandinavian in origin. See also Bates pp. 513-528

[38] William of Malmesbury p.253 and Florence of Worcester p.159; Malmesbury and Florence were writing in the twelfth century, by which time England was a hereditary kingdom. It was the Normans who introduced the continental practice of succession by strict inheritance and primo geniture. Although that was not the case in England during the Saxon dynasty, the Anglo-Norman chroniclers may have simply reflected 12th century pro-Norman opinion as they were given to understand it.

[39] Garmonsway p.195

[40] Rex (Edward) pp.176-179; this sets out Rex’s argument and his reasoning

[41] Garmonsway p.176; see also Florence of Worcester p.152. Florence mentions the duke’s visit with a retinue, adding that “on their return (Edward) made them many valuable presents”

[42] Stenton p.563

[43] Douglas p.169

[44] Douglas ibid

[45] Lawson p.24, believes that William visited England “presumably to thank king Edward for the offer of the throne and to accept it ”; see also Paul Hill – The Road to Hastings: the politics of power in Anglo-Saxon England (Tempus 2005) pp.108-110. Hill treats the visit and Edward’s promise as established facts. For a different opinion see Douglas at P.169; he thinks the visit is unlikely to have taken place, as William was too busy campaigning against his enemies in Normandy.

[46] Rex (Edward) pp.113-114 contains a helpful discussion on this topic

[47] Rex (Edward) ibid; Rex’s point is legalistic since it depends on the construction and context of the language used in the text to describe the visit. Put simply, Rex argues that the words used imply that Edward was the ‘lord’ and William was the ‘vassal’ in their relationship, and that William did fealty to Edward. Given the obvious disparity in their status, it is reasonable to consider the king superior to the duke.

[48] Frank Stenton – Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford 1971 3rd edition) p.560

[49] Rex (Harold) pp.148-149; Rex is merely exploring the possibilities

[50] Barlow (Edward) p.225

[51] Barlow (Edward) pp.223; Bates p.193; Poitiers account is described as ‘the exposition of a legal case”

[52] Rex (Harold) pp.150-151

[53] Hill p.135

[54] Geoffrey Bosanquet (Trans) – Eadmer’s History of Recent Events in England [Historia Novorum in Anglia] (London 1964) pp.6-8; Eadmer (1060-1127) was a Saxon monk from Canterbury who was born before the battle of Hastings. His Historia Novorum in Anglia is primarily a history of the public life of Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury and Eadmer’s hero. Eadmer has a good reputation among scholars for his prose and his objectivity. He had what Malmesbury called ‘a chastened elegance of style’. He anticipated modern historians by concentrating his history on a specific subject and provides useful insight into the reigns of the Norman kings. His account of events before he was born probably reflects an Anglo-Saxon oral tradition.

[55] Eadmer ibid

[56] Brooks and Walker p.73

[57] MEJ Cowdrey – Towards an interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry: published in Richard Gameson (Ed) – The Study of the Bayeux Tapestry (Boydell Press 1997) p.101

[58] Barlow (Edward) pp. 124 and 301 citing Poitiers at pp100 & 114

[59] There is a school of thought that argues the possibility that it was at this point that Robert Champart misled the duke into believing he (William) was Edward’s nominated heir. Robert may even have suggested that the ‘hostages’ were Edward’s surety for that bequest. This is pure speculation, which only makes sense if we accept the fact that Robert abducted Wulfnoth and Hakon, and forcibly and illegally removed them from Edward’s power. Otherwise, it is inconceivable that Edward, a crowned and anointed monarch would offer surety to mere a duke for a promise that he had no need to make and could not be enforced after his death.

[60] Magnus Magnusson and Herman Pálsson (Trans) – King Harald’s Saga from Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla (Penguin Classics 1966) pp.131-133: of all the accounts of this visit, this Scandinavian one is the most entertaining. Intriguingly Snorri records William’s jealousy and his suspicion that his wife Matilda was flirting with Harold.

[61] Rex (Edward) p.175 citing a number of obscure references, including ‘an anonymous writer of Cambrai’ and De Inviventione S Crucis: see also Rex (Harold) pp.157-178 for a useful discussion with references, concerning Christendom’s perception of Harold’s visit and his agreement with William. However, Rex is mistaken to write that Harold was supposed to have agreed to be William’s vicar, from the word ‘vicarius’. A ‘vicar’ is specifically God’s representative on earth (SOED). Vicarious in this context means no more than representative or proxy.

[62] Malmesbury pp.254-255

[63] Malmesbury ibid

[64] Rex (Edward) p.174; Vita Edwardi p.33

[65] Vita Edwardi ibid

[66] Eadmer p.8

[67] Eadmer p.9

LORD OF THE NORTH

Richard duke of Gloucester: courage, loyalty, lordship and law[1]

 

“ Men and kings must be judged in the testing moments of their lives Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because, as has been said, it is the quality that guarantees all others.”

(Winston Churchill 1931)

 

Introduction

I do not suppose there are many men who in their heart-of-hearts would not rather be thought of as brave than by any other virtue ascribed to them. For medieval kings courage was not simply a virtue, it was the virtue: the physical courage to defend their throne was a prerequisite for a successful king, though not necessarily for a good one. As Field Marshall Lord Slim was apt to point out to young officer cadets at RMA Sandhurst, “It is possible to be both brave and bad, however, you can’t be good without being brave”. Slim was making the point that it needed more than battlefield courage to be a good man. Physical courage is important, especially to kings and soldiers, but it doesn’t guarantee a ‘good man’; to be a good man, one also needs moral courage. It was the possession of physical and moral courage, which Churchill believed guaranteed all the other human virtues.

 

King Richard III was a courageous soldier; even his enemies acknowledge that. However, the question is: was he also good man? Broadly speaking, the judgement of history is that he was at best deeply disturbed and at worst malevolent. It is a judgement based largely on the heinous crimes he is supposed to have committed during a six months period in 1483: the usurpation of the throne and the murders of king Edward’s male heirs. Although Richard is said to have committed or been complicit in many other serious crimes, I think it is fair to say that most historians accept that those allegations are not proven, and in one particular case (the death of Henry VI) it may have been more a question of raison d’état.

 

The trouble with this historical judgement is that it contradicts what Richard’s contemporaries said about him in 1483. Dominic Mancini an Italian priest visiting London during 1482/83 recorded what he was told about Richard duke of Gloucester. He is referring to the period after the duke of Clarence’s execution: “…he (Richard) came very rarely to court. He kept himself within his own lands and set out to acquire the loyalty of his people through favours and justice. The good reputation of his private life and public activities powerfully attracted the esteem of strangers. Such was his renown in warfare that whenever a difficult and dangerous policy had to be undertaken, it would be entrusted to his discretion and generalship. By these arts Richard acquired the favour of the people and avoided the jealousy of the queen from whom he lived far apart.[2]

 

Mancini’s testimonial also highlights the incongruity of Richard’s supposed crimes. The contrast between his blameless contemporary reputation and his purported crimes (particularly those after April 1483) perplexes historians; it is a dichotomy they struggle to explain.[3] Most of his critics rationalize it with a good dose of twentieth century cynicism: his good works are disingenuous and his mistakes are evidence of bad character. It is a constant theme of his harshest biographers that his ‘loyalty’ to Edward was feigned; that he was in reality a wicked and ruthless opportunist who was motivated by avarice and ambition. When the chance came, he used his great power — which he had either tricked or bullied from Edward — to usurp the throne and destroy the Yorkist line. It was the Yorkist doom that Edward whether purposely or inadvertently made his brother the most dangerous and the ‘mightiest of over-mighty subjects’.[4] This is, I believe a false and misleading argument, since it rests entirely on their interpretation of chronicles and later Tudor histories that are themselves controversial and of little probative value, being neither contemporary nor impartial. Furthermore, Anne Sutton makes a compelling case for the morality, if not the purity, of Gloucester’s motives, which stands against this modern cynicism.[5] Richard was an extra ordinarily complex human being. We know now that he faced some challenging physical problems and possibly some equally challenging psychological issues.[6] Furthermore, he lived in uncertain times. The circumstances under which he served the king were complex as were the difficulties he had to overcome. Problems of historical interpretation most frequently arise from misguided attempts to simplify his story by overemphasising some facets at the expense of others.[7] It is a defect in Ricardian historiography that cannot be corrected in this article; however, I hope to at least draw attention to the problem as I see it.

 

Inevitably, Richard duke of Gloucester’ was not universally popular: how could he be? His ‘dramatic intrusion into northern society’,[8] coupled with a monopoly of the public offices and the lion’s share of the Neville estates, was bound to ruffle the feathers of those northern magnates and prelates who resented the fact that the king’s largess had not fallen to them, and whose authority and independence were undermined by the presence of an assertive royal duke in northern society. Henry Percy earl of Northumberland, Thomas Lord Stanley and Laurence Booth bishop of Durham disliked him, to name but three: doubtless there were others. Neither do I ignore the possibility that Gloucester possessed human failings typical of active young men throughout the ages; he might have been a little headstrong and impetuous; he was probably also ambitious and possibly even acquisitive. However, these characteristics were no more nor less present in the duke than in any other fifteenth century magnate: certainly not any more than in Henry Percy or the Stanley brothers or any of the Woodvilles, or Margaret Beaufort, John Morton and Henry Tudor; nor indeed was he any more ambitious than any professional historian who aims to do well in his or her chosen discipline. Impetuosity and ambition are not crimes, nor is acquisitiveness. But if he was truly wicked and ruthless and cruel, then nobody who knew him said so at the time. There is a clear distinction to be made between the provenances and the probity of these opposite views of Richard’s character, which affect the weight we should give to each when making a judgement. The favourable opinions were almost all written during his lifetime by northerners who knew him. The unfavourable ones were almost all written after his death by southerners who did not know him personally. Horace Walpole identified the basic problem nearly three hundred years after Richard’s death: “Though he may well have been execrable, as we are told he was, we have little or no reason to suppose he was.[9]

 

It is a matter of historical record that, apart from the last two years, when he was king, Richard duke of Gloucester spent his entire adult life in the king’s service as ‘Lord of the North’. Quite what this meant for him and why it happened are less well appreciated. The term ‘Lord of the North’ embraced not only the duke’s inherited lands in the north and his associated responsibilities as a royal duke and a great magnate, but also a number of official offices held by him concurrently from 1469 until his own coronation in 1483. He was the Lord High Constable of England (1469), Warden of the West March ‘towards Scotland’ (1470), Chief Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster (1471) Keeper of the Forests Beyond Trent and Steward of Ripon (1472) Sheriff of Cumberland (1475) and finally the King’s Lieutenant General of the North (1480 and 1482).[10] The consolidation of Gloucester’s inherited and appointed power was not gratuitous royal patronage. His promotions were acts of calculated policy by Edward. Having twice experienced the threat posed to the crown by the Scots and by his own ‘over mighty subjects’ in the north, Edward determined neutralize those threats by maintaining a truce with James III, and by securing the loyalty of his northern subjects. He wanted Gloucester to lead that vital task for the crown. It was no sinecure but a dirty, difficult and dangerous job, and his responsibility was great, since he was to be Edward’s mainstay in northern England.[11] Gloucester was the ideal man to implement that policy: he was brave, able and devotedly loyalty to Edward. Neither should it be forgotten that if Gloucester succeeded in stabilising the north, it would enable Edward to pursue his regal ambition in France. It is also worth noting, even at this stage, that Gloucester performed his duties so well that he set the standard of excellence for the governance of the north well into the sixteenth century.[12]

 

For all that, we should not exaggerate the scope of his powers or the impact of his achievements. First and foremost, he was only the instrument of his brother’s will. He could not make policy: Edward did that. Furthermore, his powers were constrained by feudal laws, liberties and customs. As a March Warden his military authority was limited to the West March. He did, however, have judicial powers in the West March and in his lands elsewhere by virtue of the king’s special commission as Justice of the Peace ‘es parties des north’. As Dr Rachel Reid points out, although the wardship of the West March was a necessary adjunct to the government of the north, ‘the sign and seal’ of Gloucester’s authority so to speak, and although his commission as a JP empowered him to act in civil and criminal matters, his greatest strength was the authority, power and influence he derived from being the greatest magnate in the region.[13] Gloucester’s estates and official offices gave him unparalleled influence and authority in the north, with the exception of those feudalities wherein the earl of Northumberland was lord; that is to say, in Northumberland and the East Riding of Yorkshire[14]

 

The northern ‘problem’ in retrospect

In the fifteenth century, the northern most counties of Westmorland, Northumberland, Cumberland, and Yorkshire were important because of their proximity to the Scottish frontier. Anglo-Scottish relations were characterised by invasions and raiding, which had affected both populations for centuries. Cross border reiving and lawlessness was deeply ingrained into the English and Scottish border culture. The society was insular and feudalistic in nature and the hatred between English and Scot was mutual. Important though the Scottish problem was, the troubles in the north went deeper. Fifty-one years after Richard III’s death, Robert Aske summed them up to leading Yorkshire denizens at Pontefract “ The profits of the abbeys suppressed, tenths and first fruits, went out of those (northern) parts. By occasion whereof, within short space of years, there should be no money or treasure in those parts, neither the tenant to have pay his rent to the lord, nor the lord to have money to do the king service withal, for so much of those parts was neither the presence of his grace, execution of his laws, not yet but little recourse of merchandise, so that of necessity the said county should either make terms with the Scots, or of very poverty make commotions or rebellions.”

 

The chief problems identified by Aske of remoteness, poverty and lawlessness were present in the fifteenth century and not just in the North. Wales, the West Country and East Anglia were also remote and lawless, and possibly some were poor. However, none of them formed the frontier to a hostile and aggressive foreign kingdom. It was this that made the northernmost counties uniquely important to the security of the realm. That said, not everybody had to sleep with their weapon to hand for fear of Scottish reiving. For instance, Yorkshire was set back from the border counties, ‘If the Scots crossed the Tees it was not a raid but an invasion’ wrote FW Brooks more than half a century ago. [15] Yorkshire’s importance was that it was the largest and most populace county north of the Trent and it was a base for operations against marauding Scots. This was especially true of York, which during the reigns of the first three Edwards served as the royal capital for a time. The fourteenth century division of the border region into West, Middle and Eastern Marches under the control of the two most powerful Northern families (the Nevilles and the Percies) was seen as the solution to the governance problem. The alternative was for the king to keep a standing army on the border, which for financial and military reasons was impracticable.

 

The joint powers given to the Neville and Percy families proved ultimately not to be the complete solution. By the fifteenth century the north was practically ungovernable from London. This was due in part to the deficiencies highlighted by Aske and especially to the ‘absence of the king’s presence (he means royal authority) and his justice in the north’. But that was not the only problem; the feudal nature of border society contributed to the  troubles of  a region that was sparsely populated and economically poor.[16] The trouble with the fourteenth century solution was not so much in the idea as in its execution. The belief that the two most powerful northern magnates could cooperate to ensure the peace and security of the north was naïve to say the least. Good governance foundered on their feuding during peace and their fighting during the Wars of the Roses. Northern gentry of the second and third rank regarded the wars between York and Lancaster as an extension of the Neville-Percy feud. They supported one side or the other based on ancient feudal loyalties, or an assessment of their own self-interest. Their prime loyalty was not to a distant king but to their feudal overlord, or to some other overlord, who best served their interest.[17]

 

Percy power was destroyed at Towton on Palm Sunday 1461. Despite the heavy losses inflicted on the Lancastrians it was not a complete Yorkist victory. The former king, Henry VI, his wife Margaret of Anjou, their young son Edward and a few of their adherents escaped to Scotland where James III gave them refuge and from whence they continued to oppose Edward IV[18]. Meanwhile, Richard Neville earl of Warwick and his brother John Lord Montagu continued to campaign against Lancastrian dissidents so as to secure Edward’s grip on the throne but mostly to cement their own grip on the north. In 1464, a force of ‘loyal northerners’ led by Montagu destroyed the Lancastrian cause at the battles Hedgeley Moor and Hexham. However, as Keith Dockray astutely points out, the ‘loyal northern retinues’ used by John Neville to defeat the Lancastrians were, in point of fact, loyal to the Neville family and not necessarily to the king. They demonstrated this in 1470 when they followed Warwick en block to the Lancastrian side during the Neville inspired rebellion of 1469-70, which started in the north.

 

‘He set out to acquire the loyalty of his people by favours and justice’

It is against that background that I now turn to consider Gloucester performance in the north in the context of the three virtues touched on by Mancini: loyalty, good lordship and justice.  I have added courage to these virtues on the basis that without courage, Gloucester was unlikely to have shown those other virtues .

 

Loyaulté me lie

Mancini’s reference to loyalty is interesting since it is a quality of particular importance to Gloucester. His personal motto was ‘loyaulté me lie’ (loyalty binds me) and it was the creed by which he lived. Mancini is, of course, referring to loyalty in its normal sense of ‘keeping faith’; however, Anne Sutton speculates that it was a word that might possibly have had other, additional, shades of meaning for Gloucester: legality, uprightness, obedience to the law and, maybe, justice. Dr Sutton’s speculation is based on the premise that Gloucester might have been familiar with ‘Piers Ploughman’, a work by William Langland in which loyalty carries those several meanings.[20] It is possible that Gloucester’s motto was subtler than we think, since the nuances of meaning found in ‘Piers Ploughman’ are all consistent with what we know of his character.

 

Whatever Gloucester may have meant by his mottos, it is clear from the contemporaneous records that he laboured hard to safeguard the interests and liberties of ‘his people’. [21] One historian writing in the twentieth century summarised his accomplishments as follows: “ Richard of Gloucester not only restored peace and stability to the north after the upheavals of the 1450s and 1460s but also provided sound government and administration. Frequently working in tandem with Henry Percy earl of Northumberland, he vigorously promoted the cause of impartial justice, whether by enforcing legislation more effectively than hitherto or arbitrating in private disputes[22]; his household council can evidently be regarded as a precursor of the Council of the North; the city of York certainly recognized the value of the duke’s good lordship and support;[23] and Dominic Mancini’s informants clearly left him to believe that Richard had deliberately ’set out to acquire the loyalty of his people through favours and justice.” [24]

 

‘A right high and mighty prince and full tender and special good lord’[25]

The York Municipal and City Records add substance to the view that the duke of Gloucester was a good friend to York and to other towns in the north. There are many examples of his integrity on the record. They demonstrate his personal interest in local affairs and his integrity in using his influence in a private capacity for the common weal. He settled many disputes between the city council and their fellow citizens, between the city council and neighbouring landowners, between citizens, and between towns, all of which were referred to him for advice, assistance or resolution.[26] I have chosen three representative examples:

  • In 1478 he arbitrated a dispute between Roland Place and Richard Clervaux over hunting rights. Neither Place nor Clervaux was a retainer of the duke, but they lived on his estates in the North Riding. Professor Pollard has helpfully reproduced the arbitration agreement written in English under Gloucester’s name and titles. Pollard notes as an afterthought that the ancestors of Place and Clervaux continued to observe a clause concerning the seating arrangements in the parish church, well into the twentieth century.[27] Gloucester obviously took great care over a dispute that some  might  consider trivial. The rights and privileges of each party are defined in minute detail in the agreement, which was probably drafted by  one of Gloucester’s lawyers, since the language is repetitious and typical of legal documents.
  • At the request of the York City Council, Gloucester took steps to have fishgarths throughout Yorkshire inspected to guard against poaching and to protect the regional economy. It was not a petty matter, since the high prices paid for Pike and other fresh water fish provided a significant income for the fishermen and the city.[28] The erection of fishgarths in Yorkshire was regulated by legislation intended to prevent illegal fishing. The City Council spent much time and money trying to eradicate the problem and they were very grateful to their ‘good lord’, the duke of Gloucester for his interest and efforts to stop the criminality. Nonetheless, it was a perennial problem, which was still being recorded in the council minutes in 1484.
  • He mediated in ‘a serious dispute over the result of the York mayoral election of 1482’.[29] There were two candidates for election: Richard Yorke and Thomas Wrangwyshe. York was elected but Wrangwyshe’s supporters would not accept the vote. The argument assumed ‘alarming proportions’ when the city magistrates sent the certification of Yorke’s election to the king.  When  the king heard of the dispute, he stopped the certification process and ordered the pervious  mayor to continue in office pro tem, whilst the election was investigated. The city magistrates turned to the duke of Gloucester for help; he acted so swiftly that within two weeks he had secured the kings approval to confirm York as the mayor. The interesting point is that Wrangwyshe was considered to be the best soldier in York and stood high in the duke’s estimation, being one of his comrades in arms. Nonetheless, Gloucester upheld the honour and dignity of the city magistrates by supporting what he considered to be their just case against his friend[30].

 

 

‘Good and indifferent justice for all’

For all his good works at a local level, it was in his capacity as the leading magnate in the north that he did his greatest and most enduring service for the north. Although the King’s Council in the North was not officially born until late July 1484, it was conceived from Gloucester personal household council during his tenure as Lord of the North. To understand how and why this came about it is necessary to explain, as briefly as possible, the dysfunctional nature of English justice at the time.

 

The problems for those living north of the Trent were as stated by Aske: ‘the absence of royal authority and of royal justice’. The Assize Judges sat not more than once a year; and anyhow, could only act on a formal indictment, which juries habitually refused to present. The breakdown of the judicial system made enforcement difficult and the work of the sheriff and bailiffs became very hard. Although there were some good judges, many were corrupt and in the pay of great lords. These judges gave judgement as directed by their patrons.  Also, juries were  easily corrupted by fear and favour. “ It was…” writes Dr Reid “…the hardest thing in the world to get a judgement against a great lord or any man well kinned (sic) and allied.[31] JP’s could try cases and punish crime at the Quarter Sessions without the need for an indictment, but the reality was that no ordinary court could cure this widespread and systemic breakdown  of  royal  justice.  Previously, the King’s Council had filled gaps by exercising  its  extraordinary civil and criminal jurisdictions through writs of oyer and terminer, to ‘hear and determine’ all trespasses and breaches of the peace, and all causes between party and party’. However, this usually meant the parties going to London, which was expensive and time-consuming. This defect could easily have been remedied by establishing district courts with the same jurisdiction as the King’s Council. However, for some reason, it was a reform that three Lancastrian kings never even considered.

 

But it was in the realm of civil party and party litigation that the want of justice was felt most acutely. Dr Reid argues that the common law “…had hardened in the hands of professional lawyers into a premature fixity and precision and had become incapable of devising rules to govern the transactions of a changing society”; whereby, ‘the poor were placed at the mercy of the rich’. [32] Furthermore, the common law courts were neither sufficient nor competent to protect peoples’ civil rights, which were recognised by law even in the fifteenth century. The development of the Chancery Court and the courts of equity eased the situation for those who could afford to litigate but did not help the bulk of the population and certainly not those residing north of the Trent. The common law lent itself to abuse by the litigious and the malicious. Consequently, there was hardly a transaction of life that could not be litigated. The delays, the cost and the insularism of the courts denied justice to many people. In the absence of the king’s justice, therefore, the household councils of the great lords became progressively the de facto courts for resolving local disputes.

 

These feudal courts had survived longer in the north due partly to its remoteness but also because they filled the vacuum left by the absence of royal justice. They were able to try a range of cases covering personal actions, contractual disputes, trespass, libel, slander, assault, breach of warranty of title and some defamation cases. Moreover, there was no restriction on them determining cases for which the king’s law had no remedy and even if there was a remedy, these seigneurial court could do justice between the parties by consent. For example, by ordering the specific performance of a contract entered into or by protecting a tenant from unlawful eviction. By the fifteenth century, seigneurial courts were, as a matter of course, also hearing complaints against court officials, appeals against judgement, applications for pardon or respite, bills against fellow tenants, and quarrels between tenants and retainers. Useful though they were in providing rough and ready justice, feudal courts had their drawbacks. First, their jurisdiction was limited to the lord’s domain. A lord might arbitrate between his tenants and retainers but it was quite impossible to interfere between a landlord and his tenant no matter how tyrannical the landlord was, unless he was in some way ‘tied’ to the lord. Second, they could not escape the censure  of the king’s  justices, who said that they ‘sacrificed law and justice for interest and favour.’[33] There is probably some truth in this accusation since the importance of patronage in local society was such that it encouraged the preference of personal interest over the law. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that an appeal to the king’s courts was usually beyond the means of most litigants.

 

Of all the baronial councils offering seigneurial justice, Gloucester’s was the most important.  The records show that the governors of York and Beverley and other towns in Yorkshire were encouraged to turn to it whenever they were in difficulty. This was not simply because he was the greatest magnate but also because his council was the most efficient and impartial. It was constituted from the men of his household council who usually met at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale (which, by the way, he insisted on calling his ‘home’). Their primary function was to help the duke administer his vast estates. However, as we have seen the council quickly assumed a very important judicial role as a seigneurial court of requests. Among Gloucester’s permanent councillors were Lord Scrope of Bolton, Baron Greystoke (Scrope and Greystoke were related to the duke by marriage), Sir Francis Lovell his closest friend and comrade in arms, Sir James Harrington, Sir William Parre, Sir Richard Nele, Richard Pygott and Miles Metcalfe. Nele was a King’s Justice of Assize and Metcalfe was the Recorder of York; Parre and Pygott were both practising lawyers ‘learned in the law’. Ad hoc Councillors called occasionally by Gloucester  included Sir James Tyrell (a man of action, used for ‘bold affairs’), Sir Ralph Assheton and (probably) Richard Ratcliffe. The secretary to the Council was John Kendall, son of a loyal servant to the house of York. It was on any view a powerful bench of judges and ‘shrewd men of affairs’. Having said all of that, we must be careful not to overestimate the extent of Gloucester’s achievements. He could neither reform the law to make it more just, nor improve its administration to make justice more accessible. He was unable to alleviate poverty. He was not a liberal reformer and he lived a privileged life that few northerners could even imagine, much less share. And yet he did a wonderful thing; without the need for bloody revolution he made justice more accessible by offering, on a case-by-case basis, “…good and indifferent (that is impartial) justice to all who sought it.“[34]

 

Gloucester demonstrated through his council that he was prepared to remedy an injustice even if he did not have the authority accorded by a strict interpretation of the law; moreover, he was prepared to use his power to enforce a just settlement. The best example of this is his council’s support for custom tenants against bad landlords. In the time of the Lancastrian kings, the judges held that tenants faced with extortionate fines and illegal eviction had no other remedy but to sue the landlord by petition. [35] The common law courts were too rigid and their officials too easily intimidated to be of help. Nevertheless, in 1482, Chief Justice Sir Thomas Brian declared “that his opinion hath always been and shall ever be, that if such a tenant by custom paying his services be ejected by the lord he shall have action of trespass against him’. Brian CJ may, of course, have been expressing his personal view of the correct law as he saw it, which was in contrast to the accepted legal doctrine and practice of the courts. However, there are grounds for thinking that he might equally have been articulating the practice of Gloucester’s household council, which was to treat an illegal eviction by a landlord as a simple trespass. Although we don’t have a written record of such cases, Littleton in his treatise ‘Tenures’ assures us that they did try them.[36] Frankly, it is inconceivable that the council did not hear many petitions and requests from destitute tenants for relief against tyrannical landlords. If they dealt with them in the same way as the ‘King’s Council in the North’ was subsequently to deal with them after 1484, they must have generally upheld the rights of the tenant who had paid his services against the unjust landlord. If so, “ It is easy to understand how Gloucester won the love of the common people beyond the Trent, which was to stand him in such good stead’[37]

 

Lord High Commissioner

In 1482, on the verge of the invasion of Scotland, Edward made a significant change to the governance of the North. He issued a commission of oyer and terminer to Gloucester and Northumberland as ‘Lord High Commissioners’, which effectively combined their household councils. The composition of the Commission is interesting since it included not only Gloucester and Northumberland but also some significant members of their respective councils augmented by two important judicial appointments. However, there is no gainsaying that the bulk of its membership came from men associated with Gloucester’s council. Sir John Scrope of Bolton, Baron Greystoke, Sir Francis Lovell, Sir Richard Nele, Sir William Parre, Sir James Harrington, Richard Pygott and Miles Metcalf were all either legal or lay members of Gloucester’s council; of the remainder, Sir Guy Fairfax (an Assize Judge on the Northern Circuit) and (possibly) John Catesby were associated with Northumberland. The relationship of Chief Justice Sir Thomas Brian and Sir Richard Clarke to either of the Lord High Commissioners is unclear. The significance of this change is that it turned the essentially private function of seigneurial courts into the king’s justice  in criminal and party and party litigation.

 

Officially, the commissioners were the king’s servants and in the absence of the duke and the earl who were off fighting the Scots, the remaining members  took steps to enforce  the kings justice.   Their success in repressing rioting that might otherwise lead to insurrection was such that it served to highlight the continuing and endemic lawlessness, which was partly due to a lack of royal authority and partly to the deficiencies in the law to which I have already referred. They also examined and arbitrated effectively in party and party disputes. This commission was valuable experience for the duke of Gloucester since it served as a model for his futuristic ‘King’s Council of the North’ and the basis upon which he reorganised the governance of the north once he became king. It is a fact that no permanent commission designed to keep the peace and provide party and party justice for northern England was set up during the reign of Edward IV and that “the credit for this most necessary reform belongs wholly to Richard III ”[38]

 

The King’s Council in the North

When Gloucester came to the throne in 1483 he had considerable practical experience of governing in the north and the provision of  justice for all; however, he did not begin immediately to formalise the work of his council. The reasons for this may seem obvious; he was busy dealing with the aftermath of Buckingham’s rebellion and ratifying his title in parliament. It is also possible that he intended to follow the precedent set by Edward IV in 1472 and set up his young son Edward Prince of Wales as the King’s Lieutenant in the North with a council to govern in his name.[39] If that was Richard’s hope, it was to be dashed. Edward Prince of Wales died in April 1484 “not far off Edward’s anniversary.” [40] It was a loss that shook king Richard as nothing else could and for a time he and Anne were almost out of their minds with grief.[41] However, Richard was king and duty-bound to turn his mind to affairs of state.

 

He decided to make some fundamental change to governance in the north. First, he separated Yorkshire administratively from the border Marches.  The earl of Northumberland was appointed as Warden in Chief of the Marches and granted several estates in Cumberland, which made him the  dominant border lord.  It was his reward for acquiescence in Richard’s accession. Next, Richard appointed John De La Pole, earl of Lincoln as the King’s Lieutenant (he had already been nominated as heir to the throne). [42]The king createdThe King’s  Council of the North from his former ducal  council and Lincoln was its first President.  Northumberland was appointed a member of the Council but was clearly subordinate to Lincoln (It was a downgrading that the proud Northumberland took hard, which may explain his treachery at Bosworth a year later.). To make these changes lawful, king Richard issued two permanent commissions: one authorising the Council to sit as Justices of the Peace, the other of oyer and terminer. With these in place, the council had full civil and criminal jurisdictions and was fit to dispense the king’s justice. Richard allocated an annual budget of 2000 marks for the maintenance of the Council, which was to be paid from the income of his northern estates.[43] The council chamber was moved from Middleham to Sandal and regulations drawn up for the council’s conduct, especially, its judicial function. In particular the regulations directed that the Council must sit at least four times a year. The preamble to these regulations captures Richard’s attitude to justice perfectly “…the Regulations as they are here called, proceed to give general directions that no member of the council, for favour, affection, hate, malice or meed (a bribe) do ne speak (sic) in the Council, otherwise than the King’s laws and good conscience shall require but shall be impartial in all things, and that if any matter comes before the Council in which one of its members is interested, that member shall retire.” [44] There is no need to discuss the detailed regulations since Richard’s respect for the law of the land is clear from the above quote.

 

It is helpful, however, to briefly mention one important case that came before the Council, which illustrates how Richard thought the legal process should work. In 1484 there was a riot in York that arose from the enclosure of some common land. Roger Layton and two other men ‘riotously destroyed the enclosure’. After some careful thought the Mayor and Council arrested and imprisoned the ringleaders, and sent their man to learn the king’s pleasure. The matter came before the king’s Secretary and Comptroller, Sir Robert Percy[45]; at the same time Lincoln, then at Sandal was informed. A week later Sir Robert arrived at York with a message from the king. The king was willing that the citizens should enjoy their common pasture; however, he reprimanded them for seeking to recover their rights by a riotous assembly, instead of putting their case to the Mayor and Council. If they failed to get justice there, they should have referred the matter to the King’s Council of the North. And if they failed to get lawful redress there they could lay the case before the king. This message was  a clear indication that the King’s Council in the North was to be a court of first instance. Matters were only laid before the King’s Council of State if the King’s Council of the North failed to do justice.  The Council remained throughout its existence, pretty much as it was in 1484 “ Neither its jurisdiction nor its procedures underwent any serious modification. Such changes as came, were just the changes of time.” [46]  In 1640, the Long Parliament abolished the King’s Council in the North.

 

Courage

This article is not really about Gloucester’s governance of the north, or the state of English justice in the second half of the fifteenth century; it is about moral courage. The type of courage described by General Sir Peter de la Billiére in his introduction to ‘The Anatomy of Courage’ by Charles Moran: “Moral courage is higher and rarer in quality than physical courage. It embraces all courage and physical courage flows from it…it is applicable to business, in law, within institutions such as schools and hospitals. It takes moral courage to stand up against a crowd, to assist a victim of bullying, or to reveal negligence where others would prefer it to remain hidden. Moral courage implies the belief that what you are doing or saying is right, and are willing to follow through your conviction regardless of personal popularity or favour: so easy to expound, so demanding to achieve. In my experience a person of high moral courage will seldom fail to demonstrate an equally distinguished level of physical courage”.

 

The reality is that Richard’s valour in battle, whilst admirable, is not enough to save him from the accusation that he was a bad man. To be given the benefit of the doubt, it is necessary to demonstrate his goodness, with examples of his moral courage and acts of kindness, justice and mercy. That is what I have tried to do in this essay. The examples of Richard’s governance to which I have referred, are merely illustrations of what I regard as his high moral courage. They demonstrate not merely his potential for goodness, but that those who lived under his governance for more than a decade thought he was a good lord.  It is not, of course, a defence against the accusations of, regicide, infanticide, incest and usurpation levelled against him; but then, it can be argued that  an active defence is hardly necessary anyway, since those accusations are only the result of  gossip, rumour and hearsay.

 

[1] I have taken the liberty of borrowing the idea for this title from the book ‘Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law’ (PW Hammond (Ed) (R3 and Yorkist History Trust i 1986). It is an excellent volume containing a number of erudite papers presented at a symposium to mark the quincentenary of king Richard III’s reign.

[2] CAJ Armstrong – The Usurpation of Richard the Third by Dominic Mancini (Oxford 1969 edition) p.65. There is a risk in inferring too much from a single source, especially as Mancini’s narrative is hearsay. Nevertheless, I am using it here for good reasons. First, Mancini provides a truly  contemporary assessment of Richard’s character (See Charles Ross–Richard III (Yale 1999 edition) p. Lvii, for an opinion on the importance of Mancini’s narrative.). Second, Mancini was no friend of Richard’s; he never met or even saw him. What he knew of Richard’s character he heard from others. Third, given Mancini’s animus towards Richard (He assumed that Richard aimed to seize the throne all along.), this unsolicited testimonial suggests there was truth in his good reputation. Finally, there is contemporary, and independent evidence that corroborates this passage.

[3] Ross (R3) pp. Lxvi and 64: professor Ross acknowledges the ‘extraordinary difficulties of the evidence’ (in deciding when and why Richard decided to assume the crown) and assures us that modern (20th century) historians ignore the Tudor tradition in favour of inferring Richard’s character and motives “ …from a close scrutiny of the events themselves without preconceptions.” He further argues that they have a more critical appreciation of the worth of the Tudor tradition, ” …and a certain unwillingness to throw the whole bodily out of the window, especially when it can be confirmed by contemporary evidence.” It is not clear quite how closely the events are scrutinised by modern historians given the ‘extraordinary difficulties of the evidence’ already alluded to. Furthermore, the near contemporary material cannot corroborate the Tudor tradition since they are one and the same thing. Corroboration means evidence independently confirmed by other witnesses. The so-called ‘Tudor tradition’ is no more that an uncritical résumé of the earlier post Richard material and repeats their mistakes.

[4] Ross (E4) pp.199-203; Ross (R3) p.26; Hicks pp.83-86; Anthony Pollard – Richard III and the Princes in the Tower (Bramley Books 1997 edition) pp.83-85; professor Hicks’ angst about Gloucester’s wickedness is so great that he couldn’t resist the following comment: “He was not a great soldier, general or chivalric hero, not a peacemaker, not even a northerner. The great estates he assembled, the north he united and the local tradition he fostered all resulted from a judicious mixture of violence, chicanery and self publicity” (p.85). Gloucester’s ‘dispute’ with Clarence over the Neville inheritance; his behaviour towards the dowager countess of Oxford whilst she was committed to his ‘keeping and rule’, his part in the trial and attainder  of Clarence and his preference for war against France are all cited as examples of his grasping, malicious  and violent  character. The trouble with this opinion is that its validity depends on accusations made after Bosworth by people with an axe to grind and at a time when it suited the Tudors to embroider his shortcomings for their own advantage. For a different opinion see Kendall pp.127-150. It is noteworthy that professor Kendall disregarded the Tudor myth, relying instead on contemporary source material to support his generally favourable interpretation of Gloucester’s behaviour as a duke.

[5] Anne F Sutton – A curious Searcher for our Weal Public: Richard III, piety, chivalry and the concept of the good prince’, published in ‘Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law’ pp.58-90. Ms Sutton’s essay provides an evidenced and balanced view of Richard as a good prince within the medieval context.

[6] Mark Lansdale and Julian Boon – Richard III: a psychological portrait (Ricardian Bulletin March 2013) pp.46-56. Professor Lansdale and Dr Boon offer a number of plausible hypotheses that might explain Richard’s behaviour. Although their professional opinions are necessarily speculative, they do not in my opinion go beyond what might be inferred from the available evidence.

[7] It is interesting (I put it no higher) to analyse the main biographies of Richard written in the last one hundred and fifty years. James Gairdner’s biography (1878) contains 332 pages, of which 52 relate to Richard’s life as duke of Gloucester; the remainder analyse Richard’s reign and the controversies surrounding it. Clement Markham wrote a biography (1898) in direct response to Gairdner’s work. Of its 327 pages, 42 deal with the period 1470-83. Paul Kendall’s biography (1955) is generally positive for Ricardians. Of its 393 pages (excluding appendices and notes), 152 are devoted to Richard as a duke, of those 49 are specifically about his time in the north. Charles Ross’ biography (1999) is — for the want of something better — considered to be the standard work on Richard’s life and reign. It contains 232 pages, of which 39 are devoted to Richard as a royal duke: including 20 pages as ‘Lord of the North’. Finally, Michael Hicks’ biography (2000 revised edition) analyses Richard’s actions in the context of a criminal trial in which Hicks’ prosecutes, defends, and is judge and jury. It contains 199 pages, the story of Richard’s life before April 1483 being compressed into 31 of them. My analysis is, of course, academic since it does no more than suggest that quantitatively, the first thirty years of Richard’s life get significantly less attention than the last two; it does not examine the reason for that. Nevertheless, it suggests to me that Ricardian studies may benefit from a new scholarly biography of Richard’s life and reign. Hopefully, it would be one that emulates in its breadth, thoroughness and objectivity Cora Scofield’s definitive account of Edward IV’s life and reign (including all that ‘merciless detail’ that professor Hicks found so tiresome), and Professor Ralph Griffiths’ equally comprehensive and objective biography of Henry VI. I live more in hope than expectation.

[8] Pollard (R3) p71-73

[9] Horace Walpole – Historic doubts on the life and reign of King Richard III (1768)

[10] Ross (R3) pp.24-26; Keith Dockray – Richard III: a source book (Sutton 1997) pp.32-33.

[11] Annette Carson – Richard duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England (Imprimis Imprimatur 2015) pp. 23-26 and 61 contains a guide to the office of constable of England and Gloucester’s chivalric, martial and judicial powers. The duchy of Lancaster had held palatine status since 1351 and was independent of royal authority. Its lands in the north were vast and its power great; so much so that the Lancastrian kings retained the title of duke of Lancaster to themselves to prevent diminution of royal authority. On ascending the throne, Edward IV held the dukedom in abeyance but reserved to himself its authority, benefits and responsibilities. As Chief Steward of the duchy, Gloucester was the chairman of the council appointed by the king to administer the duchy territories.

[12] Paul Kendall – Richard III (George Allen & Unwin 1955) pp. 129,456 note 7 (citing Letters and papers of the reign of Henry VIII by JS Brewer, London 1864-76, 1, 2, pp.1054, 1260). Lord Dacre, Warden of the West March complained to Wolsey that he shouldn’t be expected to match the accomplishments of Richard duke of Gloucester. Predictably, he was told that he must provide the same standard of effective governance as the duke.

[13] Rachel Reid – The King’s Council in the North (Longman Green & Co 1921) p.27 et al

[14] Ross (E4) p.199; professor Ross argues that that it is not true that Northumberland was placed under Gloucester’s ‘supervisory authority’ as suggested by Cora Scofield and Paul Kendall. He relies on the indentures made between the duke and the earl in 1473 and 1474, which did indeed separate their authority. On his interpretation of those indentures any subordination was a private matter and not official, and the earl’s freedom of action was assured. Unfortunately, professor Ross (not for the first time) fails to read between the lines to understand what was really happening. There was indeed some early friction between the duke and the earl, arising from Northumberland’s resentment that Gloucester had inherited the Neville mantle and was an obvious threat to Percy hegemony and independence in the north. The indenture of 28 July 1474 (Dockray [sources] p. 34) was intended to calm the situation by confirming their relationship as being that of a ‘good lord’ and his ‘faithful servant’, which was the conventional arrangement, since a royal duke trumped a belted earl in status. However, the caveat inserted into the indenture that Gloucester would not to interfere with Northumberland’s duties as warden of the east and middle marches or poach his servants, was a sensible recognition of the feudal reality and a concession to the touchy earl (see Dockray [sources] p.35 for evidence of Northumberland’s touchiness). The Percy’s were notorious trimmers; they had fought against a Lancastrian king at the turn of the fifteenth century and for a Lancastrian king during the Wars of the Roses. Although their power was effectively destroyed at Towton, they played a major and distinctly treacherous part in the northern rebellions of the early 1460’s. Although, Edward never forgot their treachery, he needed Percy assistance during the 1470’s and was keen not to upset them: Gloucester obviously concurred. There can be little doubt that the indentures were a fiction to preserve Northumberland’s pride. In reality he had less influence in the north than Gloucester. Significantly, Edward was quick to clarify his brother’s supreme authority by appointing him the king’s Lieutenant General in the North when he decided to invade Scotland: not once but twice. By 1482 Gloucester was endowed with what amounted to quasi-royal authority to conduct the war (or peace) with Scotland.

[15] FW Brooks – The Council of the North (Historical Association 1953, revised edition 1966) p.6

[16] AJ Pollard – North, South and Richard III, published in ‘Richard III: crown and people (J Petre –Ed) (Richard III Society 1985) pp.350-51. Pollard refers to various local studies that show northern England to have been ‘economically backward’ at this time. Although the six counties of Westmorland, Cumberland, Northumberland, Durham, Lancashire and Yorkshire occupied about a quarter of England’s total area, they accounted for only 15% of the population (Pollard’s best guess).

[17] Brooks p.10

[18] Ross (E4) pp.45-49

[19] Keith Dockray – Richard III and the Yorkshire Gentry 1471-85, published in Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law pp.38-57. Only the personal intervention of Henry Percy (heir to the earl of Northumberland killed at Towton) prevented the northerners from attacking Edward and his small entourage when they landed on the Yorkshire coast in 1471.

[20] Sutton (R3, piety etc.) p.62

[21] Robert Davies – Extracts from the Municipal Records of the City of York during the reigns of Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III (London, 1843); and the York Civic Records, supra; Chris Given-Wilson (Gen Ed) – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England (Boydell Press 2005): Rosemary Horrox (Ed) Volume 14, pp. 412 & 425; Washington DC, Library of Congress, Thatcher 1004 (a letter from Gloucester to Sir Robert Claxton, 12 August 1480, which is reproduced in Pollard (R3) p.237) and Mancini supra

[22] Calendar Patent Rolls Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III -1476-85, p.339; T Stapleton (Ed) Plumpton Correspondence (Camden Soc 1839) pp.31-33 & 40 and A Raine (Ed) – York Civic Records (Yorkshire Archaeological Society Records Series 1939) Vol 1, PP.2-3.

[23] YCR pp.15-16, 51-52 & 54

[24] Dockray (R3 sources) pp. 30, 34-37

[25] Davies p.89; this is a quote from a letter from the York City Council to the duke of Gloucester.

[26] Reid p.58; Davies passim

[27] Pollard (R3) pp.231-32, and Appendix 1, pp.234-236. The original arbitration agreement is in North Riding County Record Office, Clervaux Cartulary, ZQH.

[28] Davies pp.80-95; the cost of Pike ranged from 10s.3d to 11s.3d ‘a piece’ old money, which equates to about 52-62p today.

[29] Kendall pp135-37; see also Davies pp140-41

[30] Dorothy Mitchell – Richard III and York (Silver Boar 1987) p.27; Alderman Thomas Wrangwyshe was a colourful character indeed. Aged about forty-five in 1482. He commanded a company of archers in Gloucester’s Scottish campaigns. In 1483 he personally led 300 men from York to be at the king’s side during Buckingham’s rebellion. He was a rough diamond, with a distinctly ‘Ricardian’ sense of justice. In one case in January 1485, when he was the Mayor, he sent a man to the gaol for being cruel to another man, who was, in the stocks. The sergeants were escorting the prisoner to the city gaol, when a ‘large group of his heavily armed friends’ tried to release him. Wrangwyshe, hearing the violent affray, stormed into the street and settled the fight with his fists; thereafter he grabbed the prisoner in ‘his strong hands’ and  dragged him off to the gaol. Wrangwyshe was a  formidable fighter in and out of the council chamber and seems to have won Gloucester’s friendship.

[31] Reid p.47

[32] Reid p.48

[33] Reid p.54

[34] Reid p.58: the sub-heading for this section is paraphrased from a sentence in Dr Reid’s work on the council of the north, which reads as follows “Richard did not reserve his favour for the victims of economic change. In his Council he offered good and indifferent justice to all who sought it, were they rich or poor, gentle or simple”.

[35] There was an upsurge in unfair fines and illegal evictions due to economic factors on the continent, which was driving-up the price of wool and hides (the North’s most marketable commodity). As a consequence, the value of pastureland increased. Tenants who held manor lands by feudal custom were liable to have their land enclosed by ruthless landlords intent on turning arable land or rough common land into valuable pasture.

[36] Reid pp. 57-58 citing Sir Thomas de Littleton- Tenures (published 1482) (1841 edition) Sec 77; Brian CJ’s dictum was incorporated into the 1530 edition of Littleton. Sir Thomas de Littleton (1407-1481) was an English judge and jurist. His treatise on ‘tenure’ was the standard legal textbook on the law of property until the nineteenth century.

[37] Reid, ibid

[38] Reid p.59

[39] Reid pp.59-61

[40] Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (Eds) – The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) p.171

[41] Pronay; ibid

[42] Rosemary Horrox and PW Hammond (Eds) – British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 (R3S 1982), Vol 3, pp. 107-08 [f264b]. The Commission creating the Council and appointing the earl of Lincoln as its first president is undated. However, Lincoln was at the time Richard’s heir and so the Commission must have been signed after the death of the Prince of Wales, probably around the 24 July 1484.

[43] Harleian MS433, Vol 3, pp. 114-117 [f 270]); see also Reid pp. 58-70 for a detailed appreciation of Richard’s regulations governing the council’s conduct.

[44] Harleian MS433, ibid; I think there may be  a double negative in Richard’s regulations.

[45] Mitchell p.30; Sir Robert Percy (not a member of the Northumberland Percies) was king Richard’s closest personal friend after Francis Lovell; the three had trained together at Middleham. Faithful to the end, he died fighting beside his king in the final charge at Bosworth. Percy’s son was attainted after the battle of Stoke in 1487.

[46] Reid p.62

The Tragedy of King Richard 111 (not by William Shakespeare)

     Part 8 – “Rumour it abroad…”

 

“ I, from the orient to the drooping west,

Making the wind my post-horse, still unfold

The acts commenced on this ball of earth;

Upon my tongues continual slanders ride;

The which in every language I pronounce

Stuffing the ears of men with false reports…

And no such matter? Rumour is a pipe

Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures:

And of so easy and so plain a stop,

That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,

Can play upon it”

(William Shakespeare)[1]

If William Shakespeare had any deficiencies as a historian, he surely compensated  for them with his dramatic and often beautiful insights into human behaviour. He knew full well that rumour was a nasty, insidious thing. It is dangerous to those who spread it and to its victims, but it is even more dangerous to those who believe it. Rumour sows the seed of doubt, fear and discord wherever it appears, which is precisely why it is such powerful social, political or military weapon in the hands of unscrupulous people.

In the early autumn of 1483 “a rumour arose” in southern England “that king Edward’s sons, by some unknown manner of violent destruction, had met their fate.”[2] This was a particularly damaging rumour, since ultimately it bought low the York dynasty and destroyed the last Plantagenet king’s life and reputation. The accusation that king Richard III murdered the princes in the Tower has its genesis in this rumour and the historical narrative of his life and reign is dominated by it. Beginning after Bosworth, professional historians and academics have consistently and briskly dismissed any attempt to defend Richard or to cast doubt on the veracity or probity of the material used against him. That he was a usurper, a regicide and an infanticide is now an established fact for most of the establishment of professional historians and scholars. It is a position based partly on their natural caution and dislike of revisionist history, partly on their trust of the sources and partly on their belief that Richard’s contemporaries thought he was guilty.

Professor Charles Ross speaks best for this traditional narrative of Richard’s life and reign in his biography of Richard. He begins the chapter on the fate of the princes by quoting the great English statesman (and no mean historian in Ross’ opinion) Winston Churchill ” … no fact stands forth more unchallengeable than that the overwhelming majority of the nation was convinced that Richard had used his power as protector to usurp the crown and that the princes disappeared in the Tower. It will take many ingenious books to raise this issue to the dignity of a historical controversy”[3]. So convinced is professor Ross of Richard’s guilt that he doesn’t think it would even be necessary to commit pen to paper were it not for the many ‘ingenious books’ written on the subject over the centuries[4]. I make no pretense that this essay is ingenious, and it is certainly not scholarly. It merely asks just the sort of silly question that an untrained, unqualified and disinterested observer might think was important: how can we be so certain king Richard was guilty of this crime if all we have is a rumour? For the avoidance of doubt, I should add that it is not my intention in this piece to explore the deeper issues concerning the actual fate of the boys: were they murdered, and if so by whom? Or did they escape to survive king Richard? I am interested only in the provenance and impact on English history of the Crowland rumour.

Expressions of concern for the fate of the boys can be found in the extant private papers, manuscripts and chronicles of the times. And certainly some writers were quick to point their accusing finger at king Richard. However, there is no extant eyewitness testimony; by and large the material we do have reports rumour and not events. The story begins with Mancini: “ I have seen many men burst forth in tears and lamentations when mention is made of him [Edward V] after his removal from men’s sight; and already there is suspicion that he had been done away with. Whether, however, he has been done away with, and by what manner of death, so far I have not at all discovered.”[5] Mancini does not vouch for the accuracy of the suspicions; neither does he mention any fears for the safety Richard duke of York, the king’s brother and heir presumptive. Since he is describing what he saw for himself, he must be referring to a time before he returned to France in July 1483. I think he is describing the fear and uncertainty in London following Hastings’ execution and the arrest of Morton, Rotherham et al. George Cely expresses similar concerns.[6] The absence of a direct domestic accusation against Richard is notable. In fact, the only allegations against Richard in his lifetime are foreign. Casper Weinreich writing in Germany in 1483 believes that Richard murdered the princes, as does Guillaume de Rochefort in France in January 1484. I think it is fair to say that both these sources (and others) can be traced to the Lancastrian rebels then exiled in France.[7] They are in fact a regurgitation of the Crowland rumour, to which I now turn.

Our main source of information for events during the summer and autumn of 1483 is the Second Continuation of the Crowland Chronicle. Its importance is threefold: it fixes the start of rumour in time, in place and in context. The anonymous author (who, by the way, was no friend to king Richard) wrote: “…the two sons of king Edward remained in the Tower of London with specially appointed guards.[8] In order to release them from such captivity people of the south and the west of the kingdom began to murmur greatly to form assemblies and to organise associations to this end”[9] And later: “When at last the people around the city of London and in Kent, Essex, Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset, Devon, Somerset, Wiltshire and Berkshire and in some other southern counties of the kingdom, just referred to, began considering vengeance, public proclamation having been made that Henry, duke of Buckingham, then living in Brecknock in Wales, being repentant of what had been done would be captain-in-chief in this affair a rumour arose that king Edward’s sons, by some unknown manner of violent destruction, had met their fate.[10] “ What we learn from this is that the rumour began in the early autumn of 1483, in southern England and after the duke of Buckingham had joined the plot to restore Edward V[11].

The impact was almost immediate. Crowland continues: “…For this reason all those who had begun this agitation, realizing that if they could not find someone new at their head for their conquest it would soon be all over for them, remembered Henry, earl of Richmond who had already spent many years in exile in Brittany. A message was sent to him by the duke of Richmond on the advice of the lord [bishop] of Ely (i.e. John Morton), his prisoner at Brecknock, inviting him to hasten into the kingdom of England to take Elizabeth, the dead kings elder daughter, to wife and with her, at the same time, possession of the whole kingdom.”   The affect of the rumour was to subvert the insurrection from its original purpose of restoring Edward V, to one aimed at putting a Lancastrian pretender on the throne. This traditional narrative raises two important questions that deserve greater attention: who started the rumour and why?

I will come straight to the point. It has been suggested by Sir James Gairdner that the rebels started the rumour deliberately as political propaganda against the king.[12] If so, it means that on the 24 September 1483 when Buckingham invited Henry Tudor to come and take possession of the realm, he must have known beyond doubt that the boys were dead. If not, Henry had absolutely no title to the crown and was unlikely to be supported by the southern (Yorkist) malcontents. Gairdner believes that as the rumour was not reported until the verge of the revolt, Buckingham was probably keeping a guilty secret. Either he knew the boys were dead or he was lying. Of course, this doesn’t exculpate king Richard since Buckingham might have joined the rebellion genuinely in the belief that Richard had murdered his nephews. Nonetheless, his behaviour does cast doubt over the rebels’ intentions. Furthermore if Buckingham knew, it is inconceivable that Margaret Beaufort and John Morton did not also know the boys’ fates[13].

When the king left London on the 19 July 1483 on his royal progress, he left behind a web of Lancastrian and Woodville treachery that would have done justice to any Italian renaissance court. At its centre was Margaret Beaufort: self-styled countess of Richmond and mother of the Lancastrian adventurer Henry Tudor.   The ultimate victim of this treason was to be king Richard III, whose downfall she planned using Elizabeth Woodville and Henry Stafford as her unsuspecting tools. Margaret’s purpose was simple. One day her darling boy would rule England. The key to Tudor ambition was Buckingham’s defection to their camp. We can only speculate as to his reasons: remorse (Crowland), greed (Vergil) and ambition (More) are all possibilities, which fortunately, I need not trouble with in this essay. Buckingham’s motive is immaterial for my purpose; what matters to me are his actions. It is difficult to unravel the sequence of events as we are reliant on two Tudor histories (by Thomas More and Polydor Vergil respectively) both of which were written more than two decades after these events and neither of which has much (if any) value as historical evidence. Nonetheless, we have to do our best to reconstruct a plausible narrative with the material we have.

The king met Buckingham for the last time on the 2 August 1483 at Gloucester[14]. Nobody knows what they talked about but we do know that this meeting marked the end of their collaboration. The king continued his royal progress northwards to the heartland of his support. Buckingham continued his journey west to the Stafford family seat in South Wales. He arrived at Brecon on the 9 or 10 of August 1483;[15] waiting for him there was the ubiquitous John Morton: incorrigible Lancastrian intriguer and king Richard’s mortal enemy. In Thomas More’s view Morton (“a clever man”) turned the credulous Buckingham’s head by the simple stratagem of flattery; he suggested that Buckingham would probably make a better king than Richard. Sadly, More’s narrative breaks off just as it is getting interesting[16].

Vergil gives a more detailed account of the Morton-Buckingham plot. According to him, Morton was cautious and did not respond immediately to Buckingham’s treacherous talk. It was only when Buckingham produced his master plan for uniting the red and white roses by bringing Henry Tudor over from Brittany to marry Edward IV’s eldest daughter that Morton took control of the situation. Within a fortnight (around the 21 August 1483) he had informed Margaret Beaufort of the recruitment of Buckingham and welcomed Reginald Bray to Brecon. Bray was sent by Margaret to act as a go-between and to convey her instructions on the next steps. By the 26 or 27 August Bray was back in London, where Henry Tudor’s marriage to Elizabeth of York was already settled[17]. Henry, in Brittany, was informed by the end of the month of Buckingham’s recruitment and the plan for his proposed royal marriage.

It seems inconceivable to me that Elizabeth Woodville would consent to this marriage if she thought it would disinherit her two sons. She might have consented because she believed her sons were already dead. Equally, she might have simply believed that a royal marriage was the Tudor’s price for supporting Edward V’s restoration. Duke Francis of Brittany was sponsoring Henry and he could provide a powerful force of ships and soldiers to support the deposition of king Richard. By the ‘first weeks of September’ the duke had kitted out a force of fifteen ships and five thousand soldiers for the Tudor descent on England.[18] By giving duke Francis the benefit of the doubt, we can say that he might have believed he was supporting the restoration of Edward V and was buoyed by the news from England. However, the duke feared a French invasion of his Duchy and about this time had sent his envoy to England to blackmail king Richard into providing men and money for the defence of Brittany; otherwise, he said he could not guarantee that Henry Tudor would not fall into French hands. It seems that the Bretons and also the French regarded Henry as a pawn to be used in the furtherance of their foreign policy aims against England[19].

The implication of this conspiracy is obvious. If Margaret Beaufort’s son was to succeed to the throne, it could only be over the dead bodies of Edward V and his brother Richard duke of York[20]. The rumour that the boys were dead was a masterstroke for the Tudors. It didn’t matter for their purposes whether they were dead or alive. All that mattered was that people believed that king Richard had killed them and that the rumour spread doubt and mistrust in England. It would keep king Richard on the back foot and prevent him consolidating his reign. Professor Ross holds that the boys alive were dangerous to Richard as they would provide a rallying point for rebellion. If they were indeed dead or were simply not produced to scotch the rumours, it would confirm Richard as their murderer in peoples’ minds. Ross is right when he writes that Richard was placed in an almost impossible predicament: damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.

I do not propose to enter the debate about what happened to the princes because that is a mystery. Nothing that I have referred to herein or have read or seen proves that the boys were even dead, much less that they were murdered. All we know with certainty is that they disappeared during the summer of 1483. Sir James Gairdner’s rhetorical question is illuminating: “ What could have induced Richard to time his cruel policy so ill, and to arrange it so badly? The order for the destruction of the children could have been much more easily and safely and secretly executed when he was in London than when he was in Gloucester or Warwick (or in York for that matter [21]. It’s a good question because it highlights a weakness in the case against Richard: the inherent improbability that he would have botched it so badly. There was no benefit to him in killing the boys and keeping it a secret. In fact, it would produce the worst of all worlds. The ruthless tyrant of Tudor tradition would have arranged for the boys to die tragically of natural causes. Their bodies would be displayed without a mark on them and with reverence, for all to see that they were dead. This could not of itself prevent Tudor conspiracies but it would have made it harder for them to depose Richard. Alternatively, he could simply have blamed Buckingham once he was captured. It is right that Richard should bear some vicarious responsibility for the death of his nephews. However, he could minimize this by arguing that the deed was done without his knowledge after he had left on his progress, and he that he had placed his trust in Buckingham.   Given the chance to consolidate his reign, his culpability in not protecting his nephews sufficiently would not have mattered[22].

Ultimately, I believe it was this rumour that undid king Richard III. His accession was not decidedly unpopular with nobles or the general the population: at least initially . Only some of the old Yorkist establishment and Lancastrian opportunists were opposed to him, and I think he could have defeated them. Things went wrong for the king after the rumour of his nephew’s deaths was spread.   He was never quite able to recover his equilibrium thereafter.

[1] PH Davies – Henry IV, Part 2 (Penguin 1979) at page 51, with the editors note at pages 164-167

[2] Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (editors)–The Crowland Chronicle continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) at page 163.

[3] Winston Churchill – A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (1956) Vol 1 at pages 383-384

[4] Charles Ross – Richard III (Yale 1999) at page 96.

[5] Dominic Mancini – The Usurpation of King Richard III (CAJ Armstrong, editor) (Oxford 1969 ed) at page 93 and editors note 91, pages 127-128. Mancini returned to France shortly after Richard’s coronation on 6 July 1483. He did not write his narrative for his sponsor Angelo Cato, until December 1483. He had plenty of time to catch-up with events in London from the Lancastrian rebels in France.

[6] H E Malden (editor) – The Cely Papers (Camden Society, 3rd Series, 1980) at pages 132 and 133. See also Michael Hicks – Richard III (Tempus 2000 revised edition) at page 115 for a modern language translation. This is a handwritten note by George Cely based on information he got from Sir John Weston. The note reflects the uncertainty in London after Hastings’ execution. Interestingly, Cely’ has concerns for the king (“…if the king, God save his life, were to die…) and the Lord Protector (‘[if] the duke of Gloucester were in peril”). As Hicks correctly points out, Cely did not blame Richard for the uncertainty of June1483.

[7] Josephine Wilkinson – The Princes in the Tower (Amberley 2013) at pages 129-152. Wilkinson analyses the provenance of these and later accusations against king Richard.

[8] See Rosemary Horrox and PW Hammond – British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 (R3S 1979) 4 Volumes, Volume 2, at pages 2 and 211. This is a contemporary household account showing the final payment to the Princes’ own servants. Its existence indicates that the chronicler is referring to a time after the 18 July 1483, when king Richard’s men replaced the princes’ servants.

[9] See Pronay and Cox at page 163. See also Riley’s translation for a comparison between early Victorian and late twentieth century Latin-English usage. In addition to Crowland’s statement that there was a plot to liberate the sons of Edward IV from the Tower, we have a Privy Seal Warrant from king Richard to John Russell, his Chancellor (PRO, C81/1392/1).   This warrant was written whilst Richard was at Minster Lovell on the 29 July 1483. The original was exhibited at the NPG in 1973 and is transcribed at page 98 of the exhibition brochure. The king had learned that “…certain persons as such as of late had taken upon themselves the fact of an enterprise as we doubt not you have heard, are attached and in ward…” Russell was instructed to place the matter before the king’s council for them to appoint somebody to sit in judgment on the criminals “…and to proceed to the execution of our laws in that behalf.“ Although we do not have a trial record, the antiquarian John Stow (The Annals, or General Chronicle of England (1615) at page 460) names those involved, adding that they were condemned and publicly beheaded on Tower Hill. There appears to have been a second Lancastrian plot to gain control of the boys in August 1483 (see Annette Carson – Richard III; the maligned king (History Press 2013 edition) at pages 152-156 for a discussion of these incidents).

[10] Crowland, ibid; it is illuminating to compare John Cox’s translation of the original Latin with Henry Riley’s 1854 translation, especially this passage: “…a rumour was spread that the sons of king Edward before named had died a violent death, but it was uncertain how.” This early Victorian translation creates a more explicit impression that the rumour was deliberate than does Cox’s modern translation.

[11] My best guess is that the rumour ‘arose’ in about mid-September 1483.

[12] Sir James Gairdner – History of the Life and Reign of Richard the Third (Longman Green 1878) at pages 169-170.

[13] It would be wrong to completely ignore the possibility that the boys were murdered, with or without Richard’s knowledge. Buckingham might have joined the rebels from remorse or he might have been trying to further his own ambition as a potential monarch in ‘leaking’ this damaging information. Personally, I am reasonably certain that Henry Tudor was not told what happened to the Princes (plausible deniability?). His actions and behaviour in the aftermath of Bosworth and throughout his reign suggests he was ignorant of their fate. Of course, it doesn’t follow that Margaret Beaufort and John Morton were also unaware of what happened: they might even have been responsible but kept it from Henry for obvious reasons.

[14] Kendall at page 266, and note 9, page 480. More and Vergil assert that Buckingham accompanied the king on his progress as far as Gloucester, where they split. However, I prefer Kendal’s suggestion that Buckingham remained in London for a few days after the king left on his progress and only joined the king later, when he was at Gloucester.   Kendall makes a cogent case for this, using contemporary records.

[15] Carson at pages 161-164 postulates this date and others. Although her reconstructed timetable is conjecture the assumptions are reasonable and based on Vergil’s account of the Morton- Buckingham conversations.

[16] I am ignoring Grafton’s later continuation of More’s ‘History’, which simply repeats Vergil.

[17] If Henry Tudor was to succeed to the throne he needed a legitimate title; the problem was he didn’t have one.   A marriage to Edward’s eldest daughter would give him a title of sorts, but that would only be true if Elizabeth’s brothers were dead. If they were alive, she had no royal title to pass to Henry. It is certainly possible to infer from these circumstances that either the boys were already dead, or they soon would be. Neither is it a great leap of the imagination to infer that Margaret had a clear motive for killing them and blaming Richard. The legitimacy of Henry’s title to the throne is a subject in its own right; one, that I cannot explore here. However, see John Ashdown-Hill – The Lancastrian Claim to the Throne (Ricardian Vol XIII, 2003) at page 27 for a full analysis of the issues. For a different opinion see Ian Mortimer – York or Lancaster: who was the rightful heir to the throne in 1460? (The Ricardian Bulletin, Autumn 2008 at page 20).

[18] Carson at page 164 cites R A Griffiths and R S Thomas – The Making of the Tudor Dynasty (Stroud 1993) at page 102 as evidence that a flotilla was being assembled and Vergil (page 201) for details of the ship and troop numbers. On her chronology it is obvious that these preparations were being made well before Crowland’s rumour of the princes’ deaths arose.

[19] Colin Richmond (1485 and All That: published in Lordship, Loyalty and Law [P W Hammond, ed] (R3S and the Yorkist Historical Trust 1986) at pages 172-206) has an interesting theory that French support for Henry Tudor was the last remnants of the Hundred Years War. Their implacable hostility to Richard arose from his opposition to the Treaty of Picquigny in 1475. Edward IV’s failure to wage a successful French campaign at that time turned the natural aggression of the English nobility inwards, resulting in the division that led to Bosworth ten years later and the collapse of the York dynasty. Richmond adds it is arguable that Bosworth was the last battle of the Hundred Years War.

[20] A.N. Kincaid (editor) – The History of King Richard the Third by Sir George Buck (Alan Sutton 1979) at pages ccxxvi and 163. Buck refers to ‘good testimony’ that Margaret Beaufort and John Morton murdered the boys “ For I have read in an old manuscript book it was held for certain that Dr Morton and a certain countess [he means Margaret Beaufort] conspiring the deaths of the sons of king Edward and some others, resolved that these treacheries should be executed by poison and, and by sorcery…” Unfortunately, the ‘old manuscript book’ seen by Buck is no longer extant. Nevertheless, his comment should not be dismissed out of hand. Thanks to Dr Kincaid we now know that Sir George was in fact an impeccably conscientious, diligent and honest writer. If he says he saw a manuscript, we have no reason to doubt his word.

[21] Gairdner at page154

[22] The enduring problem for Ricardians is that any theory which conceives the boys being killed, whether by Buckingham or Margaret Beaufort or by any one else, for that matter, makes Richard vicariously responsible even though he may have had nothing to do with it. The buck stops with the king: res ipsa loquitur.

Coming to Know Richard III: The Fictional Character vs. The Actual Man

 

“Life is like a prism. What you see depends on how you turn the glass.”
~Jonathan Kellerman

In the late 80s, I made the acquaintance of a classically trained British actor. Born in Guernsey, he served in the Royal Air Force during World War II and was imprisoned in a German prisoner-of-war camp for three years, from 1942 to 1945. Until I learned that he and his fellow prisoners were forced to perform Shakespeare before the guards, and that the guards had demanded he take the female roles, I did not understand his groundedness, his wicked sense of humor, his unspoken but clear compassion for a friend who had been abused in certain ways during her youth, and his unfailing attitude of, “I’ve seen bad, and this isn’t it.”

Until we know someone’s past, we can’t understand him. We also can’t know what he cares about or what motivates him.

While developing Richard as a character for multiple novels, and wanting to make him different in each novel, I realized that both historians and writers of fiction already see him and his motivations as if through a glass prism or a spectroscope. Some might argue that Shakespeare is to blame for the archetypal Machiavellian villain many think of when they think of Richard, but the human need to shoebox and categorize things and people, and the majority’s willingness to accept a traditional category without personally researching its historical validity likely have more to do with what the average person thinks about Richard…if the average person ever thinks about Richard.

Will the Real Richard III Please Step Forward?

In Richard’s case, we know some events of his life, but we do not know which events were meaningful enough to him to have helped shape who he was.

The major historical events are known and can be traced. Only occasionally can Richard’s reactions be traced, and we are entirely ignorant as to his motivations even when we think we know his motivations. But a plethora of writers – both of history and of fiction – have looked at the events Richard lived through or participated in, and they’ve gone on to decide what was important to him, and why. And so it is that most who have bothered to write about Richard have assigned subjective motivations to him.

It’s doubtful this will ever change because the temptation is too strong in most people for them to resist overlaying their personal feelings and reactions in response to the historical events that affected Richard or his contemporaries. A problem occurs when one writer accuses another writer’s reasoning as “wrong” when there can be no proven “right” answers to the mysteries in Richard’s life. Some people seem to forget the mysteries are many. Things like “What happened to the princes in the Tower?” and, “Did Edward IV marry Lady Eleanor Talbot before he married Elizabeth Woodville?” and, “What did Anne Neville die of? What did Edward of Middleham die of?” will always remain mysteries. Some people seem to forget that, too.

It can be fun to debate the points and possibilities, but many of us don’t know how to have fun debating. Many of us don’t even know how to debate. As the old Goon Show line goes, “I’m not saying she’s insane, but she leaves her premises immediately.”[i]

YOUR Richard is Too Hot, Cold, Romantic, Incestuous, Weak, Murderous, Tender, Loving, Psychotic, Paternal, Devoted, Comical, Tedious, Arrogant, Sneaky, and I Love/Hate Him, So Nyah!

When a writer of fiction uses Richard as a character, the writer makes certain subjective decisions about the character which are dictated by the story the writer wishes to tell. The Richard a writer creates is his or her own interpretation of the man, and the events and people in the real Richard’s life influence that interpretation as the story demands. A romantic novel featuring Anne Neville and Richard would focus on different events and character actions and reactions than an historical novel featuring Richard training as a squire to become a knight under the Earl of Warwick’s men.

No fictional Richard-construction is “better” or “worse” than any other. As Oscar Wilde said, “Books are either well written or badly written. That is all.” If you don’t like a particular flavor of tea, you can be nice and leave the pot for others to enjoy. You might even wander off to create your own flavor of Richard-tea. In any case, your flavor of Richard-tea is over there safely shelved on your bookshelf or still in your head. No one has messed with him, and you’re free to drink him up as you like.

MY Historical Rendition of Richard is The Definitive Version, Full Stop, Forevah! I’ll Snarl at Anyone Who Says Otherwise, So Nyah!

When a professional or amateur historian writes about history, he or she usually takes a position regarding their subject, and they back up their stance by interpreting historical events. (When you find an historian who’s neutral, send them roses, thank them profusely, and buy everything they’ve written. New. Yes, from that expensive university or independent press.) In the case of someone like Winston Churchill, there’s a plethora of contemporary source material, and the subject’s reactions and motivations are on record, so the historian has only to extrapolate Churchill’s reactions and motivations. But then, Churchill knew he was making history. Richard III didn’t. He was likely only trying to survive and take care of what mattered to him…like thousands of other people, noble and commoner, around him. (See what I did there? Create motivations for R3’s actions and other people’s actions, too? See how easy it is?)

In the case of Richard III, contemporary source material is so sparse, it’s not possible for anyone to reliably extrapolate Richard’s reactions and motivations, so contradictory interpretations are inevitable and multiple from the 15th century long into the future.

Every historian writing about Richard forms and expresses his or her opinions and theories without being able to provide definitive proofs to convince their audience because definitive proofs do not exist in Richard’s case.There is evidence. There is probability. Good writers weigh both, but ultimately nothing but conjecture is possible where his reactions and motivations are concerned because the king’s skeleton was not found clutching a thick tome in its bony fingers that contained its owner’s private thoughts in neat middle English, and no archive has yet yielded same.

So whenever a professional or amateur analyst of Richard III, his life and his times, expounds on Richard’s personal motivations and goes on to offer definitive answers to any of the myriad mysteries regarding him, they’re actually expounding on what their own imagination has come up with. So unless an historical writer or blogger confines themselves to the known facts and doesn’t venture into the realm of, “Richard did X because he felt Y,” it’s all conjecture…unless someone has a direct line to the Unseen Realm and to Richard, or to the elusive Akashic Records. And if they do, I wish they’d bottle and sell it so the rest of us can play, too.

All we can do as The Audience is apply or not apply critical thinking to what we read and hear regarding Richard. If all we do is absorb the opinions and theories of others, then we have no studied, deliberate theories or opinions of our own. And that’s sad, and perhaps lazy of us. But then I wonder…how many of us have been taught critical-thinking skills?

Shakespeare Knew How to Have Fun with His Duke of Gloucester

Like it or not, Richard III as a character in fiction is forever fair game. He’s also a wonderful character to play with. You can let your imagination run riot to create a romance, a comedy, or a tragedy with him, and no one can tell you that you’re wrong to do so. (Actually, they will tell you, but you’re free to pity the Mrs. Grundys of the world for missing out on all the fun while you go back to playing with him and irritating them.)

In Richard’s real life, events continued shaping who he was throughout his life. It’s the same with us as well, but in fiction a writer will assign a character only one (1) meaningful life event. That one event helps the reader to understand the character, know what he cares about, and know what motivates him. The meaningful event is also the foundation for:

  1.  What the character wants
  2.  What choices the character makes when he’s stressed
  3.  The story’s theme

When the writer chooses the meaningful event carefully and uses it to their best advantage, they’re able to manipulate their audience’s emotions and reactions. This is great fun, hopefully for the audience as much as for the writer — if the writer does it right.

Shakespeare’s audience couldn’t claim they weren’t warned as to his Richard’s Meaningful Event, since the Bard has the Duke of Gloucester lay it all out in the soliloquy opening “Richard III.” What’s amazing is that this particular Meaningful Event was created full-cloth in Tudor times, by Tudor writers, and traditional historians have taken it as religious historical dogma ever since. It took Philippa Langley, John Ashdown-Hill, a whole lot of money from a whole lot of international Richard supporters, and Richard’s voice speaking from beyond the grave through his bones to offer the definitive proof that hey, he wasn’t at all as the Tudor writers (*cough* Thomas More, the Croyland Chronicle, etc. etc. etc.) and Old Willie presented him. And if the Tudors and Willie were wrong about Richard’s physical attributes, the next question to ask is: What else did they get wrong about him?

Lie to Me Once, Shame on You. Lie to Me Twice, and I’ll Never Believe Another Thing You Tell Me

When a witness on the stand in a court trial lies about one thing, their entire testimony is thrown out. They also instantly become a defendant, and they can be put on trial for perjury. So it is with Tudor propaganda. Once you catch a Tudor chronicler in one lie, their entire chronicle – down to the smallest detail – is suspect.

But hey, back to Shakespeare and the fun he had creating his Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

What Meaningful Event Does Shakespeare Assign His Version of Richard?

Shakespeare’s character is physically deformed and unfinished, lame and unfashionable. Even the dogs bark at him when he stops near them. (Or, as Gollum more succinctly put it in the screenplay of The Two Towers, to himself about himself, “You don’t have any friends. Nobody likes you.”)

Shakespeare uses Richard’s physical deformity as the foundation for:

WHAT Richard WANTS: To be a subtle, false, and treacherous villain because he can’t be a lover.

WHAT CHOICES HE MAKES WHEN HE’S STRESSED: When play opens, Richard has already laid plots to make his brothers hate each other. The play goes on to reveal his other, rather nasty choices. Was he under stress before the play began, or after? You can argue either way.

THE PLAY’S THEME: Various themes apply, so take your pick as they relate to Richard’s meaningful event. (There are other possible themes beyond these.)

  • Mortal Justice vs. Divine Justice
  • Free Will vs. Fate – “Divine Providence” to Renaissance audiences
  • Time – Richard seems to have the ability to speed up time. This is seen to work for him, but in the end it works against him.
  • Manipulation – He manipulates the audience as well as the other characters.
  • Power – Getting it. Holding onto it. Shakespeare’s Richard is portrayed, not as the medieval warlord he was, but as a Renaissance “Machievel” – someone who will do anything to get in power and stay in power.
  • Physical Deformity Reflects Moral Deformity — doesn’t much apply today, but aligns with the 16th-century belief system

You Too Can Have Fun with Richard

Wanna start creating your own Richard? It’s not hard, so why not have a go? If you don’t want to create your own, you could pull out your favorite novel that features him and see what the writer used to underlay Richard’s story goal, the choices he made during stressful times, and the story’s theme.

Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to select a meaningful event from Richard’s real life. The event should have happened before your story begins. It should also create ongoing suspense within your reader. You want them to ask and keep asking, “What’s Richard going to do next, and why?”

Story suspense depends on conflict and suffering, so the event you select must be traumatic – a betrayal, an insult, a loss, an injury, something that deeply wounded Richard. There are so many possibilities to choose from in his life, I’m not going to list examples. Part of the fun is making a list of possibilities for yourself and deciding which one to use.

The outcome of the event that wounded Richard should have created two or three specific things within him. Here are the three specific outcomes you’re looking for, compliments of Elizabeth Lyon’s A Writer’s Guide to Fiction.

  1. The wound should leave the character with a need so intense, he or she will be driven to fulfill it. These needs are universal, such as belonging, love, family, self-worth, or faith.
  2. The wound should leave the character with a weakness, a character flaw that seems out of the control or beyond the full awareness of the character.
  3. The wound may also gift the character with a heroic strength that increases his determination to fill the need and reach the plot goal.[ii]

If what you’ve chosen doesn’t create at least two things from this list, select another traumatic, meaningful event from Richard’s life.

The next time you run into the historical Richard or a fictional version (or both wrapped into one work), see if you can identify the meaningful event the writer is using to drive their version of the man. If you can’t identify their premise…I’m not saying they’re insane. Only that their work may be badly written.

__________

[i] Premise, also premiss. Logic. A proposition supporting or helping to support a conclusion. If you’d like to search “The Goon Show” radio scripts for the line, some are here: http://www.thegoonshow.net/scripts_alpha.asp … Good luck with that if you’re not a fan of Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, et. al. and their brand of humor. And if your first response was, “What’s a goon show?”, fuggedaboudit.

[ii] Lyon, Elizabeth. A Writer’s Guide to Fiction, Perigree, New York, 2004, p. 87.

 

Churchill, Celts and Common Ancestry (2009)

It was the new film, Into the Storm that started me thinking. Brendan Gleeson plays Winston Churchill and has commented widely on how ironic it is that an Irish actor is in the role. I recalled the rumours that Churchill fathered Brendan Bracken (a red-haired Irish-born MP and wartime Minister) and the fact that he too had red hair in his younger days. This is almost always the result of a Celtic gene but how exactly does it behave and where did it originate in his case?

Bill, A Scots-Canadian Ricardian, pointed out that his daughter has red hair but neither he, his parents nor grandparents did although his maternal great-grandfathers did. I searched for Churchill on Genealogics and looked back four generations (as with Bill). No given ancestor sounded demonstrably Scots or Welsh whilst the Irish peers listed could have been English in their descent. I stepped back slightly further and found two Scottish Earls, which potentially answers the first question.

Bill suggested that most people have a common ancestor within ten generations – one of 1024 – but there is an obvious flaw here. People, particularly the nobility, tend to intermarry so we have fewer unique ancestors to compare. If the theory really did apply, cubing that number to about 1.073 US billion would cover thirty generations or 750 years – back to Henry III’s struggles with de Montfort – to exceed the then population of the world. Because of duplication, we would need to go back further to pre-Conquest days or Alfred’s childhood.

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