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Edward III, slanting eyes and the legend of Melusine…

Melusine

These days, any mention of Melusine might conjure thoughts of Jacquetta of Luxemburg, Elizabeth Woodville, witchcraft and the like. But the story of Melusine was around before then.

On browsing through John Gardner’s Life and Times of Chaucer, I came upon the following anecdote, which begins with Gardner’s rather precise description of Edward himself:

“He was a handsome, fair man with a curly brown beard, gentle eyes and mouth, the eyes just perceptibly slanted like the eyes of all his sons. He was no ordinary mortal, one could see at a glance, and he liked to support the impression with a story…

“…Some hour hundred years ago, Edward III told his friends, the founder of his line, Count Fulke the Black, ruler of Anjou [Fulke III, 970–1040, ancestor of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou] traveled to a distant land and returned with a bride whose beauty was unsurpassed in all the world. The four children she bore him were brilliant and handsome, like all Plantagenet sons and daughters after them, but they carried also a darker heritage. She kept it secret for many years, living a life more secluded than a nun’s. Then one day the count demanded that his wife accompany him to Mass, a thing she’d repeatedly refused to do. She did so this time, pale and trembling. When the priest raised the Host, the countess let out an unearthly shriek, rose into the air, flew out of the chapel window, and was never seen again. The truth was out. She was Melusine, daughter of the Devil!…

“…By the time Chaucer knew him, Edward III at least half believed the story…”

Fulke the Black of Anjou

Fulke III (the Black) Count of Anjou 970–1040

A quick look on the internet soon reveals this story to be widespread, although not necessarily in connection with Edward. Our House of Plantagenet was descended from the children Melusine left behind. Or so Edward III apparently believed.

Two things arouse my interest. Firstly that Edward liked to repeat the devilish tale to his friends, and secondly that he and his sons had perceptibly slanting eyes. Are we to think the eyes came from the Devil, via Melusine? I for one have never heard of this trait in Edward and his sons. Has anyone else? Although, on reflection, there is one monarch who fits this bill, Edward’s grandson, Richard II.

Gilt-Bronze Tomb Effigy of Richard II, Westminster Abbey

 

 

 

 

 

If you have watched …

… Channel Five’s http://www.channel5.com/show/secrets-of-great-british-castles, let me reassure you of something.

There really was a king named Richard III and Dan Jones has simply forgotten to mention him.

Episode 2 was about Cardiff Castle, where Richard and Anne have a window devoted to them (seasons-greetings-2016-a-2).

Episode 3 was about the structure at York, or Clifford’s Tower as it is now called, which Richard frequented during his dozen years as Lord President of the Council of the North, whilst the city walls had borne the detached heads of his uncle, father (the Duke of York) and brother. Then again, “King Richard, late mercifully reigning upon us was, through grete treason, piteously slane and murdred to the grete hevynesse of this citie”., as their macebearer John Spooner recorded soon after Bosworth.

So Richard played a very real part in the history of both cities.

There have been a few interesting parts to this series – the “Black Dinner” with James II and the Douglases at Edinburgh Castle, Curthose held and Llewellyn Bren executed at Cardiff, the witchcraft charges against Joan of Navarre and Eleanor Cobham at Leeds, John starving various enemies to death at Lancaster and elsewhere, together with Robert Aske’s execution and Margaret Clitherow’s death in York, although Henry of Huntingdon could have been mentioned in conjunction with the latter. There has, however, been too much posing by Jones in his leather jacket, T-shirt and jeans firing arrows and trying on armour as the camera focussed on the other historians, includding Hutton, Morris and Capwell being older than him, together with too much dramatisatisation of Jones’ tendentious interpretation of events. The myth of Catherine de Valois and Owain Tudor, from the Leeds episode, is another case in point.

It isn’t that difficult to make a favourable reference to Richard III, surely? Then again, given what Jones has said about John and Edward II, perhaps it is better this way.cliffordstower

More sport and history – C17 this time

November is upon usheader16 and speedway fans in the northern hemisphere are now in hibernation, but at least two or three of the top clubs owe their roots to the events of the seventeenth century. Following our article on rugby clubs and the “Wars of the Roses” , here they are:

2017 PREMIERSHIP:
Somerset Rebels are based at the Oak Tree Arena, Edithmead, which is about twelve miles from Westonzoyland, where the Battle of Sedgemoor took place on 6 July 1685 as the last stage of the Monmouth Rebellion. Had speedway existed then, this would have been close to the middle of the season.
Rye House Rockets are based by the residence near Hoddesdon where there was an April 1683 plot, also involving the Duke of Monmouth, to assassinate Charles II and James Duke of York on their return from Newmarket. It failed possibly because the royal brothers were prevented from watching the horse racing by a fire. A dozen executions (at Tyburn, Smithfield and Tower Hill) and a suicide, the Earl of Essex, followed. The surviving plotters fled to exile and returned for the rebellion two years later.

2017 CHAMPIONSHIP:
Ipswich Witches are surely named for more than just the sake of assonance. The town was not quite the epicentre of Matthew Hopkins’ activities as “Witchfinder General”. Up to 300 people were executed within a forty mile radius of Ipswich between 1642-7 as a result of his activities. Hopkins was the son of a Puritan rector of Framlingham and then Great Wenham, where Matthew was born. He died at about twenty-seven in Manningtree, where he had been based..

Of human remains and another sinister reality behind a television programme

Actress_Molly_WeirI wonder how many listened to this programme a week or two ago? It was about the late diminutive Scottish actress Molly Weir who, between 1978 and 1984, played “Hazel McWitch” in the children’s comedy Rentaghost – you could tell it was a children’s comedy because one of the main characters died in the first few minutes of the opening episode, after a motorcycle accident.

Had she existed, McWitch, being Scottish, is likely to have been a victim of the campaign against witchcraft begun by James VI and to have been one of about 1700 burned between 1590 and 1722. Most were strangled before being burned, although William Tyndale could testify that this was not always effective.

In England, where witches were hanged instead, the total is usually estimated at 500 of a population four times that of Scotland. Quite apart from being less painful, even short-drop hanging preserved the body for future identification. The two convicted at the St. Osyth trial of 1582 are still being investigated to determine which witch is which, although it is now thought that the remains do not relate to Ursula Kemp

220px-Wickiana5and Elizabeth Bennet.

 

The Fall of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester

Whilst researching my biography of Richard, Duke of York I found myself drawn by a bitter feud that lasted for years and which in many ways was a kind of prequel to the Wars of the Roses. The more I learned about the acrimonious dispute between Cardinal Henry Beaufort and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester the more it fascinated me and the more I began to see it as a pre-cursor to the troubles that followed. I found it almost impossible to tell Richard, Duke of York’s story without reference to the context provided by this relationship. It has been largely forgotten in the violent civil war that followed its shocking end but without the fall of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester there may never have been a Wars of the Roses.

Cardinal Henry Beaufort was born around 1375, the second son of John of Gaunt by his mistress (and later third wife) Katherine Swynford. His older brother was John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset, whose descendants would become the infamous Dukes of Somerset who would rise to fame in the fifteenth century. His younger brother was Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter, a very capable soldier, and Joan Beaufort, his younger sister, married Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmoreland and became the matriarch of the Neville clan that rose to prominence as opponents of her brother’s Somerset descendants. Henry was half-brother to Henry IV, uncle to Henry V and great-uncle to Henry VI. As Bishop of Winchester he held the richest see in England and this made him invaluable to a Lancastrian crown perpetually short of money.

Cardinal Henry Beaufort

Henry Beaufort acted as Chancellor to his half-brother before they fell out, returning to influence under his nephew Henry V, who was close to his uncle. In 1417 Beaufort was created a Cardinal and papal legate, only for his nephew to place pressure on him to give up the Cardinal’s hat. The king feared the encroachment of papal influence but needed to keep his uncle, and not least his money, close. Henry Beaufort (no doubt grudgingly) agreed but in 1426, shortly after the accession of the young Henry VI, he was once more appointed Cardinal. This apparently conflicting role as Papal representative and senior royal counsellor would attract criticism, most notably from Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester.

Humphrey was born around 1391, the fourth and youngest son of the man who would become King Henry IV. Created Duke of Gloucester by his brother Henry V in 1414, Humphrey took part in several campaigns in France, most notably fighting at the Battle of Agincourt. On his brother’s death Humphrey served as Regent in England for his nephew, though his power was severely limited by the Royal Council and was always subservient to the position of his brother John. Often viewed as reckless and bitter, Humphrey was almost permanently at odds with his half-uncle Cardinal Beaufort – and his behavior may have had another explanation as we shall see later.

After the annulment of his first marriage to Jacqueline of Hainult, Humphrey married Eleanor Cobham around 1430. The couple were popular and well liked, their court becoming a centre of poetry and learning. A part of Humphrey’s library was bequeathed to Oxford University and formed the basis of the Bodleian Library. When John died in 1435 it left Humphrey as heir presumptive to his childless young nephew and removed the one control on the rivalry between the duke and Cardinal Beaufort. From this point onwards the feud became ever more bitter and personal.

The first point of conflict came with the decision that had to be made quickly as to the identity of John’s replacement in France. The Cardinal wanted the prestigious position for his nephew John Beaufort, son and namesake of his older brother, as he sought to use his substantial influence to promote the position of his family in Lancastrian England. Humphrey was equally determined not to allow the Beauforts such power and promoted his closest legitimate royal relative, the young and powerful Richard, Duke of York. Humphrey won the argument and York was dispatched to France but the battle was only intensified.

When Parliament opened in November 1439 it was flabbergasted to hear a tirade of complaint from Duke Humphrey against his uncle Cardinal Beaufort just before Christmas. After Christmas the articles were presented in writing, nominally addressed to his nephew but clearly meant for a wide audience. Beginning by complaining about the release of Charles, Duke of Orleans, who had been taken prisoner at Agincourt and whose release Henry V had forbidden, Humphrey quickly launched into a sharp berating of his uncle’s actions over the last decade or so, not least his conflicted role as Cardinal and royal councilor. Charges rained from Humphrey’s pen but, perhaps reflecting the balance of power that was driving him to make his complaints, nothing came of his accusations and Cardinal Beaufort was not even investigated. Instead, the next strike would be made by the Cardinal’s faction.

Humphrey’s wife Eleanor Cobham was arrested and tried for treasonable necromancy in 1441, accused of having engaged the well-known ‘Witch of Eye’, Margery Jourdemayne, to predict the death of Henry VI that would give her husband the throne. Eleanor claimed that she had only sought help to conceive a child but it is unlikely that any defense would have saved her. Although she escaped a death sentence Eleanor was forced to perform a public penance, divorce Humphrey and remain imprisoned for the rest of her life. She eventually died at Beaumaris Castle in 1452, still a prisoner, but the scandal of her arrest, trial and conviction forced Humphrey to retire from public life. It seemed that Cardinal Beaufort had won the war, but Humphrey remained a popular man, well loved by the general populace, viewed as a champion of their cause against a disinterested king and court party.

Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester

By 1447 the English conquests in France were in the final throws of a prolonged and painful demise. Henry VI’s government, by this point headed up by William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, was trying to hand back vast swathes of land won by Henry V and to the preservation of which John and Humphrey had dedicated their lives. There is little doubt that the government feared a backlash from Humphrey that could gather popular support and become dangerous. On 14 December 1446 Parliament was summoned to meet at Cambridge on 10 February 1447 but on 20 January the location was suddenly changed from Cambridge, where Humphrey was popular, to Bury St Edmunds in the heart of Suffolk’s power base. This clearly suggests that at some point over the Christmas period a plot to deal with Humphrey once and for all was crystalizing.

An English Chronicle recorded that Humphrey arrived after the opening of Parliament, was met outside the town and that before ‘he came fully into the town of Bury, there were sent unto him messengers commanding him on the king’s behalf’. He was ordered to go straight to his lodgings and not to try to see his nephew the king, who seems to have been convinced that his fifty-six year old childless uncle was actively plotting to seize the throne, a notion probably promoted by Suffolk and Cardinal Beaufort, who spied a final end for his longtime nemesis. Humphrey was arrested on 20 February by Viscount Beaumont, accompanied by the Duke of Buckingham, the Marquis of Somerset (Edmund Beaufort), the Earl of Salisbury and Lord Sudeley. Either that day or the following Humphrey suffered what was reported to be a devastating stroke. He lingered until 23 February when he finally died. His body was placed on public display before being buried at St Albans Abbey but rumours quickly sprang up that he had been murdered, perhaps poisoned. There is no evidence to support this and a natural cause is entirely possible, but the belief that Humphrey had been wronged lingered for years and his death was undoubtedly convenient to the government.

Humphrey is often remembered as a reckless, petulant, unreliable and belligerent man who resented his lack of power compared to his brother and the Council. This reading of events is not entirely fair to my mind. At the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 Humphrey had been injured and knocked to the muddy ground. As French knights raised their weapons to finish him off an armoured figure stepped across his prone body and beat the attackers away. So close was the combat that the man defending Humphrey had a fleur de lys cut from the crown atop his helm. Humphrey’s life had been saved by his brother, King Henry V. For the rest of his life Humphrey would devotedly try to see his brother’s aims in France realised, perhaps because he owed his life to the famous warrior. Watching the floundering of English fortunes must have been painful and seeing the Beauforts attempting to use the Cardinal’s wealth to benefit themselves in a way Humphrey probably felt did not benefit England may have been behind his animosity to the Cardinal.

Cardinal Henry Beaufort would appear to have won the long war with Humphrey, though his victory was short lived. He died on 11 April 1447, less than two months after Humphrey. A legend sprang up, probably originating from the Tudor antiquarian Edward Hall and embellished by Shakespeare, that Cardinal Beaufort became delirious on his deathbed and offered Death all of his treasure for a longer life, though the contemporary Croyland Chronicle records simply that he died ‘with the same business-like dignity in which for so long he had lived and ruled’. In his early seventies, he had lived under four kings and amassed huge wealth and influence, a basis from which the Beauforts would flourish further.

Perhaps the real impact of the feud between Cardinal Henry Beaufort and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester lies in what was to come after both of their deaths. The Beaufort family were set on an upward trajectory and enjoyed the favour of the king that the Cardinal’s influence had won for them. Richard, Duke of York had been promoted by Gloucester as a legitimate member of the blood royal and was widely viewed as the successor to Humphrey’s position opposing the peace party at court, meaning that whether he wished it or not he became an opponent to the Beauforts, perpetuating the feud of a previous generation. This rift would eventually widen until civil war broke out. Humphrey’s name would be closely associated with York’s cause for more than a decade after his death, his rehabilitation promoted by Cade’s Rebellion and his name finally cleared in Parliament when York held power.

The House of York and the House of Beaufort appear to have been set on a collision course by the disputes between Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and Cardinal Henry Beaufort. Henry VI’s inability to force a closure to the rifts at his court meant that the bitterly opposed factions caused a rupture in the nation that we remember as the Wars of the Roses. It is because of the course that Richard, Duke of York was set upon by these events that I found it impossible not to tell this story in order to explain his actions and the events that surrounded him. Although it is lost in the vicious war that followed, the long battle between Humphrey and Cardinal Beaufort laid the foundations for the Wars of the Roses that followed their deaths and Humphrey’s fall marked the implosion of the House of Lancaster in a manner usually believed to be the preserve of their successors in the House of York.

Humphrey was a well-liked figure who was popular with the common man and retained sympathy for the House of Lancaster as the government of his nephew became increasingly unpopular and out of touch with the country. The policy of eliminating those closest to the throne thrust Richard, Duke of York to prominence as Humphrey’s natural successor, caused those who had looked to Humphrey for a lead to turn their focus from the House of Lancaster and made York, not unreasonably, frightened of meeting the same fate simply by reason of his position. Perhaps paranoia was a part of the makeup of Henry VI’s mental issues even at this early stage, perhaps the Beauforts were manipulating him to improve their own prospects or perhaps it was a little of both. Whatever the reason, it backfired on Henry and the Beauforts, dragging England into a bitter and prolonged civil war.

{Matthew Lewis}

 

Tales of a Ricardian Traveler – Part One: Forest of Bowland and Skipton

RICARDIAN LOONS

Lady on Horseback Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

I am passionate about history and travel!  As soon as I got my passport, I was determined to go out and see the world with my own eyes, but more importantly, to encounter places associated with Richard III.  In his brief 32 years, he assembled what has been called by Professor Rosemary Horrox of Cambridge “the largest noble affinity of its day” — meaning, he owned a vast number of castles and estates that we can still visit in the UK.

For me, the most interesting period of Richard’s life as a man began in 1471 when he was only 17 years old and still living in the shadow of his older brothers Edward IV and George, Duke of Clarence. That was the year Richard returned from exile in Burgundy, led his first troops in combat at the Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury…

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A Visit to Bury St Edmunds (Part One)

The Mid-Anglia branch of the Richard III Society descended on Bury St Edmunds on Saturday the 12th September. We were lucky enough to have another brilliantly sunny day with no sign of rain and met up in Starbuck’s just across from our first and main objective, the Moyse’s Hall Museum.

This museum is housed in an ancient building dating from the time of the Town’s namesake, Edmund, who was king of England in the ninth century. Our knowledgeable guide, Alex, enthralled us with his tales of years gone by, beginning with Edmund himself. The ‘Bury’ in the town’s name has nothing to do with burying Edmund, but rather is another form of ‘burgh’, meaning ‘town’. The town began as a shrine to St Edmund, who in 869/70 was captured and killed by the Danish Vikings who were in the habit of invading England at that time. They tied him to a tree and shot him with arrows before beheading him. When his men arrived they found his body, but no sign of his head. As they were about to give up the search, they heard a voice calling: “Hic! Hic!” the Latin for “Here! Here!” and, following it, they found a wolf keeping guard on Edmund’s lost head. He was made a saint and his resting place became a shrine. Thus, also, began the wolf legend and it is still referred to today since, for the weekend, they had laid a ‘Wolf Trail’ around the town for visitors to follow. There is a skull of a wolf or dog found in the area, which is one of many found there and this adds to the legend.

Picture of model wolf

On the wolf trail

St Edmund’s shrine grew into an abbey, and the town grew up around it since the abbey provided employment, spiritual aid, etc. The abbey owned a lot of land thereabouts and the town was very important. This was probably partly because St Edmund was then England’s patron saint. In fact it was so important that, on a mediaeval European map of the known world the only two places shown in England were London and Bury St Edmunds.

Some of the architecture in the building itself even dates back that far and there are other sections of the building which have architecture from differing periods, providing a great tour through the ages.

One of the highlights of the tour was the ‘Crime’ section featuring a gibbet, a metal human-shaped cage in which criminals were displayed as a deterrent to others. However, apparently, the punishment wasn’t that you were placed in there until you died of thirst because it was after you were executed (usually by hanging), that your body would be displayed there. The extra punishment was the knowledge that your body would be dissected afterwards by surgeons or your bones scattered. This meant that you would be unable to go to heaven. Moyse’s Hall Museum is unique in that it possesses a photo of the skeleton (still in the gibbet) of a man executed for murdering his sister – the said photo is displayed beside the very same gibbet!

Further on there is an exhibit of various objects associated with witchcraft, such as mummified cats (probably locked up alive within a wall to so its spirit would guard the house), shoes (used the same way), ‘voodoo’ type dolls and various other witchy paraphernalia.

Next came the notorious Red Barn murder. William Corder was accused of murdering his lover, Maria Marten, having been found out because her stepmother had a dream which showed where Maria was buried – in the Red Barn. The defendant said she had committed suicide, but the jury didn’t believe him and he was hanged. He was so hated that he was taken to his execution by an inside route to avoid the baying crowds. But the story didn’t end there; several death masks were made afterwards, one on display in the museum, as well as a death mask used for the study of his skull by phrenologists. His skin was tanned and used to bind a book (an account of the murder), which is one of the exhibits.   Our guide Alex, did not believe that all was as it seemed and felt Corder had been harshly judged.

There was an exhibit on trade, and following on from that was the most interesting for a Ricardian, a lock of hair belonging to Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and sister to Henry VIII.

\picture of lock of Mary Tudor's hair

Lock of hair of Mary Tudor

Pic of close up of hair

Close up of lock of hair

She was the niece of the ‘princes’ and therefore Richard’s great niece. There were also some 15th century wood carvings and a beautiful old fifteenth century deed chest.

Picture of chest

Deed chest from the 1480s

Pic of wood carving

15th Century wood carving

Pic of wood carving

15th Century wood carving

Up the stairs, which was devoted to one of the largest collections of Mary Beale paintings, would be found a room dedicated to the Suffolk Regiment through the years, with life-size, realistic mannequins of soldiers in different style uniforms, depending on the time and whether it was preferable to stand out from the crowd or blend in. They wore red when they wanted to stand out and be recognised by their own fellow soldiers, but when the sniper became common that was understandably changed and camouflage became the norm..

There was an exhibit of clothing and more paintings, and finally a room full of clocks and watches. Some of these were very intricate and exquisitely beautiful, and many were very rare examples. Alex told us that there had been a theft of some of them from the place where they were previously kept and that they would have no doubt been stolen to order by a collector as all the dealers would have recognised them for what they were.

It is a huge place and has many interesting exhibits from the time of Edmund himself right up until the present day; over 1000 years of history. We were there for one and half hours and the time flew by as our guide, Alex, was so interesting.

All in all a thoroughly good time was had and we learned a lot.

“Cardinal Beaufort: A Study of Lancastrian Ascendancy and Decline” by G.L.Harriss

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0198201354/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=3D6YG6OWFBYOC&coliid=I1EQWEV6IW4DHH

This 1988 volume reads very well and is an excellent summary of the life of the second (or first) son of John of Gaunt by his mistress Catherine de Roet. The language is very modern although the plain cover is a little reminiscent of many older books.

There is relatively little material about Henry Beaufort’s early years but he only became important as Bishop of Lincoln (from 1398) and of Winchester (translated in 1404), the latter occurring after the usurpation of his half-brother as Henry IV. During his forty-three years at the latter see, he was also to serve as Chancellor to the Lancastrian kings and lent the Crown many thousands of pounds to cover the costs of the French wars under Henry V and afterwards. He emerged as the head of his family and a player even among the legitimate Lancastrian circle, an ally of John of Bedford and rival of Humphrey of Gloucester.

As his brothers died and many of his nephews became hostages, Cardinal Beaufort became responsible for Edmund, later Duke of Somerset. Harriss details Edmund’s relationship with the widowed Catherine de Valois and makes a strong case (pp.144,177-8) for him having fathered at least one of her later children, taking facts such as her date of death – so the only two recent historians to analyse this have formed the same likely conclusion. He also note the 1427 law against Queens Consort remarrying.

Harriss also records Henry Beaufort’s promotion to the rank of Cardinal, his dealings with Martin V and other pontiffs together with the accusations of praemunire that Gloucester laid against him. Eventually, during Beaufort’s lifetime, Gloucester’s downfall followed his wife’s necromancy that led to her life imprisonment and the execution of several of her servants. It remains unclear whether the Cardinal played a part in this downfall whilst Harriss doesn’t mentionthe illegitimate daughter he is supposed to have had.

I would strongly recommend this book for borrowing, even without a genealogy of the Beauforts, although I wouldn’t spend a hundred and twenty pounds to buy it.

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

Part 5 – …” these dukes showed their intention, not in private but openly…”

 “Catesby hath sounded Hastings in our business

And finds the testy gentleman so hot

That he will lose his head ere give consent

His master’s child, as worshipfully he terms it,              

Shall lose the royalty of England’s throne’

(William Shakespeare)

 

“A black day will it be to somebody”

It is 9 o’clock on Friday the 13th June 1483. William Lord Hastings, the Lord Chamberlain enters the council chamber at the Tower for a meeting with the Lord Protector. Already there and seated are the duke of Buckingham, Lord Stanley, the earl of Derby, Thomas Rotherham the Archbishop of York, John Morton the Bishop of Ely and others. Hastings doesn’t notice three men standing ominously in the shadow: the Rat, the Cat and Lovell the dog. Hastings sits down at the head of the table. Nobody speaks to him.

The clock ticks and still Richard has not arrived, it is now past the time appointed for the meeting. The silence is becoming oppressive and the tension palpable. Hastings plays anxiously with his chain of office. He is right to be nervous; last night he had a visit from Lord Stanley’s man. Stanley had dreamt ‘the boar razed off his helm’. Was it a sign they were discovered? Hastings’ palms are sweating and his mouth is dry. Gloucester’s personality dominates the chamber despite his absence. The silence is now thunderous, the tension physical.

Hastings shuffles nervously in his chair, coughs and speaks hesitantly: “Now noble peers, the cause why we are met is to determine of the coronation. In God’s name speak. When is the royal day?” Buckingham suggests that the Lord Chamberlain probably knows the Lord Protector better than anyone present; what does he think Gloucester would say? Hastings demurs: “…I know he loves me well, but for his purpose in the coronation I have not sounded him, nor he delivered his gracious pleasure in any way therein. But others may name the day and in the Duke’s behalf I’ll give my voice, which I presume he will take in good part”. Suddenly the door flies open. Gloucester, dressed in black, hunched and intimidating stands framed in the doorway. He fixes Lord Hastings with a demonic stare and steps purposefully into the chamber, grinning malevolently. He is dangerously cheerful: “ My noble lords and cousins all, good morrow, I have been long a sleeper…” After asking Morton to fetch some strawberries from his garden, Richard takes Buckingham outside for a private conference. Hastings, Stanley and Rotherham remain seated. They look at each other nervously, their fear unspoken. As Ratcliffe and Lovell step out from the shadows to stand threateningly behind Hastings, Stanley and Rotherham shuffle along to the other end of the table. The returning Morton sits with them. Their faces drawn and pale, they are all dreading what is to come and wishing themselves anywhere but in this chamber at this time.

On his return, Richard’s mood has changed. He asks pointedly “Pray you all tell me, what they deserve that do conspire my death with devilish plots?” Hastings gulps and fidgets in his chair. Richard is looking straight at him. He stammers “The tender love I bear your grace makes me most forward to doom the offenders. I say they have deserved death”. Richard moves forward, his hot breath on Hastings’ face: he roars: “ Then let your eyes be the witness of the evil. See how I am bewitched! Mine arm is like a blasted sapling all withered up…” Hastings can barely control his panic now; he stutters, “If they have done this deed — If! Talks thou to me of ifs! Though art a traitor! Off with his head, now by Saint Paul I will not dine till I see it done.” And that according to William Shakespeare (and Laurence Olivier) was how Lord Hastings met his end.

Thanks to Olivier’s definitive performance as Richard in his 1955 film, the sheer drama of this scene has overshadowed any doubts I may have had as to its accuracy. From the perspective of dramatic art, I doubt if it can easily be bettered. But is it historically correct?   Shakespeare got this version of events from Thomas More, who got it from John Morton, who was an eyewitness[1]. Yet, as we all know, John Morton was Richard duke of Gloucester’s mortal enemy: an inveterate dissembler and traducer of his posthumous reputation. Can we trust his account?   The answer to that question is an unequivocal ‘probably’.   Although there are differences between the various accounts, they generally confirm the gist of the Morton/More/Shakespeare version. That said, More’s history contains obvious falsehoods. For example, we now know from the recent medical opinion of Richard III’s scoliosis that there was no withered arm or claw hand. Also, Mancini is wrong to say that Hastings was killed in the scuffle and there is disagreement about whether Stanley was wounded, and whether Gloucester’s accused the queen of witchcraft. But generally, it seems to have gone pretty much as described in the sources. The Protector revealed his knowledge of the plot, the conspirators’ response was heated, the word treason was used, swords were drawn, the room was flooded with the Protector’s men, there was a scuffle and the plotters were swiftly overwhelmed. It was over in a trice. Stanley et al were taken into custody; Hastings was rushed outside to meet his maker.   The conspiracy was crushed[2].

However, the cries of ‘treason’ roused the city. There was consternation amongst the citizens. The tension was racking-up. Shortly, a herald appeared with a proclamation and the citizens listened in stunned silence to the Protector’s communiqué. It seemed to everybody that the Yorkist regime was imploding. So much for the deed: what about the consequences? To answer that question, we have to go back in the chronology to Wednesday 11 June 1483.

 

“ My friends are in the north…”

It was on the 11 June 1483 that Richard duke of Gloucester wrote to Ralph Neville of Raby. “My Lord Neville, I recommend you to me as heartily as I can; and as you love me and your own weal and security and this realm, that you come to me with that ye may make, defensibly arrayed, in all haste that is possible and that you give credence to Sir Richard Ratcliffe, this bearer that I now send to you, instructed with all my mind and intent”. The tone of this letter is so completely different from the duke’s earlier letter to the citizens of York that it suggests something else has happened since the 10 June to persuade him to move quickly. That and the fact that the letter was sent north immediately, suggests that the ‘something ‘ was of supreme importance and urgency.   In his earlier letter, Gloucester requested the Mayor and citizens of York to send troops with due diligence. Whereas, he asked Neville, to come as soon as possible with whatever troops he can muster. Is he panicking? I think not. Everything we know about Richard duke of Gloucester suggests that he is good at handling this type of situation. We will never know what knowledge of Gloucester’s private ‘mind and intent’ Sir Richard Ratcliffe carried north, but I think he is probably relaying verbal messages to the duke’s northern adherents with the real reason for his urgent request. The duke had just discovered that Hastings was involved with the Woodville’s in the plot to kill him. The revelation of the pre-contract had forced them to bring forward their plan to murder the Lord Protector and the duke of Buckingham, and to crown Edward V[3]. It seems that Hastings had known of the pre-contract for some time but had neglected to tell the Lord Protector. It was the most unforgivable example of a breach of trust that Richard duke of Gloucester could imagine

Whilst the knowledge of Hastings treachery had infuriated Gloucester, it also alarmed him. Hastings was a seasoned soldier. He was Captain of Calais; he had fought in Edward’s battles for the throne. He was a man of power and influence with a posse of armed retainers in London. And he was ferociously loyal to the dead king. Unlike the Woodville dilettantes at Stony Stratford, Hastings posed the most serious threat yet to Gloucester’s life.   He knew he must act quickly and decisively if he was to survive. The arrangement of two meetings fixed for the 13 June suited his purpose precisely. It separated the conspirators from the remainder of the Council. Bishop Russell would chair one meeting at Westminster with the non-aligned council members, who could discuss routine arrangements for the coronation. Richard, Buckingham and the conspirators would attend the other meeting in the Tower; ostensibly, they were going to give the formal go-ahead for the coronation. The reasons for holding this meeting at the Tower are self-evident. The Protector would face the conspirators on ground of his own choosing, in a place where the presence of his armed men would not be taken amiss and where he was secure from interference. He knew who the conspirators were, he knew about the pre-contract and —decisively— he knew what they knew. They were at a disadvantage because they only had part of the story: they had no idea what he knew or what he was planning.

If we look at this from Hastings’ point of view he believed that the conspiracy was going well and that time was still on his side. He knew of  the pre-contract before anybody else and he is anxious to keep that under wraps. Hastings’ interest is in the preservation of the status quo ante, which means ensuring that Edward V is crowned on the 22 June 1483. His alliance with the Woodville’s is one of convenience but he is confident he can thrive once he has disposed of Gloucester and Buckingham. However, Stillington’s revelation of the pre-contract was a setback. Gloucester was always going to be an obstacle to his plans. But now that he knew of the pre-contract, his uncompromising nature meant that he was unlikely to turn a blind eye to Edward IV’s bigamy[4].  It didn’t need a genius to see the threat to Edward V’s coronation. To ensure that the coronation did take place, Hastings was prepared to do anything; even to murder the man he had campaigned with and who shared his devotion to Edward IV.  Neither do I think Hastings motives were entirely driven by loyalty. Like other over-mighty subjects he was acquisitive; a grateful Edward V was his best chance of retaining and even enlarging the gifts, privileges, offices and the influence he had enjoyed during Edward IV’s reign.   It was an outcome not to be sniffed at and one he was unlikely to achieve should the morally conservative and pious duke of Gloucester extend his Protectorship after the coronation[5].

For the duke of Gloucester the execution of Hastings and the arrest of Stanley, Rotherham and Morton was a Rubicon. From his perspective the day was a success. He has crushed a dangerous conspiracy with ease. Of course, he doesn’t have the benefit of knowing what the future holds, as we do, and his mistakes are not yet apparent to him. Furthermore, he still has to grapple with the pre-contract problem and especially it’s bearing on the succession. He has yet to consider whether to depose his nephew, exclude Edward’s children from the succession and take the crown himself. He is not sure what to do. His inclination, as always, is ‘to do the right thing’ but what is the right thing? Is it doing right by Edward’s children, or doing right by the realm?

[1] Richard J Sylvester – The complete Works of St Thomas More, Volume 2: the History of King Richard III (Yale 1963) at page Ixvi. Morton was not More’s only source but he was an important one. There is much in the ‘History of King Richard III’ that is not taken from eyewitness testimony and is not from Morton. For instance, he was not present at Stony Stratford or during the disappearance of the Princes. However, More’s version of the events on the 13 June 1483 does have the ingredients of an eyewitness account: its obvious errors and embellishments notwithstanding.

[2] The main primary and Tudor sources support the gist of More’s version despite their differences of detail. See Mancini at pages 89-91 (AJ Armstrong (ed) – Dominic Mancini: the Usurpation of King Richard III [Oxford, 1969]). See also the Great Chronicle at page 231 (AH Thomas et al [Eds] – The Great Chronicle of London [London 1938]) and the London Chronicle at page 190 (C L Kingsford – Chronicles of London [Oxford 1905]). The remaining primary sources need not trouble as they add little or nothing to the above. The only other worthwhile source is Vergil at page 180 (Sir Henry Ellis (ed) – Three books of Polydore Vergil’s English History; comprising the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III [The Camden Society 1844]). Vergil is the only source to suggest that Gloucester attributed his ‘blasted sapling’ to the queen’s witchcraft. It is worth pointing out however, that their credibility as accurate recorders of events is challenged by their collective failure to get the chronology right (Thomas More also got it wrong). They all Place the duke of York’s release from sanctuary before the council meeting on the 13 June 1483, whereas it actually happened on the Monday after Hasting’s execution. Thankfully, we have Simon Stallworths letter of the 21 June 1483 (See Peter A Hancock- Richard III and the murder in the Tower – [The History Press 2011] at Appendix 1, pages 158-59) and an entry in the duke of Norfolk’s household accounts to fix the correct dating sequence.

[3] Two possible reasons have been offered for Hastings’ involvement in this murder: one noble, the other ignoble. The noble reason is that owing to his loyalty to Edward IV, he would not countenance the deposition of Edward V. The ignoble reason was that he saw the coronation of Edward V as his best chance of continuing the licentious lifestyle of Edward IV’s courtiers, and preserve the privileges, grants and power he had enjoyed during the dead king’s reign.   It matters not for my purpose what Hastings reasons were. High treason is an absolute offence: if it is proved, there is only one outcome. For Gloucester’ enemies (then and later) the summary execution of Hastings is definitive proof of his intention to usurp the throne and that would stop at nothing to achieve his aim. The protector’s actions are also problematic for Ricardians. Even the staunch old Ricardian Sir George Buck is unable to exonerate him for that action, though he offers reasons of state (artes imperii) as mitigation.

[4] See Prof Mark Lansdale and Dr Julian Boons psychological profile of Richard III (The Ricardian Bulletin March 2013) at pages 46-56.

[5] Due to the absence of hard evidence, Ricardian history is a fruitful subject for personal speculation. I do not apologize for theorizing. What I offer is an explanation of events on the 13 June 1483 ; though I appreciate it may not be the explanation.

Of All Sad Words of Tongue and Pen–

courtLast month, Freda Warrington’s 2003 novel “In the Court of the Midnight King” was reissued and is available in paperback and Kindle.  It would be my hope that people who enjoy the Murrey and Blue blog would run out and order this lush, grand book of alternate history.  It features Richard the Third, The War of the Roses and the intriguing story of the passing away of an ancient, elemental religion to the, perhaps, harder medicine of medieval Christianity.  This matriarchal religion is beautifully explored through the extremely appealing sorcerous-heroine, Lady Kate, whom the Duke of Gloucester stumbles upon in his youth (and knowingly calls “Morgana”) and spends the rest of his life either fleeing her or depending upon her for the good sense and healing powers she possesses.  Typical male!

The Richard the Third evoked here is everything a Ricardian and Ricardian-newbie would appreciate.  Foremost, his ruthlessness, his regal power and his strong sense of duty is never shirked or sugar-coated but factually based on his violent childhood, his knightly upbringing and his need to prove himself a better prince for England than either his brother the King or his foolish sibling, George, the Duke of Clarence.  That he possesses fine traits as well will be of no surprise to Ricardians but, perhaps, educational to those who know nothing about him but enjoy alternate history novels.

The most intriguing and hair-raising event of the book is the brilliant twist on the old saw of Richard, his “withered arm” and his claims of witchcraft against Jane Shore.  Never in modern times, has this wild tale been told with such drama and imagination.

The novel is a poignant reminder of what might have been and will surely send the Cairo Dwellers growling and chewing carpet and returning to their Henry VII romance novels.  For everyone else, it’s an entertaining and absorbing read.

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