Lambert Simnel and Edward V

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This post turned into a way longer piece than I meant, so please bear with it!

When I wrote The Survival of the Princes in the Tower, I posited a theory, one of many alternatives offered. This particular idea has grown on me ever since, and I find myself unable to shake it off. I’m beginning to convince myself that the 1487 Lambert Simnel Affair was never an uprising in favour of Edward, Earl of Warwick, as history tells us. I think I’m certain I believe it was a revolt in support of Edward V, the elder of the Princes in the Tower. Sounds crazy? Just bear with me.

PitT-006-Hardback-Dust-Jacket-Bookshelf

Why do we think we know that the Yorkist uprising of 1487 favoured Edward, Earl of Warwick? In reality, it is simply because that was the official story of the Tudor government. It made the attempt a joke; a rebellion in favour of a boy who was demonstrably a prisoner in the Tower, who indeed was paraded at St Paul’s for the masses and (perhaps more importantly) the nobility to see. There is nothing that links it to Edward V because Henry VII could not afford there to be. Interestingly, there is virtually nothing contemporary that links it to Warwick either, at least not from outside government circles, and even within the corridors of power, there are intriguing hints that all was not as it appears.

There are two types of evidence worthy of consideration. The first is that written down which differs from the official version of events. The second important aspect of the affair is the identities and actions of those involved. Examination of the first body of works throws up some interesting discrepancies. The Heralds’ Memoir offers an account of Henry VII’s campaign and the Battle of Stoke Field which describes the boy taken after the battle, captured by Robert Bellingham, as being named John.

‘And there was taken the lade that his rebelles called King Edwarde (whoos name was in dede John) – by a vaylent and a gentil esquire of the kings howse called Robert Bellingham.’
Heralds’ Memoir, E. Cavell, Richard III and Yorkist History Trust, 2009, p117

The role of heralds on the battlefield, although they worked for a master, was traditionally impartial, their purpose being to report on the fighting decide the victor (though it was usually obvious). This herald was an eyewitness to the king’s preparations and to the battle, and he reports that the boy delivered to Henry afterwards was named John. Was this a random boy who took the fall for the plot, perhaps willingly, if doing so came with a job in the royal kitchens? One other thing to note from the herald’s account, which is something that runs throughout the various descriptions of this episode, is the fact that the rebels called their leader King Edward, but no regnal number is ever given. This opens up the possibility that he was claimed to be King Edward V, not King Edward VI.

A regnal number seems to first appear in the York Books. The city received a letter that began ‘By the King’ but offered no regnal number. The letter, asking for assistance that was denied, was transcribed at some point into the city’s records beneath a note that it had been received from the imposter claiming to be King Edward VI (York Civic Records, Vol 6, A. Raine, pp20-1). The question is, was this written in after the official story had taken shape? The writer of the letter offers us no clue by refraining from using a regnal number to describe himself. Is it possible that all references to a regnal number were erased from the record because of the fallout it would cause Henry? Certainly, if he claimed to be Edward V, it would be a far more problematical incident for Henry, who was married to Edward’s sister Elizabeth, and whose rise to the throne had relied heavily on Yorkists who would abandon him for Edward V in a heartbeat. In the Leland-Hearne version of the Heralds’ Memoir, the transcriber felt the need to change this contemporary passage to assert that the boy’s name ‘was indede Lambert’. It is therefore easy to see how the official story was layered over contemporary variants to mask alternative versions.

One more interesting feature unique to the Lambert Simnel Affair is the coronation the boy underwent in Dublin. We are told that they used a;

‘crown they took off the head of our lady of Dam and clapt it on the boy’s head. The mayor of Dublin took the boy in his arms, carried him about the city in procession with great triumph. The clergy went before, the Earl of Kildare, then Governor, then Walter, Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor; and the nobility, Council and citizens followed him as their King.’
https://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/ireland/1601-3/pp661-687

Clearly, the boy was widely accepted in Ireland, with only Waterford remaining staunchly loyal to Henry VII. Here too, we have no reference to a regnal number that might help clear up the matter of who the boy was claiming to be. The act of a coronation is unusual though. Perkin Warbeck, in all his years claiming to be Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower, never underwent such a ceremony. The critical factor here is that Edward V had already been proclaimed king, in 1483 after his father’s death, but had never been crowned. A coronation was the missing piece of his kingship. Was the ceremony in Dublin meant to fill this hole, or at least plug the gap? In 1216, the young Henry III had been crowned at Gloucester Cathedral because a coronation ceremony was seen as key to firming up his position as king. London was in the hands of the French and rebel barons and was therefore unavailable for the event. He had been forced to borrow a gold circlet from his mother to use as a crown, just as Lambert’s ceremony had used a similar decoration from a statue in a nearby church. The pope had later instructed that Henry should be re-crowned at Westminster by the Archbishop of Canterbury because it was more proper, so there was a precedent for this potential king to have a coronation in Dublin which could then be confirmed at Westminster if his invasion was successful. The very fact of a coronation makes much more sense if it was for Edward V, a proclaimed but uncrowned king than for Edward VI.

Lambert_simnel

Lambert Simnel, carried through Dublin after his coronation

The Heralds’ Memoir account of Robert Bellingham capturing a boy named John who would later become Lambert Simnel – or at least, the account states that this John was the boy the army followed and claimed to be their king – is neither the beginning nor the end of contemporary or near-contemporary confusion about the identity of the nominal leader of this rebellion. We know that Henry VII ordered the burning of all of the records of the Irish Parliament held in 1487, and when Sir Edward Poynings arrived in Ireland shortly after the Lambert Simnel Affair, we cannot know what else was destroyed. Paperwork that might help work out whether the boy claimed to be Edward V or Edward VI is therefore hard to come by and, as with the York Books, when it was written becomes paramount. If it was after the official story took hold, it is bound to say Edward VI. How hard can it be to make ‘V’ become ‘VI’ anyway?

The Annals of Ulster is a chronicle compiled by a contemporary to these events, Cathal Mac Manus Maguire, the Archdeacon of Clogher. He mentions the Lambert Simnel Affair in two passages. The first described the circumstances around the Battle of Bosworth when he wrote that

‘The king of the Saxons, namely, king Richard, was slain in battle and 1500 were slain in that battle and the son of a Welshman, he by whom the battle was given, was made king. And there lived not of the race of the blood royal that time but one young man, who came, on being exiled the year after, to Ireland.’
Annals of Ulster, Vol III, translated by B. Mac Carthy, Dublin, 1895, p299

This would tend to point to Edward, Earl of Warwick if it was believed that the Princes in the Tower were dead, though this is not something the Annals of Ulster does claim. To be fair though, it remains quiet on most Saxon matters that don’t directly impact Ireland. The next passage where this lone son of the House of York is mentioned is in the section covering 1487 and the attempt by Lambert Simnel on Henry VII’s throne.

‘A great fleet of Saxons came to Ireland this year to meet the son of the Duke of York, who was exiled at that time with the earl of Kildare, namely, Gerald, son of Earl Thomas. And there lived not of the race of the blood royal that time but that son of the Duke and he was proclaimed king on the Sunday of the Holy Ghost in the town of Ath-cliath that time. And he went east with the fleet and many of the Irish went with him east, under the brother of the Earl of Kildare, namely, Thomas, son of the Earl and under Edward Plunket, that is, Edward junior.’
Annals of Ulster, Vol III, translated by B. Mac Carthy, Dublin, 1895, pp315-7

This passage is awkward. It still maintains that this scion of the House of York was the last. However, he is described as a son of the Duke of York. If this refers to Warwick, then it must mean a grandson of the Duke of York and is perhaps just a slip. If it does refer to him, it is interesting that the writer describes him being exiled with the Earl of Kildare, because the attainder of Warwick’s father in 1478 expressly charged George with trying to get his son out of the country either to Ireland or Burgundy. It does not state whether he failed or succeeded.

It may also merit consideration that the last Duke of York (assuming this was not a grown son of the (by now, if alive) 13-year-old Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower, was Edward IV. Why would the writer not refer to Edward IV? As mentioned, the Annals relate little of English affairs, and perhaps it was uncertain whether, under Henry VII, it was acceptable to refer to Yorkist kings. That argument struggles to hold water, though, since the writer has earlier referred to King Richard when discussing the Battle of Bosworth. If the writer uses ‘son of the Duke of York’ to mean a grandson of Richard, 3rd Duke of York, then it might refer to Warwick, Edward V or Richard of Shrewsbury (if the latter two were still alive). If he means a son of the last Duke of York, then he means a son of Edward IV. The reference to the last of the line is strongly suggestive that he means Warwick since he was known (in England at least) to be alive, but that would raise a query about Irish support for Perkin Warbeck. If they believed he was another son of the House of York, then they did not know that all but Warwick were dead. It is possible they meant Edward V, as the last hope of the House of York, unaware of the fates of Richard of Shrewsbury and Edward, Earl of Warwick. One thing that can be taken from these passages in that the writer seems convinced that the boy was who he claimed to be. There is no mention of imposture, of Lambert Simnel or of a boy from Oxford.

In January 1488, the Pope would write to the Irish prelates involved in the coronation to censure them for supporting Lambert. They had;

‘adhered to and aided and abetted the enemies and rebels of the said king, and even de facto set up and crowned as king, falsely alleging him to be a son of the late duke of Clarence, a boy of illegitimate birth, whom the said king already had in his hands, thereby committing treason and incurring the said sentences.’
https://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-papal-registers/brit-ie/vol14/pp305-309

This was clearly after the official story had taken shape. Henry had told on the archbishops of Armagh and Dublin and the bishops of Meath and Kildare in order to have them censured. There are several very interesting slips in this story. In 1526, amongst the Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII is a note on Ireland that deviates from the official version of events. The author is not mentioned, unfortunately, but the briefing is a summary of the state of affairs in Ireland over recent decades. The passage relating to the Lambert Simnel Affair tells the king that;

‘Now that the King inherits the titles both of York and Lancaster, he will be better able to look after Ireland. There has been a similar dispute for the rule of Ireland between the Geraldines and the Butlers. The earls of Kildare and Desmond come of one stock, and have always held with the house of York, as was seen in the days of the King’s father, “when an organ-maker’s son (Lambert Simnel), named one of king Edward’s sons, came into Ireland, was by the Geraldines received and crowned king in the city of Dublin, and with him the earl of Kildare’s father sent his brother Thomas with much of his people, who with the earl of Lincoln, Martin Swart and others, gave a field unto the King’s father, where the earl of Kildare’s brother was slain.”’
‘Henry VIII: August 1526, 11-20’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 4, 1524-1530, ed. J S Brewer (London, 1875), pp. 1066-1081. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol4/pp1066-1081 [accessed 24 July 2018]

The interesting fact here is that Lambert Simnel, while naturally portrayed as a fraud, is described as ‘one of king Edward’s sons’. Given that he was crowned, we are consistently told, King Edward, if he was a son of Edward IV, that makes him Edward V. The passage is in quotation marks, but if it refers to another source, that is not given. It is striking that what appears to be a private briefing for Henry VIII on Irish affairs is allowed to refer to Lambert Simnel as a son of Edward IV, not the son of George, Duke of Clarence as the official story under Henry VII insisted. At least in public. Was something else well known in private?

There is another source, far more contemporary, that throws serious doubt on the story Henry VII wanted and needed everyone to believe. It is all the more interesting because it comes from within Tudor circles. Bernard André was a blind friar-poet who acted as tutor to Prince Arthur Tudor and may have gone on to teach the future Henry VIII too. He wrote a life of Henry VII which is generally full of praise for his master, but when it comes to the Lambert Simnel Affair, he appears to utterly ignore the official story.

‘While the cruel murder of King Edward the Fourth’s sons was yet vexing the people, behold another new scheme that seditious men contrived. To cloak their fiction in a lie, they publicly proclaimed with wicked intent that a certain boy born the son of a miller or cobbler was the son of Edward the Fourth. This audacious claim so overcame them that they dreaded neither God nor man as they plotted their evil design against the king. Then, after they had hatched the fraud among themselves, word came back that the second son of Edward had been crowned king in Ireland. When a rumour of this kind had been reported to the king, he shrewdly questioned those messengers about every detail. Specifically, he carefully investigated how the boy was brought there and by whom, where he was educated, where he had lived for such a long time, who his friends were, and many other things of this sort.’
The Life of Henry VII, Bernard André, Translated by Daniel Hobbins, Italica Press, 2011, pp44-5

André has already, by this point, assured his readers that Richard III killed the Princes in the Tower. He sticks to the assertion that Lambert was an imposter, but he clearly states that he was claimed to be ‘the son of Edward the Fourth’. He goes to explain that ‘the second son of Edward had been crowned king in Ireland’, so something does not add up in his account. He seems to be claiming that Lambert Simnel was set up as Richard of Shrewsbury, the second son of Edward IV, yet all other accounts have the boy claiming to be named Edward. Does Andre have the first and second sons mixed up, or is there another scenario emerging in which Lambert was claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury? This alternative scenario was in circulation as late as 1797, when W. Bristow said that the Irish supported ‘Lambert Simnel (the counterfeit duke of York)’ (The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 2, W. Bristow from https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-kent/vol2/pp184-203). Perhaps this is some confusion with Perkin Warbeck, but what we can take from André’s statement here is that he understood the lad in Ireland was being touted as a son of Edward IV, not of the Duke of Clarence.

The friar does not stop there, though. He continues his account be explaining that;

‘Various messengers were sent for a variety of reasons. At last [blank space] was sent across, who claimed that he would easily recognise him if he were who he claimed to be. But the boy had already been tutored with evil cunning by persons who were familiar with the days of Edward, and he very readily answered all the herald’s questions. To make a long story short, through the deceptive tutelage of his advisors, he was finally accepted as Edward’s son by many prudent men, and so strong was this belief that many did not even hesitate to die for him.’
The Life of Henry VII, Bernard André, Translated by Daniel Hobbins, Italica Press, 2011, p45

André here asserts that several messengers were sent to Ireland to find out what was going on. Finally, a herald volunteered to go on the basis that he had known Edward IV and his sons and would recognise the boy if he was who he claimed to be. Already, feeling the need to take such a step confirms that Henry VII cannot have known with any certainty that the sons of Edward IV were dead. Even more astoundingly, the herald returned to inform Henry that the boys had answered every question posed of him, and he did not say he did not recognise the boy, or that his looks made it impossible for him to be a son of Edward IV. In fact, he confirms that ‘he was finally accepted as Edward’s son by man prudent men’.

Frustratingly, André leaves a blank space in his manuscript where the name of the herald was surely meant to appear. It has been suggested that this herald might have been Roger Machado, a man of Portuguese extraction who had served Edward IV and Richard III before going on to work as a herald and ambassador, with no small amount of success, for Henry VII. If it were Machado who made the trip, he would have been well placed to examine the boy’s looks and interrogate his knowledge of Edward IV’s times, his family and the like. Perhaps the most interesting fact about Machado about this episode is that he is known to have kept a house in Southampton. On Simnel Street. So, if we are wondering where that name Lambert Simnel came from, we perhaps have a possible explanation.

Several sources seem to very clearly oppose the official story that the uprising of 1487 was in favour of Edward, Earl of Warwick and instead insist that it was in the name of one of Edward IV’s sons. Given that it is generally accepted that the lad was crowned King Edward, that would make him Edward V, though it remains possible he was in fact crowned Richard IV and was claimed to be the younger of the Princes in the Tower. Clearly this was a severe issue for Henry VII, and I suspect that the name Edward gave them a splendid get-out-of-jail-free card because it allowed them to undermine the attempt by portraying it as a farcical plot in favour of Edward, Earl of Warwick, who was a prisoner in the Tower.

Edward Earl of Warwick

Edward, Earl of Warwick

The other key thing to consider in the events of 1487 are the actions of some of those who might have had a vested interest. In the absence of evidence, which Henry VII would have an interest in suppressing or destroying (we know he destroyed Titulus Regius and the records of the 1487 Irish Parliament – what we don’t know is what else he had destroyed), the actions of these people should be instructive and offer an indication of what they knew, or at least believed. The first of these is Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of Edward IV and mother of the Princes in the Tower. At a council meeting, probably held at Sheen Palace around 3 March 1487, the plot developing in Ireland was on the agenda. Another of the outcomes of this meeting was the removal of all Elizabeth Woodville’s properties, which were granted to her daughter, Henry VII’s wife, Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth Woodville was given a small pension and retired to Bermondsey Abbey. It has long been asserted that this was voluntary and had been planned by the former queen, but there is no real evidence to support that idea, and the timing is indeed suspicious. Many subsequent writers have believed that Elizabeth was being dealt with because she was suspected of involvement in the Lambert Simnel Affair (notably argued against by Henry VII, S.B. Chrimes, Yale University Press, 1999, p76 n3).

If this was true, the question that must be asked is what Elizabeth Woodville stood to gain from backing an attempt to place Edward, Earl of Warwick on the throne. Nothing. Nothing at all. Her daughter was already queen consort and replacing Henry with her deceased husband’s nephew would hardly improve her position. In fact, it has long been claimed (by Mancini amongst others) that Elizabeth Woodville was at least viewed as implicated in George, Duke of Clarence’s fall and execution. She could hardly have hoped to profit by placing his son on the throne when he may well seek revenge upon her. There is only one circumstance in which Elizabeth Woodville’s position would be improved from having a daughter on the throne as queen consort, and that is having a son on the throne as king. Her involvement in a plot in favour of Warwick makes no sense whatsoever. Her suspected support for a scheme in favour of one of her sons with Edward IV makes perfect sense.

The involvement of the Woodville faction, or at least the suspicion of it, is further evinced by the arrest of Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, at the same time as his mother was deprived of her property. Thomas was reportedly placed in the Tower, and when he protested that he had done nothing wrong, he was told that if he were really loyal to Henry VII, then he wouldn’t mind a spell in prison. The anecdotal story is a window into some strange Tudor logic, but also the fear that the broader Woodville faction was involved in the plot. The one thing that doesn’t add up is that Sir Edward Woodville, Elizabeth’s brother, was part of Henry’s army at Stoke Field. He seems to have escaped suspicion, perhaps not believing the story or maybe even ensuring he got there to see the boy for himself.

Another whose actions are hard to comprehend if the plot was in favour of Warwick is John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. John was in his mid-twenties by 1487 and was the oldest nephew of Edward IV and Richard III. His mother was their sister, Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk. Although his descent was therefore in a female line, the entire claim of the House of York was based on the Mortimer descent in the female line so this cannot have been a bar to his chances of succession. After the death of Richard III’s only legitimate son, Edward of Middleham, it is likely that John would have been considered Richard’s heir presumptive since Warwick was still legally barred from the succession by his father’s attainder. If the Princes in the Tower were dead, and Warwick a prisoner barred from succession, then in 1487, the House of York had a ready-made, adult claimant. John’s younger brothers would go on to claim the throne, interestingly, only after Lambert Simnel had failed and Perkin Warbeck had been executed. The only two people with a better claim to the throne for the House of York in 1487 than John de la Pole were Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury. They had been re-legitimised by Henry VII so that he could marry their sister, thus handing a dangerously popular and legal claim to those two boys in the process. It has long been suggested that Henry’s willingness to do this demonstrates his understanding that the boys were dead, but it is clear, not least from the Perkin Warbeck Affair, that no one knew this for certain. It is more likely that mounting pressure from Henry’s Yorkist support base, which had won him the throne and was keeping him in government, had to be appeased by the completion of his promised marriage, whatever the fallout might be. Failure to complete it would almost certainly have sparked a rebellion.

John clearly overlooked his own perfectly good and perfectly legal claim in 1487. There was no question that he really was John de la Pole, yet he chose, we are told, to follow a fake boy from Oxford who claimed to be the Earl of Warwick, a boy who was legally barred from the succession. What could possibly have led John (and indeed others – Francis Lovell and Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy most significantly) to make that decision? Even if they had succeeded in their invasion and reached the real Warwick in the Tower (if that was the real Warwick – confused yet??), the boy had no natural support or power base to build a kingship on. John actually posed an altogether better option than Warwick. Something made him overlook his own claim, and the only better claim lay with Edward V or Richard, Duke of York.

I have become increasingly convinced that the Lambert Simnel Affair as history has recorded it is a lie. The claim that Edward, Earl of Warwick was claimed to be the figurehead by the rebels cannot be evidenced, and even Tudor sources point to a claim that he was one or other of the Princes in the Tower. I suspect that the invasion was in favour of, and was perhaps led by, Edward V, who would have been 16 years old by early 1487. The use of the name Edward was seized upon by the fledgeling Tudor government to make a mockery of the plot by claiming that it favoured Edward, Earl of Warwick, a boy who was barred from the succession, had no personal support and was demonstrably a prisoner in the Tower of London. It was a clever sleight of hand that has stuck well. I suspect that the coronation in Dublin was seen as a missing piece of the jigsaw of Edward V’s kingship. Much like Henry III’s, it was a temporary stopgap to give credence to his planned invasion and could be confirmed later at Westminster Abbey. Messengers sent to Ireland, according to André, reported back that the lad was a son of Edward IV, and that fact makes sense of the suspected involvement of Elizabeth Woodville and her son Thomas Grey. It also accounts for John de la Pole setting aside his own claim and backing this plan.

The herald’s report from the Battle of Stoke Field that a boy named John was captured might well be accurate. Why would a herald lie and undermine his office to oppose the official version of events? Even if this is accepted, it leaves several questions unanswered (and unanswerable). Was the ‘John’ taken at the battle really the figurehead of this invasion or a boy amongst the army or its train who made a convenient ‘Lambert’ for Henry? If he was really Edward V or Richard of Shrewsbury, was he the same person then placed in the royal kitchens? That would seem unlikely, but he could have been switched with another boy, glad of the security of a job in royal service. Edward or Richard might then have been found a new, secret identity, or killed. The figurehead of the invasion might have been killed amidst the slaughter of Stoke Field, an outcome that would have worked for Henry if he was one of the Princes, and he had a boy to pass off as Lambert. Alternatively, this figurehead may have escaped. Adrien de But claims he was whisked to Calais and onto the continent to safety by Edmund de la Pole, younger brother of John. Did he slip into obscurity, or re-emerge a few years later as Perkin Warbeck?

The Book of Howth, a record of one of the Irish families prominent at the time (though the surviving manuscript copy belonged to the contemporary Lord’s grandson, so precisely when it was compiled is not clear) and it too offers an interesting insight into the aftermath of Stoke Field. In 1489, Henry VII hosted the Irish nobility at a feast in London designed to reassert his authority and improve relations with Ireland. It is here that the Book of Howth credits Henry with the famous quip that ‘My Masters of Ireland, you will crown apes at length’ as a jab at their willingness to use an imposter against him. The passage also refers to an incident during the feast, meant by Henry as a joke, but which may have backfired.

‘This same day at dinner, whereas these Lords of Ireland was at Court, a gentleman came where as they was at dinner, and told them that their new King Lambarte Symenell brought them wine to drink, and drank to them all. None would have taken the cup out of his hands, but bade the great Devil of Hell him take before that ever they saw him.’
reproduced in The Dublin King, J. Ashdown-Hill, The History Press, 2015, p156

The implication that can be drawn from the passage is that the Irish lords had to be told that the person serving their wine to them was the boy whose coronation most of them had attended two years earlier. No one had recognised the lad, presumably the one taken prisoner at Stoke Field – perhaps Robert Bellingham’s John – as the boy crowned in Ireland. Did they feign not to recognise him? Did the servant drift around the room utterly unnoticed? Or did Henry’s prank backfire when it became apparent that this was not the boy they had lauded as their king? Perhaps Henry knew he was not, but wanted to force the Irish lords to acknowledge that their plot had failed and was over.

After writing a book about the Princes in the Tower, the most commonly asked question has been what I think happened to them both. I have always tended to believe Perkin Warbeck could really have been Richard of Shrewsbury, and nothing in researching the book has altered that belief, though obviously it cannot yet be proven either way definitively. The Lambert Simnel Affair has tended to slip by as a joke, and I wonder whether that wasn’t the very design of the Tudor government. If pressed, I would suggest now that the Lambert Simnel Affair was an uprising in favour of one of the Princes in the Tower, most likely a 16-year-old Edward V. I accept that it remains beyond proof, but I think it is a worthy addition to discussions of what might have happened.

Edward V St Lawrence

King Edward V

 

 

 

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Review: The Survival of the Princes in the Tower by Matthew Lewis

A fantastic review of The Survival of the Princes in the Tower from Rachael’s Ramblings – I couldn’t have written a nicer one myself!

Rachael's Ramblings

The fate of Princes in the Tower is one of the most intriguing mysteries in British history, steeped as it is in heavy emotive imagery. It immediately summons the visual of two small, fair haired boys, clinging together for comfort; lambs kept for the slaughter by their dastardly uncle. And of course, thanks to Shakespeare, our image of Richard III for years was similarly melodramatic – the scheming, malevolent hunchback.

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The Survival of the Princes in the Tower Extract

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It seems that a lot of the hardback copies of The Survival of the Princes in the Tower are not reaching people after the release on Thursday. I’m told there has been a delay getting copies to the warehouse, but that they are there now and should be shipped early next week.

The Kindle version is available if you like your books electronic, but I know the feel of a hard copy book is irreplaceable to many. I’m sorry that there has been this delay in getting copies to you of a book I’m really keen for everyone to read. By way of an apology, I’m dropping a little extract here from the section dealing with Perkin Warbeck, detailing some of the rising tension in England in 1493-4. I hope you enjoy it until the books begin to drop on doorsteps.

The lack of direct action from Margaret’s pretender does not mean that concern in England was not reaching a thinly veiled peak. On 20 July 1493, Henry VII wrote a letter recorded in Ellis’s Original Letters Vol I to Sir Gilbert Talbot and expressly blamed Margaret for instigating the problems he now faced and tried to dismiss her prince as a ‘boy’, but it also ordered Talbot to be ‘ready to come upon a day’s warning for to do us service of war’ against the threatened invasion of ‘certain aliens, captains of strange nations’. It was all very well for Henry to call this pretender a mere ‘boy’, but Richard, Duke of York would have been nineteen years old by this point, an age at which his father was leading armies and devouring enemies, not only at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross but at the cataclysmic Battle of Towton, the largest battle fought on English soil, which Edward IV won to cement his own position on the throne. Henry would have been all too aware of this so his flippant disregard can only have been a blustering front.

Ellis’s Original Letters Vol II offers further illumination of the concern Henry felt, but needed desperately to hide. This document is a set of instructions given to Clarenceux King of Arms for an embassy to Charles VIII in France. The current holder of the office of Clarenceux King of Arms on 10 August 1494, when these papers were signed by Henry VII at Sheen Palace, was Roger Machado, who had been appointed to the role on 24 January that year. Roger Machado was of Portuguese extraction, which may be important to the tale, and had served Edward IV as Leicester Herald and appears, during the early part of 1485, to have undertaken several journeys on behalf of Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, which may have been in relation to Henry Tudor, then in exile and planning his attack, or might equally have related to one or more of Thomas’s half-brothers, the Princes in the Tower, in hiding abroad.

In this instance, Henry VII’s instructions remain in full. The first part of the instructions order Machado to let Charles VIII know that his emissary, Messire George le Grec, had been afflicted by gout on his way to England but that Charles’ messages had been received from an esquire, Thomyn le Fevre, who had travelled in le Grec’s stead. Henry wished Charles to know that he had received the news that an embassy from Charles to Maximilian had returned to Paris with confirmation that the Holy Roman Emperor meant to do all in his power to assist Margaret’s pretender and that Maximilian had travelled to Flanders to help champion that cause. Charles appears to have sent Henry an offer of assistance, despite his own efforts to raise an army to assault Naples. France would lay the fleets of Brittany and Normandy at Henry’s disposal on the sole condition that he met the costs of running them whilst they served him and Charles, in line with his agreement at the Peace of Étaples, had ordered that none of his subjects should join or aid the pretender’s efforts. Henry thanked Charles for this offer, but said that he would not need to avail himself of it because the ‘garçon’ was of so little importance that Henry was not at all concerned by him. This, of course, was not true, as the king’s letter to Gilbert Talbot attests. Henry, though, needed to maintain a calm appearance above the surface as his legs beat furiously below the water, against a strengthening tide. The instructions, written in French and containing parts that cannot be clearly read, continue;

‘And in regard to the said garcon the King makes no account of him, nor of all his . . . . , because he cannot be hurt or annoyed by him; for there is no nobleman, gentleman, or person of any condition in the realm of England, who does not well know that it is a manifest and evident imposture, similar to the other which the Duchess Dowager of Burgundy made, when she sent Martin Swart over to England. And it is notorious, that the said garcon is of no consanguinity or kin to the late king Edward, but is a native of the town of Tournay, and son of a boatman (batellier), who is named Werbec, as the King is certainly assured, as well by those who are acquainted with his life and habits, as by some others his companions, who are at present with the King ; and others still are beyond the sea, who have been brought up with him in their youth, who have publicly declared at length how . . . [a few words are wanting] the king of the Romans. And therefore the subjects of the King necessarily hold him in great derision, and not without reason. And if it should so be, that the king of the Romans should have the intention to give him assistance to invade England, (which the King can scarcely believe, seeing that it is derogatory to the honor of any prince to encourage such an impostor) he will neither gain honor or profit by such an undertaking. And the King is very sure that the said king of the Romans, and the nobility about him, are well aware of the imposition, and that he only does it on account of the displeasure he feels at the treaty made by the King with his said brother and cousin, the king of France.’

Here we have Henry’s riposte to Richard’s pretension; the king claims that the youth is a native of Tournay, the son of a boatman and that his true name is Werbec, though it is unclear whether this is offered as the imposter’s forename or the family name of his father. Henry asserts that he has a wealth of creditable information confirming this and that Maximilian knows he is supporting an imposter, rather than a genuine pretender. This accusation is important for the very reason Henry points out. It should be considered beneath a prince of any nation to undermine the authority innate in royalty by holding up a known impostor, and a commoner from a foreign land to boot, against a fellow prince, whatever their personal quarrels may be. Supporting a legitimate potential alternative was fair game and an important political tool, but to cause a common man to be treated as royalty, allowed to wear royal cloth of gold and be hailed as a rightful king was not something any prince should, or would, do lightly, not least for the harm it would do to their own exalted position. From the descriptions provided earlier, Maximilian does not seem likely to take such an unwise step simply to help the step-mother of his deceased wife keep a personal feud alive. It is possible that Maximilian took the inadvisable step as an expedient to keep Margaret onside and harness her popularity in Burgundy for his son’s benefit, or that he turned a blind eye to the possibility that Richard was not Margaret’s nephew, at least not the one he claimed to be. One explanation for the family likeness is that this Richard was an illegitimate son of Edward IV, though a child from Edward’s exile in Burgundy in 1470-1 would appear too old and one fathered during his 1475 invasion of France too young to pass off as Richard, Duke of York, born in 1473. It is possible that another illegitimate child was sent to Margaret to be raised in comfort, away from the glare of Elizabeth Woodville, and that Margaret now saw in him the perfect chance, but such an illegitimate child is undocumented and no contemporary is recorded to have made such a suggestion.

Henry went on to offer his mediation in the dispute over Naples, since he and Charles VIII were now firm friends and the King of Naples was also on good terms with Henry, being a knight of the English Order of the Garter. Machado was, if asked about the state of domestic affairs, to assure Charles that England was more peaceful now than at any time in living memory, though Ireland remained something of a lost sheep that the king was resolved to bring back into the fold. In this way, any further input from Ireland into current problems could be written off as typical Irish troublemaking. Henry expressed his intention to send an army to quell the ‘Wild Irish’ and bring firmer order back to the Pale, where the English writ at least nominally ran. The last instruction to Machado was to thank the King of France for his assurance that if the King of Scotland were to launch an attack on England, Charles would neither condone nor offer any support to the action.

A separate instruction was added to the end, after the main set had been signed, giving Machado authority to show evidence to the King of France that Maximilian knew the pretender he supported was a fake and that his sole motive was anger at the peace now being enjoyed between England and France. Henry expressed a firm belief that he could reach terms with Maximilian if he wished to, but said that he would not for as long as Maximilian continued on his present course, trusting that England and France together could comfortably overcome any storm opposition to the Holy Roman Emperor might bring their way. Early the following year, Machado, having returned from this embassy, was sent back to France with fresh instruction drawn up at Greenwich on 30 December 1494. Henry reminded Charles that the French king had promised to send an envoy to discuss the state of affairs in both their countries but that none had arrived. Machado was therefore returning to France with news that Henry was in fine health and as beloved by his people as any of his predecessors had ever been. All was well in Ireland, where the men of power had submitted to Henry’s Lieutenant.

The final instruction to Machado (who, as well as holding the office of Clarenceux King of Arms was Richmond Herald) was ‘Item, in case that the said brother and cousin of the King, or others about him, should speak at all touching the king of the Romans, and the garçon who is in Flanders, the said Richmond may reply as he did on his former journey. And he shall say, that the King fears them not, because they are in capable of hurting or doing him injury. And it appears each day more and more to every person who the said garçon is, and from what place he came.’ It seems that Machado was briefed with a response to be used only if the matter to the pretender was raised by the King of France or any of his ministers. The response was to be repeated as it had been before; Henry was not afraid, but in sending Machado back so quickly on the pretence of a delay in Charles’ envoy arriving, Henry betrays a strong sense of concern. He protests too much and perhaps wanted a trusted, experienced pair of eyes at the French court again to make sure that Charles was not double-dealing. The constant reference to Richard as a boy smacks of bluster, an attempt to depict smooth confidence where none really existed. All was not, as Henry tried to make out, quiet in England and this second embassy by Machado was in response to shocking events at home.

The Infamous Council Meeting, 13 June 1483

The 13 June 1483 is a big day in the Ricardian calendar. For a long time, the events of the Council meeting that took place at the Tower of London on that morning have been a source of consternation for those with a positive view of Richard and of vindication for those who imagine him in a more negative way. I think it’s time this was put to bed and the arguing stopped.

If you want to get a real grip on the technical issues outlined here, you really can’t go wrong with Annette Carson’s Richard Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England. It’s a heavyweight piece of academic work that essentially blows centuries of misunderstanding out of the water.

Execution of Hastings

Execution of Lord Hastings

When Richard ordered the execution of Lord Hastings as the Council meeting descended into chaos, he was labelled a murderer and that particular piece of mud has stuck ever since. I have heard even the most die-hard Ricardian struggle to explain away this act and have to concede that it was his one proven act that can’t be excused. Well, here is how you excuse it.

The traditional story tells us that Lord Hastings wrote to Richard in the north to tell him of the death of his brother Edward IV, the suggestion at least being that the Woodville family of Edward’s wife were planning to keep the news from Richard and have the Prince of Wales crowned as Edward V before Richard knew what had happened, thus bypassing the Protectorate that Edward IV had wanted to put in place to secure the kingdom for his son. Lord Hastings was personally at odds with Thomas Grey, one of Elizabeth Woodvillew’s sons from her first marriage, and possibly feared a diminishing of his own position if the queen’s family snatched power.

Lord Protector is a peculiarly English position that doesn’t seem to have any parallel in medieval Europe. Regents would usually be installed to wield the power of the monarch whilst they were underage, but when Henry V died, a very different arrangement was established. Power was separated for the minority of Henry VI into three discreet silos. The person of the infant king and responsibility for his education was given to Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter (and Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick after Exeter’s death). The Council would operate the government day to day and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester was to be Protector of England. The final settlement was not quite what Henry V had envisaged, which demonstrates the immediate end of a king’s authority on his death.

The key point about the role of Protector was that it had no responsibility whatsoever for either the person of the king or the operation of government, though the Protector was expected to also sit on the Council and be a prominent member. The responsibility of the Protector was nothing more or less than the security of the nation. The Protector essentially had military authority in domestic and foreign affairs, though in Humphrey’s case his brother John, Duke of Bedford actually acted as regent in France.

So, although Richard was supposedly appointed Protector in a codicil to Edward IV’s will (which has not survived, so cannot be verified) and was certainly appointed Protector by the Council, this gave him no authority or responsibility for the person of Edward V or for the operation of government. It only gave him authority in military matters.

That means it has little to do with the events of 13 June 1483. I just wanted to set it out anyway.

The key consideration for Richard dealings with Lord Hastings is his position as Lord High Constable of England, an office he had held since October 1469, when he was appointed for life. Apart from the period of the readeption, Richard had acted as his brother’s Lord High Constable for almost fifteen years, since he was seventeen. He had wielded the powers of this office for the entirety of his adult life and would have been utterly familiar with them and completely confident in their application.

For the purposes of this incident, the significant power of the Lord High Constable was the authority to conduct a summary trial for treason, decide a sentence and enact it based on evidence that he had seen. The Lord High Constable could legitimately and legally act as judge, jury and executioner. It’s an inequitable arrangement that may jar with modern sensibilities, and indeed with medieval ones too, but it was designed to empower the Lord High Constable to protect the monarch from the threat of treason.

On 13 June 1483, most of the Council met at another location as Richard, the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Stanley, Lord Hastings, Bishop Morton and Bishop Rotherham gathered at the Tower, nominally to conclude arrangements for Edward V’s coronation. Thomas More dramatized the events that followed as Richard left the meeting, returned and almost immediately cried treason. A scuffle broke out as guards entered the room, Lord Hastings was arrested, dragged outside and beheaded in the Tower grounds.

The important part here is Richard’s cry of treason. Interestingly, even later Tudor chroniclers seem to concede the Lord Hastings was up to something behind Richard’s back. Polydore Vergil wrote that even before Richard arrived in London, Lord Hastings ‘called together unto Paul’s church such friends as he knew to be right careful for the life, dignity, and estate of prince Edward, and conferred with them what best was to be done’.

Grafton wrote that ‘Lord Stanley sent to him [Hastings] a trusty and secret messenger at midnight in all the haste, requiring him to rise and ride away with him’. Thomas More claimed that the lawyer William Catesby went to Richard and that ‘Catesby’s account of the Lord Hastings’s words and discourse, which he so represented to him, as if he had wished and contrived his death’. Furthermore, Grafton added that Richard gathered the aldermen on London together immediately after the execution and provided them with evidence ‘that the Lord Hastings and other of his conspiracy had contrived to have suddenly destroyed him and the Duke of Buckingham there the same day in council’, which satisfied them.

Was the evidence fabricated? Some will claim every piece of evidence in June and July 1483 was. Were the stories that reached Richard’s ears lies? If so, he might still have legitimately believed them in the tense and confrontational atmosphere of London, a city and political animal he was unfamiliar with, at least compared to others he might have been told were aligning themselves against him.

These questions are hard to answer and will ultimately be influenced by your own perception of Richard. Whether his actions were morally right or wrong is open to debate, but the legality shouldn’t be. Richard had the power and authority for every action that he took, given to him, ironically perhaps, by his brother Edward IV in most cases. His powers as Constable mean that he could call a Court of Chivalry and summarily try, judge and execute William, Lord Hastings based on evidence that he had seen, and which he reportedly shared subsequently with the authorities in London so that they offered no protest at his actions. If reports were reaching him of treason, along with the evidence he shared, then he was perfectly within his rights to act decisively. Those were the powers Edward IV gave him and which he had exercised for his entire adult life.

Even if Richard fabricated the plots and the evidence, the deception was made a legal execution, not a murder. There had been due process, even if we wouldn’t recognise it as such today. If Richard is given the benefit of the doubt, and the reports of later Tudor writers suggest there was plenty going on behind his back in London at the time, then he was reacting to threats that he perceived in order to protect the safety of the monarch, which was precisely why Edward IV gave him those powers. He might not have envisaged them being used against one of his best friends, but he might not have complained either if Richard could prove it was necessary – and according to Grafton, he could, and did.

So, nothing illegal here as far as I can see. Moral judgement is another matter, but Richard did not act illegally in the death of William, Lord Hastings. It was an execution, not a murder, and that fact should no longer be a matter of debate.

You can get a copy of Annette Carson’s Richard Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England here – and I thoroughly recommend that you do!

Matt’s book Richard, Duke of York, King By Right, reveals a very different man from the one who has passed into myth amongst the stories of the Wars of the Roses

A new biography of Henry III: Son of Magna Carta is available now from Amberley Publishing, seeking to uncover the true story of a king all too often forgotten to history.

Matthew Lewis has written The Wars of the Roses (Amberley Publishing), a detailed look at the key players of the civil war that tore England apart in the fifteenth century, and Medieval Britain in 100 Facts (Amberley Publishing), which offers a tour of the middle ages by explaining facts and putting the record straight on common misconceptions.

Matt is also the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

Matt has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.

The Richard III Podcast and the Wars of the Roses Podcast can be subscribed to via iTunes or on YouTube.

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MattLewisAuthor.

Leicester, Middleham and That Play

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The performances of Shakespeare’s Richard III scheduled to take place inside Leicester Cathedral on 19th and 20th July 2017 are causing waves. There can be little doubt that the size and extent of the waves is by design. What theatre company and venue wouldn’t want publicity for a controversy they were causing to appear on the BBC, in the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Times and many other media outlets that would not otherwise have given it a single line of copy?

A petition on Change.org has been started to mobilise a campaign to prevent the performance taking place. As I write, it has over 800 signatures and I can see it spread widely across social media. The play is due to be performed at other cathedrals, stopping at Ely, Peterborough, Gloucester, Bristol and Salisbury before a run of fifteen performances at Temple Church, London. The group putting on the play, Antic Disposition, have asserted that it will be staged in a ‘sensitive’ and ‘careful’ way.

I’m not averse to this in principle, though I know plenty are and I can see beyond my perspective to appreciate their concerns. Churches and cathedrals have long been centres not only of worship but of community and it is important for their future that they explore new ways to keep themselves at the heart of those communities as society becomes a more secular institution that might question the need for religious ones. My problems with this are really two-fold.

Shakespeare Richard III

Firstly, the staging of this particular play in this particular spot is, at least on the surface, insensitive. I don’t think this is simply because it’s in a religious house ,because it offers an examination of the darker sides of human nature and causes the viewer to consider the conflict between predetermination and free will. There can be few subjects better suited to consideration in church. The real issue is that this play, Shakespeare’s Richard III, is to be performed in close proximity to the king’s new tomb. Given the way his character is demonised in the play, it seems an insensitive and inappropriate move.

I have a strong suspicion that the widespread reporting of the play and the outrage it is causing is precisely what was wanted. Ricardians are notoriously easy to get a rise out of and it is this enragement that is being harnessed to produce more publicity than the play would otherwise have ever generated. Antic Disposition claim that their interpretation will be sympathetic and sensitive but without an almost complete rewrite, this seems ambitious at best and disingenuous at worst. I am a firm believer that, and have previously blogged here about the idea that, sections of Shakespeare’s Richard III have been grossly misinterpreted but the subtleties are nuanced, rely on a wider understanding and would be difficult to turn into a focus for the play.

My own response to hearing of this was to contact Antic Disposition and ask them whether they would be interested in some copy for their programme, perhaps to explain the differences between the myths and the facts around Richard III and the events of the play. I sent a link to my blog about the play to demonstrate my work and opinion and essentially offered to help if I could. Four days later, I have received no reply, not even a ‘thank you for getting in touch’ or a ‘thanks but no thanks’. Facebook Messenger shows that the message was read on Monday. (UPDATE: 12/05/17 – I have now received a reply from Antic Disposition and am waiting to see whether I can be of any assistance to them. I sincerely hope that I can!) I am also aware that others amongst the Ricardian community had been in touch with the Cathedral and with Antic Disposition directly and quietly to try and express some concerns. The lack of response to any of this and then the sudden eruption of media interest is at least suggestive of a publicity stunt. But, it’s a commercial enterprise, so surely that’s a fair tactic, isn’t it?

This is where the Cathedral’s involvement begins to concern me though. Rev’d David Monteith’s response found in many of the articles that ‘What we now know is that he belongs to the whole nation and not just to one section of people particularly committed to his story’ is confrontational rather than helpful. It makes it far easier for view the Cathedral’s interest in Richard III as cynical and financial. The added comment that ‘I’ve heard most people say how glad they are that Richard III, the Shakespeare play, will be performed here’ seems to add to the quarrelsome tone. The Cathedral’s page on Richard III’s background and history begins ‘King Richard III was born at the Castle in Fotheringhay on 2 October 1452, the youngest of three brothers’. Richard was, in fact, the youngest of four brothers – Edward, Edmund, George and Richard. If even this most basic fact is incorrect, it raises concern as to the Cathedral’s commitment to offering even the factual truth about, let alone a re-examination of, their charge.

The second element of my annoyance lies with the Ricardian community – of which I consider myself a part (unless I’m ejected after what I have to say!). Sometimes we are our own worst enemies and expose ourselves to ridicule that does nothing to help the cause of promoting the re-examination of Richard’s life and times. I’m sure many would insist that the ridicule is a price worth paying, but it isn’t when it does nothing to forward the cause. If the Cathedral and/or theatre company were relying on harnessing outrage about the performance at Leicester Cathedral to help promote the performance, then the Ricardian community has played right into their hands and given them more than they could ever have hoped for. They went fishing. We fell for it, hook, line and sinker.

Richard III

King Richard III

When Richard III’s remains were discovered, the real opportunity for a re-evaluation of the man and his reputation was lost, engulfed by a tidal wave of bitter arguments about where he should be buried. That fight is still very much alive and I don’t doubt the conviction of those who feel they are standing up for what they believe in, but I would contend that any hope of advancing the real aim of the vast majority of the Ricardian community was hindered hugely by these disputes and still is. Does it really matter where his mortal remains lie? Absolutely not. Does it matter if a play that paints him in a bad light is performed next to his tomb? Absolutely not. Mortal remains are very different to the soul Richard would have hoped would find its way to Heaven.

Most medieval kings would object to an awful lot of modern life, not least the irreverence for those holding political power that we take for granted as our right. I find it amazing that there has been no serious documentary on Richard III’s life since he was discovered, given all the publicity around the dig and subsequent events. The only explanation for this gaping omission is that if Ricardians can’t even agree amongst themselves, then what hope can any production company have of producing a documentary that would be widely appreciated and welcomed?

It is perhaps telling that English Heritage are, on 23rd and 24th August, showing a rare film of a production of Shakespeare’s Richard III from 1910 within Middleham Castle – Richard III’s long term home. If the performance in the Cathedral is insensitive, then surely the one at Middleham Castle is too. However much outrage we offer in response to however many performances, the play is over 400 years old and isn’t going away.

The time has come. I’m going to say it. I’m ready for the fallout. Here goes.

Ricardians need to let go of the Shakespeare play.

It has been a source of irritation to Ricardians for as long as there have been Ricardians, but I would suggest that it should be harnessed as the biggest weapon in a Ricardian’s locker, not be feared and shunned like a monster chained up in the cellar.

Shakespeare’s Richard III is ubiquitous and represents the first, and perhaps only, exposure many will have to this particular king. Some are well aware that it is fiction with political undertones and overtones that have nothing to do with Richard III and everything to do with Elizabethan politics (most notably Robert Cecil, as I have previously blogged). Some, though, will walk away accepting Shakespeare’s history plays – not just this one – as factual, historical documentaries and look no further, leaving Richard III as a murdering, deformed monster.

The challenge, and most importantly, the opportunity is to harness this widespread exposure to improve the understanding of the line between demonstrable fact and Shakespearean fiction. It might not be an overnight change, but if Ricardians, perhaps through the medium of the Society, could foster close relationships with theatre groups that meant we supported productions as a method of improving awareness, then the process could get underway. If theatre groups knew they could get a positive reception from Ricardians who would be willing to write copy for their programmes, they would surely do it because it lightens the load on them whilst offering their audiences an interesting and endlessly variable new perspective on Richard to compliment the play and add to their appreciation of it. I would suggest that this approach would be more productive and would bear more fruit than continuing to oppose and rant.

This approach, a unifying and moderating of the Ricardian stance, taking opportunities and letting go of those things that cannot, or need not, be changed, is what will lead to increased media interest in a revision of the history surrounding Richard III. This is what could lead to a documentary offering factual information to push gently back against the traditional view. It might even lead to a sympathetic film of Richard III’s life. How amazing would that be? If we keep fighting battles that don’t really matter between ourselves, we will never even take part in the war, never mind have a chance of winning it.

Here’s hoping I’m still allowed to call myself a Ricardian!

Lessons of History

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I don’t do politics on social media, mainly because it’s such a minefield. I love politics and have my views, of course, but I choose to keep them firmly to myself. It’s hard sometimes, I don’t mind admitting, but it strikes me that the way the world is at the moment, the study of history has never been more important to the political world emerging around us all.

History is a Greek word which means, literally, just investigation

Article 50, beginning Britain’s exit from the EU, is triggered on 29 March 2017, the 556th anniversary of the Battle of Towton in 1461, the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on British soil in which heralds reported 28,000 dead, as well as uncounted injured. Families were torn apart between two rival ideologies and leaderships as those at the top of society fought for supremacy. If that doesn’t offer a direct parallel from history, I’m not sure what does. Towton was apocalyptic, but it was also the culmination of years of trouble and it was a watershed in ending problems that had dogged the nation for a decade.

A perfect example can also be found at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, where a poster lists the early warning signs of fascism for all to see. When they begin to ring bells, alarms should sound loudly. It’s also important to remember that hitting one or more of these criteria doesn’t necessarily require immediate panic. The other point to consider is whether the sign at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, which recently went viral, really exists. In an age increasingly dominated by fake news, we need more than ever to question what we read, and that is why the skills that are integral to the study of history are so vital.

Early Warning Signs of Facism Poster

It isn’t a question of needing to study a particular period or adopt a certain viewpoint, political, ethical or otherwise. History as a subject requires a set of skills invaluable to the navigation of the increasingly murky world of multi-media; instant news thrust in front of our eyes on every screen we look at, often unbidden. News breaks on Twitter in real time, provided by real people with no filter. In some ways, it’s attractive, but in many more ways it’s dangerous. Visceral images and unregulated, often unchecked, information can be more unwelcome than useful in moments of crisis and can prove dangerous if it hampers the efforts or investigations of the emergency services. Opinion is a dangerous and incendiary weapon in the hands of those with unpleasant agendas, particularly when it is masked as fact.

Part of the problem with the abundance of news and the proliferation of fake news is that it’s hard to decipher the truth. Studying the past might seem like a dead, useless subject, but the skills involved, even more than the lessons of comparison, are increasingly something every consumer of news today should arm themselves with to combat the waning influence of a fixed bank of ‘reliable’ news providers (because there isn’t, and never has been, any without an agenda of their own). There is more information than ever before, and that brings with it the need to question it more closely.

The study of history is the dissection of fake news. It really isn’t the new phenomenon many think it is. Many medieval sources are chronicles written by monks who had their own agenda for recording and reporting the things they selected, often noting outlandish weather events to mark years with political events the Church didn’t approve of. Ralph of Coggeshall discusses the discovery of a giant’s teeth and skull, Warkworth describes a headless man roaming the countryside moaning ‘bowes, bowes, bowes’. Roger of Howden recorded blood falling from the sky on the Isle of Wight, staining washing that was hung out to dry. The Melrose Chronicle describes comets as portents of doom, recording that ‘a comet is a star which is not always visible but which appears most frequently upon the death of a king; but if it has a streaming hair, and throws it off, as it were, then it betokens the ruin of a country’.

We might think these things bizarre and laughable now, suspicions from an age before science dispelled such ideas. Strange discoveries, weather phenomena and apparitions were portents of doom linked to political upheaval or social disaster. I’m left wondering, as we sneer at the belief of our forebears in the supernatural as a portent of evil, just how different we are as politicians make apocalyptic predictions to fill the vacuum of their knowledge of a matter. If they can’t fathom the end, they can paint a picture that fits their agenda and promise milk and honey if we follow their line and doom and destruction if we stray. They are becoming modern parallels of medieval monkish chroniclers.

The study of history teaches us to evaluate sources, to seek corroboration, to establish the difference between fact and opinion and to weigh the evidence based on our examination. It is a fact the William the Conqueror became King of England in 1066. It is a matter of opinion that his claim was the strongest or was rightful. It is a fact that Edward II was deposed as king, but an opinion that he was murdered by the insertion of a red-hot iron as punishment for his homosexuality. Many of the things we believe are historical fact are actually reported opinion or rumour with a political motivation that have simply been absorbed into a narrative. The same is happening at the moment as we question less and less and accept more and more.

Empathy is another key part of the study of history that the world could use a little more of. Understanding the position of others, trying to fathom their real motivations, not the ones they offer openly to the world, is vital to understanding why people act as they do. This aim is achieved by the evaluation of a range of sources and is a careful process of weighing and measuring to reach a view, not accepting at face value the version provided by the person trying to influence you. Empathy is also the only rout to understanding the position of those without a voice, or whose voice is drowned out too easily. We should question why we don’t hear these voices and try to understand the needs and problems fuelling silence as well as noise.

History is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul

Another crucial element of history is the understanding that the weighing of evidence results in an opinion, not a fact. Historians take a view, based on their evaluation, but historians cannot create facts, only uncover them. Thus, many historians hold the opinion, based on their study and measuring of the evidence available, that Richard III ordered the murders of his nephews, the Princes in the Tower. Others, with the same evidence, reach the opposite view. If an historian tells you they know the truth of the disappearance of those two boys, they aren’t telling you the truth because the facts are unclear and can only lead to the forming of a view that cannot be proven or disproven. When you buy a non-fiction history book, you are buying an historian’s assessment and opinion on a topic or a person. There will be facts that are used to formulate a view and politicians do the same thing, yet we accept their assertions as fact all too easily.

The ability to form polar opposite assessments of the same evidence means that the study of history is also the art of disagreeing constructively, responsibly and politely. I want to say dispassionately, but that might not be entirely accurate. Raise almost any topic on social media and an onslaught of opinion will follow that is none of these things. Trolls are cowards who hide behind a profile, there is no doubt about that. Plenty of trolls operate behind an agenda too that requires the bullying or inflaming of others.

I also think that the wider world, who are in no way trolls, has also lost the art of polite disagreement. Displaying passion is all well and good, but it is no excuse for being impolite, belittling the opinions of others or shouting down those with a newly sprouting interest that might require more information to build upon a foundation. No flower was ever grown by stamping it down. A flower requires nurturing with care and it needs feeding. We, as a wider society, seem to have lost the art of disagreeing with each other politely. We don’t debate, we try to shout down. We don’t freely give our view to be used as a building block in the construction of another’s opinion or even a wider understanding. Instead, we jealously guard and defend it.

The United Kingdom is entering a new phase, or more correctly, taking a step back forty years and returning to an old state of being. Some will see that as a retrograde move, a withdrawal from engagement beyond our own shores. Others will believe it is the undoing of forty years of a wrong direction or stepping away from an organisation teetering on the brink of collapse or a step forward to engage with the whole world instead of just the EU.

The truth is that no one knows what will happen. Those sounding portents of doom may be proven correct, but the delight some seem to take in that prospect is a self-destructive narcissism that risks real people’s futures in a desire to be proven right and to be able to say ‘I told you so’. Equally, those who paint a rosy future are guessing and hoping, which might at least be a positive position to take. The truth is that predicting doom or glory is pointless. The effort now needs to be focussed on achieving the best possible result because whether this is a direction you wanted or not, all of our futures rely on making it a success.

So, for what my opinion is worth, I think the skills involved in the study of history are more important now than ever before. We need to learn to question what we consume, to seek out corroboration, to look for agendas, to weigh and measure what we are exposed to and to build our views based on as wide an understanding as possible. Always ask who is showing you something and why they want you to see and believe it. We also need to understand that our opinion is just that. It’s not necessarily correct, not everyone needs to share it and it is strength, not weakness, to allow our opinion to be examined, questioned, modified and even changed. There is no need to shout. The truth is not necessarily spoken by the loudest voice. Sometimes it cowers in silence.

After the apocalyptic Battle of Towton on 29 March 1461, the new king, Edward IV, reached out to his enemies. He offered reconciliation, even making peace with Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, the military leader of the Lancastrian faction opposed to Edward. It was temporary and Henry eventually ended up back at odds with the House of York, but those we judge as less civilised than us knew the importance of unity in the building of a brighter future and saw the need to put old rivalries to bed. As Article 50 is triggered on 29 March 2017, I think it’s a lesson we need to learn again.

Image of the Battle of Towton, 1461

The Battle of Towton, 1461

Coming Soon……

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I thought it was time to offer an update about forthcoming books. A lot has been going on behind the scenes and some things are still being discussed, but there are also a few things signed and sealed that I can tell you about now.

My second novel, Honour, is due to be released on Audible as an audiobook around May this year. It is being narrated by Rory Barnett and I’m really excited at hearing the story of the aftermath of the Battle of Bosworth expertly read by Rory.

The Survival of the Princes in the Tower is due for release by The History Press in September this year. It will look at the various theories that one or both of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York survived past 1483 and beyond 1485. I’ve tried to approach the matter with an open mind and there is some interesting evidence that makes sense of otherwise inexplicable events if a reader sets aside their preconceptions. It’s safe to say I’m expecting a bit of a backlash from this one, but I’m looking forward to it!

Also due for release in Autumn 2017 is The Wars of the Roses in 100 Facts, published by Amberley Publishing. This is part Amberley’s series of topics in 100 facts and aims to give an overview of the period using 100 facts, some well-known and some more obscure. These books are meant to be a bit of fun and hopefully this one will introduce some readers to the depths and complexities of the Wars of the Roses in an accessible way.

2018 will see Stephen and Matilda: Cousins of Anarchy published by Pen and Sword. This book will examine the civil war known as the Anarchy in the wake of the death of Henry I. He left his daughter Matilda as his heir but instead his nephew Stephen grabbed the throne, sparking almost twenty years of civil war. The book will examine both points of view to try and understand the causes of the civil war and how it was fuelled for nearly two decades.

Okay. This is the biggie. September 2018 is the due date for a full, 200,000 word biography of Richard III published by Amberley. Man, I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into this one! The intention is to take a balanced view of Richard’s life from beginning to end and provide an interpretation of him that seeks neither to present him as an infallible hero nor as an evil monster, but rather, as I have always tried to show him, as a real man, living in difficult times and faced with difficult circumstances. I’m expected a strong response to this one too, as with anything to do with Richard III, but I can’t tell you how excited I am to get to grips with it. 

September 2019 will see the release of a joint biography of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of medieval Europe’s original power couples. Together, they represented an immense block of power and created the huge Angevin Empire, but they would end up as bitter rivals, Eleanor encouraging their children to rebel against their father. Eleanor had been Queen of France, ridden to the Holy Land on Crusade, married a young nobleman and then become Queen of England. Henry II, grandson of Henry I, had failed to prove his military credentials during The Anarchy yet went on to become one of the most powerful warrior kings in European history. Their stories are incredible and fascinating, a passion that burned so hot it destroyed even them.

In September 2020, Amberley are scheduled to publish a full biography of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the man who revels in the epithet The Kingmaker. He came from one of the dominant families in northern England and helped drive the Nevilles to the highest heights of national politics. Intimately involved in the Wars of the Roses, his personal agenda is less well-understood, the reasons he fell out with his protégé Edward IV are not all they might seem to be and the lingering question is whether he deserves the towering title history has afforded him.

There are still a few things in the pipeline too, but I wanted to share those that are firmly planned now. I hope that some of these will be of interest to you. I’m really excited about all of these projects.

Was Richard of Conisburgh Illegitimate?

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The DNA of Richard III and anonymous relatives of Henry Somerset (1744-1803) revealed two years ago that somewhere, in one of the lines of descent, there was a break in the male line that means at least one of those branches of the Plantagenet family tree was not in fact descended in the male line from Edward III. The rumour of this at least is nothing new and suggests that the whole House of York that participated in the Wars of the Roses in the mid-fifteenth century might not have been what it appeared to be.

Edmund of Langley was the fourth surviving son of Edward III. He was created Earl of Cambridge by his father on 13 November 1362 and given an annuity of 1,000 marks. Edmund received a few endowments through the 1370’s, including Fotheringhay Castle, which would become the family’s seat. Despite this, Edmund remained poor in lands compared to others amongst his father’s nobility. As part of the efforts of his older brother John of Gaunt to win the crown of Castile, Edmund was married to Isabella, a daughter of King Peter of Castile and younger sister of Constance, who married John. On 6 August 1385, Edmund was created Duke of York by his nephew Richard II during an expedition to Scotland. Edmund was trusted by his nephew, who left him in control of the kingdom several times when abroad, the last and most fateful time being in 1399 when another of Edmund’s nephews took the throne and became Henry IV with little resistance from his uncle.

Edmund and Isabella had three children. The first was Edward, born around 1373, who became 2nd Duke of York after his father, was a favourite of Richard II, a friend of Henry V and the highest profile English casualty at Agincourt in 1415. The couple’s daughter Constance was born a year later around 1374, married Thomas le Despenser, Earl of Gloucester and was great-grandmother to Queen Anne Neville, dying a year after her older brother in 1416.

Edward, 2nd Duke of York's tomb at Fotheringhay

Edward, 2nd Duke of York’s tomb at Fotheringhay

The third child of Edmund and Isabella was Richard of Conisburgh, the toponym suggesting that he was born at Conisburgh Castle, but his date of birth is so poorly recorded that it might have been as early as 1375, a year after Constance, or as late as 1385. Richard held no title but nevertheless served the new Lancastrian regime after Henry IV’s accession. Like his brother Edward, Richard fought in Wales against the rebellions there and in May 1402 he wrote to the Council from Hereford to explain that his term of service and that of his men had expired and complaining that none of them, including him, had been paid. He was trying to keep his men together but was struggling to stop them drifting away, concluding the letter by ‘praying payment for himself and them’.

It was not until the Parliament of 1414 that Henry V bestowed a title on his cousin Richard. The Parliament Rolls record that ‘the king, of his special and gracious will, created and promoted Richard of York to be earl of Cambridge’. The title was the first given to Edmund of Langley and had been a long time coming, since Richard was somewhere between thirty and forty by this point. The title brought with it little financial gain or security for Richard, though, and as his brother Edward became a pillar of Lancastrian government, Richard seemed firmly out in the cold despite his service.

It was perhaps the sleight that Richard felt at his lack of reward or the embarrassment his relative poverty caused him, particularly in comparison to his brother, that led to his involvement just a year after his promotion to an earldom in a plot to murder Henry V. The plot was brought to the king’s attention whilst he was at Southampton preparing to leave for what would become the legendary Agincourt campaign. The aim of the plan was apparently to place Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March on the throne in Henry’s place. Edmund was descended from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, Edward III’s second son and Henry from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, Edward’s third son, but significantly, Edmund’s descent was through a female line. The question of the superiority of this claim would have to wait another forty-five years until Richard’s son brought it before Parliament in 1460, because Edmund himself lost his nerve and blurted out the details of the plot to the king.

Henry grabbed those involved and had them tried quickly.

Henry, Lord Scrope had been named and his claim that he only joined the plot to ensure that it failed did not save him. Sir Thomas Grey of Castle Heaton was also involved and all three were executed., Grey on 2 August 1415 and Lord Scrope and Richard, Earl of Cambridge on 5 August. Significantly, Richard was not attainted and his son, Richard, was able to inherit. This became more important when Edward, 2nd Duke of York was killed at Agincourt just weeks later. With no children of his own, his nephew Richard became the new Duke of York and one of the most important magnates in the land at the age of just four. Little Richard was also an orphan. His mother, Anne Mortimer, sister of Edmund, Earl of March, had died not long after his birth in 1411. This connection was to become vital when Edmund also died in 1425 without children, leaving his nephew as heir to the wealthy earldom of March and the line of descent from Edward III’s second son.

Edmund, Earl of March and Richard of Conisburgh

Edmund, Earl of March and Richard of Conisburgh

Quite why Richard of Conisburgh was not well-rewarded or provided with enough income to support himself properly is a mystery. Certainly, the House of Lancaster was nervous of its newly won position in the opening years, even decades, of the fifteenth century and might have feared rewarding too many of royal blood too well. Richard’s marriage to Anne Mortimer appears to have been conducted in secret and the union of the two lines from Edward III would have been a cause for concern to the Lancastrian kings, but it came towards the end of Richard’s history of being overlooked and might have been his own petulant rebellion against it.

Richard, Duke of York

Richard, Duke of York

There was a well-known rumour that the reason for Richard of Conisburgh’s long history of being ignored was that he was illegitimate. Edmund did not leave Richard anything, concentrating all of the York inheritance on Edward. In her will of 6 December 1392, his mother Isabella listed several gifts she wished to make before bequeathing the remainder of her estates to King Richard II on the condition that the king provide her youngest son Richard, the king’s godson, with an annuity of 500 marks. Isabella was clearly worried that Richard would otherwise not be cared for.

T.B. Pugh described Edmund and Isabella as ‘ill-matched pair’ and the King of Castile’s daughter was to develop a reputation. The chronicler Thomas Walsingham considered her to have somewhat loose morals and T.B. Pugh believed that the possibility that Richard was illegitimate ‘cannot be ignored’. The duchess was most closely associated with John Holland, who has been speculated to have been Richard’s real father.

John Holland became Duke of Exeter in 1397 and had been Earl of Huntingdon since 1388. He was a half-brother to King Richard II, both men being the sons of Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent. John was a child of Joan’s first marriage to Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent and Richard II of her third marriage to Edward, the Black Prince. Joan herself was the granddaughter of Edward I. Pugh described Holland as ‘violent and lawless’, but if he was Richard of Conisburgh’s real father, it might go a long way to explaining why Richard was overlooked by his father, his brother and the Lancastrian kings. It would also explain why Isabella might have believed Richard II was the person best placed to provide for Richard, since he would have been the childless king’s nephew, though she might simply have had no other way to provide for her youngest.

There is no way of resolving this matter, beyond finding remains that could be DNA tested. If Richard of Conisburgh was not Edmund of Langley’s son, then the male line of the House of York became extinct at Agincourt when Edward died without any children. Richard, 3rd Duke of York would not have been descended from the fourth son of Edward III, though he would still have been descended from that king’s second son in the female line and from Edward I’s second son, Edmund of Woodstock, via Joan of Kent. Was this the break in the male line DNA of the Plantagenet family? Maybe it was one of the breaks.

As part of the DNA testing, a man named Patrice de Warren came forward to provide a sample. He could trace his male line descent to an illegitimate son of Geoffrey of Anjou, Henry II’s father, so should have been a match for both Richard III and the relatives of Henry Somerset. He matched neither Y chromosome DNA, suggesting a further family secret in either his line or Henry Somerset’s. Perhaps the question is not whether someone somewhere along some line was the result of an extramarital affair, but just how prevalent such slips might have been. In the days before DNA testing on Jeremy Kyle, how many secrets were easily hidden? The danger is that it is possible to see hints of illegitimacy all over the place and it is important not to get drawn into considering every child to be possibly illegitimate. Nevertheless, the science tells us it happened in at least two cases….

Matt’s book Richard, Duke of York, King By Right, reveals a very different man from the one who has passed into myth amongst the stories of the Wars of the Roses

A new biography of Henry III: Son of Magna Carta is available now from Amberley Publishing, seeking to uncover the true story of a king all too often forgotten to history.

Matthew Lewis has written The Wars of the Roses (Amberley Publishing), a detailed look at the key players of the civil war that tore England apart in the fifteenth century, and Medieval Britain in 100 Facts (Amberley Publishing), which offers a tour of the middle ages by explaining facts and putting the record straight on common misconceptions.

Matt is also the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

Matt has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.

The Richard III Podcast and the Wars of the Roses Podcast can be subscribed to via iTunes or on YouTube.

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MattLewisAuthor.

Book Review: Henry III son of Magna Carta By Matthew Lewis.

A great review of Henry III from Historyland.

Adventures In Historyland

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Hardcover: 304 pages

Publisher: Amberley Publishing (15 Oct. 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1445653575
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Henry-III-Son-Magna-Carta/dp/1445653575

Appearance and handling:

Amberley has been producing some nice looking books this year. Henry III son of Magna Carta is a manageable length to read and a nice looking book to have. It’s light to hold and can take some abuse… (FYI no I don’t abuse books to see how much punishment they can take). The hardback has a classy frontispiece, a big gold crown gleaming against a moody backdrop and the title neatly fitted beneath. Inside there is one picture section with many author photographs of the usual medieval type, castles, abbeys carvings etc, but also a few reenactment snaps of the Lewes anniversary event. The pictures are full colour.

Review:

Let no one say that words are powerless when they are protected by men of violence. It is often bandied about that Magna Carta is…

View original post 1,211 more words

Was Henry III Autistic?

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Embarking on a biography of Henry III was an exciting but daunting task. He is a king many might struggle to place in English history. Men like William Marshal and Simon de Montfort have made more of a mark on the history of Henry’s reign than the man himself. Sandwiched in an almost non-descript period between the disasters of John and the towering figure of Edward I, there were nevertheless immediate pointers that there might be more to this man and his period wearing the crown than is attributed to him. He remained king for 56 years, a record until George III in 1816, Queen Victoria in 1893 and more recently Elizabeth II hit that milestone. His rule saw the finest hour of one of Europe’s most famous knights, the last great Justiciar in England, a role almost forgotten today, but equivalent to a Prime Minister today and a role not to find a true parallel until Henry VIII relied so heavily on Thomas Wolsey and the Thomas Cromwell, the emergence of a body taking the name ‘parliament’, a Second Barons’ War and a man (wrongly) dubbed the father of parliamentary democracy.

As I researched this elusive man I made my notes and filed things ready to organise my thought. It wasn’t until I began to draw these disparate threads together that an intriguing but ultimately unprovable notion began to stand out from the page. Individually, the items meant little, beyond being interesting and sometimes confusing snippets, but as I began to string them together, a question began repeating itself, nagging away at the back of my mind. As much as I was unable to offer it as a proven fact or even a provable theory, I couldn’t stop it repeating away.

Was Henry III autistic?

King Henry III

King Henry III

A diagnosis of autism can be notoriously difficult today, with an individual stood in front of a specialist, so I am under no illusion that this question cannot be definitively answered. However, I am also convinced that it cannot be completely discounted. When drawn together, the snippets of evidence can make an intriguing case that this is possible.

Matthew Paris, a key recorder of this period of English history, though frequently diverted by his own monkish prejudices and agendas, met Henry during the king’s visit to St Albans Abbey at the time bones believed to belong Saint Alban himself had been found and were being reinterred. Matthew quite proudly notes that he was able to spend time in personal conversation with the king and in recalling their discussions he noted that he had been impressed by Henry’s ability to recall complete lists of things such as German electors and English saint-kings. The recall and reliance on lists of known information, called rote memory, is a well-known ability of those affected by autism. Sadly, I could not find other examples of this being recorded to corroborate it or demonstrate it being a prominent portion of his personality, but it may be telling that when placed in a social situation with a person he did not know, Henry fell back on reciting lists.

In 1258, as England began to slide towards what became the Second Barons’ War, Matthew Paris recorded an encounter between the king and his troublesome brother-in-law Simon de Montfort. The interesting portion of the story for the purposes if this discussion is that Henry was rowing down the Thames when a thunder storm erupted. The king was so terrified of the noisy storm that he ordered his barge to put in at the nearest dock. The house in which he took shelter happened to be being used by Simon at the time and Matthew placed prophetic words into the king’s mouth, having him tell his brother-in-law ‘I fear thunder and lightning greatly, but by God’s head I fear you more than all the thunder and lightning in the world.’ Nevertheless, Matthew might have struggled to write what he did if it was not the case that Henry was known to be scared by thunder and lightning. Perhaps Henry had a fear of storms unrelated to anything else. Perhaps Matthew even made up the story to allow his prophesy of trouble between the in-laws, but if sensory sensitivity is behind the episode it is another pointer to potential symptoms of autism. This might be supported by the fact that at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, although an old man, Henry was found curled into a ball shouting to be left alone, overwhelmed by the experience of being caught in the midst of the noise and chaos of the battle.

One thing that does reoccur is a trait that might point to a need to assert royal authority and keep unruly barons on their toes, but which could also contribute to increase the potential for a diagnosis of autism. When Henry’s first son, Prince Edward (later Edward I) was born in1239, gifts poured into the capital city to celebrate the momentous event. Henry made a point of asking who had sent each gift and if he didn’t think that the value reflected the wealth and position of the sender, he ordered it to be sent back and a more suitable replacement sent that met his expectations. Matthew Paris recorded that ‘the king deeply clouded his magnificence as a king’ and one joke reportedly doing the rounds in London quipped that ‘God gave us this child, but the king sells him to us’. Henry repeated this behaviour in 1254 when he returned from a rare successful venture to France. On his return to London, the city joyously gave the king a gift of £100 only to be dismayed when Henry told them flatly that it was not enough to recognise his achievements. There was much desperate scrabbling and Henry was only satisfied when a cup valued at £200 was added to the cash gift.

Henry did have a dire and deeply vested interest in establishing the authority and prestige of the crown, so these may have been displays designed to check and wrong-foot both the barons and a capital Henry always had an uneasy relationship with. However, high-functioning autism such as Asperger’s Syndrome is frequently accompanied by social awkwardness and a tendency to be honest and to say things those without autism might shy away from saying. Without understanding Henry’s true motive, it is hard to know whether this was a calculated strategy or an example of behaviour that might point further toward a degree of high-functioning autism.

King Henry III's Tomb Effigy

King Henry III’s Tomb Effigy

Henry’s long rule is notable for a complete lack of favourites. Several monarchs, particularly weaker ones, and Henry is frequently placed amongst their number, were plagued by favourites who were promoted to the chagrin of the nobility and caused immense problems within the kingdom. Henry’s rule, if anything, was marked by a lack of these close connections. He remained on the best of terms with his brother Richard and his wife and children throughout his life, but beyond that, there are no examples of lasting close favourites. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the failure to create lasting social connections might be another pointer suggesting autism. Henry’s relationship with his brother-in-law Simon de Montfort blew notoriously hot and cold, lurching from bosom buddies to arch enemies and back again with the changing of the wind. In September 1238, Henry was the target of an assassination attempt which is also quite revealing. Whilst staying at his palace at Woodstock, Henry was awoken in the night by a noise which turned out to be made by an armed intruder. Seemingly failing to equate the situation with any danger, Henry struck up a conversation with the would-be assassin. Their talking awoke Henry’s wife, Queen Eleanor, who raised the alarm in panic. The man was arrested and admitted that he had been hired by some of Henry’s enemies to kill him in the night. The assassin was torn limb from limb, beheaded and once his limbs had been sent to major cities around England the remnants were hung from a gibbet usually used for thieves. The fact that Henry saw no danger in the situation points to a glaring lack of appreciation of a very dangerous situation and might suggest a degree of social awkwardness and an inability to discern the motives of others that is indicative of autism. Why else might that armed stranger have been in Henry’s bedchamber when he was asleep?

The final piece of suggestive evidence that I can offer is Henry’s often unhealthy obsession with Edward the Confessor. The saint-king fascinated Henry and drove many of his choices through his life. His first son was probably given the very Anglo-Saxon (and previously unused in Norman and Angevin royal circles) name of Edward most likely in homage to Henry’s hero. When Henry rebuilt the Confessor Abbey at Westminster with his gothic masterpiece, he had the Confessor’s bones moved to a central position of high honour and had his own tomb built over the exact spot on which Saint Edward had rested for two centuries. When Henry had the Painted Chamber at Westminster Palace redecorated to use as a private bedchamber, he had a portrait of Edward the Confessor painted over his bed. It was a lifelong and deep obsession that is again a potential symptom of a high-functioning form of autism, though as with each other piece of the puzzle, far from confirmation.

Each of these pieces individually would mean nothing. Taken together, they begin to build a suggestion of a form of high-functioning autism but, with a definitive diagnosis difficult enough to confirm face to face today, trying to construct anything beyond a suggestive set of symptoms that might add to up possible autism. It is therefore impossible to state that Henry III had any degree of autism, but it is fascinating to consider what it might mean if he did. Henry ruled England for 56 years, in spite of frequent problems. He handed over a kingdom rescued from the brink of disaster and ripe for the consolidation and expansion of his son’s reign. The lack of a favourite, if due to a difficulty in forming close social connections, possibly worked in his favour. Weak kings tended to be dominated by unpopular favourites but Henry never suffered in this respect. He was at odds with Simon de Montfort as much as they were best friends. Henry tended to flip flop in his policy, one moment swearing religious oaths to support the Charters and then denying their enforceability, perhaps demonstrating that he was easily influenced and unable to discern the motives of others in social situations.

Henry was referred to by contemporary chroniclers as ‘simplex’, which has been used to suggest that he was not a clever man and perhaps suffered from mental problems. The word ‘simplex’ is also often applied to saints to demonstrate their lack of guile and unworldliness and it has been suggested that this was what chroniclers meant, but the truth perhaps lies in the subtleties in between. Henry may have frequently appeared to lack the intellectual acumen of others, though been capable of memorising lists of information. He might also have seemed to lack the guile of a politician if he was unable to make out people’s true motives when others may have seen plainly what was going on.

Henry’s reign is often overlooked within English history. I wrote this new biography because I believed there must be more to a man who lived, and retained his throne, through such a long and eventful reign. There is some tantalising, but ultimately inconclusive evidence to suggest that he achieved all of this with a high-functioning form of autism, which would shed a new light on his achievements and his failures alike. Perhaps most intriguing of all is the possibility that ‘simplex’, which is a word that has caused debate on Henry for centuries, was in fact an early diagnosis of an as yet unknown condition. What if ‘simplex’ can be directly equated to autistic?

A new biography of Henry III: Son of Magna Carta is available now from Amberley Publishing, seeking to uncover the true story of a king all too often forgotten to history.

Matt’s book Richard, Duke of York, King By Right, reveals a very different man from the one who has passed into myth amongst the stories of the Wars of the Roses
Matthew Lewis has written The Wars of the Roses (Amberley Publishing), a detailed look at the key players of the civil war that tore England apart in the fifteenth century, and Medieval Britain in 100 Facts (Amberley Publishing), which offers a tour of the middle ages by explaining facts and putting the record straight on common misconceptions.

Matt is also the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

Matt has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.

The Richard III Podcast and the Wars of the Roses Podcast can be subscribed to via iTunes or on YouTube.

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor and Facebook.