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…

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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.

Margaret Beaufort and the Princes in the Tower

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Historical opinion often moves in circles on certain topics. Sometimes it’s a slow process and sometimes it happens quickly. The White Queen series stirred up the latent and under-examined but long-standing theory linking Margaret Beaufort to the disappearance and murder of the Princes in the Tower. In short order, the increased attention drew an onslaught of opinion denouncing the theory as impossible, implausible nonsense. The memes below offer a sample of the abuse drawn by the idea. So is this theory really devoid of merit?

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Criminal investigations will frequently look for three elements when trying to establish if someone is a suspect; motive, means and opportunity. Richard III is quite rightly attributed with all three, though his precise motive is open to debate. There are other suspects, but if we concentrate on Margaret Beaufort, can any component be reasonably established for her, accepting that beyond a reasonable doubt is outside the realms of current knowledge?

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Motive is often denied, since removing the Princes left too many other obstacles in her way to be a realistic attempt at getting her son onto the throne. The facts would tend to give the lie to this view though since her son ended up on the throne and as figurehead for a failed invasion in October 1483. At some point between Edward IV’s death in April 1483 and the rebellion of October 1483 the idea of Henry Tudor as a viable alternative to Richard III was birthed and grew. It cannot be considered beyond the bounds of possibility that the thought occurred to his mother early in the tumultuous events of that summer. It is known that Lady Stanley, as she was then, was in the process of negotiating her son’s return to England with Edward IV in talks that included the possibility of marrying him to one of Edward’s daughters (though probably not Elizabeth). A minority government, with all of its inherent insecurity, was unlikely to see those plans followed through for some time and when Richard became king in his nephew’s place there was also no sign of further talks on this matter. Margaret had come so close to securing her son’s return only to have the hope she nurtured snatched away at the last moment. Would she accept that circumstance willingly? It is true that she had endured the separation for years to that point, but having come so close must have made her more desperate for a reunion with Henry.

It might have become clear to Margaret that her son was not going to be allowed to return peacefully at any time soon and that an invasion was the only chance of getting him back. The aftermath of Richard III’s assumption of power presented an opportunity that the last ten years of Yorkist security had not for the pursuit of Margaret’s desire to have her son back by reigniting dormant Lancastrian sympathy and marrying it to the portion of Yorkist supporters unwilling to follow Richard III. It perhaps bears consideration that if Richard killed the princes with the motive of securing his position, he failed. If Margaret had it done to further her son’s prospects of a return, she succeeded. That fact proves nothing, of course, but it is food for thought.

Lady Margaret Beaufort

Lady Margaret Beaufort

As to means, this is every bit as contentious as the motive aspect. I have seen it argued that Margaret was a disgraced and punished nobody, married to an unimportant minor nobleman. This is rubbish. Margaret’s property was seized and given to her husband, but only after the October rebellion that aimed to put her son on the throne. A part of the reason that Margaret had been able to make three (if we ignore the first to John de la Pole as she did) good matches was that she was an immensely wealthy woman who controlled, or offered her husband control of, vast estates and income. The reason that she was deprived of her property after the rebellion was precisely that she had funded much of it, sending cash to her son in Brittany and then France. She had the means to orchestrate an invasion from within England, so why would access to the princes be beyond her? Far from being a woman restrained by sanctions, in the summer of 1483 Margaret could hardly have been closer to the centre of power. Perhaps Richard III felt the need to court or pacify the Stanleys, because at the joint coronation on 6th July, Margaret carried Queen Anne’s train, walking ahead of Richard’s own sister, the Duchess of Suffolk. Her husband, Thomas, Lord Stanley walked only a couple of places behind the king, bearing the mace of the Lord High Constable, a great office of state previously held by Richard himself and placed in the hands of the Duke of Buckingham, but which Thomas Stanley would acquire after the October rebellion.

Thomas, Lord Stanley

Thomas, Lord Stanley

Does all of this power and influence translate into the means to secure access to the princes for someone tasked with killing them? The denial of this relies on two more long-standing fallacies. The first is that the princes were thrown into a deep dark dungeon and treated as prisoners. There is simply no evidence of this. They were moved from the royal apartments where Edward V had been preparing for his coronation, as tradition dictated, because those apartments were in turn required for Richard and Anne to prepare for theirs. There is talk in contemporary accounts of them being withdrawn into the castle and seen less and less, but they were seen, exercising, shooting their bows and playing after Richard’s coronation – not languishing in a dank dungeon somewhere. Their servants were removed and replaced, most likely not because those servants were loyal to Edward V but to the Woodvilles, particularly Anthony, who Richard had arrested for treason and whose sister, the dowager queen, had fled into sanctuary and was refusing to talk to the government, even before Richard was asked to take the throne. None of this would necessarily prevent access to them being secured by a woman so close to the court that she had just carried the queen’s train at the coronation and not associated with the Woodvilles.

The other great misconception is that the Tower of London was a locked and bolted prison, a dark place with a sinister character. That was not true until the Tudor era, when palaces further along the Thames were preferred and the Tower earned its brutal reputation. The Tower was a functioning royal palace, a busy and bustling place where the Royal Treasury was frequently housed, Council meetings held and military provisions stockpiled. There must have been a steady stream of deliveries of food and goods as well as a standing staff to run the Treasury and the other more permanent functions of the Tower so that even when the royal household wasn’t in residence to swell the numbers further, it would hardly have been a deserted place impossible to access, even without the influence then wielded by Lord and Lady Stanley.

Opportunity is closely linked to the conditions above. If we accept that the princes were not closely guarded prisoners hidden deep within the bowels of the Tower, that in the summer of 1483 Lord and Lady Stanley were riding high in royal favour and were yet to attract suspicion and that access to the Tower, whilst perhaps not wide open to every resident of London, was not impossible in a working palace with regular comings and goings for people of such influence as Lady Stanley, then opportunity becomes easy to establish.

The Princes in the Tower

The Princes in the Tower

There is a clear indicator that Margaret Beaufort’s work on her son’s behalf in the late summer of 1483 was advanced, ran deep, was secret and relied on the death of the Princes in the Tower. It was Margaret who opened up a clandestine line of communication to Elizabeth Woodville in sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. Margaret used her physician Lewis Caerleon, who posed as Elizabeth’s physician, to pass messages between the two women. That is how Margaret secured Elizabeth’s agreement that their children should marry and together they should promote Henry Tudor’s prospects of taking the throne. For Elizabeth to agree to this, she must have believed her sons were dead and their cause lost, so that marrying her daughter to Henry Tudor represented the only course open to her out of sanctuary and back to power. Given that no one, contemporary or otherwise, knows for certain the fate of the Princes in the Tower, how could Elizabeth, from the isolated seclusion of sanctuary, have got news so definite that she gave up on her sons? The obvious answer is from Margaret Beaufort, via Dr Caerleon. If it was part of her plan to pass this story to Elizabeth to improve her son’s cause, then their murder was part of her thinking and she just might have planned to organise it too.

I don’t know that Margaret Beaufort was involved in the fate of the Princes in the Tower, but it is clear that she exploited the idea of their murder to further her son’s cause. Buckingham is as strong a suspect and Richard III must remain prime suspect (if we believe there was a murder at all, which is another matter). My point here is that all of those who sneer at the notion that Margaret Beaufort could have been involved are, in my opinion, wrong. Margaret had motive, means and opportunity, and that makes her a suspect.

Game of Thrones in 1483

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7 books

60 hours + of TV

1 year of history

Warning: Massive spoilers!!!

Game of Thrones is perhaps the most epic novel and TV series ever created. George RR Martin has woven a world Tolkien would have been proud of, managing to be filled with fantasy, but just recognisable enough to pull us in, to tug at some memory we have of something similar. So much has happened (I’m going to talk TV series for the sake of ease) that going back to the start seems like an age ago with long forgotten faces and actions with consequences still sending ripples through the Seven Kingdoms. There are many figures from the book and from history who can be paired together in different time periods. It’s amazing, though, how much of six series of world re-shaping can be crammed into the events of 1483 in England.

It’s not much of a secret that GRRM is interested in the Wars of the Roses and draws heavily on it in his writing. That is part what makes it feel so tangible. Several characters often represent a single real life person, and just as often, a character has traits that can be traced back to several real figures. The story begins with a larger than life king, more interested in hunting, feasting, drinking and womanising that the boring minutiae of government. He used to be a formidable warrior but not his armour doesn’t fit and he’s a bit too wheezy to fight. Edward IV, then. He goes to visit his best mate, most loyal subject, the man who fought at his side to win the throne and has since kept the wild north tamed in the king’s name. A man of honour, a strange kind of heightened honour some seem to find it hard to comprehend. Edward’s brother, the future Richard III fits that bill. The king dies in an accident – or is it an accident – matching Edward’s death in April 1483, which has since drawn unproven rumours of his wife’s mischief. His wife, the blonde from a family getting ideas above its station who wants to work its members into everything possible, fits with Queen Elizabeth Woodville and her family, who were viewed by the older nobility as commoners and interlopers, even though they weren’t.

Martin then seems to explore a few ‘what if’ scenarios as Robert’s young son prepares to become king. Joffrey = Edward V. Ned Stark, our fist Richard III, comes south and uncovers Joffrey’s illegitimacy. He is given a choice between covering up the truth and living or exposing it, backing a true king, a dying for his troubles. So, Martin suggests, Richard was in very real danger in the spring of 1483 and blind honour might get him killed. Rob Stark emerges as a King in the North, leading a military campaign south to enforce his rights. Another option for Richard, but one that also leads to Rob’s death. Rob is also an interesting parallel to the young Edward IV – undefeated in battle, seemingly charmed and invincible, his success is undone when he abandons an agreed marriage in favour of a commoner he falls in love with. Edward and Elizabeth Woodville’s story played out almost like a flashback, with the pre-arranged marriage perhaps a reference to Warwick the Kingmaker’s efforts to secure a French marriage or the pre-contract story that would lead to so much trouble in 1483.

In Martin’s 1483, Edward V becomes king, followed by his younger brother, who would be Richard, Duke of York. Both are overwhelmed and overtaken by the events and end up dead. Does Martin think the Woodville matriarch would have been unable to keep her hands out of the government and destroyed her sons’ chances? Jaime, as Cersei’s brother, would have to be Anthony Woodville, who, whilst there was no hint of incest (that, surely, refers to Anne Boleyn’s story), was a key influence in the early life of Edward V as his guardian. There is also the incident of Theon burning two farm boys and passing them off as the Stark boys, so that everyone thinks the Stark heirs are dead, only for them to have survived in secret. Another theoretical line for the Princes in the Tower.

The penultimate episode had a sense of a flashback to earlier Wars of the Roses events. The Battle of the Bastards, two men fighting for one thing – Edward IV and Henry VI? – pile onto a field in massive numbers, as they did at Towton in 1461, when 28,000 dead were reported by heralds to be piled on the field, with men crushed and suffocated. The battle was won for Edward by the late arrival of the Duke of Norfolk to the field – see instead the Knights of the Vale. At the Battle of Losecote Field in 1470, Edward IV had brought Richard Welles, father of Robert, leader of the men opposing him, onto the field before the battle. After ordering Robert to surrender and hearing his refusal, Edward had Richard executed in front of his son, much as Jon watched Rickon’s death.

The last episode of series six was probably the most epic yet, as Kings Landing imploded, almost literally, and even more ended than started. My head was spinning, but I was back in 1483, perhaps in the autumn now. Jon is that son of Lyanna Stark and, presumably, Rhaegar Targaryen, though we don’t know if they were married. The question of legitimacy is left open but clearly impacts the notion of who is the ‘rightful’ heir. Legitimate or not, Jon is Daenerys Targaryen’s nephew (we presume). Does that make his claim better as it is through a male line? What if he isn’t legitimate? Is he the one figure who could unite north and south? Many may have thought that about Richard III in 1483. Then there is the Mother of Dragons herself. She ends the episode at the dead of a fleet of ships, heading back to Westeros, a land she hasn’t seen since childhood, surrounded by dragons and the hopes of those disaffected by the politics of Westeros – the selfless Lord Varys and Tyrion Lannister (who might well bring another element of Richard III in the examination of the perceptions of being physically different on a man’s life from childhood to adulthood). Could it be any clearer that this is Henry Tudor, with his red dragon of Cadwaladr, crossing to challenge for the throne? We have Little Finger, too, a man who prides himself on being untrustworthy, yet seems to get himself trusted, admitting that he wants the Iron Throne. I think we just hit Buckingham’s Rebellion in October 1483.

Martin makes so many connections and suggestions that it is possible to pick every plot line into a thousand pieces. Therein lies his genius. Perhaps the point about 1483 and the Song of Fire and Ice series in that so much can happen in a short space of time. There aren’t goodies and baddies. Motives shift and morph and are revealed as the political landscape changes, sometimes subtly, sometimes seismically. I think it is safe to say that GRRM has a deep interest in Richard III, the politics of 1483 and even the Princes in the Tower. He may not have any more answers than anyone else, but his expansive worlds give him free reign to explore what might have happened in a number of permutations that all seem to revolve around ideas of legitimacy and the shades of light and dark in men’s (and women’s) souls. GRRM just might be the most famous Ricardian around at the moment.

One Year On, New Book News

It’s been a year today since The Wars of the Roses went on sale. It seems like ages ago, yet its flown by at the same time. Thank you so much to every who has bought a copy and I’ve been really pleased with all the positive feedback. Richard, Duke of York’s biography has also been well received and a biography of Henry III will be out in October this year in time for the 800th anniversary of this elusive man’s coronation.
This seems like a good time to let everyone know that I’ve signed the contract for a new book to be released in the autumn of next year, which seems a lifetime away but I don’t doubt it will creep up quickly.
I hope the new book will spark your interest. I have no doubt it will court more controversy than anything I’ve written so far and I look forward to that. I’m not sure I need to offer more than the title, so I’ll leave you with that, and my thanks for your support.

The Survival of the Princes in the Tower

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wars-Roses-Players-Struggle-Supremacy/dp/1445646358/ref=pd_sim_14_4?ie=UTF8&dpID=51-7nhZiqJL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR106%2C160_&psc=1&refRID=H634AV984QFZ6EMSA482

Richard, Duke of York is here!

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It’s here! Richard, Duke of York: King By Right is released in the UK today, 15th April,  and available to buy now.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the interest in this new examination of a man who has long fascinated me. The book will delve into the myths and reveal a complex man with wide ranging power and responsibilities to match.

Was he really a wildly ambitious man who sought to exploit a king’s weakness, or has he been painted in two dimensions, his true actions and motivations buried under myth?

If you read the book, and I hope some will find it on their doorstep today, I would love to hear what you think of it.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Richard-Duke-York-King-Right/dp/1445647443

https://www.amberley-books.com/richard-duke-of-york.html