One Final Charge – Please Sign the Petition

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What if you could save a 534-year-old piece of history? Well, you can.

Sign the Petition

Imagine there was a delicate, fragile, but beautifully preserved medieval jewel. It’s yours to enjoy whenever you want and to pass on to your children. Now suppose someone comes along and says they want a piece. They’ll snap it off the side and give the rest back, then you can go on looking at it, but it will always have a piece missing; a jagged edge and a noticeable chunk gone forever. And you’ve got to explain the damage to your children when you pass it on.

That is precisely what is happening at the site of the 1485 Battle of Bosworth, an event that altered the course of English and British history. The autumn of 2018 was a rollercoaster shock to the system. Within days of the Battle of Bosworth Festival Weekend, the news broke that Japanese technology firm Horiba MIRA had submitted a planning application to build a driverless car test track that would encroach onto the registered battlefield site. It seemed impossible that it would be approved, but we watched on, campaigned and screamed in vain as it slid through Hinckley and Bosworth’s planning committee with only a minimal bump; the opposition of a few councillors who were quickly removed from the committee. You can read a bit more about the meeting and the controversy here and here.

Anyway, despite the opposition of the Battlefields Trust, the Richard III Society and a petition that gathered over 15,000 supporters, it was given the go ahead. The formal, written permission was issued on the night of the meeting, which not only prevented an appeal but demonstrated that the decision had been made before the committee even sat down. Presented with a frustratingly smug fait accompli, concerned parties and individuals were left horrified at the impending destruction of the battlefield and the frightening precedent such a move sets for other heritage sites across the country.

Much was made of the minimal area to be affected, but it is the spot on the battlefield that current interpretations give as the approach route and muster point for Henry Tudor’s army. It is in the area where the largest cluster of medieval cannon balls ever found was discovered, and will be built over at least one of the find spots. So, although in percentage terms it represents a small amount of the registered battlefield, it is in the very place at which current thinking places most of the fighting. It might be small, but it is critical.

 

RegisteredBosworthBattlefieldSite_Overlay_WithGroundshot.jpg

The outline of the proposed development can be seen in red on the western side of the registered battlefield. The red line and arrow shows the route it is believed Henry Tudor took to the battlefield and the area where his army was arrayed for battle. The red circles mark cannon ball finds and the area where much of the fighting is now believed to have taken place.

 

At the recent local elections, control of Hinckley and Bosworth Council changed to the Liberal Democrats, and it was their councillors who had opposed the approval of the plans. This offers a glimmer of hope for a more sympathetic ear, but it still seemed like a done deal that could not be unravelled.

But it isn’t.

The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 permits the revocation of planning permission after it has been granted and up until such time as the development is entirely completed. Section 97(1) states that ‘If it appears to the local planning authority that it is expedient to revoke or modify any permission to develop land granted on an application made under this Part, the authority may by order revoke or modify the permission to such extent as they consider expedient.’ Section 97(3a) explains that the power may be exercised ‘where the permission relates to the carrying out of building or other operations, at any time before those operations have been completed’. You can read the Act here and a parliamentary briefing on the revocation of planning permission here.

Bosworth Battlefield can still be saved, for this generation and all those that follow. There is a petition on the government’s website asking that this statutory power be used to revoke the planning permission granted at Bosworth. Unfortunately, it can only be signed by UK residents, because this is a matter of international importance that has caused outrage around the globe. If you are eligible, I ask you to sign the petition and help try to preserve this precious medieval jewel. Ask your friends and family to add their weight to the request. At 10,000 signatures, the government is required to respond. At the very least, they will then have to explain why they will not save this precious landscape. At 100,000 signatures, the petition will be eligible for debate in the House of Commons. This might represent our last chance to make it clear to the government and local planning committees everywhere that the destruction of our heritage is too high a price to pay.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/261339

Bosworth Petition Poster 190617

International Trade between Medieval England and Iceland

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Guest post by Toni Mount

In my latest Seb Foxley medieval murder mystery, The Colour of Lies, set in London in the 1470s, the trouble begins with the theft of three exceptionally valuable items from a stall during the annual St Bartholomew’s Fair. They are unicorn horns belonging to a Bristol merchant, Richard Amerike (or Ameryk). In the Middle Ages, nobody doubted that creatures with a single horn existed somewhere in the world but they were so illusive and descriptions of them so variable, it was unsurprising that they proved difficult to locate and impossible to identify, yet their horns were real enough, if rare indeed. A unicorn horn could be worth twenty times its weight in gold and a large one could weigh fourteen pounds. Even in small pieces or powdered – a form used medicinally to treat any and every ailment, from plague to piles – it was worth ten times the value of gold. My research into the origins of these marvellous artefacts revealed a surprising source: Iceland. So how might a Bristol merchant have come to acquire the unicorn horns?

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I had already completed my novel in which Richard Ameryk, a very real medieval merchant from Bristol, appears as a minor character, when I attended the Richard III Society’s conference in early April this year, held at King’s Lynn in Norfolk. Had it not been with the publishers but still a work in progress, I would probably have changed Ameryk’s character for that of a merchant from Lynn because two of the conference speakers – Anne Sutton and Mark Gardiner – informed us about the Norfolk port’s trade connections with Iceland in the medieval period. This article makes full use of the notes I made at the time and Anne’s paper ‘East coast ports and the Iceland trade, 1483-5: (protection and compensation)’ that she so kindly sent me. Also to Mark’s paper: ‘Trading and Fishing Sites in Medieval Iceland’, co-written with Natascha Mehler, which I found on the internet. I’m indebted to both speakers.

England’s main concern with Icelandic trade was fish. The richest fishing was to be had in the seas off the south-west of Iceland and English ships, first recorded in the area in 1412, were there to catch fish themselves as well as trading with the Icelanders for dried cod and vadmal, the local rough sheeps’-wool cloth. The following year, having realised the potential, thirty fishing vessels and a merchant ship arrived. These heralded what the Icelanders call ‘the English Age’ that lasted into the Tudor period. In the 1470s, an average of three merchant ships was sailing to Iceland from Bristol every spring, making the three to six month voyage into the North Atlantic, known then as the Mare Oceanum or the Ocean Sea.

By the mid-fifteenth century, the English, with a thriving woollen textile trade of their own, were less interested in vadmal cloth and the emphasis was on fish. Stockfish was locally caught cod that the Icelanders gutted, filleted, opened up and put on drying racks – known as stocks – to cure in the cold wind and sun. In the process, the fish lost 80% of their weight and would be layered with salt in barrels by which means they would keep for months, years even, long enough to bring them back to Europe. Although some of the fish would be for English consumption, having been soaked overnight to remove most of the salt and reconstitute the flesh, much of it was sold by the Bristol merchants to Portuguese and Spanish traders. At the time, all Roman Catholic countries, including England, were obliged to consume a great deal of fish in accordance with the doctrines of the Church and stockfish was cheap, stored well and was, therefore, available all year round.

Stockfish were traded with Iceland in exchange for basic goods, such as flour, malt, beer, salt, wax, honey, pitch, iron and linen; manufactured metal goods such as copper kettles, knives, horseshoes, swords and helmets; along with luxury items, such as soap, pins, needles and buttons. Oak trenchers and wood for construction and fuel were also tradable items in treeless Iceland. There was a rate of exchange for stockfish, drawn up in 1420, against all these goods since Iceland had no coinage system and remained a barter economy. Yet stockfish was not the only commodity available: Iceland manufactured fish-skin leather goods, purses were particularly popular; shark-skin provided the medieval equivalent of sand-paper and, of course, occasionally ‘unicorn’ horns were available for trade. These were the exquisite, solitary ivory spirals from the narwhal, a member of the whale family then found more frequently in the arctic seas around Iceland.[i]

Ships from Bristol were not the only English vessels making the Iceland voyage. The east coast ports of Scarborough, Hull, Dunwich, Kings Lynn and even London were involved. Many of them were doggers or farcosts, basically fishing vessels that could also carry cargo, but by the 1470s bigger, purpose-built merchant ships, like the three-masted carracks, were making the trip – the fictitious Eagle, as in my novel, The Colour of Lies, is just such a vessel.[ii]

Officially, after an international dispute between King Edward IV of England and King Christian I of Denmark and Norway in 1475, English direct trade with Iceland was made illegal, Iceland being annexed to the Scandinavian kingdom. All English vessels were required to have a licence and either trade was to be conducted through the port of Bergen in Norway or else English ships were to stop off there to pay customs dues and tariffs on cargoes bought and sold in Iceland. Records show that a number of east coast merchants paid for licences and others are noted as having visited Bergen to pay the tariffs, yet few appear on both lists, so clearly not everyone was following the regulations. The Bristol merchants appear to have ignored the rules completely, although the west coast fishing vessels somewhat curtailed their efforts in Icelandic waters, finding new fishing grounds further west, off Greenland. The Bristol merchants were hardly inclined to add thousands of hazardous miles to the voyage by sailing home via Norway and the North Sea just to pay customs duties, reducing their profit margins in the process.

Instead, they did much of their business through Galway on the west coast of Ireland. To this Irish port, the Spaniards brought wine, the Portuguese cheap salt and wine. The Bristol merchants would exchange English wool textiles for wine, also for the salt which they required for the next stage of the voyage. In Iceland, English goods and Iberian wines would be exchanged for both stockfish and freshly salted fish. Both commodities needed the cheap salt to preserve them. The English ships carried their own supplies of wooden planks and a cooper to construct the barrels to bring back the fish. Without trees, Iceland had no wood for such purposes. The ships then returned to Galway, selling much of the highly prized fish to the Spanish and Portuguese merchants for a decent profit, taking on more wine for the home market, along with some remaining fish – the Iberians paid more handsomely for codfish than the English and customs duties in Bergen were avoided.

English sources suggest that Bristol merchants did much of their trading in the Icelandic port of Snaefellness[iii] on the west coast but my research, carried out in Iceland, seems to indicate that Eyrar – now Eyrarbakki – on the south coast was at the centre of the island’s trade with the English.

 

Map of Iceland

Detail from Carta Marina by Olaus Magnus, 1531.

 

Allowing for the inaccuracy of the map above, Eyrar would be situated at the bottom of the island, just left of centre. There are shown the turf-walled booths – the English called them ‘caves’ – roofed with canvas ‘tents’, just as the Icelandic sources describe the English traders using as temporary warehouses. Further to the left, and looking liked stacked logs, are the stockfish, ready for sale. Eyrar was a bustling place during the summer trading season, when local farmer-fishermen would assemble to exchange their dried fish for the basics which Iceland could not produce. Over the winter, the population probably reduced to the six hundred who live in Eyrarbakki today.

As an interesting footnote to trade between Iceland and England, during the reign of Henry VIII, in a single year, 1528, no fewer than 149 English fishing vessels were catching cod in Icelandic waters, using hooks and lines in the traditional way; not nets. In 1509, on becoming king, Henry had unilaterally rescinded the requirement for licences or paying tariffs in Bergen. King Christian II of Denmark and Norway was not amused by this loss of revenue, particularly since, at the time, he was in need of cash. Realising how important this enterprise was to the English and setting previous disputes aside, Christian attempted to mortgage Iceland to King Henry. In 1518, he sent an envoy to Henry, secretly asking for a loan of 100,000 florins, pledging Iceland as collateral. The envoy was instructed to go as low as 50,000 florins, if necessary (today’s equivalent of about 6.5 million US dollars).[iv] Nothing came of this because, by that date, Henry himself was in financial difficulties, having spent his father’s bulging treasury on wars and a lavish regal lifestyle. Had Christian made his request just a few years earlier, Iceland may have become part of the United Kingdom.

I hope readers have enjoyed this brief article. I put my research to good use as part of the backstory for my new Seb Foxley medieval murder mystery, The Colour of Lies.

[i] Researched at the Whales of Iceland Museum, Reykjavik, Iceland, 2018.

[ii] Researched at the Newport Medieval Ship Centre, South Wales, NP19 4SP, 2017.

[iii] Broome, Rodney, Amerike, The Briton who gave America its Name, [Sutton Publishing, Glos, 2002], p.31.

[iv] Gissurarson, Hannes H., ‘Proposals to Sell, Annex or Evacuate Iceland, 1518-1868’ [accessed online 29th April 2019].

 

Toni is a history teacher, a writer, and an experienced public speaker – and describes herself as an enthusiastic life-long-learner; she is a member of the Richard III Society Research Committee and a library volunteer, where she leads the creative writing group.

Toni attended Gravesend Grammar School and originally studied chemistry at college. She worked as a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry before stopping work to have her family. Inspired by Sharon Kay Penman’s Sunne in Splendour Toni decided she too wanted to write a Richard III novel, which she did, but back in the 1980s was told there was no market for more historic novels and it remains unpublished.

Having enjoyed history as a child she joined an adult history class and ultimately started teaching classes herself. Her BA (with First-class Honours), her Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing and Diploma in European Humanities are from the Open University. Toni’s Certificate in Education (in Post-Compulsory Education and Training) is from the University of Greenwich. She earned her Masters degree from the University of Kent in 2009 by the study of a medieval medical manuscript at the Wellcome Library.

After submitting an idea for her first book, about the lives of ordinary people in the middle-ages, Everyday Life in Medieval London was published in 2014 by Amberley Publishing – the first print run sold out quickly and it was voted ‘Best history book of the year’ at Christmas 2014 on Goodreads.com. The Medieval Housewife was published in November 2014 and Dragon’s Blood & Willow Bark, the mysteries of medieval medicine (later renamed in paperback as Medieval Medicine it mysteries and science) was first released in May 2015. A Year in The life of Medieval England, a diary of everyday incidents through an entire year, was published in 2016.

Having taught history to adults madeglobal.com recruited her to create a range of online history courses for medievalcourses.com, but she still wanted to write a medieval novel: The Colour of Poison the first Sebastian Foxley murder mystery was the result, published by madeglobal in 2016. Shortly before publication Tim at madeglobal asked if this was going to be a series – although nothing else was planned, Toni said “yes” and now The Colour of Lies (published in April 2019) is the seventh book in that series.

Toni is married with two grown up children and lives with her husband in Kent, England. When she is not writing, teaching or speaking to history groups – or volunteering – she reads endlessly, with several books on the go at any one time. She is currently working on The Colour of Shadows the next Sebastian Foxley murder mystery and The World of Isaac Newton, her next non-fiction.

Her websites include:

www.ToniMount.com

www.SebastianFoxley.com

www.ToniTalks.co.uk

You can follow Toni on social media at:

www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10

www.facebook.com/sebfoxley/

www.facebook.com/medievalengland/

www.twitter.com/tonihistorian

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Why Margaret Beaufort Should be Remembered as a Devoted Mother

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Guest post by Juliana Cummings

Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, and mother of King Henry Vll seems to have earned a poor reputation over time.  Often thought of as the cruel and conniving “Lady Margaret The King’s Mother”, she seems the epitome of the rotten mother in law. And she certainly may have been so to her son’s wife, Elizabeth of York. But what was it that made her this way? Her life as a child and a young woman were far from a fairy tale so perhaps understanding what she was forced to endure can provide us with an explanation of why she was so bitter. And perhaps we can form a different opinion of Margaret and look at her as a lady of great strength and perseverance and as a woman who believed in her cause and would pursue that cause with everything she had.

Margaret was born in May of either 1441 or 1443 in Bedfordshire England to John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso. At the time of her birth, her father had gone to France for a military expedition for King Henry Vl. However, after his return from France, he was banished from court on charges of treason. He died shortly afterwards but it is still unclear if he died of an illness or apparent suicide. Margaret would inherit all of her father’s fortunes as she was his only heir.

However, King Henry Vl would go against John Beaufort’s wishes and grant wardship of Margaret’s lands to William de la Pole, First Duke of Suffolk.  De la Pole was a military commander and favorite of The King.  While Margaret would remain with her mother, an attempt to marry her to de la Pole’s son was made in early 1444.  She was no older than three years. Papal dispensation was granted in 1450 but the marriage was never recognized.  Henry VI then granted Margaret’s lands to his own half brothers, Edmund and Jasper Tudor.  He also decided Margaret would marry Edmund, who was eleven years older than her.

In November of 1455, the wedding took place and Margaret would become the twelve-year-old bride to the twenty-four-year-old 1st Earl of Richmond. In the 1400s, twelve was the age of consent however it was unusual for the marriage to be consummated before the age of fourteen. Consummation before age fourteen was considered a risk to the health of such a young woman. Margaret was said to be rather small with a petite frame.  However, Edmund Tudor felt otherwise and chose to consummate his marriage immediately. One would have to imagine this must have been a terrifying ordeal to such a young girl, but throughout her life, Margaret consistently defended Edmund as her first husband. So perhaps he was kind and treated her well. And perhaps Margaret accepted this as her destiny, to be married off at such a young age. This was also a time of great political unrest as The War of the Roses had broken out and being a Lancastrian, there is a strong suggestion that Edmund Tudor was only interested in an heir.  Whatever the situation may be, Margaret was forced to become a woman at a very young age and was able to find the strength within herself to rise up to the challenge.  

Margaret’s husband was unfortunately taken in by Yorkists and held prisoner where he would die of the plague in early November of 1456. His thirteen-year-old widow was seven months pregnant and alone. Lady Margaret was taken in by her brother in law, Jasper Tudor where she would give birth to the future King of England on January 28, 1457. However, Margaret’s labor was incredibly difficult, probably due to her small stature.  The midwives were concerned that neither Margaret, nor her son Henry, would survive the birth. This must have terrified the young mother, as she would never give birth again.

Mother and son remained at Pembroke Castle until, at the age of two, Henry Tudor went to live with the Yorkist Herbert family in Wales. At age fourteen, he was forced into exile in France.  Edward IV, the Yorkist King was on the throne but Margaret’s son Henry Tudor had a legitimate claim as well.  Margaret Beaufort’s royal bloodline connected her to John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster as well as the great King Edward III. John Beaufort, Henry’s maternal grandfather might have been next in line for the throne after John of Gaunt’s children from his first two marriages. While some may argue that Henry Tudor had no claim, the royal bloodline was indeed there.

Margaret would marry again just a year after her son’s birth.  Sir Henry Stafford, second son of the 1st Duke of Buckingham,was Margaret’s husband for more than ten years. While it is believed that they enjoyed a rather harmonious marriage, Sir Henry was killed by injuries received in battle in 1471.

In June of 1472, Margaret would wed yet again, to Thomas Stanley, Lord High Constable and this marriage would allow her to return to the court of Edward IV and his Queen, Elizabeth Woodville.  Edward IV was a Yorkist King with a Lancastrian wife and this would prove helpful in Margaret Beaufort’s attempts to put her son on the throne.  Edward IV had married Elizabeth Woodville for love and when he died in 1483 from illness, his son Edward was in line to take the throne. But King Edward’s brother Richard took the throne from his nephew. Richard fell into dispute with the Woodville family and feared that the King’s widow, Elizabeth, would turn her son against him.

Henry Tudor was now in his mid-twenties and the only Lancastrian with royal blood. Many saw Henry as the only one fit to rule. His mother Margaret was one of them. And she had the help of Elizabeth Woodville. When Richard seized power, Elizabeth found sanctuary in Westminster.  It was rumoured that the King had locked both of his nephews in the Tower of London in fear that they would steal his crown.  Believing both her sons to have died in the tower, Elizabeth joined forces with Margaret Beaufort in a plot to put Henry Tudor in what they believed was his rightful place. These two strong-minded women devised a plan to marry Henry to Elizabeth Woodville’s daughter, Elizabeth of York. This would unite the houses of York and Lancaster and give Henry Tudor even more claim to the throne as the people of England would have a Yorkist Queen and a Lancastrian King.

Margaret Beaufort would become the driving force behind bringing Henry Tudor to his crown. She had an affectionate relationship with her son and would send him letters as well as funds to build his army. With the support of the Woodville family, Henry engaged a small French and Scottish force. Henry also had the support of the Welsh people and was able to gather an army of 5000 troops.  But some of the most important support he would gain would be that of his stepfather, Thomas Stanley. Stanley had been an early supporter of Richard III but would ultimately end up abandoning him and joining forces with Henry Tudor.

On August 22nd 1485, in the early hours of the morning, Henry Tudor and his army would march into battle and defeat Richard III in what would become known as the Battle of Bosworth. It was Henry’s stepfather himself who placed King Richard’s crown on Henry’s head after he fell from his horse and was killed.

                        

We can imagine the joy Margaret Beaufort must have felt in knowing that her son was finally crowned King of England. She firmly believed that her son should be on the throne and had plotted successfully to put him there.

Margaret Beaufort’s childhood had been one of extraordinary difficulty. She lost her father at a very young age and forced to marry and be widowed several times. It can be understood that Margaret must have felt like all the odds were against her, yet she grew stronger from it. She was the perfect example of the devoted mother who will stop at nothing to help her child.  And while this may have proved difficult for her daughter in law, she did continue to remain one of Henry’s closest advisors during his reign.  We can assume the bitterness she was known for could have been from a life of constant struggle and the fear that someone would take what was hers; a son on the throne of England.  

Margaret must have held the memories of her early marriage and childbirth with her. For when there were talks of her granddaughter’s marriage, Margaret became a strong advocate in assuring that the young girl did not go through the same harrowing experience of childbirth at such a young age. Margaret also played an important part in education during her life as she was the founder of several schools across England. Margaret Beaufort should continue to remain a symbol of strength for many women. She remained steadfast and determined and never lost her faith during a time of turbulent and political unrest.

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me” by Matthew Lewis – Caroline Angus Baker

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HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me” by Matthew Lewis – Caroline Angus Baker
— Read on carolineangusbaker.com/2019/02/18/historical-book-review-series-richard-iii-loyalty-binds-me-by-matthew-lewis/amp/

Stanley at the Tower

One of the biggest problems with studying the Wars of the Roses, and Richard III in particular, is the sheer number of relentlessly sticky myths that cling to so many aspects of the story. It’s like finding a dried-on piece of chewing gum in the tread of your shoes. It defies efforts to pick at it, pull it away and dispose of it. Even if you manage to get rid of most of it, remnants linger to remind you that it isn’t ever completely gone.

For those who disagree with Ricardian, revisionist ideas, I’m sure Ricardians are the irritating chewing gum. We just don’t shut up about the holes we see in accusations laid against Richard. While writing my doorstep of a biography (plug, plug – buy it now), I tried to directly address as many of the myths as possible, but I also found a new one that serves to demonstrate some of the forces at work after 1485 and the problems with sixteenth century sources on Richard that are all-too-often relied on without question.

This moment revolves around one of the most infamous dates during 1483: 13 June, the meeting at the Tower of London that led to the execution of Lord Hastings. It doesn’t exactly relate to Richard, or indeed to Hastings, but I think it amply demonstrates the myth-building and distortion of truth in the early sixteenth century that has been widely accepted ever since.

Execution of Hastings

Execution of Lord Hastings

Sir Thomas More’s account of the incident is infamous and relied on by a good many historians to this day. Aside from describing an odd story about strawberries and the revelation of a withered arm, that Richard did not have, which he claims has been inflicted by the witchcraft of Elizabeth Woodville, there is plenty to be said about this account. The specific problem to highlight here, though, relates to the eruption of violence and the arrest of Hastings. Here, More describes how Hastings is seized as a traitor by guards, as ‘another let fly at the Lord Stanley, who shrunk at the stroke and fell under the table, or else his head had been cleft to the teeth; for as shortly as he shrank, yet ran the blood about his ears.’

Writing around the same time, in the early sixteenth century, Polydore Virgil tells his reader that on 13 June, Richard ‘commanded to be sent for specyally by name Thomas Rotheram archebisshop of York, John Morton bysshop of Ely, Henry duke of Buchingham, Thomas lord Stanley, William lord Hastinges, John lord Haward, and many others whom he trustyed to fynde faythful ether for feare or benefyt.’ He goes on to explain that Richard ‘apprehendyd all at once William lord Hastinges, both the bysshops of York and Ely, and also the the lord Stanley.’

Thomas Stanley

An image claimed to be Thomas, Lord Stanley

These sources appear important. We are constantly reminded that both writers had access to men who had lived through the events, so were working from eyewitness testimony that all but assures their veracity. If we look at the three contemporary, or very near contemporary, sources that discuss the events at the Tower on 13 June 1483, something leaps out at me.

The Crowland Chronicle, written in March 1486 by someone clearly close to Yorkist government, offers the following account of the Council meeting on 13 June 1483;

‘lord Hastings, on the thirteenth day of the month of June, being the sixth day of the week, on coming to the Tower to join the council, was, by order of the Protector, beheaded. Two distinguished prelates, also, Thomas, archbishop of York, and John, Bishop of Ely, being, out of respect for their order, held exempt from capital punishment, were carried prisoners to different castles in Wales. The three strongest supporters of the new king being thus removed without judgement or justice, and all the rest of his faithful subjects fearing the like treatment, the two dukes did thenceforth just as they pleased.’

Crowland, who was probably at the centre of the events in London in the spring of 1483, identifies the three strongest supporters of Edward V’s cause as Hastings, Archbishop Rotherham and Bishop Morton. Dominic Mancini offers even less detail, and is the only one to have Hastings cut down during a meeting at the Tower. In the build-up to the events of 13 June, Mancini notes that:

‘Having got into his power all the blood royal of the land, yet he considered that his prospects were not sufficiently secure, without the removal or imprisonment of those who had been the closest friends of his brother, and were expected to be loyal to his brother’s offspring. In this class he thought to include Hastings, the king’s chamberlain; Thomas Rotherham, whom shortly before he had relieved of his office: and the bishop of Ely.’

Mancini continues to describe the events at the Tower thus:

‘One day these three and several others came to the Tower about ten o’clock to salute the protector, as was their custom. When they had been admitted to the innermost quarters, the protector, as prearranged, cried out that an ambush had been prepared for him, and they had come with hidden arms, that they might be first to open the attack. Thereupon the soldiers, who had been stationed there by their lord, rushed in with the duke of Buckingham, and cut down Hastings on the false pretext of treason; they arrested the others, whose life, it was presumed, was spared out of respect for religion and holy orders. Thus fell Hastings, killed not by those enemies he had always feared, but by a friend whom he had never doubted.’

A third contemporary account of the events appears in a note from an anonymous London citizen, who wrote that:

‘the Lord Hastings was takyn in the Towur and byhedyd forthwith, the xiii day of June Anno 1483. And the archbeschope of Yorke, the bischop of Ele, and Olever King the secoudare (secretary), with other moo, was arestyd the same day and put in preson in the Tower.’

It is fascinating that one man plays a central and prominent role in sixteenth century records of this event but is entirely unmentioned by contemporaries: Thomas, Lord Stanley. Crowland is clear that only Hastings, Rotherham and Morton were under suspicion and mentions no other person being involved. Mancini identifies the same three as the men Richard would deem Edward V’s chief supporters, though he seems to suggest others may have been present. The anonymous record adds a fourth figure, Edward IV’s Secretary of the French Language Oliver King. Although he adds that others were arrested, he, like other contemporaries, fails to identify a man as well-known as Lord Stanley, whose arrest would surely have been a scandalous moment more noteworthy than that of Oliver King.

It has always struck me as odd and unlikely that Thomas Stanley was implicated in the business at the Tower enough to be arrested or injured. On 6 July, less than four weeks later, he would appear in a position of prominence and honour at Richard III’s coronation and his wife, Lady Margaret Beaufort, would carry the queen’s train. This seems like an odd way to treat a man who three weeks earlier had been central to a plot against Richard, or at least Richard was claiming there was such a plot and later sources claimed Stanley was at the centre of the storm. Rotherham and Morton remained under arrest, yet Stanley was free. Hastings was dead, but Stanley alive and at the coronation.

What I had failed to notice until researching this book was that no contemporary places Thomas Stanley at the Tower on 13 June 1483. He only appears at the meetings in the accounts penned in the early sixteenth century by More, Vergil and other Tudor writers. This is highly suggestive of a fabrication. It seems likely to me that Thomas Stanley inserted himself at the meeting to raise his profile as a dedicated supporter of Edward V. His family would use poetic devices like the Ballad of Lady Bess, which paints Thomas as a father figure to Elizabeth of York, the sister of the Princes in the Tower and queen to Henry VII. There was obviously a concerted effort to align the Stanley family with the House of York, though not with Richard III, after 1485.

The addition of a dramatic flourish that sees Stanley wounded in the scuffle at the Tower smacks of him trying to make out that he took one for the team that day, suffered because he sought to champion Edward V and prevent the evil of Richard III. It was a neat trick that allowed him to slide comfortably into Tudor England by virtue of his Edwardian Yorkist credentials, as a friend and protector of the queen, whose brothers he had tried desperately to save from their wicked uncle. It was a lie, if the evidence of those writing in the immediate aftermath is to be believed.

The importance of this episode is that it demonstrates precisely how later mythology has been layered up around Richard III’s story. If the witnesses used by More and Vergil were making things up, as Stanley seems to have been, then how reliable is the rest of their evidence? As the dust began to settle after the Battle of Bosworth, men needed to distance themselves from Richard III’s regime in order to find a place in the new order of Henry VII. It is for this reason that the composition of Richard III’s only parliament in 1484 is lost. Those who sat passed into law the act that confirmed Richard as king and made Edward IV’s children, including Henry’s queen, illegitimate. None would willingly admit to being a part of that.

Richard III

King Richard III

Most distanced themselves from Richard III. Crowland conspicuously excuses decisions he was involved in by claiming all London was utterly terrified of a vast northern army that never arrived and which Richard never called for. A few hundred were mustering at Pontefract, but London would have been well able to keep them out. It is excuse-making by men who hoped to retain their positions of power in the new regime. Stanley is one of the few men who led his family through the Wars of the Roses to emerge not only unscathed but improved. His masterstroke as Henry VII got his feet under the table was not to fawn to the new king, but rather to align himself with the family of Edward IV, and to claim that his loyalties had always firmly laid there. He had been a defender of Edward V and positioned himself as a guardian of Elizabeth of York. It was another example of Stanley caution and intelligent planning.

In terms of Richard III, we can see clearly how and why myths emerged by the start of the sixteenth century. As early as 1485, after Bosworth, men were being careful to distance themselves from Richard III if they hoped to retain influence. Those who acted as witnesses for the accounts prepared by More, Vergil and others had agendas, and the willingness to fabricate incidents such as Stanley’s presence, arrest and injury at the Tower of London on 13 June are incredibly telling. What else was untrue, or at least embellished? The same regime, populated by these men, presented information to discredit Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, made a great deal of Richard III’s supposed plan to murder his wife and marry his niece. The same men and the same writers constructed the stories that many cling to today regarding the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower.

If Stanley’s recorded part in the events of 13 June 1483 is a lie, fabricated to fit an agenda, how much more of the accepted, traditional story is similarly flawed?

Matt Lewis is the author of several non-fiction histories on the Wars of the Roses period, including a biography of Richard, Duke of York, a biography of Richard III and The Survival of the Princes in the Tower. His Amazon Author Page, where all his books are available, can be found here.

 

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

 

 

 

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!