The More I Read

A paper by Professor Tim Thornton of the University of Huddersfield, first published on 28 December 2020 and available here, has reached the national press, for example here, with claims that it has solved the mystery of the Princes in the Tower and proven the version of events provided by Sir Thomas More to be accurate. The paper is very interesting in its consideration of the emergence and evolution of the stories of the Princes in the Tower, with a focus on Richard III’s culpability in the murders. However, it will come as little surprise that I don’t see anything conclusive, and I concede that efforts to portray it as resolving the mystery may be tabloid clickbait headlines rather than Professor Thornton’s assertion, while noting that he believes it means More ought to be given almost unquestioned credence. The paper overlooks several aspects of More’s account as it reaches to establish the veracity of his version of the events of 1483.

The Princes in the Tower
The Princes in the Tower

Essentially, the proposition is that the two sons of Miles Forrest, one of those More identifies as the murderers of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, the Princes in the Tower, were at the court of Henry VIII, and acted as servants of Cardinal Wolsey. Having come into contact with Sir Thomas More, their testimony against their father is assumed to have been volunteered and used by More to record a true and accurate account of the murders thirty years later. I have previously written about my issues with More’s Richard III as historical evidence, including here and here, but I thought I would address it again in light of this new connection.

Professor Thornton is clear that the Forrest brothers, named Edward and Miles, cannot be definitively identified as the sons of the Miles Forrest of More’s account. The evidence cited is, though, compelling enough to accept that they probably were the sons of the servant of Richard III associated by More with the murders. The assertion that they came into contact with Sir Thomas More on occasions is established, but otherwise uninterrogated. There is an assumption that they were willing to tell the story they knew about their father to More for inclusion in his version of the event of 1483. This relies on the brothers knowing the story. When Miles Forrest died in 1484 and his widow and son Edward were provided an annuity by Richard III, no age is given for Edward, but there is a presumption that he was still quite young. The younger sibling, Miles, is not mentioned at all, suggesting he may have been no more than a babe, or even that he was born after his father’s death.

Assuming for a moment that Miles Forrest took part in the murders as More asserts, the Forrest brothers must have been too young in 1484 to have known or understood what their father had done. How, then, did they come to know such a story? Their mother may have told them, or another close associate of their father, but to what end? If it was such a secret that no one knew of Miles Forrest’s involvement until his sons told More, why perpetuate a tale that could only damage the family? Why would the Forrest brothers have been willing to believe the slur on their father if it were related to the years later?

The Murder of the Princes in the Tower

Assuming Miles Forrest was involved in the murders, and his sons knew of their father’s crime, the next problem is their willingness to tell the story to Thomas More. As servants at court associated with Henry VIII and Thomas Wolsey, but not with service to Thomas More directly, it is hard to unravel a circumstance in which they would have volunteered such a dark family secret to a virtual stranger, even if they were aware he was writing about the events of 1483. As Professor Thornton points out, both men continued a long and successful career, unhampered by their willing association with the most heinous deed in living memory and beyond. Perhaps the sins of the father would not be held against the sons, but I am less certain that the risk would be one worth taking.

So, for me, the connection is interesting, but does not convince me of More’s veracity. The fact of their affiliation in an official capacity gives no hint at the nature of their relationship. The brothers donating information to More that damned their father suggests a level of trust and perhaps even friendship that cannot be evidenced. If the Forrest brothers were rivals during More’s rise, friendly or otherwise, they may have been eviscerated in his story in recompense for some trespass or perceived slight. It is hardly the act of a friend to accuse one’s father of the double murders of royal children.

Part of what makes the account offered by Thomas More superficially plausible is his use of real people sprinkled throughout his narrative. He is the first to involve Miles Forrest and John Dighton, the former clearly identifiable, the latter less definitively so. The messenger used by Richard, ‘one Iohn Grene whom he specially trusted’ possesses a name so common there are several candidates, meaning he may or may not have been real and involved. Of these three names introduced together by More, only one can be confidently attached to a person within the historical record. The other two may, or may not, have existed as the men used by More.

More is the third writer, after Polydore Virgil (some time between 1506 and 1513) and Robert Fabyan (some time between 1504 and 1512), to identify Sir James Tyrell’s involvement. All three accounts date from after Tyrell’s execution in 1502. More’s, however, written after the other two, is the only account to mention a confession of the murders of the Princes in the Tower being given by Tyrell at the time of his arrest, a detail even later Tudor writers appear unaware of. This requires More to have cognisance of something unknown to Virgil, Henry VII’s official court historian, writing almost contemporaneously. It would be odd for Virgil to be unaware of the confession, or for him to know of it, and accuse Tyrell without providing the confirmation offered by his confession. Given that an unverifiable family legend claims that James Tyrell hosted the Princes and their mother at his home at Gipping Hall when Richard III facilitated their meetings during his reign, More and others potentially seized on this truth of his involvement in their story to attach him to tales of their murders. All of the best lies are wrapped around a kernel of truth.

There is at least one other example of More’s incorrect use of a real person to blur or obscure the truth in his telling of Richard III’s story. More’s description of the emergence of the pre-contract story that ultimately led to the decision to bar Edward IV’s sons from the throne on the basis of illegitimacy is startling in bearing all of the hallmarks of throwing the kitchen sink at the problem. Dr Ralph Shaa’s sermon at St Paul’s Cross began, More relates, by alerting the people ‘that neither King Edward himself nor the Duke of Clarence were lawfully begot’.1 In the charge that Edward was described as illegitimate, More appears to follow Dominic Mancini’s difficult, and often inaccurate, account of events. Mancini, an Italian visitor to England in the pay of the French court, most likely as a spy, spoke no English and never met any of the central figures in the story he relates. Mancini himself describes his wish not to write down his account, but his resignation to doing so at the insistence of his patron.2

Richard III
King Richard III

Mancini relates that the sermon insisted ‘that the progeny of King Edward should be instantly eradicated, for neither had he been a legitimate king, nor could his issue be so. Edward, they say, was conceived in adultery’.3 Here, Mancini probably betrays his continental bias and lack of understanding of England and English. The story that Edward was illegitimate, the son of an archer who shared his huge frame, was current at the French court throughout the reign of Edward IV and was a favourite joke of King Louis XI. Unable to understand what was said, if he even witnessed the sermon, Mancini layers what he knows, and what he believes his audience will appreciate and relate to, over the gaps in his comprehension. Mancini later adds that Shaa ‘argued that it would be unjust to crown this lad [Edward V], who was illegitimate, because his father King Edward [IV] on marrying Elizabeth was legally contracted to another wife to whom the [earl] of Warwick had joined him.4

More uses this charge, demonstrating that Mancini’s account may well have been in circulation in England, since no other contemporary or near contemporary, and no English, source mentions it. He adds the claim that the sermon designated George, Duke of Clarence as illegitimate too. This is novel. The reason for Clarence’s exclusion, or rather that of his children, since he had been executed in 1478, was his attainder for treason which parliament extended to exclude his descendants from the line of succession.5 Mancini was clear that this was the reason for the exclusion of Clarence’s children from consideration; ‘As for the son of the duke of Clarence, he had been rendered ineligible for the crown by the felony of his father: since his father after conviction for treason had forfeited not only his own but also his sons’ right of succession.’6 The Crowland Chronicler concurs that this was the reason for overlooking Clarence’s children; ‘the blood of his other brother, George, Duke of Clarence, had been attainted’.7

More continues to describe the pre-contract, the legal basis on which Edward IV’s children were declared illegitimate due to bigamy, naming Dame Elizabeth Lucy as the wife of King Edward IV before his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. More then explains that Dame Elizabeth Lucy was brought to London in 1483, only to deny that she had been married to Edward IV.8 Mancini believed the pre-contract related to a marriage made by proxy by the Earl of Warwick on the continent.9 The lady identified as Edward’s first wife was, in fact, Lady Eleanor Butler, née Talbot, a daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, who had died in 1468.10

Sir Thomas More
Sir Thomas More

Elizabeth Lucy was a long-term mistress of King Edward IV, and was possibly the mother of one or more of his illegitimate children, perhaps including Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle. Her introduction by More into the story of the pre-contract in 1483 demonstrates the use of real, documented people improperly within the story to both add credence to his version and remove credibility from Richard III during the events of 1483. It is possible that Miles Forrest served a similar purpose for More. Details are also added by More that do not appear in other versions before or immediately after he wrote his account. Most notable of these is the supposed confession provided by Tyrell and John Dighton, Miles Forrest’s accomplice. ‘Very truth is it and well known that at such time as Sir James Tyrell was in the Tower, for treason committed against the most famous Prince, King Henry the Seventh, both Dighton and he were examined, and confessed the murder’.11 The phrase ‘Very truth is it and well known’ reads a little like ‘honest guv’nor’, particularly when no other writer records something supposedly well-known and so critical to the establishment of Richard III’s, and Tyrell, Forrest and Dighton’s, guilt. The introduction of the idea that Dighton ‘yet walks alive, in good possibility to be hanged ere he die’ only seems to add more incredulity to the tale. A confessed regicide and child murderer is simply allowed to walk away after confirming his guilt? Miles Forrest is described as ‘a fellow fleshed in murder’ when explaining his selection for the job of killing the Princes, so if his sons were More’s source of detail about their father, they must have despised the man who died when they were both young, possibly too young to even remember him.

The proliferation of other fates ascribed to the Princes in the Tower is also suggestive that, despite More’s insistence, their doom in the manner described by More was not well-known. One version that is worth particular mention is that of John Rastell, published in 1529. Rastell related the attempt to smother both boys, during which the younger escaped, was caught and had his throat slit.12 Rastell wrote that there were several theories about what happened to the bodies, including that they were locked alive inside a chest and buried beneath stairs in a similar story to More’s. Yet his first assertion is that they were placed into a chest, sailed along the Thames and thrown overboard on the way to Flanders.13 The variance in the story is narrowing, but more than a decade after More’s version was compiled, it is clear that other narratives still had currency. Rastell’s input is of particular interest because he was Sir Thomas More’s brother-in-law, married to Elizabeth More. Both Thomas and John were lawyers in London too, so it seems striking that more than ten years after More’s account, based on certain knowledge, testimony of witnesses and a signed confession which was ‘well known’, Rastell still presented alternative stories from his brother-in-law; similar, but not identical, still uncertain, and apparently unaware of the confessions.

Conviction that More presented a factually accurate account of events is demonstrably incorrect. The very first sentence of his The History of King Richard the Third is erroneous, not as a matter of interpretation or opinion, but of fact. ‘King Edward, of that name the fourth, after he had lived fifty and three years, seven months, and six days, and thereof reigned two and twenty years, one month, and eight days, died at Westminster’.14Edward IV was born on 28 April 1442 and died on 9 April 1483. He was therefore forty years old, a few weeks short of his forty-first birthday, not fifty-three. More therefore begins with an error, compounded by the precision he claims, down to the number of days. If the counter to this observation is that More surely meant to go back and check his data, then why be so precise, and why never correct something relatively easy to confirm, and why assert hids other claims are unquestionably true? Part of the reliance on More is anecdotally based on assertions that as a lawyer and a devout man, he would do his research properly and would not present lies, yet he does just this with his first sentence. He goes on to describe Edward V as ‘thirteen years of age’ when he was in fact twelve years, five months old, and his brother Richard as ‘two years younger’ when the Duke of York was nine years and seven months old at the time of their father’s death, three years younger.15

King Edward IV
King Edward IV

It is worth considering what More hoped to achieve by writing his History, and whether it ought to be considered a work of history as it might be presented today. I believe More’s work should be read as rhetoric and allegory rather than a factual work of history. More’s other famous work, Utopia, describes a perfect society. The full title of the work, published in 1516, at the same time More was gathering his story of Richard III together, translates as ‘A little, true book, not less beneficial than enjoyable, about how things should be in a state and about the new island Utopia’. A true book about a fiction island? More’s ideal pardise has many striking features; slavery (each household has two slaves) raises the question of whether the perfect society is perfect for everyone. There is no private property, euthanasia is legal, priests are permitted to marry, and a number of religions exist tolerant of each other. These are all societal structures held up as a model of perfection, but which More himself fundamentally disagreed with.

The errors that open his History are perhaps the clearest signpost that what follows is not an accurate relation of history. It may, or may not, be pertinent that King Henry VII (28 January 1457 – 21 April 1509) was fifty-two at his death, much closer to More’s description of Edward IV’s age. The two innocents destroyed for the new regime that wished to establish itself on the death of the old king might be intended to represent Sir Edmund Dudley and Sir Richard Empson, executed on 17 August 1510. Though they were not innocents in the sense that young children were considered to be, nevertheless they were arrested on Henry VIII’s accession and subsequently executed for no crime but doing as Henry VII had instructed them. It was a cynical and brutal bid for popularity. If read through this lens of contemporary political commentary, Richard III is used a vehicle to safely deliver an otherwise dangerous message; that tyrants who begin their reigns with unjustifiable murders risk losing the kingdom, the crown, and their lives.

The development of the manuscript through the 1510’s could have been a reaction to this unnerving early sign of reckless tyranny by the young Henry VIII. The work could then have been abandoned as More moved into royal service and either hoped to affect and influence the king and his policy in person, or felt the device too dangerous.  The risks were something Sir Thomas would have been acutely aware of, if his son-in-law William Roper is to be believed. Roper related that Thomas More had, in parliament in 1504, made an eloquent and impassioned speech against Henry VII’s taxation that had affected the king’s income and led to the arrest of his father Sir John More on trumped-up charges as a warning to the young lawyer, who was protected by parliamentary privilege.16 Whatever the truth, More did put his manuscript down and never completed or published it, both tasks later undertaken by his nephew William Rastell, son of More’s sister Elizabeth and brother-in-law John.

John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury
John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury

As a lawyer, More’s Richard III may have been little more than a legal exercise that was never meant for public consumption. Utopia was an example of arguing for a set of beliefs and standards that More fundamentally disagreed with. Can a case be constructed with minimal evidence and all of it circumstantial and hearsay testimony? Was he testing his own belief in Richard III’s character and guilt based on the stories related by his former patron Archbishop Morton? Was the manuscript Morton’s work, revisited by a former pupil, but abandoned for lack of evidence and the obvious errors included? Thomas More spent time as a teenager in the household of John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor after the accession of Henry Tudor. Morton was an inveterate and irreconcilable enemy to Richard III for reasons that remain unclear, and was arguably the greatest beneficiary of the Tudor victory at Bosworth besides the new king. This raises the possibility that More’s understanding of Richard III’s story was heavily influenced by Morton, who told the tale both to explain away his own part in treason and to indoctrinate young men into a new regime, strengthening its foundations, to protect his new prominence. Professor Thornton suggests that Morton’s personal testimony could have informed More’s reference to strawberries at the 13 June 1483 council meeting,17 but this would require the addressing of More’s additional reference to Richard’s withered arm, displayed at the meeting, which his skeletal remains have proven not to have existed.18 In addition, More repeats the claim that Lord Stanley was not only at this infamous meeting, but was injured and arrested.19 No contemporary source places Lord Stanley at the Tower that day, and the suspicion of his involvement in treason and arrest on 13 June makes little sense in light of his position carrying the Constable’s mace at Richard III’s coronation on 6 July.20

More potentially explored the use of a legal charge of notoriety to establish guilt in a crime. He may have been aware that a significant element of Titulus Regius, the act of parliament in 1484 that set out Richard III’s title to the crown, rested on a charge of notoriety to place a burden of proof on the accused.21 In Titulus Regius, the burden of proof was placed on the children of Edward IV to prove their legitimacy because of the notoriety attributed to the claim that Edward IV had married their mother bigamously. Titulus Regius purported to be a replication of the petition placed before Richard III in June 1483 asking him to take the throne. At the time, the children of Edward IV were not in a position to defend their legitimacy, so the charge of notoriety was a mechanism to avoid the scrutiny of an ecclesiastical court, to the jurisdiction of which a charge of legitimacy should usually have been referred. By 1484, More contended that the Princes were dead, so unable to counter the charge of notoriety. In More’s story, ‘Very truth is it and well known’ serves the same purpose. It introduces notoriety, placing the burden of proof on the accused who, in Richard III, is certainly dead and unable to refute the charge. Did the lawyer in More wonder whether this was enough to prove the case? He may be disturbed to find that 500 years after he wrote it, his unpublished work is used widely as proof of Richard III’s guilt and the detailed manner of the murders, as well as to convict Sir James Tyrell, John Dighton, and Miles Forrest of involvement.

Professor Thornton’s discovery of a connection between Sir Thomas More and two men who may well have been the sons of Miles Forrest is a fascinating addition to the thin but important bank of information on the events of 1483. No evidence appears to survive as to the nature of their relationship, so More’s use of the man likely to have been their father may be the result of rivalry or animosity as easily as a voluntary confession. It also does little to add weight to the claim that More’s work is accurate and to be believed. There remain too many unaddressed inaccuracies and problems, the above being by no means an exhaustive survey thereof. Contemporaries provided different versions of the event More described as well-known. His brother-in-law published an account more than a decade after Sir Thomas laid down his manuscript that was similar enough to suggest they had discussed it, but different enough to highlight the uncertainty still alive in 1529. The fixation on More, the desperation to prove his version of events authentic and truthful, and to attribute the murders of the Princes in the Tower to their uncle King Richard III consistently refuses to allow sufficient attention to other potential suspects, but ignores the much bigger question that the available evidence begs. What if there was no murder of the Princes in the Tower in 1483 at all? The narrow debate continues to detract from some of its most fascinating elements.

The Survival of the Princes in the Tower
The Survival of the Princes in the Tower explores the theories the sons of Edward IV were not murdered in 1483.

Footnotes

  1. Richard III The Great Debate, ed. P. Kendall, The Folio Society, 1965, p86
  2. The Usurpation of Richard III, Dominic Mancini, trans C.A.J. Armstrong, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1989, p57
  3. The Usurpation of Richard III, Dominic Mancini, trans C.A.J. Armstrong, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1989, p95
  4. The Usurpation of Richard III, Dominic Mancini, trans C.A.J. Armstrong, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1989, p97
  5. Rotuli Parliamentorum, Vol VI, pp193-5
  6. The Usurpation of Richard III, Dominic Mancini, trans C.A.J. Armstrong, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1989, p97
  7. Ingulph’s Chronicle of the Abbey of Croyland, trans H.T. Riley, London 1908, p489
  8. Richard III The Great Debate, ed. P. Kendall, The Folio Society, 1965, pp84-5
  9. The Usurpation of Richard III, Dominic Mancini, trans C.A.J. Armstrong, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1989, p97
  10. Rotuli Parliamentorum, Vol VI, p241; Ingulph’s Chronicle of the Abbey of Croyland, trans H.T. Riley, London 1908, p489
  11. Richard III The Great Debate, ed. P. Kendall, The Folio Society, 1965, p106
  12. The Pastyme of the People, J. Rastell, 1529, p139
  13. The Pastyme of the People, J. Rastell, 1529, p140
  14. Richard III The Great Debate, ed. P. Kendall, The Folio Society, 1965, p31
  15. Richard III The Great Debate, ed. P. Kendall, The Folio Society, 1965, p31
  16. The Lyfe of Sir Thomas Moore, Knighte, William Roper, ed. E.V. Hitchcock, London, 1935, pp7-8
  17. More on a Murder, Professor T. Thornton, The Historical Association, 2020, p20
  18. Richard III The Great Debate, ed. P. Kendall, The Folio Society, 1965, p70
  19. Richard III The Great Debate, ed. P. Kendall, The Folio Society, 1965, p71
  20. Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me, M. Lewis, Amberley Publishing, 2018, pp272-5
  21. Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me, M. Lewis, Amberley Publishing, 2018, p295

Richard III Movie News

I hope this will help to put some minds at ease.

Steve Coogan

There has been an explosion of interest in the announcement made by Steve Coogan last week that he is due to start filming a movie about Philippa Langley’s search for Richard III. I’ve seen a lot of slightly nervous noise on social media about the film. The main concerns seem to be that it will be a comedy, and that it will make fun of the dig, of those involved, and of Richard III.

We need Corporal Jones. Because there is absolutely no need to panic, Mr Mainwaring, or anyone else.

Philippa has confirmed that she’s closely involved with the film.

The second thing to note is that it will not be a comedy. Steve Coogan is co-writing the script with Jeff Pope, a pairing that first delivered the BAFTA award-winning and four-time Oscar nominated Philomena in 2013. Steve Coogan will play Philippa’s husband in the movie – no news yet on who might be playing Philippa though. Jeff Pope is a multi-award-winning writer and the Head of Factual Drama at ITV Studios. This will be a drama, a human story, and not a comedy. Oscar-winning director Stephen Frears, who directed Philomena, The Queen and A Very English Scandal, is also rumoured to be attached to the project.

Jeff Pope

Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope made a low-key visit to the Richard III Visitor Centre in Leicester as long ago as 2017 as part of their research work on the project.

With filming due to begin next year, more details will hopefully be forthcoming soon. In the meantime, it’s exciting to look forward to a serious film that will explore the drama of a search against all the odds for the remains of one of history’s most famous kings. And it’ll be weird to see some friends portrayed in the film!

One Final Charge – Please Sign the Petition

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Survival of the Princes in the Tower Extract

The Survival of the Princes in the Tower

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

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!

Margaret Beaufort and the Princes in the Tower

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

images8I4PTKSX

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

Meme 01

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

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

Lady Margaret Beaufort
Lady Margaret Beaufort

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

Thomas, Lord Stanley
Thomas, Lord Stanley

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

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

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

The Princes in the Tower
The Princes in the Tower

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

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