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

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.

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?

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

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.

Usurpation, Murder and More

Richard III

I read a series of blog posts recently that sought to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Richard III ordered the deaths of his nephews. Whilst I don’t take issue with holding and arguing this viewpoint I found some of the uses of source material dubious, a few of the accusations questionable and some of the conclusions a stretch. There are several issues with the narrow selection of available sources that continually bug me. It is no secret that any conclusive evidence one way or another is utterly absent but I have issues with the ways the materials are frequently used.

There are four main sources that are often used, two contemporary and therefore primary sources and two near-contemporary which are habitually treated as primary. The farthest away in time from the events that it describes is also the one traditionally treated as the most complete and accurate account, which in itself should urge caution. Sir Thomas More is believed to have started writing his History of King Richard III around 1513 when he was an Undersheriff of London and the first thing to note is that he never actually published the work. It was completed and released in 1557 by More’s son-in-law William Rastell. It is unclear what parts of the History Rastell finished off but More’s account became the accepted version of the murder of the Princes in the Tower for centuries, heavily informing Shakespeare’s play on the monarch. More was just five years old during the summer of 1483 but may well have had access to people still alive who were better placed to know what had happened – or at least, crucially, what was rumoured to have happened, for much of the work reports rumour and opinion rather than fact and is quite open about that.

The next thing that screams out from the opening lines of More’s work is an error, unabashed and uncorrected. We are informed in the very first sentence that ‘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 the ninth day of April’. Edward IV actually died nineteen days shorts of his forty-first birthday. This glaring error is frequently excused by the suggestion that More must have meant to fact check his work later but this proposition is usually made by the same readers who insist that More was a fastidious, trustworthy man who would not have lied nor scrimped on ensuring the veracity of what he wrote. These two arguments appear to me to be mutually exclusive. This is the first sentence of More’s work. Would he really have guessed, giving such a precise figure that he didn’t know was correct, as the first words of his work? Edward was king for twenty-two years, one month and five days (ignoring his brief sojourn in Burgundy), so More shows us that he can get these things right if he wants to (albeit still 3 days out). Why not insert a placeholder of ‘about fifty-three years’ or a gap to be filled in when the correct number could be found? The number of years is wrong, the number of months is wrong and the number of days is wrong. How could this have happened?

Sir Thomas More
Sir Thomas More
In a previous post I have investigated the idea that Shakespeare’s Richard III was never meant to be viewed literally and could have possessed a very different meaning to a contemporary audience. What if More was, in fact, signposting his work as factually inaccurate at its very opening? His other famous work, Utopia, deals with notions of political and sociological ideals. The Utopian society has many aspects More must have been at odds with – euthanasia, divorce, married clergy – yet he intended it to be the perfect society. His commentary suggests that a perfect society cannot exist while private property is held by citizens, but also that true communism is not achievable in the real world, his conclusion appearing to be that a perfect society is unattainable. Utopia was published in 1516, around the time More was also writing the History of King Richard III.

What if More’s work on Richard III was also intended to be allegory? Perhaps it was too unsubtle or proved unsatisfactory and was replaced by Utopia, or maybe they were meant to be read side by side. Like Shakespeare, was More using Richard III, a figure from the near past who could be vilified in any way that suited the writer because he had no connection to the throne any longer. Henry VIII had Yorkist blood from Edward IV but not Richard III, so he was fair game and so close in time that his story could be an almost tangible warning against tyranny and the murder of innocents. It is frequently overlooked that Henry VIII’s tyranny began at the very outset of his reign, not after a couple of decades. One of his first acts on succeeding his father was to arrest Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley, two of his father’s closest advisors and most effective revenue generators. This had made them deeply detested and Henry grasped an opportunity to make a popular statement as soon as he became king. A tyrant will bypass justice for two main reasons; security and popularity, and Henry VIII executed these men ostensibly for doing as his father had instructed them, even though they had not broken any law, whilst still in his teens simply for the popularity it would bring him. What, then, if More began his History of King Richard III as a renaissance tract on the dangers of tyranny and the murder of innocents? Was he warning Henry VIII that killing men without the due process of law could only end badly? His failure to publish it might be explained by his promotion to the Privy Council in 1514. More was never afraid to criticise the Tudor establishment, opposing Henry VII in Parliament, and perhaps he felt he could now get close enough to deliver the message of his book in a more direct way.

On the death of Henry VI, More wrote of Richard III that ‘He slew with his own hands King Henry the Sixth, being prisoner in the Tower, as men constantly say, and that without commandment or knowledge of the King, who would, undoubtedly, if he had intended such a thing, have appointed that butcherly office to some other than his own born brother.’ Still More only reports rumour – ‘as men constantly say’ – and the claim that Edward IV was unaware that Henry VI was to be killed is ludicrous. It remains possible that Richard, as Constable of England, arranged the death and perhaps even that he carried it out himself, but Edward must have given the order. If he hadn’t, where was the punishment or censure for unauthorised regicide? Richard was the natural choice. Who but a brother of the king might be permitted to perform the deed? A commoner could not be allowed to kill a king, for he might chose to do it again and the majesty of the position would be dangerously undermined. Richard was not only Edward’s brother he was a man the king trusted implicitly. Is this another signpost that More was not writing the whole truth but something that needed to be looked at a little closer?

Returning to 1483, More wrote of the sermon on the illegitimacy of the Princes that ‘the chief thing, and the most weighty of all that invention, rested in this: they should allege bastardy, either in King Edward himself, or in his children, or both, so that he should seem unable to inherit the crown by the Duke of York, and the Prince by him. To lay bastardy in King Edward sounded openly to the rebuke of the Protector’s own mother, who was mother to them both; for in that point could be none other color, but to pretend that his own mother was one adulteress, which, not withstanding, to further his purpose he omitted not; but nevertheless, he would the point should be less and more favorably handled, not even fully plain and directly, but that the matter should be touched upon, craftily, as though men spared, in that point, to speak all the truth for fear of his displeasure. But the other point, concerning the bastardy that they devised to surmise in King Edward’s children, that would he be openly declared and enforced to the uttermost.’ More claims, then, that there was some subtle suggestion that Edward IV was a bastard but, to avoid offending his mother, Richard did not make this too plain nor did he rely upon it. The charge that the princes were illegitimate was the crux of his plan. More makes another error by naming the subject of the pre-contract as Dame Elizabeth Lucy rather than Lady Eleanor Butler. Another blatant error in an account we are supposed to rely upon completely by a man above reproach?

On the murder of the princes, More details Sir James Tyrell’s part in the deed on behalf of a king terrified for his own security (a man who becomes more and more like Henry VIII himself). This has long been the accepted and authoritative account, used to prove Richard’s guilt and that the human remains resting in Westminster Abbey are those of the Princes in the Tower, discovered precisely where More said they would be. Of course, that completely ignores what More actually said, which was ‘ he allowed not, as I have heard, the burying in so vile a corner, saying that he would have them buried in a better place because they were a king’s sons. Lo, the honourable nature of a king! Whereupon they say that a priest of Sir Robert Brakenbury took up the bodies again and secretly buried them in a place that only he knew and that, by the occasion of his death, could never since come to light.’ More categorically states that the bodies were not left beneath a staircase in the Tower of London. If he had this wrong, then how are we to rely on his other evidence (if we were ever meant to)?

Sir Thomas provides further detail to back up his story of the murder, claiming ‘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 in manner above written, but to where the bodies were removed, they could nothing tell.’ I was once told that anyone who begins a sentence with ‘To be honest’ is probably lying. There is no record other than More’s claim that Tyrell was ever even questioned about the murder of the boys, let alone that he confessed. The holes in the story are compounded when More writes of the killers ‘Miles Forest at Saint Martin’s piecemeal rotted away; Dighton, indeed, walks on alive in good possibility to be hanged before he die; but Sir James Tyrell died at Tower Hill, beheaded for treason’. Wait – Dighton walks the streets? The Dighton who confessed to murdering two young boys, two princes, with Sir James Tyrell? So, after his confession he was sent on his way? Surely that is beyond ridiculous. Perhaps it is more likely that this is some political comment on the state permitting killers to roam free. A story recently emerged suggesting that Elizabeth of York and Henry VII’s attendance at Tyrell’s trial at the Tower of London prove a connection with the princes. Henry and Elizabeth were at the Tower at the time of the trial. Why else but to find out the fate of her brothers? For this to stack up we would need to ignore the fact the Tyrell was tried at the Guildhall.

It is frequently claimed that More had inside knowledge as well as access to those alive during 1483. Thomas was, for a time, a member of the household of Cardinal John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury and nemesis of Richard III. It has been suggested that More’s manuscript was actually the work of Morton or at least that Morton gave More vital information. To accept this is to believe that Morton deliberately withheld crucial information from Henry VII whilst allowing him to suffer constant threats from Warbeck and other pretenders. Not that I think Morton above such a manoeuvre.

The second near-contemporary source was written by Polydore Virgil. Its veracity is questionable because Virgil was commissioned by Henry VII to write it, but it is often given plenty of weight. His story differs from More’s in relation to the sermon delivered by Dr Ralph Shaa, of which Virgil wrote ‘Ralph Shaa, a learned man, taking occasion of set purpose to treat not of the divine but tragical discourse, began to instruct the people, by many reasons, how that the late king Edward was not begotten by Richard duke of York’, claiming only that the charge was of Edward IV’s illegitimacy and making no mention of the pre-contract. Why might he have claimed his patron’s father-in-law was a bastard? Probably because it was not a charge that was taken seriously, but the illegitimacy of the princes led to their removal from the line of succession and would have tainted Henry VII’s wife Elizabeth and their children too.

Polydore Virgil
Polydore Virgil
On the murder of the princes, Virgil claimed to know that Richard ‘took his journey to York, and first he went straight to Gloucester, where the while he tarried the heinous guilt of wicked conscience did so fright him every moment as that he lived in continual fear, for the expelling whereof by any kind of mean he determined by death to dispatch his nephews, because so long as they lived he could not be out of hazard; wherefore he sent warrant to Robert Brackenbury’. The story is similar to More’s account in that Brackenbury refuses to see it done. ‘Richard understood the lieutenant to make delay of that which he had commanded, he anon committed the charge of hastening that slaughter unto another, that is to say James Tyrell, who, being forced to do the king’s commandment, rode sorrowfully to London, and, to the worst example that hath been almost ever heard of, murdered those babes of the issue royal. This end had Prince Edward and Richard his brother; but with what kind of death these sely children were executed it is not certainly known’. Unlike More, Virgil could not uncover the method of the princes’ death and Tyrell is a sorrowful, unwilling killer. Writing earlier than More and with access to those who lived through 1483, Virgil could not obtain the detail More claims to provide. His patron also had a deeply vested interest in making sure everyone believed that the boys were truly dead.

The two contemporary sources are, in many ways, equally problematical. Dominic Mancini was an Italian visitor to London during the spring and early summer of 1483 and his evidence is usually considered of particular value because he was a foreign eye witness with no axe to grind on either side. This easy reliance ignores key aspects of Mancini’s work, not least its title. Usually given as ‘The Usurpation of Richard III’, the full Latin title is actually ‘Dominici Mancini, de Occupatione Regni Anglie per Riccardum Tercium, ad Angelum Catonem Presulem Viennensium, Libellus Incipit’. Two things are significant here. ‘De Occupatione’ does not translate as The Usurpation but as The Occupation – The Occupation of the Throne of England by Richard the Third. Latin has words for usurpation, but none are used here and the title becomes a whole lot less sinister when the word Occupation is used.

The second significant item within the title is the identity of Mancini’s patron. Angelo Cato was Archbishop of Vienne and it was for him that Mancini’s report was penned. This is significant because Cato was a member of the French court, serving as personal physician to Louis XI for a time. This connection is crucial because Richard was a figure known to the French court and of interest to the cunning and wily Louis, who must have marked Richard as a man to watch after Edward IV’s campaign to invade France. Richard had disagreed with his brother’s decision to make peace and refused to attend the signing of the peace treaty. Louis had managed to secure a private meeting with Richard later, probably to size him up. Mancini was writing for a man close to Louis who would have had an image of Richard coloured by that relationship and this must impact both Mancini’s account and the reliance that we can place upon it. Mancini makes several errors that betray a lack of understanding of English society, politics and culture that lessen his reliability but the identity of his patron cannot be ignored too.

Louis XI
King Louis XI
Mancini recorded the sermon given by Ralph Shaa by noting that Richard ‘so corrupted preachers of the divine word, that in their sermons to the people they did not blush to say, in the face of decency and all religion, 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, said they, was conceived in adultery and in every way was unlike the late duke of York’. Like More, and unlike Virgil, Mancini records the dual accusation that Edward IV was a bastard and that his children were illegitimate too. It is highly significant that the stories of Edward IV’s illegitimacy are believed to have originated in France, at the court of Louis XI, where it was a standing joke. Mancini may have been aware of the story and included it for Cato’s benefit, or even, since Mancini tells us he is writing his memories later at Cato’s request, been fed the story by Cato to include. Having left England before events moved on, Mancini offers no evidence regarding the fate of Richard’s nephews.

Our other contemporary source is the redoubtable Croyland Chronicle. Although the author is anonymous he is understood to be very close to the Yorkist government and has been tentatively identified as Bishop John Russell, Richard III’s Chancellor. A trusted member of Edward IV’s government it is believed that Russell accepted the position of Chancellor only reluctantly after Bishop Rotherham was dismissed. Russell remained Chancellor until Richard III dismissed him in July 1485, shortly before Bosworth. The Croyland Chronicle continuation with which he is credited is believed to have been written shortly after Bosworth at the outset of Henry VIIs reign. Certainly the Croyland Chronicle is not favourable to Richard, criticising the vices of his court, particularly at Christmas, though this was the conventionally pious opinion of the Church.

On the subject of the sermon by Ralph Shaa, Croyland recorded that ‘It was set forth, by way of prayer, in an address in a certain roll of parchment, that the sons of king Edward were bastards, on the ground that he had contracted a marriage with one lady Eleanor Boteler, before his marriage to queen Elizabeth; and to which, the blood of his other brother, George, duke of Clarence, had been attainted; so that, at the present time, no certain and uncorrupted lineal blood could be found of Richard duke of York, except in the person of the said Richard, duke of Gloucester’. The coldly factual account makes no mention of an accusation laid against Edward IV, though this might be because Russell (if he was the author) would not give credence to such a claim against his former master. However, if that were the case, why record the allegation regarding his marriage and his sons? Why one and not the other when surely, if both were made, both or neither would have been recorded? Croyland’s evidence, when weighed with the other accounts available, would lead me to conclude that Ralph Shaa preached on the existence of a pre-contract and the illegitimacy of the princes but made no mention of Edward IV’s illegitimacy.

On the fate of the princes, Croyland offers the story that in late summer ‘public proclamation was made, that Henry, duke of Buckingham, who at this time was living at Brecknock in Wales, had repented of his former conduct, and would be the chief mover in this attempt, while a rumour was spread that the sons of king Edward before-named had died a violent death, but it was uncertain how’. Croyland seems to be explaining that a rumour that the boys were dead was deliberately created and spread as part of Buckingham’s Rebellion (which was, in fact, Henry Tudor’s Rebellion as discussed in a previous post). Nowhere does he, well-informed as he undoubtedly was, possibly at the very centre of Richard’s government, state that they were dead or that Richard ordered them killed. Writing under Henry Tudor, he would have nothing to fear from the accusation and everything to gain from a new king keen to know the fates of potential rivals. Why would such a well-informed man never once state that they were murdered? Perhaps because he knew a secret his new king would not like, that would only increase his insecurity. There is another source, uncovered amongst the College of Arms’ collection in the 1980’s that refers to a story that princes were murdered “be [by] the vise” of the Duke of Buckingham. Though there is discussion as to whether ‘vise’ should mean advice or device, there is nevertheless more evidence to relate Buckingham and his revolt to the death of the boys. Perhaps this ties in with Croyland’s tale but the rumour became confused, or perhaps it is the truth.

A Chronicle naming the Duke of Buckingham
A Chronicle naming the Duke of Buckingham
The conclusion of this brief tour of the sources available is that they offer no conclusive evidence. I doubt that Sir Thomas More meant to tell a factual history of King Richard III, but signposted the fact that he was writing in allegory and offering a moral tale. Virgil had his own agenda and his evidence contradicts that of a contemporary eye witness regarding Shaa’s sermon whilst he confesses to having no real knowledge of the fate of the princes beyond being certain that King Richard had them killed. Mancini’s evidence is brought into question when his patron and audience is considered. The allegation regarding Edward IV’s illegitimacy included by Virgil and More may have originated from Mancini’s account, created for a man at the centre of the origin of that story. Croyland, no fan of Richard’s, states that the pre-contract was the sole subject of the sermon and that the death of the princes was a deliberately concocted rumour to garner support for a rebellion. His evidence is dispassionate and devoid of agenda, making it the most reliable available to us.

Based upon what Croyland says, the pre-contract story was the reason the princes were declared illegitimate, was the only story given and must have been in circulation and widely believed enough to cause men of power to petition Richard III to take the throne. His silence on the matter of the fate of the princes is also frustrating but revealing. He claims that there was only ever a rumour of their deaths as part of a planned rebellion, never actually stating that they were dead, let alone that Richard ordered their murder.

Our only other guidance is the actions of those living through the spring and summer of 1483 in London. For example, Elizabeth Woodville’s eventual emergence from sanctuary in 1484 has always been problematical. If she knew that Richard had murdered her sons by Edward IV, why hand over her daughters like lambs to the slaughter? Richard promised to take care of them, but what does the word of a child murderer mean to their mother? The fact that Richard had, in fact, ordered the killing of one of Elizabeth Woodville’s sons is often cited and the question asked as to whether she would have valued a royal son more highly than a non-royal son, but this question is frequently asked by the same people who believe that Elizabeth Woodville emerged because she was so utterly ruthless that even knowing Richard had now killed three of her sons she could not bear to stay in sanctuary indefinitely even to keep her daughters safe. The executions of Richard Grey, along with Anthony her brother, were very different matters. They were not, as I have seen stated, illegal, since Richard was still Constable of England and within the law to order their executions. They were found guilty of treason and their deaths far more legal than those of Elizabeth’s father and another brother at Warwick’s hands. Richard had used the law to publically kill Richard Grey. If he had killed the princes it would have been utterly illegal and illicit. Elizabeth might have been able to stomach the loss on the former basis that had characterised her life, but surely not the second. She might feel comfortable giving herself and her daughters over to a man who would kill if the law allowed or required it, but surely not to a cold killer of children in secret. Her actions make far more sense if she had some concrete evidence that her sons by Edward IV had not been harmed in secret and outside the law. Only then could she be sure her daughters were in no danger. Girls were no threat, some say. That is to ignore the fact the Henry Tudor had sworn to use one of them to take Richard’s throne from him. They were every bit as much of a threat as their brothers.

Then there is the fact that Richard did not, by any measure, usurp the throne of England. He was petitioned to take it by a delegation nominally representing Parliament (though it is important to note that Parliament itself was not in session at the time). If these men had seen evidence of the pre-contract then they accepted it and asked Richard to be king because he was the only rightful candidate. I don’t buy the idea that they cowered in fear from an armed force that was on its way. Powerful men in the country and the City were never so easily cowed.

There is one more reason that Thomas More might have written such a condemnation of Richard III. What if it was a smokescreen, as suggested by Jack Leslau and detailed in a previous post?

Matthew Lewis’s 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 on Facebook.

Why Is It Called Buckingham’s Rebellion?

The first serious threat to Richard III’s kingship came in mid October 1483, just four months after his coronation. It is hard now to properly judge the popular reaction to the new king and his seizure of power, but the fact that such a real threat came so swiftly points to some disaffection even during the honeymoon period. As Richard was progressing around his new kingdom refusing gifts of money and contenting “the people wher he goys best that ever did prince”, as Thomas Langton, Bishop of St David’s enthused, others were clearly less upbeat about the new king.

When rebellion came, it was famously to involve Richard’s closest and most powerful ally of the last few months, Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. The Duke was to give his name to the uprising, but was this simply an early sleight of hand trick by … well, more on that anon.

Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham
Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham

Although Buckingham’s Rebellion would fail it is important to understand just how large and well organised a threat it really was and how fortunate Richard was when it finally broke. It is the nature of regimes, especially new ones seeking to put down roots, that rebellion should be understated, but we should not let that blind us to the size and complexity of what was planned.

The rebellion was to take place on 18th October, St Luke’s Day. It is likely people took less notice of the calendar date than feast days in mediaeval times and it is telling that huge royal events always coincided with feast days. So word would have spread that the Feast of St Luke was the day. Kent was set to rise and attack London from the south east, drawing Richard’s attention that way as men of the West Country, Wiltshire and Berkshire, swelled by Buckingham’s Welsh army crossing the Severn and Henry Tudor’s force of Breton mercenaries landing, probably, in Devon moved in from the west. With Richard’s attention on Kent, they would fall on him, catching him unawares, and bring down the might of their combined dissatisfaction upon him.

But how had Richard come to this so swiftly? In June his coronation had been a triumph. He had been well received all around the country, particularly in the north. Perhaps this is precisely where the problem began. Richard was something of an unknown quantity in London, and after the troubles that seemed barely behind them, few can have looked favourably on more uncertain times and more regime change, especially when this new arrival descended from the north and openly favoured the region. There will come a question of self-fulfilling prophecy to add to the cauldron of confusion.

The mystery of Buckingham’s turning of his coat is as fascinating as it is impossible to solve. He may have fallen out with Richard over the fate of Edward IV’s sons, though even this possibility is sub divided, since Buckingham may have been appalled by a plan outlined by Richard to do away with the boys, or Buckingham may have vehemently argued that it must be done only to be denied by Richard. Perhaps Buckingham saw some revenge against the Woodville clan he had been forced to marry into by killing two of its matriarch’s sons. The sources offer as much weight to a prevailing view that Buckingham had killed the boys as Richard had, and Buckingham had lingered in London for several days after Richard left on his progression. Simply, we have no answer to this, only possibilities that warrant examination.

We do know that Buckingham had long coveted the return of the vast Bohun inheritance, withheld from him by Edward IV. Richard was in the process of restoring this to Buckingham, awaiting only Parliamentary approval, but perhaps this was too slow for Buckingham’s liking and fed a niggling doubt that he would ever get it back.

There are two figures who probably do feature prominently in Buckingham’s defection, and possibly play a role that burrows much deeper into the foundations of Richard III’s rule. This inseparable and unstoppable duo are John Morton, Bishop of Ely and Margaret Stanley (nee Beaufort). I know that much is made of Margaret Beaufort’s involvement or lack thereof in, for example, the fate of the sons of Edward IV, but it remains too little examined for me. I have no doubt that many will take objection to what I offer, but I do not present it as fact, merely as a possible interpretation of what happened. I disagree with the view that Margaret Beaufort could not possibly have been involved in anything that went on as much as I do with the view that she definitely killed the boys.

Lady Margaret Beaufort
Lady Margaret Beaufort

The Tudor antiquary Edward Hall wrote some 60 years later that Margaret Beaufort had chanced to meet Buckingham on the road near Bridgnorth as she travelled to Worcester and he returned to his lands in Wales. She supposedly pleaded with Buckingham to intercede with Richard on her behalf, to use his influence to secure the safe return of her son and his marriage to a daughter of Edward IV, an arrangement that had been close to fruition when Edward suddenly died. There is little of rebellion herein, except that, if this discussion ever took place, Margaret was making it clear to Buckingham that Richard was not one who seemed willing to deliver what had been hoped for under Edward, sowing seeds of doubt that Richard would deliver anything. Of little consequence to Buckingham, perhaps, but he was still hoping for those Bohun lands.

If a seed was sown, it was keenly tended by Bishop Morton when Buckingham reached Brecon Castle. The Bishop had been released from the Tower following the events surrounding Hastings’ execution into Buckingham’s care under a gentle form of house arrest. Morton was mentor to a young Sir Thomas More and it seems likely that More’s version of Richard stems from Morton, a man who seems to have hated Richard with a passion. An ardent Lancastrian, Morton had been reconciled to Edward IV’s rule after Tewkesbury and the death of the line of Lancaster. Buckingham’s family had been staunch Lancastrians too, his grandfather dying at the Battle of Northampton fighting to protect Henry VI. Morton apparently tugged at latent Lancastrian sympathy, perhaps even giving Buckingham hope of the throne for himself. The seed was fertilised and shooting. The Bishop must have been pleased with his work.

John Morton, Bishop of Ely
John Morton, Bishop of Ely

This is where many will disagree with my suggestion, but I think it is possible that more cultivating was going on in London at the same time. Margaret Beaufort wanted her son back. She seems to have decided that he would return best by seizing upon the discontent that bubbled around Richard to make himself king. I don’t subscribe to the view that she spent his entire life plotting to make him king, only that she desperately wanted him back and saw an opportunity to good to miss. An all or nothing gamble. But if she was going to gamble her precious only son, she would need to swing the odds as far in his favour as possible.

It is known that Margaret opened a channel of communication to Elizabeth Woodville in her sanctuary in Westminster Abbey. Unable to risk personal visits, Margaret’s physician, Dr Lewis Caerleon acted as a go between, serving Elizabeth as her physician too. By this medium a pact was reached. Elizabeth Woodville would call out her family’s support and, far more importantly, her late husband’s loyal followers, in support of Henry Tudor’s bid for the throne in return for an assurance that Henry would marry her daughter Elizabeth, making her queen if he were successful.

This is a momentous moment in 1483. It marks the acceptance by Elizabeth Woodville that her sons’ cause was dead, and probably her acceptance that they were dead too. She must have been certain of this to offer all of the support she could ever muster to another claimant to what she would have viewed as her son’s throne. Surely she would only do this with certain knowledge of their death. How did she come by this knowledge? Since it was not known throughout London and the country what had become of the boys, and still isn’t to this day, she clearly had ‘information’ we do not. Where did this information come from? It seems likely to me that the source was Dr Lewis Caerleon, passing on sad news from Margaret Beaufort. This does not mean I’m accusing Margaret of doing the deed, or of having it done (though I don’t think that’s as impossible as many like to make out). I am suggesting that she saw an opportunity to improve her son’s chances by feeding a story to a desperate, lonely mother in sanctuary, starved of information and desperate for news of her son. What would better turn the former queen and all of the Edwardian Yorkist support against Richard than news of the death of her sons whilst in his care? The suggestion was probably more than enough.

There, I said it! Margaret lied to Elizabeth Woodville about her sons to secure her support.

As the Feast of St Luke approached, the rebellion looked in good shape. It was large and was a very, very real threat. But then it began to fall apart. The rebellion relied too heavily on everything going to plan. When a spanner was thrown into the works, the carefully constructed machine fell apart. That spanner was thrown when some of the rebels in Kent showed their hand too early. They marched on London on 10th October for some unknown reason, eight days too early. John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, Richard’s loyal friend, was in London. He swiftly saw off the rebels, capturing enough of them to get details of the rebellion planned for the following week.

Richard III was at Lincoln when news reached him on 11th October of the false start, and of the rest of the plan. He called a muster at Leicester and set out to crush the rest of the waiting rebels. Orders were sent for bridges over the Severn to be destroyed to prevent Buckingham from leaving Wales and the border region was ordered to resist any attempt by Buckingham to cross it.

On 18th October, the plan swung into action, but the weather now seemed to work in the king’s favour, no doubt a sign of God’s favour in the days when men were keen to see signs wherever possible. A tremendous storm battered England. It rained for ten solid days. The River Severn was swollen and ferocious, bursting its banks at many points. With bridges slighted, Buckingham could find no crossing and his less than keen Welsh levies were happy to desert him in favour of home and hearth.

In the Channel, Henry Tudor’s fleet had been scattered by the same storm. When his ship, possibly alone, at most with one other left for company, finally reached the south coast, he was hailed by a group of soldiers as a victorious conqueror. Buckingham had, they called from the shore, succeeded in full and now keenly awaited Henry’s arrival. Ever astute and suspicious, it is not hard to picture Henry narrowing his eyes in the driving rain just off the coast. If it sounded too good to be true, it probably was. Henry turned his ship about and aimed it back at Brittany. His shrewd caution doubtless saved his life.

Buckingham was forced to flee, taking refuge in the house of one of his men, Ralph Banastre. Before long, the promise of a hefty reward caused Banastre to hand Buckingham over to Sir James Tyrell, who escorted the Duke to Salisbury. Buckingham supposedly begged for an audience with his erstwhile friend the king. Richard resolutely refused to allow the Duke into his presence. The feeling of betrayal was plain when, at news of Buckingham’s part in the rebellion, Richard wrote from Lincoln to John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln, requesting that he send the Great Seal, raging in his own hand against “the malysse of hym that hadde best cawse to be trewe, th’Duc of Bokyngham, the most untrewe creatur lyvyng”, adding that “We assure you ther was never false traytor better purvayde for”. To a man who seems to have seen things in black in white, this betrayal of trust was utterly unforgivable. Though this facet of Richard’s character was to cause him great problems in other ways, it probably served him well in this case. Buckingham was beheaded as a traitor in Salisbury market square on 2nd November.

Plaque marking the spot of Buckingham's execution in Salisbury
Plaque marking the spot of Buckingham’s execution in Salisbury

So, it seemed, Richard had swiftly, decisively and effectively crushed the first uprising against his rule. Buckingham was dead. Tudor had scurried back to Brittany, though evaded capture. It was clear that Morton and Margaret were heavily involved in the plot, and it must have seemed as though God had sent the storms to thwart Richard’s enemies, proving that he was the true king, chosen by God.

How Richard dealt with the aftermath of this rebellion was to be key. And I think that he dealt with it poorly.

Morton escaped, fleeing first to the Fens and then taking a ship to Flanders where he hid from Richard’s vengeance and continued to plot. Margaret Beaufort, though, was cornered. Richard’s response to her part in the scheme to place her son upon his throne is remarkable, particulary for those who view Richard as a merciless, ruthless tyrant. Margaret was, in effect, let off. Her lands were forfeit, but were granted to her husband, Thomas Stanley, the same man Richard had arrested as a traitor in June. She was placed under house arrest in her husband’s care. He was to make sure that she made no contact with her son. I can’t imagine what assurances Stanley offered to make Richard believe that he would do as instructed. It was Richard’s mercy, and perhaps naivety, that sealed his fate. Beheading women would have to wait for the Tudor era.

My suggestion is that from the very outset of Richard’s rule, Margaret Beaufort spied an opportunity. If she could not have her son returned to her by peaceful means, then she would craft for him the opportunity of the grandest possible return to England. Perhaps she fed Elizabeth Woodville lies to make her believe that Richard had killed her sons, whether Margaret was aware of their true fate or not. The revelation of the truth could then be what drew Elizabeth and her daughters from sanctuary to Richard’s court a few months later. Whether that revelation was of her sons’ murder at the hands of another, perhaps Buckingham, or of their survival we cannot know, but this version of events at least helps to make her actions more understandable.

This is to view Buckingham’s rebellion as a thin veil drawn over a Tudor plot. His name given to protect others because his life was lost. The extent of these roots may be larger than we know and stretch right back to the very beginning of Richard’s rule. How much of the disaffection against Richard in the south was stirred up deliberately, planting and cultivating opposition to Richard in order to reap support for Henry? It took two years longer than hoped, but the harvest came in finally.

Opposition to and resentment of Richard’s rule only grew when he reacted to the south’s revolt by planting his loyal northern allies across the south. This is perhaps the self-fulfilling prophecy that I mentioned earlier. If men feared Richard would force his northern friends into their region, they made it a certainty by rebelling. If Margaret had used this fear to ferment opposition, Richard played into her hands by doing precisely what the southern gentry feared most – taking their land, money and power away from them. But what choice was Richard really left with? Already, he was being forced to paint himself into a lonely corner. I just wonder how much of this was some overarching Tudor scheme.

I remain unsure whether the sleight of hand here was the work of Richard, to disguise Tudor’s threat, making Buckingham the prime mover and demonstrating his fate, or that of Margaret Beaufort, Thomas Stanley and Henry Tudor, concealing the threat they still hoped and intended to pose.

Ricardians will lament the missed opportunity to remove Stanley in the Tower in June and Margaret following this uprising in October. Without their driving force, determination and resources, would Tudor ever have reached England again? It is testament either to Richard’s naivety, their cunning, or both that they survived to see him fall at Bosworth two years later.

 

Matthew Lewis is 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.

 

Leslau, Holbein, More and Clement

Before I begin, I have two words of warning. The first is that a huge spoiler for my novels Loyalty and the sequel Honour unavoidably follows. Just so that you know!

Secondly, the following is my telling of the theory researched and expounded by Jack Leslau, an amateur art enthusiast who believed that he stumbled across the answer to the riddle of the Princes in the Tower hidden in Hans Holbein’s stunning portrait of Sir Thomas More’s family. I am not seeking any credit for the facts and ideas below and am relying upon Jack Leslau’s work entirely. Since he passed away, his theory seems to have sat somewhat unattended. I have tried to make contact using the details on the website (that still exists, but is extremely hard to read) to no avail. I am not aware that this work is for sale anywhere and do not intend to breach any copyright. If I do so inadvertently, I am sorry and will remove this as soon as I am made aware of such an infringement.

My reason for writing this is threefold. Firstly, I was fascinated a long time ago by the compelling nature and originality of Jack Leslau’s work. Secondly, in no small part it inspired my novel, Loyalty, for which I owe the late Mr Leslau a debt. Finally, this work is becoming less and less accessible and I find this a great shame.

I do not say that what follows is an indisputable truth. Much of Leslau’s theory can be, and frequently is, contended. Perhaps you will find it interesting, even compelling. In the absence of other evidence, it certainly bears some consideration. Richard III is so frequently condemned on hearsay and supposition, I think this might offer an alternate reading of events worthy of contemplation. I hope that you will join me for this fight of fancy. There is no quick way to impart this detail, I’m afraid, so strap in, and if you are sitting comfortably…..

Sir Thomas More was one of the most influential men in Henry VIII’s England in the 1520’s. A close friend to the king, this lawyer’s star was on the ascendant when artist Hans Holbein arrived in England. Probably in 1527, Holbein was commissioned to execute a group family portrait for Sir Thomas. He made a sketch, which he probably took back to the Continent with him to translate into the final painting. The painting includes Sir Thomas, his son, his daughters, including his adopted daughter, his second wife and his late father. There are also a few other figures who may not attract the eye, but it is upon one of these figures that Jack Leslau built his fascinating theory.

More Family Portrait
More Family Portrait

The figure toward the right at the back marked as ‘Johanes heresius Thomae Mori famul: Anno 27‘ has long been believed to represent John Harris, Sir Thomas More’s long standing secretary. Leslau, however, uncovered several interesting anomalies that he believed pointed to a different occupant for this position, and the unravelling of England’s greatest mystery. Leslau believed that this figure was, in fact, Dr John Clement, the husband of Margaret Giggs, Sir Thomas More’s adopted daughter, and, more controversially, that Dr John Clement was the assumed identity of Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower.

'John' -Is this Richard, Duke of York?
‘John’ – Is this Richard, Duke of York?

Let us begin with what is known of Dr John Clement. His date of birth is uncertain and a matter of debate. He is widely believed to be the ‘puer meus’ of Sir Thomas More’s seminal political tract Utopia. This led many to believe that he had been born around 1500, which would be consistent with the age offered for ‘Johanes heresius’ of 27. It is believed that Clement attended St Paul’s School under the tutelage of William Lily, though Leslau was unable to find evidence of this. Clement is first recorded in More’s household in 1514 and he may have gone with More on his 1515 embassy to Bruges and Antwerp. It was in More’s household that Clement met his future wife, Margaret Giggs, Sir Thomas’s adopted daughter. She was born around 1508 and they married in 1530.

At some time between 1518 and 1519, Clement was appointed as Cardinal Wolsey’s reader of rhetoric at Corpus Christi College, the foundation of Bishop Richard Foxe that was dedicated to humanist study. Clement later became a reader of Greek at Oxford before leaving there during the 1520’s to study medicine in Italy. It is known that Clement travelled via Louvain and Basel, where he met Erasmus, and that he delivered a copy of Utopia to Leonico at Padua in 1524.

By March 1525 he had received his MD from Siena. On his subsequent return to England, Clement aided his successor at Oxford, Lupset, in completing the Aldine edition of Galen and later in 1525 he appears in the royal accounts as a Sewer (Server) of the Chamber in the Royal Household, as he did again in 1526. On 1st February 1527 or 1528, Clement was admitted to the Royal College of Physicians and in 1529 was sent, along with two other physicians, under Dr Butts to treat the ailing Cardinal Wolsey following his fall from grace.

In 1535, Dr Clement was consulted on the treatment of John Fisher’s liver during his imprisonment in the Tower. 1538 saw him granted a semi-annual income of £10.00 from the royal household, though this appears to have been cancelled in 1539. In 1544, Clement was made President of the College of Physicians and Leslau discovered, and confirmed, that Clement is unique amongst the long history of Presidents of the College of Physicians in that no copy of his signature exists in the possession of the College, nor any record of his origin or background. Every single other President has a preserved copy of their signature. This may, of course, be coincidence, but it set Jack Leslau along an interesting road.

There is more of Clement’s story to come, but perhaps we should return our attention now to the painting and some of the anomalies that Leslau uncovered, along with the meaning that he attributed to them.

 

More Family Portrait
More Family Portrait

Jack Leslau became fascinated by Sir Thomas More’s involvement in the story of King Richard III and the Princes in the Tower. Why, he asked, would a man as learned and respected as More, a lawyer and theologian, lend his name and reputation to the collection of inaccuracies and rumours that comprise his Historie of King Richard III? If the Princes were murdered, why did no-one, including even their own mother, ever raise hue and cry or point the finger at King Richard after his death? Leslau believed that Holbein’s portrait unlocked this mystery.

Jack Leslau compared Holbein’s preparatory sketch, made around 1527, with the post-1532 portrait and found 1 major and 80 minor changes, each of which was relevant to the ‘hidden secret’ he believed was contained in the painting.

 

Holbein's Preparatory Sketch
Holbein’s Preparatory Sketch

The major change was the addition of the controversial figure in the doorway, who was omitted from the sketch. There are several interesting and compelling anomalies that revolve around this figure. The first thing to consider is the writing above his head that identifies the man, which is more cryptic than at first appears. It reads ‘Johanes heresius Thomae Mori famul: Anno 27“. ‘Johanes heresius‘ is usually assumed to refer to John Harris, yet if ‘heresius‘ is intended to equate to ‘Harris’ then it is the only surname in the painting that is not designated by a capital letter. The word ‘famul‘ has been assumed to be an abbreviation of famulus, meaning secretary, but these two words have possible other meanings.

John's Identifying Mark
John’s Identifying Mark

In the Latin vocative, heresius can be translates as heresheir, iusright or rightful, so that heresius could translate as rightful heir. Suddenly, we are presented with John, the rightful heir.

Secondly, John stands, literally, head and shoulders above the More family. Leslau contends that it was traditional in portraits of this era for the person of highest status in a painting to be placed in the highest position. Infrared photography has been used to prove that the top of John’s hat is the highest of any in the picture.

Add to this the fact that above John’s head is a row of fleur-de-lys, the traditional symbol of French royalty. One of Holbein’s famous optical illusions also means that the structure is simply part of the door frame when seen from the right, yet from the left it appears to be a half open door. John therefore stands before a vanishing door, or an impossible door.

John's Fleurs de Lys
John’s Fleurs de Lys

The figure attracts further intrigue when considering that he is dressed in an Italian style, unlike the English dress of the other sitters, pointing to Clement’s Italian medical training. Not only does he hold a roll of parchment, but he also sports a sword and buckler, extremely odd for a secretary, but the traditional trappings of a warrior, which fits neither secretary nor doctor. One oddly bent finger touches the pommel of his sword and the buckler has a polished rim and spokes.

To these anomalies, Leslau applied the principles of French courtly language that Holbein apparently frequently used. The French for optical illusion, as used on the vanishing door, is porte-a-faux, which literally translates as false door, pointing to tricks or hidden falsehoods within the scene. ‘He holds a parchment‘ in French is ‘il tient le parchemin’, which, in courtly French, can mean ‘he holds the right and title of nobility‘. The spoke of a wheel, as seen on the buckler, is ‘rai‘ and the rim is ‘jante‘, which Leslau identified as a split homophone of ‘rejente‘, which translate to regent.

Furthermore, Leslau points to the fact that the ceiling timbers are out of alignment at the top of the painting. Applying the same principles to this anomaly, a line fault becomes a faute de ligne or fault de linage, which equates to a fault in the lineage.

Incorrect Alignment of Ceiling Beams
Incorrect Alignment of Ceiling Beams

The sideboard in the background of the picture is covered by a carpet. ‘To hide the sideboard under the carpet‘ in French is ‘cacher la credence sous le tapis‘, with Leslau pointing to the word ‘credence‘ being used in French courtly language to mean ‘confidential matters‘. Are confidential matters being hidden from view in the painting, swept under the carpet?

If all of this were true, it points toward the figure named John being of importance; he is marked by fleur-de-lys and occupies the highest station in the painting. Some French courtly language tricks could be used to further mark him as someone demanding closer attention. No secretary would carry a sword and buckler and he is potentially named as a rightful heir.

The Clock
The Clock

At the centre of the picture, at the top, is a beautiful clock, a symbol of wealth and status at this time. Yet even this clock holds hidden meaning to Leslau. The pendulum is missing, an important factor relating the ceasing of the passing of time which we will revisit later. The clock’s door is open, which suggests that the time has been altered too. This might also have importance to the person of John. The dial has only one hand, which points to the number eleven, perhaps denoting the eleventh hour and also the one remaining prince, a matter we shall also return to in a while. Above the clock face, a solar eclipse is shown. Given that the Sunne in Splendour was the emblem of the Princes’ father, Edward IV, its eclipse is perhaps relevant. Leslau identified that John is perpendicular to the arc of the sun’s corona, a symbol that forms part of the Duke of York’s arms, and suggests that this points to John’s identity as Richard, Duke of York.

Jack Leslau also believed that code within the painting identified the recent death of the elder of the Princes in the Tower, Edward V. The curtain at the back is drawn, there is a black eclipse and More appears unshaven, all of which are symbols of death and mourning. At a point in the painting higher than John stands an arrangement of purple and gold flag iris. The colours of these flowers do not exist in nature and are well known symbols of royalty. Leslau even points to the fact that More’s chain of S’s sits off centre, over his heart, and that this forms a perfect right angle from the flowers at the end of the weight on the clock. This left angle is used by Leslau to suggest that the recently deceased royal is ‘left quartered’ in the heart of Thomas More and the royal Duchy of Lancaster.

Sir Thomas More
Sir Thomas More

Sir Thomas More wears the Duchy of Lancaster chain around his neck. Close examination shows that the ‘SS’ symbols of the chain are reversed on More’s right, but correct on his left. Once more applying the principles of French courtly language, Leslau contended that the following statement could be created;

“D’un cote, est-ce (esses) gauche?

De l’autre cote, reflection faire,

Est-ce (esses) adroit (a droite).”

This can be translated thus;

“On the one hand is it gauche (clumsy, or left)?

On the other hand, upon reflection,

Is it adroit (clever, or right)?

Is this a cunningly constructed reference to More’s attempts to hide the continued existence of the Princes in his outrageously inaccurate story of Richard III? The artist is uncertain whether it was clumsy or clever, suggesting perhaps that only time will tell. Interestingly, Thomas More shows only three fingers, perhaps also a reference to Richard III.

Other figures in the portrait also contribute further to Leslau’s theory. The two women sitting toward the front on the right of the picture are identified as Margaret Roper (on the right) and Cecily Heron (on the left), More’s daughters. The book that is open on Margaret Roper’s lap show two pages from Seneca’s Oedipus. Margaret points at the word Oedipus, suggesting a tragedy relating to a king, while beside her, Cecily counts on her fingers. Does she count tragedies? Or kings? Or both?

The Sisters
The Sisters

The lines on the opposing page of Oedipus show a speech by Seneca’s Chorus from Act 2, which begins “Fata, si liceat mihi fingere arbito meo“, which translates as “If it were permitted to me to change Fate according to my will…” and the speech continues that he would have things other than they currently are if it were within his power. Does this point to More’s desire to see the House of York restored as the rightful kings?

The top of the page on Margaret Roper’s left shows “L. AN. Seneca”, which may refer to Lucius Annaeus Seneca. However, ‘L. AN’ in French is 50 years, More’s age in 1527 and the age shown above his head in the painting. Leslau believed that this suggested the fact that the portrait was not actually painted in 1527 but pointed to events in the More family and household in that year, that this was when the clock was stopped.

Two dogs sit on the floor before the family. Sir Thomas More has central placement in the picture. Above him, the clock is central, perhaps marking the importance of its hidden message, and the odd looking dog at More’s feet is also on that central line, marking it as also of some import. Leslau notes that the German for ‘fetch the bone’ is ‘hol bein’, a homophone for Holbein, perhaps marking the strange little dog as a devise representing the artist. If this is the case, then the dog’s cocked left ear suggests that some news has reached Holbein’s ear, perhaps even that he is like a dog with as bone.

Holbein the DogThe lady at the far left of the portrait also requires our attention. She is Margaret Clement, nee Giggs, wife of Dr John Clement. I would point out the since John and Margaret apparently did not marry until 1530 yet the portrait is ‘set’ in 1527, marking her as Mrs Clement at this point seems significant. Margaret is placed on the far left, on the outskirts of the family, left on the fringe, and wears a cheap rabbit skin hat, whereas the other ladies wear expensive headdresses. She is also painted unflatteringly, which Leslau suggests points to the artist taking a dislike to her for some reason. Her finger is pushed into the spine of a book – in French, ‘le doigt dans l’epine‘ can also mean ‘she keeps going on at him’, suggesting disharmony between John and Margaret. This is further supported by the lute behind her, pointing to her back, since ‘lutte‘ is French for ‘to fight’. The vase behind her, ‘vase d’election‘ (‘the chosen one’), is covered – ‘la vase est covert’ in courtly French means ‘the Chosen One is justified’, perhaps suggesting that Holbein believed John Clement to be in the right in whatever arguments they engaged in. Margaret’s book is blank, perhaps suggesting that they argue over nothing, or even that she is unaware of the secret of the painting, that she does not know who her husband really is. The placement of an untidy flower arrangement behind Margaret points to an untidy arrangement – perhaps her marriage to Clement – and includes purple peony, a flower with double significance which will be further examined shortly.

Although Leslau describes several other anomalies, some do not relate directly to the identity of John Clement and I am already conscious of the length of this blog. With much still to say, I am skipping some of these items. I will just point out the man at the far rear of the painting, apparently outside on a balcony. He is reading and has the short hair of a monk, though he is missing the tonsure, the shaved bald spot. ‘Hair is there‘, Leslau suggests, is a homophone for ‘Harris there‘. John Harris, More’s secretary, is included for good measure.

We may return now to the life of Dr John Clement and his age, which seems to offer some controversy and even support for Leslau’s theory. Clement’s identification as the ‘puer meus’ of Utopia led many to believe he was born around 1500. However, Leslau uncovered an entry in the register of enrolment at Louvain University from 13 January 1489 for ‘Johannes Clement’, marked ‘non juravit’ (‘not sworn’). Another entry in the Louvain register from January 1551 read ‘Joannes Clemens, medicine doctor, anglis, noblis (non juravit ex rationabili quandom et occulta sed tamen promisit se servaturum consueta)’. This could be translated as ‘The Lord John Clement, doctor of medicine, English, of noble birth (has not sworn the oath for a reasonable hidden cause, but has nevertheless promised to keep the customary oaths).’

These entries are 62 years apart. Could they refer to the same person? If so, Clement was clearly born before 1500. Interestingly, Richard, Duke of York was born in 1473, so would have been approaching his 16th birthday at the time of the first entry in 1489. This age would be consistent with the correct age for university enrolment at this time.

The second entry records John Clement as both a ‘Lord’ and as ‘of noble birth’. No noble Clement family existed in England at this time, so the entry is either wildly inaccurate or was made in the knowledge that John Clement was the assumed identity of an English nobleman. The bracketed note after the entry is also interesting. John Clement had not ‘sworn the oath’, as he had not in the 1489 entry, though this time a reason is offered; ‘for a reasonable hidden cause’. Leslau’s research discovered that such an explanation is unique between the periods 31st August 1485 and February 1569, a period during which 49,246 entries were made. If Clement was, indeed, using an assumed identity, then swearing the oath under a false name would have been perjury. The fact that the University may have lost its right to the privilegium tractus in such an event might explain the acceptance of the failure to swear, whilst simultaneously implying that the University was aware that Clement was living under an assumed identity, and doing so for an acceptable reason – at least implying no fraud.

Further weight is given to the theory that Clement was older than a birth date in 1500 would allow by an entry in the Letter and Papers of Henry VIII, 1, Part 2, Appendix, page 1550. This note refers to a set of challenges and answers for a feat of arms planned for Wednesday 1st June 1510. The list runs thus;

King – Lord Howard

King – John Clement

Knyvet – Earl of Essex

Knevet – Wm Courtenay

Howard – Sir John Audeley

Howard – Arthur Plantagenet

Brandon – Ralph Eggerton

Brandon – Chr Garneys

Of the ten participants (beside the king, Henry VIII), five (Lord Howard, Thomas Knyvet/Knevet, Henry Bourchier Earl of Essex, William Courtenay Earl of Devonshire and Arthur Plantagenet) were close relatives to the king either by blood or marriage. Additionally, Charles Brandon was probably Henry’s closest friend and would later become his brother in law and Duke of Suffolk. Leslau points to this as evidence that Clement could not possibly have been born in 1500, since he would only have been 10 years of age at the time. I would also add that it creates the significant possibility, if this set of challenges was filled with Henry’s closest friends and family, that Clement was amongst that elite set and that he held his position there because Henry knew who he really was. Was Clement’s true identity an open secret amongst Tudor England’s ruling class? At least in Henry VIII’s youth, while he brimmed with confidence.

In 1534, Clement appears to have imprisoned in Fleet Prison at the same time that More was incarcerated in the Tower. Perhaps not unusual for a family member who may have shared More’s views, but we can find John Dudley, later Duke of Northumberland, writing on 11th October 1534 to Thomas Cromwell commenting on Clement’s case. He writes;

farthermore as towchyng maistr Clements mattr I beseche your maistership not to gyve to much credens to some great men who peraventure wyll be intercessours of the matter and to make the best of it for Mr Clement by cause peraventure they theym selves be the greatest berers of it as by that tyme I have shewed you how whotly the sendying of Mr Clement to the flete was taken, by some that may chawnce you thinke to be your frende you wyll not a little marvayle

Dudley’s intercession is of interest because Leslau contends that Edward V survived as Sir Edward Guildford, who happens to be John Dudley’s father in law. Dudley is also clearly under the impression that “some great men” will take interest in Clement’s case.

Clement’s later life is also interesting, and some portions are relevant to this discussion. In 1549, as Edward VI’s Protestant rule became established, Clement and his wife quit England for Louvain. Although he returned during Queen Mary’s reign, Clement was unable to regain the extensive 180 book library he had lost when he left. The motive for this departure and return is not hard to discern. The Public Record Office in Chancery Lane holds an inventory of Clement’s Marshfoot house, showing property seized by Sir Anthony Wingfield with the approval of Sir William Cecil, the future Lord Burghley. The Chapel Chamber contained many Catholic artefacts, including “an awlter, a picture of our Lady, a picture of the V woundes” (the sign of the five wounds featured prominently as the badge of the popular uprising against Henry VIII, the Pilgrimage of Grace).

The Five Wounds

On the accession of Queen Elizabeth I, Clement left England for the last time in 1558. In March 1562, an entry appears in the Louvain register for “Dominus Joannes Clemens, nobilis, Anglus” and he appears for a final time in the register in 1568: “Dominus Joannes Clement in theologia“. In total, these entries span an incredible 79 years.

John Clement died on 1st July 1572, two years after his wife of some 40 years. In a final significant act, he was laid to rest near the high altar of St Rombout’s Cathedral in Mechelen, a spot traditionally reserved for members of the House of Burgundy, Margaret of York’s family by marriage. If he was Richard, Duke of York, he lived to the ripe, improbable, but not impossible age of 98.

So, we have a man who, by circumstantial evidence, appears to have been a nobleman living under the assumed identity of Dr John Clement and who may appear in a family portrait as a rightful heir of some kind. There is more that this painting can tell us yet.

When compared to the figure beside him, John appears to have very waxy, pale skin, whereas Henry Patterson (More’s fool) has a more natural tone. Leslau tells us that on two well known, well documented occasions, Holbein used the technique of waxy skin to show people at half their true age. This fits with the clock’s suggestion that time has been not only stopped, but also altered. John is marked as ‘Anno 27’. If this is in fact half his true age, he would be 54. Richard, Duke of York’s date of birth in 1473 would make him 54 in 1527, the year to which the portrait appears to refer.

John and Henry

I would add as my own observation that the figure of Henry Patterson, More’s fool, bears a striking resemblance to Henry VIII. He also appears to sport a red and white rose, separated, on the top of his hat. Henry also stands just below John in terms of height in the portrait. If the height is used to mark precedence, then the order would appear to be: A missing royal who has just died (Edward V), John (Richard, Duke of York), Henry (Henry VIII). This appears startlingly blatant to me, dangerous for both Holbein and More, particularly if Henry VIII knew who John Clement was, yet perhaps Henry was in on the joke?

Holbein's Henry VIII

Level with John’s head is a purple peony, a colour of this flower which apparently does not exist in nature. Purple is a colour denoting royalty, and Paion was the physician to the Greek gods in myth, and a nickname applied to doctors at this time. Hence, the purple peony, an impossible flower, marks a royal doctor. Clement was not made President of the College of Physicians until much later, so perhaps this refers instead to a doctor who is royal?

So, Leslau’s conclusions seem to run thus. The painting tells us that there are secrets hidden within it (the sideboard under the carpet). The figure of John represents Dr John Clement, a member of More’s household, husband to his adopted daughter and a person of significance. The household is in mourning for the recent (in 1527, at least) death of a royal. This death entitles John Clement to be addressed as the ‘rightful heir’. The flower selections within the painting are impossible, attracting attention, and point toward royalty, by using purple and gold and fleur-de-lys, and to medicine in the use of the peony. The clock tells us that time has been stopped, even altered, and that this is important, whilst also referencing the House of York. John is shown at half his real age, making him 54 in 1527, the precise age of Richard, Duke of York.

Though long, this is a pared down version of Leslau’s complete research.

Put simply, Leslau’s conclusion is that the painting contains code that tells us very clearly that Dr John Clement is the assumed identity of Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, younger of the Princes in the Tower, and that both boys lived long into the reign of Henry VIII, the younger surviving until 1572 in the rule of Elizabeth I. It would also appear that the younger lived within the household and under the protection of Sir Thomas More and it is perhaps clear that Henry VIII knew of this fact.

Did this contribute to Henry’s growing paranoia and panic as he failed to produce a male heir, then seemed set to die when his only son was a young boy? Was knowledge of this secret the reason Henry could not allow More to live as a private citizen following his resignation as Lord Chancellor?

Or is all of this a mere flight of fancy, seeing things because one is looking for them rather than because they are really there? Could a prince live to be 98 years old keeping his existence a secret, even though plenty seemed to know?

I don’t know, but given that Richard III is frequently convicted of murder based upon no evidence at all, surely some potential positive evidence in this elusive case must be given due consideration. Of course, that the Princes survived cannot tell us by whose hand this was achieved. Richard III may have laid the foundations that became the arrangements for their incognito existences. It may have been a reaction to Richard III’s defeat at Bosworth. They may also still have been rescued from a plan by Richard to murder them. Some questions cannot be answered by this theory, but perhaps some can.

Do you see an answer here?

Matthew Lewis is 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.

Jack Leslau’s old website can still be accessed at http://www.holbeinartworks.org/

Why Would Richard III Do It?

Having considered in a previous post what it might mean if King Richard III had killed his nephews, it is worth considering what he actually stood to gain from committing the deed. Many will insist that clearing a path to the throne was motive enough, but I don’t think it’s quite that simple.

The document by which Richard’s title was presented, later to be accepted by Parliament, was Titulus Regius. The Parliament Rolls of January 1484 recall that the document was presented to Richard “on behalf and in the name of the three estates of this realm of England, that is, the lords spiritual and temporal and the commons”. However, the Rolls note that as Parliament was not officially in session at the time “various doubts, questions and ambiguities are said to have been prompted and engendered in the minds of various people” as to the legitimacy of the document. To correct this, the document was read before Parliament and enrolled as an Act of Parliament to remove this confusion. In spite of the best efforts of Henry VII to have all copies of the documents destroyed, it has remained for us to examine.

The petition refers to the misrule of England of late, particularly since “the ungracious feigned marriage, as all England has reason to say”, between Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, “lately and for many years previously calling herself queen of England”. The bill details Edward IV’s supposed pre-contract of marriage to Eleanor Butler, a daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, stating “If all that is true, as in very truth it is, it clearly appears and follows that during his life the said King Edward and the said Elizabeth lived together sinfully and damnably in adultery, contrary to the law of God and of his church”, adding also that “it clearly appears and follows that all the issue and children of the said King Edward are bastards, and unable to inherit or claim anything by inheritance, by the law and custom of England”. The first important matter of note here is the reference to “all the issue and children”. This was not aimed specifically at the title of Edward V or his brother, but included his sisters as well as any other known bastards of Edward IV.

King Edward IV
King Edward IV

The issue of the young Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of George, Duke of Clarence, and his sister Margaret was dealt with by the recollection that “by the three estates of this realm assembled in a parliament held at Westminster in the seventeenth year of the reign of the said King Edward IV [1478], he then being in possession of the crown and royal estate, by an act made in the same parliament, George, duke of Clarence, brother to the said King Edward, now dead, was convicted and attainted of high treason”. The effect of George’s attainder was that “all the issue of the said George was and is disabled and barred from all right and claim to the crown and royal dignity of this realm”.

The effect of all this, some will maintain to Richard’s delight, was that “there is no other person living, except you, who by right may claim the said crown and royal dignity by way of inheritance”. The Parliament Rolls then record that “This bill was conveyed to the commons of the realm of England being in the said parliament; to which bill the same commons gave their assent in these words: A cest bille les comenz sount assentuz. (To this bill the commons are agreed.)”

Richard was king and his title was indisputable. Or was it? This is the real crux of the issue regarding the Princes in the Tower. If Richard’s title was beyond challenge, the boys posed little threat. Yes, a few may risk the treachery of treason, but the threat of the fate that awaited failure should put off most. When Henry Tudor won the crown at Bosworth, he dated his rule from the day before the battle to allow those who fought for Richard to be convicted of treason. A travesty of justice, but an effective way of dealing with their threat. Henry knew what Richard must have also known; that which had been won could be lost; that which had been handed to them could as easily be snatched away and given to another. Henry’s title was far from incontrovertible and so was Richard’s. As Parliament had granted him his title, so it could be granted to another, or back to Edward V. The last twenty years had demonstrated as much clearly.

So, in spite of being declared illegitimate, it is entirely conceivable that the Princes in the Tower were viewed as a potential threat to Richard’s rule. There were several possible solutions to this problem, only one of which, the most extreme, was to have them murdered. What would Richard actually gain from doing away with a 12 year old boy and his 9 year old brother? The usual answer is the easy one. Removing the boys would eliminate the threat of a revival of the cause of Edward V. But that is not the whole picture.

Edward had never been crowned, though he still holds the title King Edward V. He was not a king anointed by God as Henry VI had been when he was displaced. There was familial loyalty, but by recognising him as a bastard in Parliament, the lord spiritual and temporal and the commons renounced that loyalty. Officially at least. There is also another consideration.

Salic Law was the system in France that prevented inheritance by the female line of any family. It was a clear and established legal principle. No such law existed in England. It is true that primogeniture traditionally meant that the oldest male inherited, but there was nothing to prevent female inheritance. Plenty of titles were held at this time by well known lords jure uxoris – by right of his wife. The famous Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker, only held that earldom by right of his wife Anne de Beauchamp. Anne’s brother Henry died with only one daughter, another Anne. When she died childless, the title passed to his sister Anne as 16th Countess. Warwick’s title was not truly his.

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (jure uxoris)
Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (jure uxoris)

It can also be acknowledged that there was a history in England of shying away from female rule. Matilda had suffered from the perception that women should not rule men and more recently Margaret of Anjou’s attempts to secure power for herself during her husband’s incapacity had pushed men into the arms of Richard, Duke of York. In contrast to this, Henry Tudor was to claim the throne and have himself crowned King Henry VII before he married Elizabeth of York precisely because he knew her title to the throne was better than his and he did not want to restore the House of York to act as a consort to the Queen. He wanted the crown for himself.

So, the real question is this; were the other royal children really any less of a threat than Edward V and Richard, Duke of York? The answer is plain. How did Henry VII recruit disaffected Edwardian Yorkist support? By promising to marry Elizabeth of York, the oldest daughter of King Edward IV. It was the promise of a union with the House of York that bought Henry his throne because men clearly identified Elizabeth as the rightful heir in her brothers’ absence. That was precisely the reason Henry was careful to have himself crowned in his own right, not that of his intended wife. Parliament eventually petitioned Henry to honour his pledge and he was forced to accept that there was no way to maintain his position without doing so. Whether he liked it or not, because he would not claim the crown by right of conquest, he was effectively king jure uxoris.

This situation did not suddenly surface just before Bosworth, either. On Christmas Day 1483, Henry Tudor swore an oath at Rennes Cathedral to marry Elizabeth in return for the support of those men gathered around him in seeking the throne. Elizabeth was now a very real threat in the way that her brother might have been. If Richard had ordered the murders of the two boys just a few months earlier, the natural course of action now was to finish the job and do away with Edward IV’s daughters too, robbing Tudor of the allegiance of those who had made oaths to him by removing the possibility of a union. If Richard did not care about two boys, why care about five girls languishing in sanctuary?

Yet this did not happen. In March 1484, less than three months after Henry Tudor’s oath, Elizabeth Woodville and her daughters emerged from sanctuary and came to Richard’s court as part of his family. He had sworn a public oath to protect them and to find them suitable marriages. This episode is a crucial part of the story but remains as elusive as so many others. It is often asked how Elizabeth Woodville could possibly have handed her daughters into the care of a man who had murdered her sons. Would his promise really be enough if she believed he had done away with her sons? Of course, it is also argued that Richard may well have shown her proof either that he was not responsible for the boys’ death or even that they weren’t dead at all. There is a Tyrell family story that Sir James Tyrell hosted Elizabeth and her daughters at his family home at Gipping Hall when she met her sons on frequent visits arranged by Richard. It has been argued that Elizabeth had little option but to come out of an indefinite sanctuary, but I would have thought remaining there was preferable to risking the lives of her remaining children, particularly if Henry Tudor was intending to rescue them.

Perhaps we should also be asking the opposite question. If Richard had murdered his nephews, the greatest, most immediate threat to his rule was now Henry Tudor, who had attempted one invasion already and would surely try again soon. He was drawing support to him based upon his promise to marry Elizabeth, a woman who was now in Richard’s hands. If he had murdered her brothers, surely he would have no qualms about killing her and her sisters now. He had promised not to, but if he was a murdering monster, what would that promise really be worth, especially against the opportunity to secure his position further? Killing Elizabeth would not be enough – Tudor could simply transfer his oath to Cecily. The others were too young, but in time they would become the same threat. Why not simply dispose of the whole lot right away? That would be the natural response if Richard were an evil schemer.

But the girls lived. Richard fulfilled his promise, at least until his death the following year. Perhaps he would have survived longer had he been the brutal murderer many cannot see past. Mind you, that would still not be enough.

George, Duke of Clarence had a son, Edward, Earl of Warwick and a daughter, Margaret. In the absence of other Yorkist possibilities, they may have become a threat. The Edwardians who were drifting away from Richard may have focussed on Edward as the heir of York in spite of his father’s treason. Margaret might even have become a focus for Tudor if Edward IV’s daughters were all gone. No. They would have to go too. Yet it was Henry VII who was to judicially murder Edward, Earl of Warwick and it was Henry VIII who finally succumbed to paranoia and executed Margaret when she was an elderly lady of 67.

The early Tudors would also feel the threat from Richard’s other nephews, the de la Pole sons of his sister Elizabeth. They carried the cause of the White Rose into the reign of Henry VIII, so were legitimate threats, but John was killed at the Battle of Stoke in 1486, Edmund was imprisoned by Henry VII, handed over on the promise that he would not be executed, and was beheaded in 1513 by Henry VIII, who did not feel his father’s promise bound him. Richard was killed at the Battle of Pavia in Italy, news that Henry VIII enthusiastically celebrated, having been unable to catch him, and William was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1501 and remained there until his death 37 years later. He remains the longest serving prisoner in the history of the Tower.

So, Richard did not kill any of these people. We know this for a fact, in spite of the often potential and even very real threat that they posed to him. Why, then, is it so easy to believe that he murdered the Princes in the Tower? Two out of at least nine, if not more, threats? Why do far less than half a job if securing the throne is your only concern?

The other suspects? Well, these tend to all orbit the cause of Henry Tudor. If they were murdered in 1483, it is possible that it was part of a plot to subvert Richard’s rule by casting the shadow of guilt over him.

Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham was a cousin to Richard and had helped to propel him to the throne. In spite of this, and the rewards that followed, Buckingham apparently wrote to Henry Tudor in exile imploring him to invade to free the sons of Edward IV, quickly altering the purpose of the invasion to seeing Tudor crowned king because there were rumours that the boys were dead. Did Buckingham start these rumours in spite of knowing them to be false? Did Buckingham, with all of his power and influence, arrange the boy’s death and invite an invasion to allow Richard and Tudor to destroy each other, clearing his own path to the throne? His blood was royal and he possessed a claim stronger than Tudor’s. The Stafford line was descended from the daughter of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, son of Edward III. Buckingham’s mother was Margaret Beaufort, daughter of Edmund, Duke of Somerset, and so a cousin of Henry Tudor’s mother. The rebellion’s failure cost him his life and cast a long shadow over his son, who was to fall foul of Henry VIII’s early suspicious nature.

Margaret Beaufort, Tudor’s mother, was married to Thomas, Lord Stanley who was Richard’s Lord High Constable after Buckingham’s fall. This role effectively gave Stanley the keys to the Tower. Was the prospect of seeing a grateful step son on the throne enough to drive the murder of two young boys? It was certainly enough to betray his king on the field of battle at Bosworth, though this seems a risky move for a man famed for walking the fine line of self serving loyalty. Perhaps his wife was more driven and convinced him, or had the deed done herself. She was a staunch Lancastrian who had seen Henry VI killed, his son lost in battle to the Yorkists, her own family, particularly anyone brave enough to bear the title Duke of Somerset, decimated by the bitter Wars of the Roses. Was this revenge, then? She had opportunity and motive, as did Stanley and Buckingham. And, lest we forget, Richard himself.

Lady Margaret Beaufort
Lady Margaret Beaufort

Unless, as I continually return to, they did not die at all. Elizabeth Woodville may have emerged from sanctuary on the promise of contact with her sons, safely secreted in Richard’s old stomping grounds in the north among men he knew he could trust. Away from court, brought up as his illegitimate nephews. Or perhaps they were quietly installed at the Burgundian court of their aunt, Richard’s sister Margaret, travelling to Gipping Hall to visit their mother under the trusted supervision of Sir James Tyrell.

The frustrating thing is that we may never know the truth, but the possibilities beyond Richard killing two young boys, members of his own family, must bear thinking about, if only so that we consider the whole realm of potential fates. If your final assessment is still that Richard was still the most likely suspect to have had the boys murdered, then I am happy for you to reach that conclusion. He probably is the most reasonable suspect, but too much still does not make sense.

He doesn’t seem the type of man to do half a job.

Matthew Lewis is 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’s 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 can be subscribed to via iTunes or on YouTube

 

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.

What If Richard III Did It?

What if we suppose that King Richard III did, in fact, order the killing of his nephews, Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York. Let us suspend arguments about his previous character and the events that surrounded him in 1483 and presume him guilty of the killing of the Princes in the Tower. Controversial, I know, but since no one can currently prove him guilty or innocent, the argument is moot. It makes for fascinating debates and it never ceases to amaze me the passions it rouses, but without the sudden discovery of a lost cache of documents or perhaps Richard III’s diary (imagine the questions that might answer!), we will never be able to shed any more light on this mystery than has kept it gloomily illuminated for over 500 years.

The Princes in the Tower
The Princes in the Tower

This impasse provides an opportunity that I think receives less examination than it merits. If we were to presume that King Richard III had the boys killed, can his actions be justified? Clearly, by modern standards, no. But this did not take place in modern times. By the standards of his time, can any justification be offered if Richard III did order their deaths? If so, it takes some of the heat out of the debate about whether he did it or not.

The first thing to mention is that there is no evidence that medieval people would have been any less repulsed by the killing of children than we are now. Murder was still murder. It was a crime. Children were just as precious to our ancestors as they are to us. Richard III’s time was more brutal and death more common place perhaps but the murder of children was no less revolting then than it is now. By this measure, there can never be any excuse for Richard if he killed the Princes in the Tower in 1483, aged 12 and 9 (or 10, depending upon when it happened).

These were not, however, ordinary children. They were political beings. In this period of English history, ravaged by war and rivalries, this alters the landscape a little. Can this help to explain King Richard’s ‘actions’? It cannot be doubted that recent history would have warned Richard against allowing a child to sit upon the throne. Edward III’s grandson Richard II had ascended to the throne aged 10 in 1377. His father, the Black Prince, had died the year before Edward III and Richard’s powerful uncles, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester and Edmund of Langley, Duke of York were apparently not trusted. A regency was avoided and a system of continual councils put in place to assist the king during his minority. The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 saw the 14 year old Richard emerge onto the political stage for the first time. He agreed terms with the rebels only to go back on his word and hunt them down. The harsh response was initially applauded by his nobles but it set a precedent that would see Richard descend into a period of tyranny, surrounded by unpopular advisors until, in 1399, he was relieved of his crown by his cousin, Henry Bollingbroke, son of John of Gaunt, who became King Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king. In 1400, amid plots to restore Richard, he was killed, possibly starved to death in his prison at Pontefract Castle. He could not be allowed to continue to live.

King Richard II
King Richard II

Henry IV’s own grandson was to provide the next lesson at the expense of the peace of a nation. Henry IV’s son, the mighty Henry V of Agincourt renown, died on campaign in 1422 aged 35, leaving his nine month old son, Henry VI, to take the throne amid raging wars in France. This time, with the prospect of well over a decade of royal minority, the new king’s uncles were vital to his security. John, Duke of Bedford acted as regent of France and
oversaw the wars there with some success, eventually defeating Joan of Arc and halting French resurgence. In England, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester acted as his nephew’s Protector. Henry VI was declared of age in 1437. In 1441 Humphrey’s wife was arrested for sorcery and he was forced to retire from public life. In 1447 he was himself arrested and died in prison 3 days later. He may have suffered a stroke but there were whispered rumours that he had been poisoned.

Henry VI’s rule was to see the loss of all English territory in France apart from Calais and the eruption of the divisive and brutal Wars of the Roses. He surrounded himself with advisors that proved deeply unpopular and grew to be a weak and ineffectual king. Edward IV took his crown for the House of York and despite a brief reclaiming of his throne, once Henry’s only son was dead, Henry himself had met his end within the Tower of London. His continued existence could also no longer be tolerated.

If Richard sought a lesson from this period, it was that pretty clear.

Child kings did not bode well, not least for Protectors who were Dukes of Gloucester…..

When we look at Richard’s conduct in 1483, it must be against the backdrop of these events and all that they meant for England, because that is the only way in which Richard could have viewed them. The country had seen two changes in the ruling family in less than a century, both brought about by the failings of kings who had come to the throne as children. A third such event was potentially imminent and it was Richard’s family who stood to lose everything. No one could really be sure where a threat might come from. The Tudor family in exile, other vestiges of Lancastrian blood in Portugal or Spain. Louis XI, the Spider King, still ruled in France and may chose to seize upon any weakness he spied across the channel.

Personally, Richard’s position was precarious too. Edward IV had entailed his Neville inheritance, acquired through his wife Anne Neville, to male issue of the body of George Neville, Duke of Bedford. George had been disinherited to make way for Richard and this was meant as a mechanism for his protection. If the line failed, Richard’s interests would revert to life interests in the lands and titles so that he would be significantly weakened and his son would have no inheritance. Having spent so long so far north, Richard barely knew his nephew. He had been appointed Protector of the Realm for a boy he did not know and who did not know him. All of young Edward V’s ties and bonds were to his mother’s family who had raised him at Ludlow Castle. There is no real record of conflict between Richard and the Woodville’s before the summer of 1483 but their hold over the new king would have been a cause for concern to Richard if he was to act as Protector. Edward IV’s Chamberlain Lord Hastings had sent word to Richard even before he left the north that Elizabeth Woodville was planning to have her son crowned quickly in order to exclude Richard. Elizabeth’s son from her first marriage, Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, was supposedly boasting that their family could rule without Richard, such was their grasp on power. What was he supposed to make of this situation?

Shortly after his arrival in London, word reached Richard that George Neville had died aged 22 without issue. His personal power base was significantly weakened at precisely the time he would need it the most. How could he act as Protector from a position of weakness? The next issue to rear its head was the legitimacy of Edward V. This was either a genuine concern that was allowed to reach Richard’s ear because of the death of Edward IV, or Richard concocted the story that his brother was already married when he secretly wed Elizabeth Woodville. Either way, the outcome was the same; Richard claimed the throne for himself. This was either an act of duty, of self-preserving or of self-advancement. That is a debate that will rage on too, but the purposes of this discussion it is not important. Even the latter views, though, perhaps becomes a little more understandable.

King Richard III
King Richard III

The reality is that Richard was no longer Duke of Gloucester. He was now King Richard III. What had recent history taught him about this position? The greatest danger to him now was a rival. What sat within the royal apartments of the Tower of London? Two rivals. How must they be dealt with? Only one option was available. The one taken be Henry IV and by Richard’s own brother, Edward IV. If he allowed the boys to survive, they would always be a source of unrest and rebellion, a focus for disaffection and an opportunity for opposition to his rule. Richard’s personal security was now tied up with that of the country. Any threat to him was a threat to the national stability for which he was now responsible and vice versa. Any such threat must be dealt with. There was only one way to deal once and for all with this issue. If this was what Richard came to believe, then he was to be proven right when, at the end of the summer of 1483, there were reports of an attempt to free the boys and then the Duke of Buckingham rebelled, initially on the pretence of returning Edward V to the throne.

Is the peace and stability of a nation worth the lives of two princes?

Can such a sacrifice be measured?

Probably not, but in Richard’s world, it was kill or be killed.

The Wars of the Roses erupted when he was 3 years old. He knew no other world and perhaps saw this as a justifiable sacrifice to secure a lasting peace. A means to an end, an end that may, given time, justify those terrible means. He was not to be given that time and so many truths are lost to history, clouded in myth and legend, that all that is left is supposition fuelled by passion.

So, if Richard III did order the deaths of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, should he have been demonised for 500 years on the basis of that one act? Was it so far beyond the pale that it cannot be deemed necessary or acceptable in the context of the times, even if we cannot condone such an act today? It is true that are no real parallels to draw with it, but there are a few near contemporary instances that bear examination.

When Henry VII took the throne after Bosworth in 1485 there was a claimant of the male line of the House of York still alive. Edward, Earl of Warwick was the son of George, Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV and Richard III. He was 10 years old in 1485. As the prime threat to Henry he was placed in the Tower of London where he was kept, without trial or opportunity for release, until 1499 when he was implicated in an alleged plot with Perkin Warbeck to escape his prison. At his trial, he pleaded guilty and he was executed. It has been suggested that Warwick was framed to create a pretence for his execution as part of Henry VII’s negotiations to marry his son Arthur to Catherine of Aragon because her parents, Ferdinand and Isabella, would not tolerate the continued existence of one who possessed a better claim to the throne than Arthur and who was a real and viable potential source of opposition. Henry effectively kept Warwick imprisoned from the age of 10 only to execute him when he was 24. He never had any hope. He was kept as a fatted calf and offered in sacrifice for the security of the Tudor dynasty. Is that really any worse than the colder but more pragmatic approach of killing him immediately?

George’s other child, Margaret, survived into the reign of Henry VIII. She was married to a Tudor loyalist and had several children who eventually came to be viewed as a threat to Henry VIII. In 1539 her son Henry was executed and Margaret was imprisoned. In 1541 she too was executed at the age of 67, her inexperienced executioner taking eleven blows in total to kill her. This is viewed as a low point of Henry VIII rule. He was probably concerned at his own failing health and his son’s young age and was seeking to eradicate any potential threat. Does this justify the execution of an elderly lady on very flimsy evidence?

In Ecclesiastes 10:16, Solomon offers the lament “Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!” Whilst this is probably not meant to speak to the age of the ruler but rather their approach, ability and outlook, and the advisors with which they surround themselves, the message applies to this situation. Child kings before had fallen foul of unpopular advisors – Richard II had Robert de Vere, Henry VI relied on William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk and then successive Beaufort Dukes of Somerset. Was this the likely road down which Edward V would have taken the country, ruled by his jealously sneered upon Woodville relatives? And what of Richard once his duties as Protector had been discharged? Was he to be consigned to the political wilderness with no influence and no inheritance to leave for his son? History cautioned him that once he was no longer needed, a king, possibly falling back under the influence of his mother, would struggle to tolerate the continued existence of a man who had once exercised kingly power.

So I would ask the question again. Assuming that Richard III did in fact order the deaths of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, the Princes in the Tower, can the act be excused or accepted as a necessary evil?

Matthew Lewis is 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’s 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.

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.

 

The Murder of The Princes in the Tower
The Murder of The Princes in the Tower