Yikes!! The fantastic History Hit have released the documentary we did on the #PrincesInTheTower and #RichardIII. 😬😳
I’m somewhere bouncing between excited, terrified, proud, nervous, anticipating bad reactions, hoping it’ll go down well.
I hope you’ll have a watch. You can get a month’s free trial – what better time to use it and encourage more content like this?
I think it’s a pretty big step for Ricardianism to get something as revisionist as an exploration of the possibilities the The Princes in the Tower weren’t murdered in 1483, never mind that Richard III didn’t kill them. If this gets plenty of views and likes and lots of publicity, it should lead to more opportunities to tell a different story about Richard III. So if you can spare half an hour, please sign up for the free trial (you can cancel it before you get charged anything, or keep it and watch more) and watch the documentary.🤞
(And it was the first time I’ve done anything like this, so be gentle!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
The fate of Princes in the Tower is one of the most intriguing mysteries in British history, steeped as it is in heavy emotive imagery. It immediately summons the visual of two small, fair haired boys, clinging together for comfort; lambs kept for the slaughter by their dastardly uncle. And of course, thanks to Shakespeare, our image of Richard III for years was similarly melodramatic – the scheming, malevolent hunchback.
The 13 June 1483 is a big day in the Ricardian calendar. For a long time, the events of the Council meeting that took place at the Tower of London on that morning have been a source of consternation for those with a positive view of Richard and of vindication for those who imagine him in a more negative way. I think it’s time this was put to bed and the arguing stopped.
If you want to get a real grip on the technical issues outlined here, you really can’t go wrong with Annette Carson’s Richard Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England. It’s a heavyweight piece of academic work that essentially blows centuries of misunderstanding out of the water.
When Richard ordered the execution of Lord Hastings as the Council meeting descended into chaos, he was labelled a murderer and that particular piece of mud has stuck ever since. I have heard even the most die-hard Ricardian struggle to explain away this act and have to concede that it was his one proven act that can’t be excused. Well, here is how you excuse it.
The traditional story tells us that Lord Hastings wrote to Richard in the north to tell him of the death of his brother Edward IV, the suggestion at least being that the Woodville family of Edward’s wife were planning to keep the news from Richard and have the Prince of Wales crowned as Edward V before Richard knew what had happened, thus bypassing the Protectorate that Edward IV had wanted to put in place to secure the kingdom for his son. Lord Hastings was personally at odds with Thomas Grey, one of Elizabeth Woodvillew’s sons from her first marriage, and possibly feared a diminishing of his own position if the queen’s family snatched power.
Lord Protector is a peculiarly English position that doesn’t seem to have any parallel in medieval Europe. Regents would usually be installed to wield the power of the monarch whilst they were underage, but when Henry V died, a very different arrangement was established. Power was separated for the minority of Henry VI into three discreet silos. The person of the infant king and responsibility for his education was given to Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter (and Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick after Exeter’s death). The Council would operate the government day to day and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester was to be Protector of England. The final settlement was not quite what Henry V had envisaged, which demonstrates the immediate end of a king’s authority on his death.
The key point about the role of Protector was that it had no responsibility whatsoever for either the person of the king or the operation of government, though the Protector was expected to also sit on the Council and be a prominent member. The responsibility of the Protector was nothing more or less than the security of the nation. The Protector essentially had military authority in domestic and foreign affairs, though in Humphrey’s case his brother John, Duke of Bedford actually acted as regent in France.
So, although Richard was supposedly appointed Protector in a codicil to Edward IV’s will (which has not survived, so cannot be verified) and was certainly appointed Protector by the Council, this gave him no authority or responsibility for the person of Edward V or for the operation of government. It only gave him authority in military matters.
That means it has little to do with the events of 13 June 1483. I just wanted to set it out anyway.
The key consideration for Richard dealings with Lord Hastings is his position as Lord High Constable of England, an office he had held since October 1469, when he was appointed for life. Apart from the period of the readeption, Richard had acted as his brother’s Lord High Constable for almost fifteen years, since he was seventeen. He had wielded the powers of this office for the entirety of his adult life and would have been utterly familiar with them and completely confident in their application.
For the purposes of this incident, the significant power of the Lord High Constable was the authority to conduct a summary trial for treason, decide a sentence and enact it based on evidence that he had seen. The Lord High Constable could legitimately and legally act as judge, jury and executioner. It’s an inequitable arrangement that may jar with modern sensibilities, and indeed with medieval ones too, but it was designed to empower the Lord High Constable to protect the monarch from the threat of treason.
On 13 June 1483, most of the Council met at another location as Richard, the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Stanley, Lord Hastings, Bishop Morton and Bishop Rotherham gathered at the Tower, nominally to conclude arrangements for Edward V’s coronation. Thomas More dramatized the events that followed as Richard left the meeting, returned and almost immediately cried treason. A scuffle broke out as guards entered the room, Lord Hastings was arrested, dragged outside and beheaded in the Tower grounds.
The important part here is Richard’s cry of treason. Interestingly, even later Tudor chroniclers seem to concede the Lord Hastings was up to something behind Richard’s back. Polydore Vergil wrote that even before Richard arrived in London, Lord Hastings ‘called together unto Paul’s church such friends as he knew to be right careful for the life, dignity, and estate of prince Edward, and conferred with them what best was to be done’.
Grafton wrote that ‘Lord Stanley sent to him [Hastings] a trusty and secret messenger at midnight in all the haste, requiring him to rise and ride away with him’. Thomas More claimed that the lawyer William Catesby went to Richard and that ‘Catesby’s account of the Lord Hastings’s words and discourse, which he so represented to him, as if he had wished and contrived his death’. Furthermore, Grafton added that Richard gathered the aldermen on London together immediately after the execution and provided them with evidence ‘that the Lord Hastings and other of his conspiracy had contrived to have suddenly destroyed him and the Duke of Buckingham there the same day in council’, which satisfied them.
Was the evidence fabricated? Some will claim every piece of evidence in June and July 1483 was. Were the stories that reached Richard’s ears lies? If so, he might still have legitimately believed them in the tense and confrontational atmosphere of London, a city and political animal he was unfamiliar with, at least compared to others he might have been told were aligning themselves against him.
These questions are hard to answer and will ultimately be influenced by your own perception of Richard. Whether his actions were morally right or wrong is open to debate, but the legality shouldn’t be. Richard had the power and authority for every action that he took, given to him, ironically perhaps, by his brother Edward IV in most cases. His powers as Constable mean that he could call a Court of Chivalry and summarily try, judge and execute William, Lord Hastings based on evidence that he had seen, and which he reportedly shared subsequently with the authorities in London so that they offered no protest at his actions. If reports were reaching him of treason, along with the evidence he shared, then he was perfectly within his rights to act decisively. Those were the powers Edward IV gave him and which he had exercised for his entire adult life.
Even if Richard fabricated the plots and the evidence, the deception was made a legal execution, not a murder. There had been due process, even if we wouldn’t recognise it as such today. If Richard is given the benefit of the doubt, and the reports of later Tudor writers suggest there was plenty going on behind his back in London at the time, then he was reacting to threats that he perceived in order to protect the safety of the monarch, which was precisely why Edward IV gave him those powers. He might not have envisaged them being used against one of his best friends, but he might not have complained either if Richard could prove it was necessary – and according to Grafton, he could, and did.
So, nothing illegal here as far as I can see. Moral judgement is another matter, but Richard did not act illegally in the death of William, Lord Hastings. It was an execution, not a murder, and that fact should no longer be a matter of debate.
You can get a copy of Annette Carson’s Richard Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of Englandhere – and I thoroughly recommend that you do!
A new biography of Henry III: Son of Magna Carta is available now from Amberley Publishing, seeking to uncover the true story of a king all too often forgotten to history.
Matthew Lewis has written The Wars of the Roses (Amberley Publishing), a detailed look at the key players of the civil war that tore England apart in the fifteenth century, and Medieval Britain in 100 Facts (Amberley Publishing), which offers a tour of the middle ages by explaining facts and putting the record straight on common misconceptions.
Amberley has been producing some nice looking books this year. Henry III son of Magna Carta is a manageable length to read and a nice looking book to have. It’s light to hold and can take some abuse… (FYI no I don’t abuse books to see how much punishment they can take). The hardback has a classy frontispiece, a big gold crown gleaming against a moody backdrop and the title neatly fitted beneath. Inside there is one picture section with many author photographs of the usual medieval type, castles, abbeys carvings etc, but also a few reenactment snaps of the Lewes anniversary event. The pictures are full colour.
Let no one say that words are powerless when they are protected by men of violence. It is often bandied about that Magna Carta is…
It’s been a year today since The Wars of the Roses went on sale. It seems like ages ago, yet its flown by at the same time. Thank you so much to every who has bought a copy and I’ve been really pleased with all the positive feedback. Richard, Duke of York’s biography has also been well received and a biography of Henry III will be out in October this year in time for the 800th anniversary of this elusive man’s coronation.
This seems like a good time to let everyone know that I’ve signed the contract for a new book to be released in the autumn of next year, which seems a lifetime away but I don’t doubt it will creep up quickly.
I hope the new book will spark your interest. I have no doubt it will court more controversy than anything I’ve written so far and I look forward to that. I’m not sure I need to offer more than the title, so I’ll leave you with that, and my thanks for your support.
The UK release of Richard, Duke of York: King By Right is two weeks today.
I hope to show that Richard has been (unfairly) characterised as a greedy, ambitious man who dragged the country into civil war when the story of his whole life tells a very different tale.
Much of Jonathan Swift’s seminal ‘Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts, by Lemuel Gulliver, first a surgeon, and then a captain of several ships’, or Gulliver’s Travels as it is more popularly known, is metaphor and allegory. Swift had lived through the troubles of James II’s dalliances with Catholicism, the Glorious Revolution and wrote his work during Queen Anne’s reign. He didn’t get on with Anne and was denied political and clerical advancement, spending time in Ireland where he took up the Irish cause, writing propaganda pamphlets for them.
When Gulliver extinguishes the fire in Lilliput by urinating on it, the intention may have been to refer to Tory policy, achieving a good result by bad means. The war that rages between Lilliput and Blefuscu revolves around which end of an egg should be cracked to eat it. Gulliver takes up the Lilliputian cause simply because he lands on their shores. This is surely a thinly veiled stab at the religious turmoil that still reared its head in Britain and Europe. The fighting between Catholics and Protestants over how to worship God is like arguing over which end of an egg to crack. It doesn’t matter – you still get egg. The same could apply to political feuding. The side most take is an accident of birth, simply a matter of which shore you wash up on.
Swift was drawing on a long history of allegory to make political statement indirectly. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, written in 1678, almost 50 years before Gulliver’s Travels is a classic piece of allegory of the spiritual journey of man. In many classic pieces of literature commentators have seen allegory used to represent the politics of the writer’s day or to make a moral point within the vehicle of the story. The Oxford Dictionary defines allegory as ‘A story, poem, or picture which can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one’. It is an art that we have perhaps lost to more direct satire so that allegory passes us by as we impose our luxury of literal criticism of the establishment, political and religious, on those who wrote in a time without such indulgence.
Much of what has become the historiography of Richard III was most likely written as allegory but has been passed into culture as truth, as literal history. The moral tale is forgotten or ignored to read only what we would describe as a history, a narrative of the facts of a past that can be interpreted within the confines of their own limits. Thomas More wrote his History of King Richard III and Shakespeare his history plays at a time when written history was not what we would recognise it as today.
Sir Thomas More’s History of King Richard III was begun around 1513. More had first come to prominence in a parliament of Henry VII’s in 1504 when he had criticised the king’s policies. At the request of a tax of three fifteenths, More made so eloquent a speech in opposition that the tax was reduced by about two thirds. The victory for the idealistic and outspoken lawyer saw his father imprisoned in the Tower until he paid a hefty fine. Perhaps Thomas learned that he could not be so direct in his criticism of the monarch.
Amongst the first acts of Henry VIII on his accession in 1509 was the arrest and subsequent execution of Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley, his father’s chief instruments of financial policy toward the end of his reign. They were unpopular and Henry thought that he would buy some instant acclaim with their blood. It was an early glimpse of a disregard for human life that suggested tyranny at the very outset of the eighteen-year-old’s rule and More perhaps envisaged his work as a piece of allegory for the king to show the dangers of tyranny and how it could cut a rule short. Richard III was an obvious personality to hang over this lesson. He had only reigned for a brief time and had been painted as something of an unpopular tyrant by the Tudor regime. More might have meant his work to be a lesson for the new king on the dangers of veering so close to tyranny so early in his rule. More’s work is littered with errors which, as I have suggested in a previous post here, may well point to its own deliberate inaccuracy.
William Shakespeare’s Richard III is similarly littered with errors, including switching the geographical locations of Stoney Stratford and Northampton in early version to have Richard ambushing Rivers rather than Rivers overshooting the meeting point and heading back without the king. Earlier in the history cycle of the Wars of the Roses, Richard is at the 1st Battle of St Albans committing dastardly murders even though he as under three years old at the time. Shakespeare may well have laid the foundations early for his masterpiece in the examination of Machiavellian plotting very early and had a very clear message for his audience that related not to the past, but to the present and very near future, as I have outlined in this previous post. Shakespeare was writing at a time of political upheaval when the succession was in doubt and the government controlled by the Cecils. Robert Cecil, son and successor to William Cecil, Elizabeth I’s lifelong councillor, was affected by kyphosis – in the unpleasant parlance if the time, he was a ‘hunchback’, just like Shakespeare’s villain.
The bones that currently rest in an urn in Westminster Abbey claiming to belong to the Princes in the Tower, Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York are perhaps another example of allegory. The remains were unearthed during building work at the Tower of London in 1674. An anonymous writer, published three years later but naming John Knight, Charles II’s surgeon as his source, recorded;
In order to the rebuilding of the several Offices in the Tower, and to clear the White Tower from all contiguous buildings, digging down the stairs which led from the King’s Lodgings, to the chapel in the said Tower, about ten foot in the ground were found the Bones of two striplings in (as it seemed) a wooden chest, upon which the survey which found proportionable to the ages of those two Brothers viz, about thirteen and eleven years. The skull of the one being entire, the other broken, as were indeed many of the other Bones, also the Chest, by the violence of the labourers, who cast the rubbish and them away together, wherefore they were caused to sift the rubbish, and by that means preserved all the bones.
Charles II had returned the monarchy to Britain following the Civil War in 1660 and in 1674 Parliament was refusing to vote Charles funds for foreign war and religious policy so that the king was in danger of being forced to seek peace where he didn’t want it. It is worth noting that the bones were broken up and cast on a waste pile and had to be sifted out again later, meaning that they were open to contamination and no longer in the condition they were found in.
It is possible that talk of some bones thrown out of the pit had worked its way back to ears that saw an opportunity in their discovery in a location not dissimilar to that in which More had recorded them buried, though later moved from. Men were sent to pick them from the spoil and this might have been because a chance for an allegorical tale was spied. Reference to Richard III along the lines of that made by More and Shakespeare would surely serve to remind Parliament of what happened when a legitimate king was supplanted by a tyranny – for Edward V read Charles I, for Richard III see Oliver Cromwell. Charles II’s position was far from certain and as his relationship with Parliament rocked he might have feared a repeat of his father’s fate. The bones were perhaps an instrument with which he could bolster himself by reminding the country of the distant past, the far more raw and recent past and the threat he perceived to himself.
I devote the final chapter of The Wars of the Roses: The Key Players in the Struggle for Supremacy to the bones found within the Tower – not least that these are far from the only set found and not even the only set claimed to belong to the Princes. Their placement in Westminster Abbey may have served Charles II well but only cemented the reputation of King Richard III set in stone by More and Shakespeare. What if none of these pieces often used as evidence was ever meant to tell history as we would recognise it today, but only to help make a political, moral or religious point about the writer’s present? What if everything that is relied upon to condemn Richard III over centuries has been simply misunderstood and taken out of context? We have the luxury of criticising the establishment freely and openly and perhaps forget the time when to do so was to risk life and limb and allegory provided the shield with which to make those observations and complaints.
I’ve seen a fair bit of talk recently about what constitutes a Ricardian and who has the right to use that word. Examining and questioning the material to re-evaluate its meaning and stimulate a deeper investigation of the life, times and reputation of King Richard III makes a Ricardian and all should be welcome to use that name. As long as opinions are based solidly in fact, not fiction, irrespective of the conclusion each individual draws, Ricardianism should, in my opinion, be a welcoming forum for discussion.
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. A biography of Richard, Duke of York, father of Edward IV and Richard III is due for release in April 2016.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 36,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.