Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, and mother of King Henry Vll seems to have earned a poor reputation over time. Often thought of as the cruel and conniving “Lady Margaret The King’s Mother”, she seems the epitome of the rotten mother in law. And she certainly may have been so to her son’s wife, Elizabeth of York. But what was it that made her this way? Her life as a child and a young woman were far from a fairy tale so perhaps understanding what she was forced to endure can provide us with an explanation of why she was so bitter. And perhaps we can form a different opinion of Margaret and look at her as a lady of great strength and perseverance and as a woman who believed in her cause and would pursue that cause with everything she had.
Margaret was born in May of either 1441 or 1443 in Bedfordshire England to John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso. At the time of her birth, her father had gone to France for a military expedition for King Henry Vl. However, after his return from France, he was banished from court on charges of treason. He died shortly afterwards but it is still unclear if he died of an illness or apparent suicide. Margaret would inherit all of her father’s fortunes as she was his only heir.
However, King Henry Vl would go against John Beaufort’s wishes and grant wardship of Margaret’s lands to William de la Pole, First Duke of Suffolk. De la Pole was a military commander and favorite of The King. While Margaret would remain with her mother, an attempt to marry her to de la Pole’s son was made in early 1444. She was no older than three years. Papal dispensation was granted in 1450 but the marriage was never recognized. Henry VI then granted Margaret’s lands to his own half brothers, Edmund and Jasper Tudor. He also decided Margaret would marry Edmund, who was eleven years older than her.
In November of 1455, the wedding took place and Margaret would become the twelve-year-old bride to the twenty-four-year-old 1st Earl of Richmond. In the 1400s, twelve was the age of consent however it was unusual for the marriage to be consummated before the age of fourteen. Consummation before age fourteen was considered a risk to the health of such a young woman. Margaret was said to be rather small with a petite frame. However, Edmund Tudor felt otherwise and chose to consummate his marriage immediately. One would have to imagine this must have been a terrifying ordeal to such a young girl, but throughout her life, Margaret consistently defended Edmund as her first husband. So perhaps he was kind and treated her well. And perhaps Margaret accepted this as her destiny, to be married off at such a young age. This was also a time of great political unrest as The War of the Roses had broken out and being a Lancastrian, there is a strong suggestion that Edmund Tudor was only interested in an heir. Whatever the situation may be, Margaret was forced to become a woman at a very young age and was able to find the strength within herself to rise up to the challenge.
Margaret’s husband was unfortunately taken in by Yorkists and held prisoner where he would die of the plague in early November of 1456. His thirteen-year-old widow was seven months pregnant and alone. Lady Margaret was taken in by her brother in law, Jasper Tudor where she would give birth to the future King of England on January 28, 1457. However, Margaret’s labor was incredibly difficult, probably due to her small stature. The midwives were concerned that neither Margaret, nor her son Henry, would survive the birth. This must have terrified the young mother, as she would never give birth again.
Mother and son remained at Pembroke Castle until, at the age of two, Henry Tudor went to live with the Yorkist Herbert family in Wales. At age fourteen, he was forced into exile in France. Edward IV, the Yorkist King was on the throne but Margaret’s son Henry Tudor had a legitimate claim as well. Margaret Beaufort’s royal bloodline connected her to John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster as well as the great King Edward III. John Beaufort, Henry’s maternal grandfather might have been next in line for the throne after John of Gaunt’s children from his first two marriages. While some may argue that Henry Tudor had no claim, the royal bloodline was indeed there.
Margaret would marry again just a year after her son’s birth. Sir Henry Stafford, second son of the 1st Duke of Buckingham,was Margaret’s husband for more than ten years. While it is believed that they enjoyed a rather harmonious marriage, Sir Henry was killed by injuries received in battle in 1471.
In June of 1472, Margaret would wed yet again, to Thomas Stanley, Lord High Constable and this marriage would allow her to return to the court of Edward IV and his Queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Edward IV was a Yorkist King with a Lancastrian wife and this would prove helpful in Margaret Beaufort’s attempts to put her son on the throne. Edward IV had married Elizabeth Woodville for love and when he died in 1483 from illness, his son Edward was in line to take the throne. But King Edward’s brother Richard took the throne from his nephew. Richard fell into dispute with the Woodville family and feared that the King’s widow, Elizabeth, would turn her son against him.
Henry Tudor was now in his mid-twenties and the only Lancastrian with royal blood. Many saw Henry as the only one fit to rule. His mother Margaret was one of them. And she had the help of Elizabeth Woodville. When Richard seized power, Elizabeth found sanctuary in Westminster. It was rumoured that the King had locked both of his nephews in the Tower of London in fear that they would steal his crown. Believing both her sons to have died in the tower, Elizabeth joined forces with Margaret Beaufort in a plot to put Henry Tudor in what they believed was his rightful place. These two strong-minded women devised a plan to marry Henry to Elizabeth Woodville’s daughter, Elizabeth of York. This would unite the houses of York and Lancaster and give Henry Tudor even more claim to the throne as the people of England would have a Yorkist Queen and a Lancastrian King.
Margaret Beaufort would become the driving force behind bringing Henry Tudor to his crown. She had an affectionate relationship with her son and would send him letters as well as funds to build his army. With the support of the Woodville family, Henry engaged a small French and Scottish force. Henry also had the support of the Welsh people and was able to gather an army of 5000 troops. But some of the most important support he would gain would be that of his stepfather, Thomas Stanley. Stanley had been an early supporter of Richard III but would ultimately end up abandoning him and joining forces with Henry Tudor.
On August 22nd 1485, in the early hours of the morning, Henry Tudor and his army would march into battle and defeat Richard III in what would become known as the Battle of Bosworth. It was Henry’s stepfather himself who placed King Richard’s crown on Henry’s head after he fell from his horse and was killed.
We can imagine the joy Margaret Beaufort must have felt in knowing that her son was finally crowned King of England. She firmly believed that her son should be on the throne and had plotted successfully to put him there.
Margaret Beaufort’s childhood had been one of extraordinary difficulty. She lost her father at a very young age and forced to marry and be widowed several times. It can be understood that Margaret must have felt like all the odds were against her, yet she grew stronger from it. She was the perfect example of the devoted mother who will stop at nothing to help her child. And while this may have proved difficult for her daughter in law, she did continue to remain one of Henry’s closest advisors during his reign. We can assume the bitterness she was known for could have been from a life of constant struggle and the fear that someone would take what was hers; a son on the throne of England.
Margaret must have held the memories of her early marriage and childbirth with her. For when there were talks of her granddaughter’s marriage, Margaret became a strong advocate in assuring that the young girl did not go through the same harrowing experience of childbirth at such a young age. Margaret also played an important part in education during her life as she was the founder of several schools across England. Margaret Beaufort should continue to remain a symbol of strength for many women. She remained steadfast and determined and never lost her faith during a time of turbulent and political unrest.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
We had a fairly regular replacement history teacher when I was at school. A retired teacher, his passion for the subject was plain and undiminished. There were two things he would frequently teach his class. He would walk into the classroom, wipe the floor with his finger and then stick it in his mouth, to choruses of (vaguely admiring, form the boys at least) shocked disgust. He would then loudly ask a random student ‘What did I just do!’, to which the stunned pupil blurted out ‘Wiped the floor with you finger and licked it, sir.’ ‘No I didn’t,’ he would reply, and slowly demonstrate that he used one one finger to wipe the mucky floor and then licked a different one. ‘Not everything is quite what you might think at first glance.’ This, obviously, only worked once per class, but it shouts of a need to interrogate what we see and hear.
His other great mantra was that there are only three things that you need to know about history. ‘Evidence, Evidence, Evidence’. It is a constant cry, too, of those who argue about elements of 1483, never more so than around the pre-contract story. There is no direct evidence of a pre-contract, but neither is there direct evidence to deny it. We must, instead, examine the limited circumstantial evidence that exists. Many write that the lack of direct evidence proves conclusively that there was no pre-contract, but that is to ignore the circumstantial evidence that remains.
There are three key elements to the spring of 1483 that cannot be decisively proven either way. The first is a Woodville plot against Richard, which would explain his arrest of Rivers, Grey and Vaughan, Elizabeth Woodville’s flight into sanctuary (making it an act of guilty fear), and Richard’s desire to drive them from government. What evidence is there that such a plot existed? Several sources state that Hastings called Richard to London because the Woodvilles were planning a coup in defiance of Edward IV’s last wishes. Thomas Grey, son of Elizabeth Woodville and half-brother to Edward V, is supposed to have told the Council that his family were powerful enough to rule without Richard and that they would not wait for his arrival to set a date for the coronation.
Dominic Mancini, notably one of the few contemporary, eye witness accounts to survive, wrote that on his arrival in London Richard provided evidence of the Woodville plot that he had thwarted. ‘For ahead of the procession they sent four wagons loaded with weapons bearing the devices of the queen’s brothers and sons, besides criers to make generally known throughout the crowded places by whatsoever way they passed, that these arms had been collected by the duke’s enemies and stored at convenient spots outside the capital, so as to attack and slay the duke of Gloucester coming from the country.’ Mancini continues to offer his opinion that the plot was not real, ‘Since many knew these charges to be false, because the arms in question had been placed there long before the late king’s death for an altogether different purpose, when war was being waged against the Scots, mistrust both of his accusation and designs upon the throne was exceedingly augmented.’ The veracity of the existence of a plot is different to a lack of evidence of one. This is documented evidence of a plot. You may believe Mancini in judging it a trick, but it is evidence nonetheless.
If the plot existed, it explains Richard’s subsequent actions. If not, and Mancini’s proposition that these were arms stockpiled for war against Scotland were true, it is an early sign of less than noble intentions on Richard’s part. War with Scotland had taken place the previous year. Richard had led it, which might mean he would know where weapons were stockpiled. This, though, is to assume Richard’s early evil intent. What if the weapons were being prepared for a Woodville bid for power? Stony Stratford, where Rivers had taken Edward V, was a Woodville manor, an ideal place for an ambush. Is it really impossible? I can’t say that the plot was real, but I can’t say that it wasn’t. Is it unreasonable to think Richard could have believed in a plot? Probably not. There is evidence of it. Four wagon loads of evidence.
The issue of Lord Hastings’ execution is another troublesome incident for the lack of decisive evidence. We know that Hastings was at a small Council meeting in the Tower when he was accused of plotting against Richard, hauled outside and beheaded. The discussion of Richard’s right to act in this matter is detailed in a previous post, but what about evidence? Polydore Virgil, writing around twenty years later for Henry VII and not an eye witness, claimed that ‘the 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.’ This seems to indicate that Hastings was, in fact, plotting against Richard even before he arrived in London. Virgil is certainly no apologist for Richard III, yet he offers evidence suggestive of a plot by Hastings. If news of this meeting reached Richard, perhaps via William Catesby, is it unreasonable that he might believe Hastings plotted to his own end, just as he had accused the Woodvilles of doing? Hastings perhaps fell foul of the paranoia he himself had sown in the Protector’s mind.
Sir Thomas More (who I am loath to classify as a provider of evidence) wrote, later than Virgil, that ‘for the further appeasing of the people’s mind, he sent immediately after dinner in all the haste, one herald of arms, with a proclamation to be made through the city in the King’s name, containing that the Lord Hastings with diverse others of his traitorous purpose had before conspired the same day to have slain the Lord Protector and the Duke if Buckingham while sitting in the Council’. This story is backed up by the eye witness Mancini, who reported that ‘to calm the multitude, the duke instantly sent a herald to proclaim that a plot had been detected in the citadel, and Hastings, the originator of the plot, had paid the penalty’. This proclamation is, in itself, evidence. No copy or note of the content survives, but following its circulation there was no widespread outrage or fallout over the execution of a man who was personally very popular in the City. This offers at least circumstantial evidence that the content of the proclamation provided enough to satisfy those listening that Hastings had been guilty of the plot he was accused of.
I have read much recently about the pre-contract story. Many pieces are quite insistent that the reader should demand evidence of the pre-contract (which is quite right) because there is none (which is quite wrong). I have read several times recently that it is foolish nonsense to believe in the pre-contract story. Once more, there is a complete lack of definitive evidence in either direction and what we have is circumstantial, but should not be completely ignored.
Thomas More mentions the pre-contract story, but has the name of the lady involved wrong, just one of many errors that mark his work as something other than a genuine retelling of history for the perpetuation of knowledge. Virgil noted the sermon given by Dr Ralph Shaa, writing that ‘there is a common report that king Edward’s children were in that sermon called bastards, and not king Edward, which is void of all truth; for Cecily, king Edward’s mother, as is before said, being falsely accused of adultery, complained afterward in sundry places to right many noble men, whereof some yet live, of that great injury which her son Richard had done her.’ Virgil insists that the pre-contract did not feature in Shaa’s sermon and was created later because the insinuation against Edward IV and Cecily Neville was not well received.
Here, Virgil is directly at odds with our eye witness, Mancini, who noted that when Shaa gave his sermon ‘He argued that it would be unjust to crown this lad, who was illegitimate, because his father King Edward on marrying Elizabeth was legally contracted to another wife to whom the [earl] of Warwick had joined him.’ Mancini, certainly no apologist of Richard’s, specifically tells us that the pre-contract was the basis of Shaa’s sermon, in direct opposition to Virgil’s version of the same sermon. Who should we offer greater weight to? Both writers were not friendly to Richard. Mancini was in London in 1483 and writing for a foreign audience. Virgil was not an eye witness and wrote twenty years later for the man who deposed Richard. My vote would go to Mancini’s version.
The Italian further writes that ‘On the following day all the lords forgathered at the house of Richard’s mother, whither he had purposely betaken himself, that these events might not take place in the Tower where the young king was confined. There the whole business was transacted, the oaths of allegiance given, and other indispensable acts duly performed. On the two following days the people of London and the higher clergy did likewise. All important matters are deliberated, and decrees made law by these three orders, whom they call the three estates. This being accomplished, a date was fixed for the coronation’. We may be able to confidently say that Parliament was not in fact in session at this time, but Mancini clearly intimates that deliberation took place before a decision was made, a decision upon which all of those gathered were agreed, for he does not note a single dissenting voice at this point. What was deliberated if not evidence of a pre-contract that proved Edward V’s illegitimacy?
On a side note, it strikes me as odd, too, that Mancini’s work, De Occupatione Regni Anglie Per Riccardum Tercium, is always referred to as ‘The Usurpation of Richard III’, when the title in fact translates as ‘The Occupation of England by Richard III’. Where did the word ‘usurpation’ spring from? In Latin that would be ‘usurpatione’, but that word does not appear in Mancini’s title.
The Parliament Rolls provide further evidence of the pre-contract’s existence. Titulus Regius, enrolled in the Parliament of 1484, is believed to hold the text of the petition asking Richard to take the throne in June 1483. On the subject of the pre-contract, it claims ‘that at the time of the contract of the same pretended marriage, and before and long time after, the said King Edward was and stood married and troth plight to one Dame Eleanor Butler, daughter of the old Earl of Shrewsbury, with whom the said King Edward had made a precontract of matrimony’. Here is a legal document, enacted by Parliament, stating that the pre-contract existed. It is a frequent criticism that this cannot be relied on because it was enacted by Richard’s Parliament. This is true, and has to be taken into consideration when weighing the evidence, but it should not be dismissed. It provides clear evidence that the story of a pre-contract was the reason that Edward V was declared illegitimate and Richard asked to take the throne.
The final piece of evidence comes from the pen of Philip de Commines, a man who served first the Dukes of Burgundy and then the Kings of France. In the 1490’s he wrote his memoirs, covering decades of political activity. He is the first to name the source of the information on the pre-contract that reached Richard as Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells. Commines recalled ‘This bishop affirmed, that King Edward being in love with a certain lady whom he named, and otherwise unable to have his desires of her, had promised her marriage; and caused the bishop to marry them’. He wrote that ‘His [Stillington’s] fortune depending upon the court, he did not discover it, and persuaded the lady likewise to conceal it, which she did, and the matter remained secret.’ This was why the story was not known until after Edward’s death, when Stillington told it to Richard.
Commines is frequently criticised as unreliable, never having visited England and writing a decade after the event. He was, however, politically active throughout the 1460’s, 1470’s and 1480’s. He met Edward IV, knew the Earl of Warwick and many of the other key figures in the Wars of the Roses. This is evidence from the pen of a man active in the political sphere at the time and certainly not partisan, at least not in Richard’s favour. If we must negate his evidence because he wrote a decade later, we must also utterly discount Virgil and More, upon whom many still base their views of these events unquestioningly. Commines gives evidence of a pre-contract story, told to Richard by a man involved in the proceedings, naming Stillington, yet this is not accepted as evidence of the pre-contract. If such compelling evidence cannot be offered for proper evaluation, then none will ever suffice.
It is worth asking another question at this stage. Where is the evidence that Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville? No banns were read, there is no record, legal or chronicle, of the ceremony. We don’t even know what date it is supposed to have happened on. It reportedly took place with two witnesses, one of them Elizabeth’s mother, and a priest. Edward supposedly announced its existence several months later in Council, probably to irritate Warwick. There is no decisive evidence that it actually happened other than Edward’s assertion that it did. How is it that this is unquestionably accepted as having taken place when the idea that a similar ceremony had taken place earlier with another lady, evidence of which emerged in 1483, strong enough evidence to convince those in London at the time that they should disinherit Edward’s son, is dismissed so completely?
Edward’s word is good.
The combined word of Richard, Buckingham, many lords spiritual and temporal, officials of London, Dominic Mancini, Philip de Commines and an Act of Parliament are dismissible, and dismissed.
Looking from the point of view of evidence, the marriage to Eleanor Butler is easier to prove than that to Elizabeth Woodville.
Of course, evidence is very different to proof.
Matthew Lewis’s latest book, The Wars of the Roses (Amberley Publishing) is a detailed look at the key players in the civil war that tore England apart in the fifteenth century.
So, there’s more news and more debate on Richard III’s remains, two years after they were discovered. It seems his story, as well as his bones, cannot be laid to rest. At least I welcome the first of these two things.
We are now to be 99.999% certain that the remains found under the Leicester car park are Richard’s. We can also be quite confident that he had blue eyes and that, at least as a child, he had blonde hair. I have to confess that this changes my mental picture of him a little, but it’s at least news.
The fact that there are two breaks in the paternal line is also news. Of a sort. Someone, somewhere (well, okay, two people), in the course of four centuries was unfaithful. I’m not sure that’s really news. That rate is beaten on a daily basis on Jeremy Kyle. It’s interesting, but the report can’t point to which branch of the family has the break, whether it was before or after Richard III, and it could run into the 18th century as easily as date back to the 14th.
What does this mean for the current royal family? Nothing.
What does it mean for previous monarchs? Nothing.
What does it mean for the Tudor’s legitimacy? Nothing.
It’s no more questionable than before!
What is being overlooked at every step is that no monarch has ever been illegitimate. The current Queen is selected and ratified by Parliament, not by her father or the blood in her veins. This has been true for several hundred years now.
More importantly, the coronation ceremony, in which the monarch is anointed with holy oil, appointed before God and swears their oath, corrects any flaw in a monarchs title. If I was anointed King, it would be beyond doubt that I would be the rightful king. The action of anointing has created a monarch for centuries.
Henry Tudor claimed the throne of England thanks to his defeating of the reigning king. His blood meant nothing. The same was true of Edward IV, who deposed an anointed king. And Henry IV, who was the first to break the Plantagenet line of descent. Even William the Conqueror became king in this manner, yet we doubt none of them as monarchs. In each case, the coronation ceremony corrected any flaw in their right, title or blood.
Had Richard III decided to allow his nephew Edward V to be crowned and anointed, he would, in the eyes of canon and common law, have been the legitimate king. The marking of the cross on his forehead with holy oil would have driven any fault and any doubt away.
The same is true of the Queen today. It is sensationalism for sensationalism’s sake to question this.
There have been several rumours about illegitimate medieval royals. John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III used to fly into rages at the contemporary rumour that he was a butcher’s son. The fact that Edward III did not attend his birth is cited as evidence that something was amiss.
Edward IV was rumoured in the French court, and later in England, to have been the son of an archer named Bleyborne, a huge man whose frame matched that of the tallest king in English and British history. Edward’s father’s departure on campaign eleven months before his birth is also suspicious, if no chance of his return were possible. Edward was christened in a quite ceremony in a side chapel. Yet Edward’s coronation corrected any flaw that may have existed. That is probably part of the reason Richard III switched his allegations from questioning Edward’s paternity to challenging the legitimacy of his children. Edward IV had been anointed. Edward V had not. His flaw was raw, uncorrected.
What does this mean?
At the most, it suggests that every castle had a tradesman’s entrance.
On 23rd June 1483, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, the brother to Queen Elizabeth, brother-in-law to King Edward IV and uncle to King Edward V sat down at Sheriff Hutton Castle in Yorkshire to perform the ultimate reminder of his own mortality. If he needed any such reminder.
Anthony had been taken prisoner when Richard, Duke of Gloucester had taken possession of the person of the young King Edward V at Stony Stratford. It is impossible at this distance and with the remaining evidence to establish whether Anthony was indeed plotting against the Protector as Richard alleged. His family in London opposed plans to grant Richard the full powers his brother seems to have intended, but Anthony’s own part in this is unclear. He had headed the Prince of Wales’ household in Ludlow and was escorting the twelve year old to London, but his part in any plot remains unproven.
Regardless of his guilt or innocence, Anthony could have been in little doubt as to his imminent fate. It provided an opportunity for some reflection. Reflection upon a life of extraordinary advancement. Anthony’s grandfather, Richard, had been chamberlain to John, Duke of Bedford, Regent of England and France and uncle to King Henry VI. Shortly after Bedford died in 1435, Anthony’s father, also named Richard, married the duke’s widow, Jacquetta of Luxembourg. The marriage caused a scandal and the pair were fined for failing to obtain permission when the union became public knowledge.
Richard Woodville had married far above his station and once the dust had settled, he was created Earl Rivers to bridge this social gulf, transforming his family’s fortunes. The couple went on to have fifteen children together and it was one of their daughters, the eldest, who was to further invigorate the prospects of the Woodville clan. Elizabeth, the widow of a Lancastrian knight, Sir John Grey of Groby, who had been killed at the 2nd Battle of St Albans in 1461, had two sons and no way to provide for them. In seeking to secure their future from the new King Edward IV, she caught his eye and became his wife, promoting the Woodvilles to the status of royal relations. Anthony, like his father, had fought for the Lancastrians at Towton, but the family now tied their banner to the House of York.
Anthony married Elizabeth Scales and in her right became known as Lord Scales. He accompanied Margaret, sister of King Edward IV, for her marriage to Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy in 1468. On the sixth day of the wedding feasts, Anthony was to take part in a tourney against the Bastard of Burgundy, Duke Charles’s older half-brother. The Bastard, also named Anthony, just to confuse matters further, was a famed soldier and jouster. Anthony Woodville had also won for himself an enviable reputation in the lists. As a mark of respect, the Bastard of Burgundy would not oppose Lord Scales, a man he considered a brother in arms. Adolf de Cleve fought in the Bastard’s place and in the half hour contest broke seventeen lances to Scales’ eleven. Anthony lost, but was far from disgraced.
On his return to England, he indented to King Edward to provide five knights, fifty five men-at-arms, two thousand nine hundred and forty five archers, twenty four ship-masters and one thousand and seventy six mariners for a period of three months. This substantial force was meant to aid the Duke of Brittany against the French but was never used in that cause. On 25th October 1468, Anthony went to sea with five thousand men to patrol the coast against an invasion by Queen Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI’s wife, rumoured to be preparing an attack from Harfleur.
On 12th August 1469, Richard Woodville, Earl Rivers and another of his sons Sir John were executed on the orders of the Earl of Warwick as rebellion against King Edward grew. Anthony succeeded to his father’s earldom and became entitled to the office of Constable of England, a prestigious position that he waived his right to in favour of the king’s brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. In spite of the new Earl Rivers’ efforts in driving the Duke of Clarence and the Earl of Warwick from the south coast into France, King Edward was eventually forced to flee. When he took ship for exile, Earl Rivers accompanied him, returning six months later to help the king retake the throne.
In reward for his commitment and aid, Anthony was made Governor of Calais and the Marches for seven years and created Captain-General of the king’s forces. In 1471, Anthony acted as ambassador to the Duke of Brittany, taking with him one thousand men to negotiate a truce. When King Edward’s oldest son was created Prince of Wales, Anthony was chosen to head up the young Prince’s household at Ludlow and made Chief Butler of England. In 1473, Louys de Bretaylles loaned Anthony a book to pass a journey. Earl Rivers translated “Les Dictes Moraux des Philosophes” whilst in the Prince of Wales’ household and had his “The Dictes and Saying of the Philosophers” printed by Caxton in 1477, beating Richard, Duke of Gloucester to patronise the new printing press in London with his own work.
In 1474, on the birth of the King’s second son, Richard, Duke of York, Anthony participated in a grand tournament which included his nephews Thomas and Richard Grey, his brother Sir Edward Woodville, James Tyrell and John Cheney. Later that year he returned to France in the king’s service with forty men-at-arms and two hundred archers.
In more peaceful times, Anthony was frequently at court and also devoted himself to the education of his nephew, the future king. This peace was shattered in April 1483 when King Edward IV passed away following a brief illness. Suddenly, it seemed that a race for London was on. Lord Hastings in the capital wrote to the dead king’s brother, Richard, that he should make all haste to London with a force of men to prevent the Woodvilles enacting their plans for domination against the last wishes of King Edward. Rivers readied the new young king to depart the comfort and security of Ludlow.
That Rivers was party to any Woodville plot is, as mentioned, uncertain, but we do know that he was in correspondence with Richard and arranged to meet him en route. Rivers then overshot the agreed meeting place and installed the young king at the Woodville manor of Stony Stratford. This served to heighten Richard’s edgy concern, but far from rushing ahead to exclude the Protector, Rivers doubled back to meet Richard and assure him that they only wished to leave room for his men to billet. In spite of the assurances offered, Rivers was seized the next morning and sent north as a prisoner of Richard, Duke of Gloucester where he was joined by his nephew Richard Grey and the Prince’s chamberlain Thomas Vaughan.
Once in London, Richard swiftly sought the consent of the Council to execute the three on charges of treason. The council declined on the basis that Richard had not, at the time, been installed as regent and so treason against him was not possible. This was a clear warning shot and Richard’s intentions toward the men were not hard to discern. Therefore, on 23rd June 1483, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers sat down at a table within the walls of his captor’s fortress at Sheriff Hutton to compose his last will and testament.
“In the name of our Lord, Amen. I, Antony Widevile, in hole mynd and fressh memory, in the Castell of Shiryfhoton the xxiij day of Juyn, and the vigill of Seint John Baptyst, the yere of our Lord Mi cccclxxxiij, make my testament and last will in the forme folowyng.”
The will reads more like a stream of consciousness rather than a carefully prepared document, which is perhaps not surprising in the claustrophobic circumstances. Anthony deals initially with any Woodville lands that he held:
“I will that all such land as was my lord my faders, remayne holy to his right heyres ; with my cupp of gold of columbyne, which was lefte me by bequest to that entent it shuld’ remayne to the right heires of my seid lord my faders”
Anthony’s next concern was the paying of his debts. To the medieval mind, temporal debts were a weight that held the soul in purgatory for an increased time, something all were keen to avoid. It is clear in reading the will that Anthony was racking his brains as he wrote, stripped of his “boke” of debts, which would be found “in my closett in London“. He recalls debts owed to the Bishop of Worcester, one Lomner, a London mercer, Ocles Mayce, “goldsmyth“, the Mayor of Lynne and Abrey, a draper from Norwich.
Rivers provided for the selling of “my fee simpill lond, that is to sey the maner of Tyrington hall in Middylton with the hundreth of Frebrigge, the maner of Wolv’ton with thadvowson in the counte of Norfolke, the maner of Rokey in Barway in the counte of Hertford“. These were to provide funds for the establishment of a hospital at Rochester for “xiii pour folkes” and for “other dedes of charite“. He also later requests that his armour and horse harness be sold “and with the money therof be bought shyrtes and smokkes to pouer folkes“, bequeathing “my gowne of tawney cloth of gold” to the Prior of Royston, adding “my trapper of blakk cloth of gold I geve to our Lady of Walsingham“.
Anthony provided for his wife, who he requested have “all such plate as was the same Henry Lowes, and other my plate to the value of asmoche thing as I hadd of his; also that she have all such plate as was geven hyr at our mariage, and the sparver of white sylke with iiii peyre of shetes, ii payre of fustians, a federbed, i chambring of gresylde“. He also willed that all of his servants should be paid in full for the Midsummer quarter, asking that each of them be provided with a “blak gowne“, and requested “that Tybold my barbor have v marks“.
Two further points of note leap from this document. Firstly, in light of recent controversy over the contested chosen place of burial of King Richard III, especially Chris Skidmore’s very recent release of a letter it is claimed points to his desire to be interred at York Minster, some of Anthony, Earl Rivers requests are significant. That Richard III established a chantry at York Minster is well known. The recent letter firmly insists that the priest there be properly paid to ensure their prayers for Richard’s soul. This is not, however, the same as proving he intended a mausoleum to be created there for him.
Earl Rivers wills his “grete gilt basons, and such a somme of money as myn executirs shall think goode” to Saint Mary’s in York “to pray for my soule“. He bequeathed a further sum of money at Bewdley, requesting that they “pray for the sowles of my seid lord my fadre, my lady my modre, my brother Sir John, me, and all Christen sowles“. He further left money to Wittington College in London “to pray for my soule“. In spite of these many requests for prayers, Anthony firmly states “My will is now to be buried before an Image of our blissid Lady Mary , with my lord Richard, in Pomfrete (Pontefract)“. It is clear that ensuring prayers were said for one’s soul was not a direct indication of an intention to be interred in a location. It may well point to places important to an individual, that hold a special place in their heart, of fond memories or some family tie, but there is not a direct correlation with a desire to buried in a place paid to offer prayers for a soul.
The second point of interest is Anthony’s selection of executors. He names the Bishop of Lincoln, then Chancellor of England and a close ally of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the Bishop of Worcester, William Tunstall, Robert Poynz, Richard Hawte, William Catesby (a lawyer in the service of Richard), Andrew Dymmock (Anthony’s attorney) and Thomas Thorysby. There is perhaps little remarkable in these selection, apart from the inclusion of men close to the man responsible for Anthony’s arrest and who he must have feared would soon order his death. Anthony continues “Over this, I besech humbly, my Lord of Gloucestyr, in the worshipp of Cristes passhion and for the meryte and wele of his sowle, to comfort help and assist, as supervisor (for very trust) of this testament, that myn executours may with his pleasure fulfill this my last will“.
Anthony elected to appoint Richard supervisor of his executors. The two men were similar in many ways. Their reputations were almost mirrors, less Richard’s lack of interest in tournaments. Yet Richard was Anthony’s gaoler. This provision is frustratingly elusive and open to interpretation. Did Anthony simply accept that to see his wishes met he would have to go through Richard, who was so clearly now in control? Did he offer a little barb that Richard should take care for the “meryte and wele of his sowle“? Was it some sort of admission of his own guilt in seeking to plot against Richard? Or was it simply an act of friendship between two men, at odds now, but for so long on the same course?
The rambling nature of the writing is touching to read. Anthony is clearly a man fighting to recall all that could hinder his passage to Heaven and writing disparate provisions as they occur to him. He was obviously working hard through the fear and knowledge of what was surely to come. It seems clear that whatever the reason for appointing him supervisor of his executors, Anthony trusted Richard would do the right thing for him after his impending death. There is no sign of a man who feared the Protector meant the nephews they shared any harm.
This will was never proved. Perhaps Anthony Woodville was fooled by Richard, or perhaps he saw a truth lost to us now. That is for you to decide.
The 4th May 1471 marked a watershed in the civil strife tearing England apart. In fact, it perhaps marked the ending of what could legitimately be called the Wars of the Roses.
Two kings claimed dominion in England. The House of Lancaster’s claimant, King Henry VI, had been restored after a decade of his rival’s rule. King Edward IV, the representative of the House of York, had returned from exile to press his own claim once more. The man primarily responsible for unseating Edward was Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. He had been slain in the fighting at the Battle of Barnet on 14th April, the Lancastrian forces fatally divided when Edward struck. After reclaiming the capital and placing Henry in the Tower, Edward marched out again on hearing that Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, and her son Edward, Prince of Wales had landed on the south coast. The Lancastrian army marched north, seeking out more support. King Edward marched to cut them off.
King Edward mirrored his rival’s movements, cutting them off from their intended course. Margaret was seeking to cross the Severn to join with Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, who was moving from Wales to support her. Cut off, battle became inescapable until, as the Crowland Chronicler wrote; “When both armies had now become so extremely fatigued with the labour of marching and thirst that they could proceed no further, they joined battle near the town of Tewkesbury.” These were hardly ideal circumstances under which to take the field, but nevertheless, the armies arrayed before each other on the morning of 4th May.
Queen Margaret took the bold decision to allow her only son, heir to the House of Lancaster and last petal of the red rose to take the field at the head of his army. Edward, Prince of Wales was seventeen years old. He was young, certainly not of the age of majority yet, but it was not so unusual. In 1460, Edmund, Earl of Rutland had taken the field at Wakefield with his father Richard, Duke of York at the same age and both father and son had lost their lives that day. This was an all or nothing gamble, perhaps even a last desperate roll of the dice for a queen robbed of a kingdom. It is possible that there were plans for the Prince to take over from his ailing father if Lancaster were victorious. King Edward had built his reputation on martial prowess and won his throne in battle twice over. If Prince Edward was to rival him, he would need to prove that he was more than his father, who had allowed England to slide into this crippling mess.
The Lancastrian army arranged itself just outside Tewkesbury, with the Abbey at their back. The centre was commanded by Lord Wenlock. Prince Edward was also with the centre but lacked command experience. The right wing was led by Edmund Beaufort, 4th Duke of Somerset and the left by John Courtenay, 15th Earl of Devon. Their force numbered around 6,000 men in total.
King Edward’s Yorkist army numbered around 5,000 and so was slightly smaller than his opponents force. The vanguard was led by Edward’s youngest brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester, who had led the right wing at Barnet and acquitted himself well. Edward held the centre along with his other brother George, Duke of Clarence, who had defected back from the Lancastrian cause. Edward’s closest friend William, Lord Hastings led the rearguard.
The Arrivall Of Edward IV, a contemporary but necessarily partisan account written by an anonymous member of King Edward’s party, tells that the Lancastrians chose the area of the battle to make it as awkward as possible, describing how they arrayed themselves “in a close even at the townes ende; the towne, and the abbey, at theyr backs; afore them, and upon every hand of them, fowle lanes, and depe dikes, and many hedges, with hylls, and valleys, a ryght evill place to approche, as cowlde well have bene devysed.”
The battle was fierce, and apparently a close run affair. Somerset charged the Yorkists, possibly to escape the artillery and archery bombardments. His attack failed and his men were routed. The Arrivall records that the pursuit of Somerset’s men was left to Gloucester, whilst “the Kynge coragiously set upon that othar felde, were was chefe Edward, called Prince, and, in short while, put hym to discomfiture and flyght; and so fell in the chase of them that many of them were slayne, and, namely at a mylene, in the medowe fast by the town, were many drownyd; many rann towards the towne; many to the churche; to the abbey; and els where; as they best myght.”
The Crowland Chronicle records that “After the result had long remained doubtful, king Edward at last gained a glorious victory.” Somerset and many of his men took sanctuary in the Abbey. Many Lancastrians were killed trying to flee the field. Shortly after the battle, King Edward attended prayers at the Abbey and two days later he had Somerset and the others ensconced within the Abbey removed and tried before Richard, Duke of Gloucester (who was Constable of England). On the 6th May, they were beheaded on a makeshift scaffold in the town. King Edward spared the men any further mutilation, such as the quartering traditional for traitors, and allowed the bodies to be buried. Edward, Prince of Wales was amongst the fallen and is buried within the Abbey beneath a Latin inscription that reads;
“Here lies Edward, Prince of Wales, cruelly slain whilst but a youth, Anno Domine 1471, May fourth. Alas the savagery of men. Thou art the soul light of thy Mother, and the last hope of thy race.”
Some estimates number the Lancastrian dead that day at around 2,000 souls. The Sacristy door in Tewkesbury Abbey is covered on the back by pieces of horse armour recovered from the battlefield by the monks and it bares the scares of arrow holes puncturing the plates. It is a beautiful but stark reminder of the losses suffered during the battle.
The fate of Edward, Prince of Wales has become a matter of controversy. Shakespeare has Richard as Duke of Gloucester plotting the murder of the 17 year old prince and revelling in the death. Holinshed’s ‘Chronicle’, which was first published in 1577, claims that Richard struck the first blow against Edward. Before that, Polydore Vergil, Henry VII’s official historian, wrote in his ‘Anglica Historia’ that William, Lord Hastings, George, Duke of Clarence and Richard, Duke of Gloucester killed the young man after the trio had captured him. The most contemporary sources are the Yorkist account of ‘The Arrivall of Edward IV’ which has Edward “slayne in the field” and the Lancastrian Warkworth’s ‘Chronicle’ which has Prince Edward captured by his brother in law George, Duke of Clarence whilst fleeing the field after the battle was lost. Warkworth describes Prince Edward crying to the Duke of Clarence, his brother in law by virtue of their marriages to the daughters of the Earl of Warwick, for mercy. Clarence, until only recently allied to the cause of Edward and his mother, Margaret of Anjou, refuses to listen to the Prince’s pleading and has him executed on a makeshift block in the field.
The closest that we have to an impartial contemporary source is the ‘Crowland Chronicle’, the author (or authors, as it is a continuation chronicle written by several different individuals) of which is unknown. The writer is generally considered to be a well informed, politically active and astute person, perhaps working within the court. On the subject of Tewkesbury and Prince Edward’s death, the Chronicle walks something of a middle line, remaining uncommitted in telling us “…there were slain on the queen’s side, either in the field or after the battle, by the avenging hands of certain persons, prince Edward, the only son of king Henry…”. The Crowland Chronicler then lists other notable names slain but does not assign the death to any person or persons.
The Arrivall’s recording of Richard chasing Somerset’s routed wing whilst King Edward ploughed into the centre, where Prince Edward was located, seems to suggest that Richard is not a likely candidate for personally slaying the Prince. Doubtless his culpability was cultivated to add to the dark reputation being woven about him. It is easy to see the story develop from The Arrivall to Shakespeare so that Richard is first implicated and then condemned for the murder of the young Prince. Clarence seems a possible candidate. He was in the centre with King Edward and perhaps had a grudge against the Lancastrians, feeling aggrieved by their treatment of him and having something to prove to his brother, whose side he had only just rejoined.
Queen Margaret was arrested nearby, heartbroken by the loss of her only son. She was taken back to London with King Edward where her husband was put to death. The Lancastrian cause was lost, the house extinct in the male line. By this measure, Tewkesbury marked the end of hostility between the Houses of York and Lancaster. The House of York was to implode over a decade later and be supplanted by Henry Tudor, who garnered support from both Lancastrians and Yorkists whilst being the heir to neither claim. The House of York was to continue to hound the Tudors into the next century.
Civil war ground on, but after Tewkesbury, it was not a fight between York and Lancaster any longer.
The Wars of the Roses may well have ended outside Tewkesbury Abbey, where the last petal of the red rose fell.
Sudeley Castle stands in Winchcombe, for a time the capital of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia, just 9 miles from Junction 9 of the M5 but a world away from the hustle and bustle of the life that artery maintains. Sudeley Castle is nestled away along a single track road from the village. Just as you wonder whether you’ve taken a wrong turn, the gates greet you, beckoning the visitor to the feast of history within.
There were several reasons I was drawn to Sudeley for my first visit. The facial reconstruction of Richard III was lodged there at the time, which is perhaps reason enough for me. I knew of Sudeley’s Tudor connections too, to Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Catherine Parr and Elizabeth I, but there was so much more to discover than I had imagined.
The welcome at Sudeley was as warm as the weather (which is a complement – it was actually a really nice day!) and stepping into the grounds leads through beautifully maintained gardens as the visitor winds their way up toward the castle.
The first building encountered is the now ruined Tithe Barn, built in the 15th century but a victim of the Civil War. It remains a picturesque ruin though, displaying several species of rose within its remaining walls. The Barn, along with significant parts of the castle itself, date from the time the estate belonged to Ralph Boteler, Baron Sudeley (1394-1473). Ralph made his fortune in France, serving with Henry V, and held prestigious titles as Captain of Calais and Royal Treasurer to Henry VI. When he returned from France, Ralph renovated Sudeley but lost the property in 1469 for his support of the Lancastrian cause in the Wars of the Roses.
Ralph Boteler left no male heir, his only son Thomas having pre-deceased him. Wars of the Roses interest is significant here too. Thomas Butler (as Boteler had evolved into) was the husband of Lady Eleanor Butler, daughter to the Earl of Shrewsbury, who was supposedly involved in the pre-contract of marriage with King Edward IV that was later used to invalidate his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville and declare his heirs illegitimate.
The reflection pool that runs alongside the Tithe Barn was added in the 1930’s and offers a tranquil position from which to view the castle as the giant carp pop up now and then. From there, a leisurely stroll around more immaculate gardens brings the now eager visitor to the castle itself. Underneath the terrace is a display of stones removed from Winchcombe Abbey, a stark reminder of the cultural vandalism of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1539 the Abbey was dissolved and the land granted to Thomas Seymour. Some of the stonework of the Abbey was moved to Sudeley to form an underground waterway. It was uncovered in 1996, but it is believed more plundered stones filled the castle moat and remain buried under the grounds and gardens.
A flight of stairs, in the shadow of which a row of Victorian dog kennels remains, leads to the terrace, offering a stunning view over the Gloucestershire countryside. It is not hard then to imagine the old soldier Ralph resting himself there, or Richard, as Duke of Gloucester, pondering the building work he was to undertake during his custody of Sudeley. Nor is it difficult to picture the lovelorn Henry VIII strolling along the terrace arm in arm with Anne Boleyn, and their daughter Elizabeth enjoying the hunt during one of her three visits to the castle.
It is somewhat unfortunate that photographs cannot be taken within the Castle, though also understandable. A significant amount of charm is derived from the fact that Sudeley remains a family home as well as a visitor attraction. Amongst the medieval portraits and letters, the beautiful fabrics on display and the oddities that made up Emma Dent’s museum are family photos and I have to say that this adds charm and a real connection from the very present to the distant past in a way that many such places cannot do.
Richard III, then Duke of Gloucester, received possession of Sudeley Castle from his brother, King Edward IV, in 1469 after it was confiscated from Ralph Boteler. Richard owned the property for 9 years before exchanging it with his brother the king for Richmond Castle, presumably to consolidate his holdings in the north. When Richard became king, he regained Sudeley too. It was during Richard’s stewardship of Sudeley that the Banqueting Hall was built. Now ruined, its vanished splendour is still to be perceived in what remains today.
The Knot Garden, which can be entered part way through the castle tour, offers a spot for tranquil reflection in the heart of the castle and water gently falls from the fountain at its centre. The Ruins Garden can be accessed from here, a spot where nature has claimed some of the stonework for her own.
As the castle is exited, the visitor is greeted by the remains of a covered walkway that once ran from the Castle’s door to the parish church of St Mary’s just a short walk across the lawn. Once more, the spectacle of Katherine Parr strolling that very path on her way to worship at the church almost conjures itself in the mind. The church is beautiful, but its great attraction for the visitor is the tomb of Katherine Parr, who married Thomas Seymour, uncle of King Edward VI, after Henry VIII’s death. She saw out her final years at Sudeley Castle with her fourth husband and it retains several fascinating personal items; two books that she wrote, personal letters to Thomas Seymour, one demonstrating her contempt for his brother Edward, Duke of Somerset and Protector to Edward VI, who she declares she would have bitten had he been close enough after one altercation! Her privy is also not to be missed. Words can barely do it justice!
When the English Civil War ravaged so many fortifications across the land, Sudeley did not escape. The then owner, George, Lord Chandos, was a staunch royalist when confrontation erupted in 1642. In 1643, King Charles stayed briefly at Sudeley following the failed siege of Gloucester. In 1644 the Castle itself came under siege. When the garrison refused to surrender, canon pummelled the walls until someone inside opened the doors against orders. The castle was then slighted once the Parliamentarian side had won.
The gardens provide a beautiful stroll around Sudeley’s grounds, encompassing herb gardens with explanations of the medicinal benefits of the various plants, the secret walled garden and the Pheasantry. It is easy to lose track of time, absorbed by the amazing setting and surroundings.
After a time as a romantic ruin, attracting royal visitors and sightseers alike, as well as the discovery of Katherine Parr’s lead coffin in a shallow grave, the property was bought by the wealthy Worcester glove makers John and William Dent in the mid 19th century. Through the Victorian age, Sudeley underwent something of a re-birth as the Dents poured their substantial fortune into resurrecting Sudeley Castle as a family home. The Dent brothers died within a year of each other with no sons, so Sudeley passed to their nephew, whose wife, Emma Dent was passionate and committed her life to the Castle. One of Emma’s nephews then inherited Sudeley and it is this family who still call the Castle home today. Their story, from the tragedies of World War I to today, are now a part of the rich history that can be indulged in at Sudeley, and that connection between past and present adds to the charm that wraps the visitor in the experience of this magnificent place. There is a very real sense that the tapestry of Sudeley’s history is still being woven.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and hope that you will consider adding Sudeley to your “To See List” if you haven’t already been.
I like King Edward IV. I think most people do. He held onto his throne in no small part because he was an intensely likeable man. Men wanted to be him and women wanted to be with him. In many ways, he was a successful king. Edward was keen on trade, particularly with Burgundy, later with the Hanseatic League and France, and patronised Caxton’s printing press as soon as it arrived in England. His military record was the envy of the time, having never been defeated on the field of battle.
However, some of Edward’s political decisions seem a little short sighted and this lack of forethought was to store up a whole bag of snakes that were unleashed on his untimely death. During his lifetime, Edward’s affability seems to have kept the drawstring tightly shut, but on his death, no man seems to have been able to prevent them from spilling forth to poison all of his good work.
Whilst examining some of the political decisions that were to create problems later, it is worth bearing in mind whether they perhaps occurred from a lack of forethought, the absence of the will to deal more fully with certain matters or from a genuine believe that the underlying issues were solved by his solutions. Edward lacked the benefit of hindsight and was never to see what happened in the summer of 1483.
King since 1461, in 1464 Edward famously married Elizabeth Woodville, a Lancastrian widow with two sons, in secret whilst the Earl of Warwick was negotiating a French marriage. Whether Edward fell genuinely in love with Elizabeth or was tricked somehow into validating the union is of little consequence. The fact remains that he not only sacrificed any potential gain or alliance his marriage could have brought (unromantic, I know, but a genuine consideration for a king at this time), but he also deeply embarrassed his most powerful subject. A rift slowly opened that Edward did nothing to heal until Warwick eventually rebelled in 1469. Even if Edward could not have been expected to foresee this trouble, he surely had a long time to deal with the mounting tension, yet chose not to.
The Parliament of 1472 was a long, protracted affair. Writs were issued summoning members to attend on 6th October 1472 and the Parliament sat for forty four weeks in total over a period of two and half years. This record session was not to be broken until the Reformation Parliament. Edward had lost his grasp on the crown for six months between October 1470 and April 1471 and there were a lot of loose ends that needed to be addressed.
When Warwick had been killed at Barnet in 1471, he had been in control of the huge Neville patrimony. His widow, Anne, had also brought her husband the vast Beauchamp and Despenser inheritances. Here began Edward’s problems, and his scruffy solutions. His two brothers, George, Duke of Clarence and Richard, Duke of Gloucester had been at odds over the inheritance of their wives, the Neville sisters, since Edward had regained power. Most of the vast tracts of Neville land in the north had already been vested in Gloucester and it is clear the Edward intended it to stay there. Throughout the bitter dispute between the king’s brothers over the inheritance the one thing upon which they both agreed was their desire to hold the lands in right of their wives rather than by royal grant.
The advantage of this to George and Richard was clear. If they held their new lands and titles by right of inheritance the king could not legally take them away. If they were held by royal grant, breaking the line of inheritance, they were held at the king’s leisure and could be removed in a fickle moment, as we will see later. Their foresight is perhaps in contrast to their brother’s lack thereof. It is telling that both brothers, however vehemently they argued, could agree that they did not wish to hold power at their brother’s leisure, clearly staking a claim for some sort of independence. This thin slither of agreement was seized upon by Edward, but presented its own problems.
If Edward were to grasp this wisp of accord between his brothers, he could not attaint Warwick, since his lands and titles would be forfeit if he did. If Warwick was to escape this posthumous punishment, so too must his followers, meaning that none could be attainted for their part in the rebellion, including Warwick’s brother John Neville, Marquis of Montagu, who had also perished at Barnet. John was, himself, a tutorial from which Edward should perhaps have learned. The Percy Earl of Northumberland had been attainted after his death at Towton in 1461 and in an effort to bolster Yorkist support the earldom and lands had been granted to John Neville in 1464. The rivalry between the Nevilles and the Percys was deeply ingrained and frequently violent, so the Nevilles must have been delighted to have obtained the upper hand under Yorkist rule. Henry Percy, now head of the family, quietly pleaded his case to Edward and in 1470, the king decided to rehabilitate this family, who still held great sway in the far north. He chose to do so by depriving John Neville of his earldom and returning it to the Percy clan. John was compensated by being created Marquis of Montagu, theoretically a superior title to an earldom, but in reality it came with insufficient lands and income to support him. It was undoubtedly this affront before an old rival and the inconvenience brought by finding himself suddenly underprivileged that led John to support his brother’s rebellion in 1470 and drive out King Edward.
Now, Edward decided to acquiesce to his brothers’ demands, but it was still not so simple. The Neville inheritance was tied to the male line of the family, so the rightful heir was not, in fact, Isabel or Anne Neville, the Duchesses of Clarence and Gloucester respectively, but their cousin George Neville, son of the aforementioned John. This presented another problem in which Edward entangled himself awkwardly.
His eventual solution was as unsatisfactory as it was inequitable. The dowager Countess of Warwick was disinherited, effectively treated as though she were legally dead, so that her daughters might acquire her lands. Edward then proceeded to deprive George Neville of his rightful inheritance, compensating him with the title Duke of Bedford. For his protection, which it was clearly felt that he might be in need of, Edward added a condition at the very end of the grants made to his brothers. Richard was granted his substantial Neville inheritance by a bill dated 23rd February 1473 and George’s more modest estates in the Midlands and Marches were settled in a bill dated the following day, 24th February. Both contained an identical final sentence which read thus:
“Also it is ordained by the said authority that if the said male issue begotten or coming of the body of the said John Neville, knight, die without male issue coming of their bodies while the said duke is alive, that the said duke shall then have and enjoy all the things stated for term of his life.”
Edward effectively granted his brothers’ wish to inherit on behalf of their wives, but specified that should the male line of the body of John Neville, late Marquis of Montagu, become extinct, the titles would revert to a life interest only. This provision seems to be Edward sneaking in a curtailment of his brothers’ titles to counteract their insistence on inheriting rather than receiving a grant, but it made their power base fragile and placed their fortunes upon a whim of fate. Edward may have thought that he was being clever, but this single sentence was to have a devastating effect in 1483.
A few years after this settlement, Edward felt in control enough at home to turn his attentions abroad. Much of 1474 was spent planning the invasion of France, to press Edward’s claim to that throne in a renewal of the long dormant Hundred Years War. In 1475 a force reputed to be the largest ever to leave the English shore departed for Calais. On arrival, Edward’s powerful but enigmatic ally Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy failed to meet the English king having inexplicably decided to march his army in the opposite direction to press some more trifling claim. Edward was left high and dry. In spite of the size of his force he had been relying on Duke Charles’s army to ensure that a prolonged campaign on foreign soil was more feasible. Without him, Edward was in something of a bind.
Ever sharp to an opportunity, the Spider King, Louis XI, seized the chance to make Edward an offer the French King knew his English counterpart would struggle to turn down. The terms of the Treaty of Picquigny, signed on 29th August 1475, gave Edward 75,000 gold crowns immediately to withdraw from France along with an annual pension of 50,000 gold crowns. Margaret of Anjou, widow of King Henry VI, was ransomed back to France for a further 50,000 gold crowns and an agreement was reached to marry the French heir, the Dauphin, to Edward’s oldest daughter Elizabeth of York.
This expensive peace was viewed as somewhat dishonourable in some quarters in France, but the ten year truce that accompanied the Treaty allowed trade to flourish again between the two nations. The view in France was of little concern to the now considerably wealthier Edward. The merchant middle class enjoyed the increased trade too. However, many in England also saw only dishonour in the capitulation of the English army. Most prominent amongst them was the king’s brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Richard refused to attend the negotiations and was not present at the signing of the Treaty in protest at what he saw as a dishonourable surrender. Richard argued, possibly with some validity, that the king had a force strong enough to win at least one battle against the French while they still mustered their full strength. Then, Richard protested, the king could negotiate the same peace, if he so desired, from a position of greater strength and return home having won the field on French soil and forced them to negotiate possibly an even better settlement. Richard was in the minority on the council, each of whom were to receive a hefty pension from France too. Richard refused his, though he was later to meet with Louis XI and accept gifts from him.
The lack of forethought that I see within this episode relates to Edward’s reputation from that point onwards. In his entire life, Edward had never been defeated on the field of battle. This was an enviable reputation during the Wars of the Roses and may well have kept some potential threats to his rule at bay. On each occasion that Edward had taken the field it had been through necessity, to press his claim to the throne or to defend his crown. Now, presented with the option of stepping back from a confrontation, he backed down. He claimed the French pension was a tribute and a victory, but it exposed for all to see the weakness that Louis XI had perceived. This legendary and feared battle leader, the 6′ 4″, athletic mountain of a man was lost. Edward had the chance to reinforce and magnify this reputation in France but passed it up for money. Of course, he might have lost any battle and risked both his reputation and the money! From that point on though, few could have eyed England and Edward as a real threat. As long as the king wasn’t backed into a corner, he wouldn’t fight. This persisted into the 1480’s when he dallied in leading a campaign against Scottish aggression until he was forced to put the operation into the hands of Richard, who executed it swiftly and effectively. Okay, this doesn’t appear to have cost Edward in the long term, but he had sacrificed a good deal all the same. He had set out to conquer France and been paid off.
In 1478, Edward reversed his previous decision in regard of George Neville, son of John Neville, late Marquis of Montagu. George had been created Duke of Bedford by the king in compensation for the loss of his inheritance, as the Parliament Rolls of January 1478 state, “for the great zeal and love he [Edward] bore to John Neville“. Edward had also intended, for reasons of the same “great love his said highness bore to the said John Neville“, to “have given the said George adequate livelihood to support the same dignity“. For unspecified reasons, George had never received his “adequate livelihood” and this we are assured, “often causes resort to great extortion, corruption and maintenance, to the great trouble of all the areas where such a figure happens to live“. So, outrageously painted as being in the best interests of both the duke himself and all who lived near him, “all the dignities given to the said George or to the said John Neville, his father, shall henceforth be void and of no effect“, so that “George and his heirs shall not be dukes or marquesses, earls or barons“.
Once more, this episode appears to be of little importance, but it surely reinforced the view that Edward was not a man of his word when it suited him. The Neville family had been politically neutralised. George held a great title, but no power or income to maintain himself there. He had no power base, since the bulk of the Neville affinity now looked to Richard, Duke of Gloucester as its head. Edward had gone to France to conquer a bitter rival and been paid off to leave. He had compensated George Neville for a travesty of inheritance law tinkering, never delivered any compensation except in name, and then removed it when it suited him to do so. He was king, so he could do such things if he wished, but that does not make it well advised.
The culmination of much of this trouble came in April 1483 when Edward died, aged 40. Supposedly, Edward made a deathbed plea to his Woodville relatives by marriage and his closest, probably his best friend in every sense, William, Lord Hastings to cease their feuding for the benefit of his son. That Edward knew of this bitter rivalry and had failed to bring the opposing sides to heel speaks too of a lack of foresight. The bag of snakes that he had held tightly shut fell opened as his life slipped through his fingers. Perhaps finally seeing the trouble that lay ahead, Edward altered his will to name his brother Richard as Protector of the Realm. Richard had been unswervingly loyal to Edward for his entire life, ruling the north for the king for over a decade with great success. Yet even this appointment, of an apparently worthy man, lacked real merit.
Richard had been in the north for years. He lived there, ruled there and stayed there. He visited London only infrequently and so was not familiar with the court in the way that many in London at the time were. Edward had placed his eldest son and heir in the care of the Woodvilles at Ludlow, his household there lead by his uncle Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers. The sudden change of guardianship, the instantaneous shifting of the custody of both the king and political power in the realm was seismic. The Woodvilles lost their only link to authority. They were unpopular and lacked a real power base in their own right. Hastings similarly had held the ear of the king for two decades and was about to be forced to see another man wield that influence over the young king.
If Edward foresaw trouble, he only made it worse by his solution. He turned two sides into three, his intractable younger brother probably never likely to beg peace from either the Woodvilles or the man reputed to be Edward’s erstwhile partner in vice Lord Hastings. He left his brother with a job he himself had been incapable of resolving. Edward might have been better served to have picked one side and given them all of the power at the expense of the other. Having nailed his colours, and his son’s future, to the Woodville mast for years, perhaps he would have resolved the matter better by reinforcing that and leaving Hastings to chose either to like it or lump it.
Another of Edward’s decisions was to pour fuel onto the kindling political fires breaking out in London. On 4th May 1483, less than a month after King Edward IV passed away, George Neville died, bereft of title, lands and now life aged just 22. He left no children, let alone a male heir to continue the line of John Neville. Richard’s interests in vast swathes of his lands instantly reverted to a life interest only, significantly weakening his position and denying his son most of his inheritance. Perhaps Edward had intended to resolve this obviously unsatisfactory settlement, just as he had intended to properly endow George, but he did neither. Had George lived and been properly invested, perhaps he would have been loyal to Edward and his son and retained enough control over the Neville affinity to prevent Richard seizing such complete authority, and eventually the crown itself, in the summer of 1483. As it was, Richard became devastatingly weakened at a time when he was going to need all of his strength if he was to do the job his brother had intended for him of curbing the squabbling Woodvilles and Lord Hastings. Perhaps this contributed to Richard’s decision to execute both Rivers and Hastings. Maybe the lack of a prospect of correcting the title for as long as the new king remained under Woodville influence drove Richard to seek a new solution.
As I said at the outset, I like King Edward IV. I still do, but I think perhaps I like him in the way I like Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses. He’s loveable, but a bit of a rogue; likeable, but always on the make; he could sell ice to the Eskimos, but you trust his word at your peril. And it’s always next year that he’ll be a millionaire. There’s always next year to worry about tackling that. Except that one year, there wasn’t.