Lambert Simnel and Edward V

This post turned into a way longer piece than I meant, so please bear with it!

When I wrote The Survival of the Princes in the Tower, I posited a theory, one of many alternatives offered. This particular idea has grown on me ever since, and I find myself unable to shake it off. I’m beginning to convince myself that the 1487 Lambert Simnel Affair was never an uprising in favour of Edward, Earl of Warwick, as history tells us. I think I’m certain I believe it was a revolt in support of Edward V, the elder of the Princes in the Tower. Sounds crazy? Just bear with me.

PitT-006-Hardback-Dust-Jacket-Bookshelf

Why do we think we know that the Yorkist uprising of 1487 favoured Edward, Earl of Warwick? In reality, it is simply because that was the official story of the Tudor government. It made the attempt a joke; a rebellion in favour of a boy who was demonstrably a prisoner in the Tower, who indeed was paraded at St Paul’s for the masses and (perhaps more importantly) the nobility to see. There is nothing that links it to Edward V because Henry VII could not afford there to be. Interestingly, there is virtually nothing contemporary that links it to Warwick either, at least not from outside government circles, and even within the corridors of power, there are intriguing hints that all was not as it appears.

There are two types of evidence worthy of consideration. The first is that written down which differs from the official version of events. The second important aspect of the affair is the identities and actions of those involved. Examination of the first body of works throws up some interesting discrepancies. The Heralds’ Memoir offers an account of Henry VII’s campaign and the Battle of Stoke Field which describes the boy taken after the battle, captured by Robert Bellingham, as being named John.

‘And there was taken the lade that his rebelles called King Edwarde (whoos name was in dede John) – by a vaylent and a gentil esquire of the kings howse called Robert Bellingham.’
Heralds’ Memoir, E. Cavell, Richard III and Yorkist History Trust, 2009, p117

The role of heralds on the battlefield, although they worked for a master, was traditionally impartial, their purpose being to report on the fighting decide the victor (though it was usually obvious). This herald was an eyewitness to the king’s preparations and to the battle, and he reports that the boy delivered to Henry afterwards was named John. Was this a random boy who took the fall for the plot, perhaps willingly, if doing so came with a job in the royal kitchens? One other thing to note from the herald’s account, which is something that runs throughout the various descriptions of this episode, is the fact that the rebels called their leader King Edward, but no regnal number is ever given. This opens up the possibility that he was claimed to be King Edward V, not King Edward VI.

A regnal number seems to first appear in the York Books. The city received a letter that began ‘By the King’ but offered no regnal number. The letter, asking for assistance that was denied, was transcribed at some point into the city’s records beneath a note that it had been received from the imposter claiming to be King Edward VI (York Civic Records, Vol 6, A. Raine, pp20-1). The question is, was this written in after the official story had taken shape? The writer of the letter offers us no clue by refraining from using a regnal number to describe himself. Is it possible that all references to a regnal number were erased from the record because of the fallout it would cause Henry? Certainly, if he claimed to be Edward V, it would be a far more problematical incident for Henry, who was married to Edward’s sister Elizabeth, and whose rise to the throne had relied heavily on Yorkists who would abandon him for Edward V in a heartbeat. In the Leland-Hearne version of the Heralds’ Memoir, the transcriber felt the need to change this contemporary passage to assert that the boy’s name ‘was indede Lambert’. It is therefore easy to see how the official story was layered over contemporary variants to mask alternative versions.

One more interesting feature unique to the Lambert Simnel Affair is the coronation the boy underwent in Dublin. We are told that they used a;

‘crown they took off the head of our lady of Dam and clapt it on the boy’s head. The mayor of Dublin took the boy in his arms, carried him about the city in procession with great triumph. The clergy went before, the Earl of Kildare, then Governor, then Walter, Archbishop of Dublin and Lord Chancellor; and the nobility, Council and citizens followed him as their King.’
https://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/ireland/1601-3/pp661-687

Clearly, the boy was widely accepted in Ireland, with only Waterford remaining staunchly loyal to Henry VII. Here too, we have no reference to a regnal number that might help clear up the matter of who the boy was claiming to be. The act of a coronation is unusual though. Perkin Warbeck, in all his years claiming to be Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower, never underwent such a ceremony. The critical factor here is that Edward V had already been proclaimed king, in 1483 after his father’s death, but had never been crowned. A coronation was the missing piece of his kingship. Was the ceremony in Dublin meant to fill this hole, or at least plug the gap? In 1216, the young Henry III had been crowned at Gloucester Cathedral because a coronation ceremony was seen as key to firming up his position as king. London was in the hands of the French and rebel barons and was therefore unavailable for the event. He had been forced to borrow a gold circlet from his mother to use as a crown, just as Lambert’s ceremony had used a similar decoration from a statue in a nearby church. The pope had later instructed that Henry should be re-crowned at Westminster by the Archbishop of Canterbury because it was more proper, so there was a precedent for this potential king to have a coronation in Dublin which could then be confirmed at Westminster if his invasion was successful. The very fact of a coronation makes much more sense if it was for Edward V, a proclaimed but uncrowned king than for Edward VI.

Lambert_simnel
Lambert Simnel, carried through Dublin after his coronation

The Heralds’ Memoir account of Robert Bellingham capturing a boy named John who would later become Lambert Simnel – or at least, the account states that this John was the boy the army followed and claimed to be their king – is neither the beginning nor the end of contemporary or near-contemporary confusion about the identity of the nominal leader of this rebellion. We know that Henry VII ordered the burning of all of the records of the Irish Parliament held in 1487, and when Sir Edward Poynings arrived in Ireland shortly after the Lambert Simnel Affair, we cannot know what else was destroyed. Paperwork that might help work out whether the boy claimed to be Edward V or Edward VI is therefore hard to come by and, as with the York Books, when it was written becomes paramount. If it was after the official story took hold, it is bound to say Edward VI. How hard can it be to make ‘V’ become ‘VI’ anyway?

The Annals of Ulster is a chronicle compiled by a contemporary to these events, Cathal Mac Manus Maguire, the Archdeacon of Clogher. He mentions the Lambert Simnel Affair in two passages. The first described the circumstances around the Battle of Bosworth when he wrote that

‘The king of the Saxons, namely, king Richard, was slain in battle and 1500 were slain in that battle and the son of a Welshman, he by whom the battle was given, was made king. And there lived not of the race of the blood royal that time but one young man, who came, on being exiled the year after, to Ireland.’
Annals of Ulster, Vol III, translated by B. Mac Carthy, Dublin, 1895, p299

This would tend to point to Edward, Earl of Warwick if it was believed that the Princes in the Tower were dead, though this is not something the Annals of Ulster does claim. To be fair though, it remains quiet on most Saxon matters that don’t directly impact Ireland. The next passage where this lone son of the House of York is mentioned is in the section covering 1487 and the attempt by Lambert Simnel on Henry VII’s throne.

‘A great fleet of Saxons came to Ireland this year to meet the son of the Duke of York, who was exiled at that time with the earl of Kildare, namely, Gerald, son of Earl Thomas. And there lived not of the race of the blood royal that time but that son of the Duke and he was proclaimed king on the Sunday of the Holy Ghost in the town of Ath-cliath that time. And he went east with the fleet and many of the Irish went with him east, under the brother of the Earl of Kildare, namely, Thomas, son of the Earl and under Edward Plunket, that is, Edward junior.’
Annals of Ulster, Vol III, translated by B. Mac Carthy, Dublin, 1895, pp315-7

This passage is awkward. It still maintains that this scion of the House of York was the last. However, he is described as a son of the Duke of York. If this refers to Warwick, then it must mean a grandson of the Duke of York and is perhaps just a slip. If it does refer to him, it is interesting that the writer describes him being exiled with the Earl of Kildare, because the attainder of Warwick’s father in 1478 expressly charged George with trying to get his son out of the country either to Ireland or Burgundy. It does not state whether he failed or succeeded.

It may also merit consideration that the last Duke of York (assuming this was not a grown son of the (by now, if alive) 13-year-old Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower, was Edward IV. Why would the writer not refer to Edward IV? As mentioned, the Annals relate little of English affairs, and perhaps it was uncertain whether, under Henry VII, it was acceptable to refer to Yorkist kings. That argument struggles to hold water, though, since the writer has earlier referred to King Richard when discussing the Battle of Bosworth. If the writer uses ‘son of the Duke of York’ to mean a grandson of Richard, 3rd Duke of York, then it might refer to Warwick, Edward V or Richard of Shrewsbury (if the latter two were still alive). If he means a son of the last Duke of York, then he means a son of Edward IV. The reference to the last of the line is strongly suggestive that he means Warwick since he was known (in England at least) to be alive, but that would raise a query about Irish support for Perkin Warbeck. If they believed he was another son of the House of York, then they did not know that all but Warwick were dead. It is possible they meant Edward V, as the last hope of the House of York, unaware of the fates of Richard of Shrewsbury and Edward, Earl of Warwick. One thing that can be taken from these passages in that the writer seems convinced that the boy was who he claimed to be. There is no mention of imposture, of Lambert Simnel or of a boy from Oxford.

In January 1488, the Pope would write to the Irish prelates involved in the coronation to censure them for supporting Lambert. They had;

‘adhered to and aided and abetted the enemies and rebels of the said king, and even de facto set up and crowned as king, falsely alleging him to be a son of the late duke of Clarence, a boy of illegitimate birth, whom the said king already had in his hands, thereby committing treason and incurring the said sentences.’
https://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-papal-registers/brit-ie/vol14/pp305-309

This was clearly after the official story had taken shape. Henry had told on the archbishops of Armagh and Dublin and the bishops of Meath and Kildare in order to have them censured. There are several very interesting slips in this story. In 1526, amongst the Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII is a note on Ireland that deviates from the official version of events. The author is not mentioned, unfortunately, but the briefing is a summary of the state of affairs in Ireland over recent decades. The passage relating to the Lambert Simnel Affair tells the king that;

‘Now that the King inherits the titles both of York and Lancaster, he will be better able to look after Ireland. There has been a similar dispute for the rule of Ireland between the Geraldines and the Butlers. The earls of Kildare and Desmond come of one stock, and have always held with the house of York, as was seen in the days of the King’s father, “when an organ-maker’s son (Lambert Simnel), named one of king Edward’s sons, came into Ireland, was by the Geraldines received and crowned king in the city of Dublin, and with him the earl of Kildare’s father sent his brother Thomas with much of his people, who with the earl of Lincoln, Martin Swart and others, gave a field unto the King’s father, where the earl of Kildare’s brother was slain.”’
‘Henry VIII: August 1526, 11-20’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 4, 1524-1530, ed. J S Brewer (London, 1875), pp. 1066-1081. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol4/pp1066-1081 [accessed 24 July 2018]

The interesting fact here is that Lambert Simnel, while naturally portrayed as a fraud, is described as ‘one of king Edward’s sons’. Given that he was crowned, we are consistently told, King Edward, if he was a son of Edward IV, that makes him Edward V. The passage is in quotation marks, but if it refers to another source, that is not given. It is striking that what appears to be a private briefing for Henry VIII on Irish affairs is allowed to refer to Lambert Simnel as a son of Edward IV, not the son of George, Duke of Clarence as the official story under Henry VII insisted. At least in public. Was something else well known in private?

There is another source, far more contemporary, that throws serious doubt on the story Henry VII wanted and needed everyone to believe. It is all the more interesting because it comes from within Tudor circles. Bernard André was a blind friar-poet who acted as tutor to Prince Arthur Tudor and may have gone on to teach the future Henry VIII too. He wrote a life of Henry VII which is generally full of praise for his master, but when it comes to the Lambert Simnel Affair, he appears to utterly ignore the official story.

‘While the cruel murder of King Edward the Fourth’s sons was yet vexing the people, behold another new scheme that seditious men contrived. To cloak their fiction in a lie, they publicly proclaimed with wicked intent that a certain boy born the son of a miller or cobbler was the son of Edward the Fourth. This audacious claim so overcame them that they dreaded neither God nor man as they plotted their evil design against the king. Then, after they had hatched the fraud among themselves, word came back that the second son of Edward had been crowned king in Ireland. When a rumour of this kind had been reported to the king, he shrewdly questioned those messengers about every detail. Specifically, he carefully investigated how the boy was brought there and by whom, where he was educated, where he had lived for such a long time, who his friends were, and many other things of this sort.’
The Life of Henry VII, Bernard André, Translated by Daniel Hobbins, Italica Press, 2011, pp44-5

André has already, by this point, assured his readers that Richard III killed the Princes in the Tower. He sticks to the assertion that Lambert was an imposter, but he clearly states that he was claimed to be ‘the son of Edward the Fourth’. He goes to explain that ‘the second son of Edward had been crowned king in Ireland’, so something does not add up in his account. He seems to be claiming that Lambert Simnel was set up as Richard of Shrewsbury, the second son of Edward IV, yet all other accounts have the boy claiming to be named Edward. Does Andre have the first and second sons mixed up, or is there another scenario emerging in which Lambert was claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury? This alternative scenario was in circulation as late as 1797, when W. Bristow said that the Irish supported ‘Lambert Simnel (the counterfeit duke of York)’ (The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 2, W. Bristow from https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-kent/vol2/pp184-203). Perhaps this is some confusion with Perkin Warbeck, but what we can take from André’s statement here is that he understood the lad in Ireland was being touted as a son of Edward IV, not of the Duke of Clarence.

The friar does not stop there, though. He continues his account be explaining that;

‘Various messengers were sent for a variety of reasons. At last [blank space] was sent across, who claimed that he would easily recognise him if he were who he claimed to be. But the boy had already been tutored with evil cunning by persons who were familiar with the days of Edward, and he very readily answered all the herald’s questions. To make a long story short, through the deceptive tutelage of his advisors, he was finally accepted as Edward’s son by many prudent men, and so strong was this belief that many did not even hesitate to die for him.’
The Life of Henry VII, Bernard André, Translated by Daniel Hobbins, Italica Press, 2011, p45

André here asserts that several messengers were sent to Ireland to find out what was going on. Finally, a herald volunteered to go on the basis that he had known Edward IV and his sons and would recognise the boy if he was who he claimed to be. Already, feeling the need to take such a step confirms that Henry VII cannot have known with any certainty that the sons of Edward IV were dead. Even more astoundingly, the herald returned to inform Henry that the boys had answered every question posed of him, and he did not say he did not recognise the boy, or that his looks made it impossible for him to be a son of Edward IV. In fact, he confirms that ‘he was finally accepted as Edward’s son by man prudent men’.

Frustratingly, André leaves a blank space in his manuscript where the name of the herald was surely meant to appear. It has been suggested that this herald might have been Roger Machado, a man of Portuguese extraction who had served Edward IV and Richard III before going on to work as a herald and ambassador, with no small amount of success, for Henry VII. If it were Machado who made the trip, he would have been well placed to examine the boy’s looks and interrogate his knowledge of Edward IV’s times, his family and the like. Perhaps the most interesting fact about Machado about this episode is that he is known to have kept a house in Southampton. On Simnel Street. So, if we are wondering where that name Lambert Simnel came from, we perhaps have a possible explanation.

Several sources seem to very clearly oppose the official story that the uprising of 1487 was in favour of Edward, Earl of Warwick and instead insist that it was in the name of one of Edward IV’s sons. Given that it is generally accepted that the lad was crowned King Edward, that would make him Edward V, though it remains possible he was in fact crowned Richard IV and was claimed to be the younger of the Princes in the Tower. Clearly this was a severe issue for Henry VII, and I suspect that the name Edward gave them a splendid get-out-of-jail-free card because it allowed them to undermine the attempt by portraying it as a farcical plot in favour of Edward, Earl of Warwick, who was a prisoner in the Tower.

Edward Earl of Warwick
Edward, Earl of Warwick

The other key thing to consider in the events of 1487 are the actions of some of those who might have had a vested interest. In the absence of evidence, which Henry VII would have an interest in suppressing or destroying (we know he destroyed Titulus Regius and the records of the 1487 Irish Parliament – what we don’t know is what else he had destroyed), the actions of these people should be instructive and offer an indication of what they knew, or at least believed. The first of these is Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of Edward IV and mother of the Princes in the Tower. At a council meeting, probably held at Sheen Palace around 3 March 1487, the plot developing in Ireland was on the agenda. Another of the outcomes of this meeting was the removal of all Elizabeth Woodville’s properties, which were granted to her daughter, Henry VII’s wife, Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth Woodville was given a small pension and retired to Bermondsey Abbey. It has long been asserted that this was voluntary and had been planned by the former queen, but there is no real evidence to support that idea, and the timing is indeed suspicious. Many subsequent writers have believed that Elizabeth was being dealt with because she was suspected of involvement in the Lambert Simnel Affair (notably argued against by Henry VII, S.B. Chrimes, Yale University Press, 1999, p76 n3).

If this was true, the question that must be asked is what Elizabeth Woodville stood to gain from backing an attempt to place Edward, Earl of Warwick on the throne. Nothing. Nothing at all. Her daughter was already queen consort and replacing Henry with her deceased husband’s nephew would hardly improve her position. In fact, it has long been claimed (by Mancini amongst others) that Elizabeth Woodville was at least viewed as implicated in George, Duke of Clarence’s fall and execution. She could hardly have hoped to profit by placing his son on the throne when he may well seek revenge upon her. There is only one circumstance in which Elizabeth Woodville’s position would be improved from having a daughter on the throne as queen consort, and that is having a son on the throne as king. Her involvement in a plot in favour of Warwick makes no sense whatsoever. Her suspected support for a scheme in favour of one of her sons with Edward IV makes perfect sense.

The involvement of the Woodville faction, or at least the suspicion of it, is further evinced by the arrest of Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, at the same time as his mother was deprived of her property. Thomas was reportedly placed in the Tower, and when he protested that he had done nothing wrong, he was told that if he were really loyal to Henry VII, then he wouldn’t mind a spell in prison. The anecdotal story is a window into some strange Tudor logic, but also the fear that the broader Woodville faction was involved in the plot. The one thing that doesn’t add up is that Sir Edward Woodville, Elizabeth’s brother, was part of Henry’s army at Stoke Field. He seems to have escaped suspicion, perhaps not believing the story or maybe even ensuring he got there to see the boy for himself.

Another whose actions are hard to comprehend if the plot was in favour of Warwick is John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. John was in his mid-twenties by 1487 and was the oldest nephew of Edward IV and Richard III. His mother was their sister, Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk. Although his descent was therefore in a female line, the entire claim of the House of York was based on the Mortimer descent in the female line so this cannot have been a bar to his chances of succession. After the death of Richard III’s only legitimate son, Edward of Middleham, it is likely that John would have been considered Richard’s heir presumptive since Warwick was still legally barred from the succession by his father’s attainder. If the Princes in the Tower were dead, and Warwick a prisoner barred from succession, then in 1487, the House of York had a ready-made, adult claimant. John’s younger brothers would go on to claim the throne, interestingly, only after Lambert Simnel had failed and Perkin Warbeck had been executed. The only two people with a better claim to the throne for the House of York in 1487 than John de la Pole were Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury. They had been re-legitimised by Henry VII so that he could marry their sister, thus handing a dangerously popular and legal claim to those two boys in the process. It has long been suggested that Henry’s willingness to do this demonstrates his understanding that the boys were dead, but it is clear, not least from the Perkin Warbeck Affair, that no one knew this for certain. It is more likely that mounting pressure from Henry’s Yorkist support base, which had won him the throne and was keeping him in government, had to be appeased by the completion of his promised marriage, whatever the fallout might be. Failure to complete it would almost certainly have sparked a rebellion.

John clearly overlooked his own perfectly good and perfectly legal claim in 1487. There was no question that he really was John de la Pole, yet he chose, we are told, to follow a fake boy from Oxford who claimed to be the Earl of Warwick, a boy who was legally barred from the succession. What could possibly have led John (and indeed others – Francis Lovell and Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy most significantly) to make that decision? Even if they had succeeded in their invasion and reached the real Warwick in the Tower (if that was the real Warwick – confused yet??), the boy had no natural support or power base to build a kingship on. John actually posed an altogether better option than Warwick. Something made him overlook his own claim, and the only better claim lay with Edward V or Richard, Duke of York.

I have become increasingly convinced that the Lambert Simnel Affair as history has recorded it is a lie. The claim that Edward, Earl of Warwick was claimed to be the figurehead by the rebels cannot be evidenced, and even Tudor sources point to a claim that he was one or other of the Princes in the Tower. I suspect that the invasion was in favour of, and was perhaps led by, Edward V, who would have been 16 years old by early 1487. The use of the name Edward was seized upon by the fledgeling Tudor government to make a mockery of the plot by claiming that it favoured Edward, Earl of Warwick, a boy who was barred from the succession, had no personal support and was demonstrably a prisoner in the Tower of London. It was a clever sleight of hand that has stuck well. I suspect that the coronation in Dublin was seen as a missing piece of the jigsaw of Edward V’s kingship. Much like Henry III’s, it was a temporary stopgap to give credence to his planned invasion and could be confirmed later at Westminster Abbey. Messengers sent to Ireland, according to André, reported back that the lad was a son of Edward IV, and that fact makes sense of the suspected involvement of Elizabeth Woodville and her son Thomas Grey. It also accounts for John de la Pole setting aside his own claim and backing this plan.

The herald’s report from the Battle of Stoke Field that a boy named John was captured might well be accurate. Why would a herald lie and undermine his office to oppose the official version of events? Even if this is accepted, it leaves several questions unanswered (and unanswerable). Was the ‘John’ taken at the battle really the figurehead of this invasion or a boy amongst the army or its train who made a convenient ‘Lambert’ for Henry? If he was really Edward V or Richard of Shrewsbury, was he the same person then placed in the royal kitchens? That would seem unlikely, but he could have been switched with another boy, glad of the security of a job in royal service. Edward or Richard might then have been found a new, secret identity, or killed. The figurehead of the invasion might have been killed amidst the slaughter of Stoke Field, an outcome that would have worked for Henry if he was one of the Princes, and he had a boy to pass off as Lambert. Alternatively, this figurehead may have escaped. Adrien de But claims he was whisked to Calais and onto the continent to safety by Edmund de la Pole, younger brother of John. Did he slip into obscurity, or re-emerge a few years later as Perkin Warbeck?

The Book of Howth, a record of one of the Irish families prominent at the time (though the surviving manuscript copy belonged to the contemporary Lord’s grandson, so precisely when it was compiled is not clear) and it too offers an interesting insight into the aftermath of Stoke Field. In 1489, Henry VII hosted the Irish nobility at a feast in London designed to reassert his authority and improve relations with Ireland. It is here that the Book of Howth credits Henry with the famous quip that ‘My Masters of Ireland, you will crown apes at length’ as a jab at their willingness to use an imposter against him. The passage also refers to an incident during the feast, meant by Henry as a joke, but which may have backfired.

‘This same day at dinner, whereas these Lords of Ireland was at Court, a gentleman came where as they was at dinner, and told them that their new King Lambarte Symenell brought them wine to drink, and drank to them all. None would have taken the cup out of his hands, but bade the great Devil of Hell him take before that ever they saw him.’
reproduced in The Dublin King, J. Ashdown-Hill, The History Press, 2015, p156

The implication that can be drawn from the passage is that the Irish lords had to be told that the person serving their wine to them was the boy whose coronation most of them had attended two years earlier. No one had recognised the lad, presumably the one taken prisoner at Stoke Field – perhaps Robert Bellingham’s John – as the boy crowned in Ireland. Did they feign not to recognise him? Did the servant drift around the room utterly unnoticed? Or did Henry’s prank backfire when it became apparent that this was not the boy they had lauded as their king? Perhaps Henry knew he was not, but wanted to force the Irish lords to acknowledge that their plot had failed and was over.

After writing a book about the Princes in the Tower, the most commonly asked question has been what I think happened to them both. I have always tended to believe Perkin Warbeck could really have been Richard of Shrewsbury, and nothing in researching the book has altered that belief, though obviously it cannot yet be proven either way definitively. The Lambert Simnel Affair has tended to slip by as a joke, and I wonder whether that wasn’t the very design of the Tudor government. If pressed, I would suggest now that the Lambert Simnel Affair was an uprising in favour of one of the Princes in the Tower, most likely a 16-year-old Edward V. I accept that it remains beyond proof, but I think it is a worthy addition to discussions of what might have happened.

Edward V St Lawrence
King Edward V

 

 

 

Richard III’s Remains Rumble On

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.

What does it mean for the Queen’s position?

Nothing.

Nothing at all.

The Will of Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers

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.”

Signature of Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers
Signature of Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers

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 Richard III Podcast – Episode 4 – The Princes in the Tower Part 1

The fate of Richard III’s nephews, the Princes in the Tower, is one of the most enduring and passionately debated unsolved mysteries of English history. This episode looks at the development of the story of Richard’s guilt and wonders whether Shakespeare’s play is a major red herring.

The Wars of the Roses Podcast – Episode 001 – Introduction

An introduction to The Wars of the Roses Podcast series, offering an overview of the period which will be more closely examined in following episodes. I hope you will enjoy it!

Matthew Lewis is the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

 

Matt’s has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.

 

The Richard III Podcast can also be subscribed to via iTunes or on YouTube

 

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.

A Perfect Coup

That King Richard III seized the throne from his young nephew during the intrigue and confusion of the summer of 1483 is well known, as is the short, turbulent time that he was to spend upon the throne. Was Richard’s problem that his coup was, in fact, too good?

In early April 1483 King Edward IV, the first king of the House of York, lay on his deathbed aged 40 after over two decades as king, the second of which had seen more peace than the country had known in a generation. Although his death was coming early and his son was only a boy of 12, the peace that he had secured should have nurtured the Prince until he became a man. But all was not as it seemed.

King Edward IV
King Edward IV

King Edward knew that strife lay ahead for his kingdom and for his son. Grafton’s Chronicle reports that as the king lay near to death he called about him his friends and family. “My Lords, my dear kinsmen and allies,” Edward reportedly began, “in what plight I now lye, you see, and I well feel.” There are other reports too of Edward pleading with those around him to unite for his sons’ sakes and to put aside their petty quarrels. He could see what was coming. “For it sufficeth not that you love them, if each of you hate other.” Lord Hastings, firmest of the king’s friends, was required to take the hand of his enemy Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, the king’s step son, and swear that they would cease their rivalry. “Such a pestilent Serpent is ambition, and desire of vain glory and sovereignty,” Grafton reports that the king continued, “Ambition, which among states where once entered, creepeth so far forth, till with division and variance he turneth all to mischief. First longing to be next to the best: Afterward equal with the best, and at the last chief and above the best.” The sick king pleaded with those about him “from this time forward, all griefes forgotten, each of you love other, which I verily trust you will“, though it seems that he did not trust in this at all. When he could speak no more, Grafton tells how he “laid down on his right side, his face toward them: and none was there present that could refrain from weeping. But the Lords comforting him with as good words as they could … each forgave other and joined their hands together, when (as it after appeared by their deeds) their hearts were far asunder.” Edward was not blind, nor was he naive. This situation required a different solution.

The answer at which Edward IV arrived was that neither of these parties could be trusted with power, for they would, by nature of their hatred of the other, use the position against their enemies. His solution, on his deathbed, was to name his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as Protector. It is often forgotten that this is the situation into which Richard was imported from his estates far in the north. There was hatred and bitter rivalry in London before he was summoned. That is why he was summoned. To believe that he created an atmosphere of edgy, nervous partisan politics is to ignore the fact that such an atmosphere already existed in London. Edward’s personality and intense likeability had been the glue that had held the parties together and without him, he knew that it could swiftly descend into conflict. For this, he must bear the blame. He had not prepared sufficiently for a world without him. In relying solely on his personality and not a less personal form of solid governance he denied his son safe stability. Perhaps less of an issue had it happened a few years later, he must have known that his death while he son was 12 was a recipe for certain disaster. No more could be done, and on the 9th April 1483, the tallest king in English history, King Edward IV, passed away.

King Edward V
King Edward V

To my mind, this prevailing situation in London must colour our view of Richard’s role and his actions (which is different from excusing him of the worst crimes of which he is accused if he were guilty). Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset and half brother to the new king was supposedly bragging to the Council that his family held such power that they would rule without Richard. There must have been fear in the opposition camp that this was true because Lord Hastings wrote to Richard that he should come to London with all haste to stop the Queen’s family.

The new King Edward V was already in the care of his mother’s family, who had been a part of his household at Ludlow, led by his uncle Anthony, Earl Rivers. It is entirely possible, perhaps one might even  concede reasonable, that Richard might fear that the Woodville family would indeed try to use their hold over the king to secure the authority that his brother had not wanted for them. They were generally disliked and mistrusted for their use of Queen Elizabeth’s position to secure some of the best positions at court and to corner the marriage market. They would have real reason to fear the loss of this position and if Richard believed the rumours of their posturing then securing the person of the king from them was the natural response. It matters less whether a Woodville plot against Richard was real or not than whether Richard had cause to genuinely believe it real. When Rivers overshot their agreed meeting place and took the king to a Woodville manor at Stony Stratford, that can only have served to add to Richard’s suspicion that some kind of plot may be very real.

What of Lord Hastings’ position in all of this? That he wrote to Richard pleading him to hurry to London suggests that he felt his own position weak. This would, to anyone’s eyes, make him dangerous. Even before his arrival in London, Richard must surely have been every bit as wary of Hastings and his motivations as he was of those of the Woodvilles. The execution of Lord Hastings is often viewed as the one undeniable blot on Richard’s character and reputation amid the fog of rumour. I am about to try and deny it, I’m afraid.

William, Lord Hastings was a close personal friend of King Edward IV, devoted to the cause of York. They shared good times and bad, food, drink and women, the last three to excess. Edward and Hastings famously both had Jane Shore as their mistress, as did the Marquis of Dorset, Edward’s step-son and Hastings’ rival. It is frequently asserted that Hastings was removed by Richard because of his fierce and unswerving devotion to his friend’s son, Edward V. It is claimed that Richard concocted a story of treason as an excuse to remove Hastings, who was a hurdle between him and the throne that he coveted. As with the Woodville plot, the question is less whether it was real and more whether Richard might have genuinely believed it to be.

Henry Tudor’s historian Virgil offers an interesting insight into this question. During the reign of Henry VII he wrote;

But the lord Hastings who bore privy hatred to the marquis and others of the queen’s side, who for that cause had exhorted Richard to take upon him the government of the prince, when he saw all in uproar and that matters fell out otherwise than he had wenyd [wanted], repenting therefore that which he had done, 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. Here divers of them who were most offended with this late fact of Richard duke of Gloucester, adjudged it mete with all speed to procure the liberty of prince Edward, whom they accounted as utterly oppressed and wronged by force and violence, that so the fire, which was kindling, might be put out before it should spread further abroad.

Was it Richard’s plan to seize the throne that caused such a desperate meeting? No. The matter that “fell out otherwise than he had wenyd” was the news that Richard had taken possession of the person of the king at Stony Stratford. This was precisely what Hastings had written to Richard to achieve, yet Virgil claims that on hearing of it, Hastings reaction was to call a meeting of powerful men to discuss what they might do against Richard on his arrival in London. Whilst Virgil may not be the most reliable source of unbiased information on Richard, he appears here to be offering substance to the notion that Hastings was plotting against Richard. Perhaps not against his life, but plotting nevertheless. Virgil concludes the matter of this meeting at St Paul’s by saying that “All the residue thought that there was no need to use war or weapon at all, as men who little suspected that the matter would have any horrible and cruel end.”

So, if Virgil is to be believed, most at the gathering did not share Hastings’ fear of Richard. The episode, if true, is perhaps reported to demonstrate Hastings precognition that Richard would turn to evil on arrival in London. What it in fact shows is that Hastings was measuring opposition against the Protector before he even arrived in London. If Hastings wished to preserve his own position, he may well have known that Richard, pious, priggish, upright Lord of the North, would not approve of Hastings lifestyle and may not wish that kind of influence upon his young nephew. Perhaps Lord Hastings had his own agenda that has been overlooked.

So it was that at a Council meeting in the Tower of London 13th June 1483 the deed was done. More recounts how Richard “came about nine o’clock to them, and having saluted all the lords very courteously, excused himself for coming to them so late, saying merrily, that he had played the sluggard this morning“. He jovially asked John Morton, the Bishop of Ely, for some of his “very good strawberries” for them to enjoy during the meeting.

A little after this, the protector obliging them to go on in their councils, requested them to dispense with his absence awhile, and so departed. In the space of little more than an hour he returned again, but with such an angry countenance, knitting his brows, frowning and biting his lips, that the whole council were amazed at the sudden change. Being sat down, he said nothing for a good while, but at length spoke with great concern, and asked them this question : “What punishment do they deserve who had plotted his death, who was so near in blood to the king, and by office the protector of the king’s person and realm?” This question he had raised out of Catesby’s account of the Lord Hastings’s words and discourse, which he so represented to him, as if he had wished and contrived his death.”

Here, More, the supposed root of Richard’s criminal reputation, which he no doubt acquired tales of from John Morton himself, claims that William Catesby informed Richard that Hastings plotted against him. Catesby was a lawyer who had been in the service of Lord Hastings and who Richard had allegedly sent to sound out Hastings about Richard’s intention to seize the throne. It is reported that Catesby may never have actually raised the matter with Lord Hastings, but did report to Richard that Hastings would not join him. In fact, More is claiming here that Catesby in fact told Richard Hastings was plotting against him. So the question arises again: is it unreasonable to believe that Richard earnestly believed in a plot against him? If Hastings’ own man was informing him of one, it does not seem unreasonable.

Furthermore, Grafton reports that the night before this Council meeting, “Lord Stanley sent to him [Hastings] a trusty and secret messenger at midnight in all the haste, requiring him to rise and ride away with him“. It would seem that Stanley had endured such a nightmare about a crazed boar chasing him that he was convinced Richard, whose emblem was the boar, was out to get them. To this messenger, Hastings teased “leaneth my Lord thy master unto such trifles, and hath such faith in dreams, which either his own fear fantasiseth, or do rise in the night’s rest, by reason of the day’s thought. Tell him it is plain witchcraft to believe in such dreams, which if they were tokens of things to come, why thinketh he not that we might as likely make them true by our going, if we were caught and brought back, (as friends fail flyers) for then had the Boar a cause likely to raise us with his tusks, as folks that tied for some falsehood“.

Thomas, Lord Stanley
Thomas, Lord Stanley

Hastings advised against leaving lest they appeared guilty of some crime. If report of this reached Richard, what was he to make of these two discussing fleeing from London to their estates? Hastings had a large affinity in the East Midlands and Stanley could command an immense host from the North West. Could reports of this really be ignored, especially if they accompanied news of Hastings’ meeting at St Paul’s before Richard arrived.

Richard cursed Hastings as a traitor and had him dragged outside for execution, telling him “by Saint Paul, I will not dine till I see thy head off” (Grafton). Fabyan’s Chronicle reports that “there without judgement, or long time of confession or repentance, upon an end of a long and great timber log, which there lay with other for the repairing of the said Tower, caused his head to be smitten off“. Curiously, not allowing “long time” of confession implies that confession and last rites were in fact allowed, as it is often asserted they were not. As to the matter of “without judgement” there is an issue here too. Richard had, for many years, been Lord Constable of England, making him president of the Court of Chivalry and the Court of Honour. It is my understanding that the Constable was entitled to try matters without trial by peers based upon evidence that he had seen. I stand to be corrected if this is not true, but if it is, then Richard did not act illegally or outside of his jurisdiction by pronouncing judgement and sentence upon Hastings if he had evidence of a plot.

Execution of Lord Hastings
Execution of Lord Hastings

After the execution, Richard summoned the aldermen of London and, Grafton states, “Then the Lord Protector showed them, that the Lord Hastings and other of his conspiracy had contrived to have suddenly destroyed him and the Duke of Buckingham there the same day in council, and what they intended farther was yet not well known, of which their treason he had never knowledge before ten of the clock the same forenoon“. As with the evidence Richard presented to Parliament of his brother’s pre-contract and his nephews’ illegitimacy, many will claim that he invented the tale, but it is just as likely that he did not. London did not rise in opposition, perhaps because Richard showed them compelling evidence of the plots, the same evidence that he had been made aware of that morning, including, no doubt, Stanley’s call to Hastings to flee; evidence now lost to us.

In short order, the story of the illegitimacy of the Princes was circulated and Richard was asked to assume the throne. Having gone on at great length already, I will save the discussion of that matter for another time, but Richard was king.  Earl Rivers, his nephew Richard Grey and Thomas Vaughn were executed at Pontefract. When Richard had arrived in London, Lord Hastings had supposedly congratulated him on securing the kingdom (for Edward V) without spilling so much as a thimbleful of blood. I can’t help wondering whether this very achievement ended up costing Richard his throne.

If he arrived in London in May 1483 to find a nest of vipers, a fraught atmosphere of plotting, intrigue and uncertainty, what should he have done? In short measure, Richard had dealt with it. He cut the heads from the two opposing factions; Lord Hastings and Earl Rivers. It is often assumed that he did so as part of a grand scheme to seize the throne, but what if he truly believed the plots were real and acted swiftly to prevent them progressing? This would explain why he continued to prepare for his nephew’s coronation, issuing edicts in the name of Edward V, minting coin for the new king and swearing his fealty repeatedly until the tale of their illegitimacy was given light. Perhaps it is hard to see the reversal of this man’s previous good character because it did not happen.

Thomas More also reports that during the Council meeting at which Hastings was arrested Richard bared his arm to show it withering, claiming witchcraft was being used against him. Since we now know that Richard did not have a withered arm , it is hard to know how much of these sources can really be believed, but it is intriguing that these are Tudor writers, trying to condemn Richard III, who in fact appear to give substance to the suggestion that he was surrounded by plotting.

That King Edward IV foresaw such turbulence from his deathbed is testament to the fragility of the peace that he had won and his realisation that without him it would not be likely to be maintained long. He would not apportion power to Woodville or Hastings, but turned to Richard, who he must have trusted to do what was required to resolve the tension. Would Edward IV have objected if he knew that the price of securing his son’s succession was the death of his best friend and his brother in law? I do not know. If any of the above has convinced you, then Richard was the right man for the job and Edward was only undone by his own previous wilful indiscretions.

The reason that I ask whether the coup was too perfect is that it was achieved with the death of four men; Hastings, Rivers, Grey and Vaughn. Edward IV took the throne after years of bitter fighting and battles that decimated the nobility and gentry. Perhaps if Richard had killed more people, crushed more potential opposition and allowed attrition to work for him, he would have better secured his throne. That he did not, and that he tried to make peace with the likes of Thomas Stanley, at least suggests that he was a more genuine character during the summer of 1483 than he is given credit for.

Matthew Lewis is the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

Matt’s has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.

What If Richard III Did It?

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

The Princes in the Tower
The Princes in the Tower

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

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

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

King Richard II
King Richard II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Richard III
King Richard III

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

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

Can such a sacrifice be measured?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Lewis is the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

Matt’s has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.

 

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

Why Do I Love Ludlow?

Luvlow Graphic copy

I have always loved Ludlow. The town has always held a strong pull that I have never been able to quite explain. I can spend hours in the castle without getting tired of it. The town is a beautiful collection of narrows roads, Tudor buildings and artisan shops. Yet it is undoubtedly the history that draws me to this place. Perhaps it is the array of ‘What Ifs’ from the period of the Wars of the Roses that draws me to the town. I spent a day there earlier this week and thought I’d share some of my favourite things about Ludlow and some of my pictures.

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Ludlow Castle was built in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest by the de Lacy family who retained it until the late thirteenth century. By marriage, the castle was acquired by the Mortimer family. Roger Mortimer was instrumental in deposing King Edward II in 1327, replacing him with the king’s son, for whom Roger acted as regent in his minority. Roger used his power to acquire much land in Shropshire and the Earldom of March, the border region between England and Wales. In 1402 Edmund Mortimer, the 3rd Earl of March, left Ludlow Castle to fight Owain Glyndwr’s Welsh rebellion, only to join them, marry Glyndwr’s daughter and die during a siege of Harlech Castle.

Ludlow 130619 031

Richard, Duke of York acquired Ludlow Castle as part of his vast estates and it was to prove a pivotal site during the following fifty years. In 1459 as the Wars of the Roses escalated, the Duke of York made his base within the formidable walls of Ludlow Castle. His wife and younger children had been living at Fotheringhay Castle but Richard moved them to Ludlow for their security. Throughout the summer York’s supporters poured into Ludlow, including the Earl of Salisbury, York’s brother in law, and Salisbury’s son, the infamous Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick – the Kingmaker himself. York’s eldest sons were with him too, Edward Earl of March (later King Edward IV) and Edmund Earl of Rutland. All of these men roamed the grounds of Ludlow Castle formulating strategy and practising their fighting skills.

Richard, Duke of York
Richard, Duke of York

One small face who would have been watching was York’s youngest son, his namesake Richard. The boy celebrated his 7th birthday at Ludlow Castle on 2nd October. It is suggested that this was the first time he would have met his two eldest brothers. This boy was to go on to become King Richard III, and the events of the days that followed his birthday no doubt shaped the man he became.

The Battle of Ludford Bridge nominally took place on 12th October 1459, although there was in fact no fighting. During the night, the Calais garrison, which had been under the command of the Earl of Warwick, deserted and York’s forces were forced to retreat. King Henry VI himself led his army toward the battle and men were unwilling to take the field against the king himself. York and his son Edmund fled to Ireland. Salisbury, Warwick and Edward made for the south coast and escaped to Calais.

In the morning, the King’s army descended upon Ludlow. They found York’s wife, Duchess Cecily, with her two young sons George and Richard, standing alone on the steps of the market cross. The scene is remembered as one of supreme nobility on the part of the Duchess, refusing to cower and hide. For Richard, though, it must have been terrifying. Perhaps Cecily sought to save Ludlow by surrendering willingly, but she did not. As she was hauled to the King with her sons, the army ransacked Ludlow, drinking, stealing and raping until they were sated. The castle was looted of anything of value.

This episode in Richard’s life must have had an impact upon him. Abandoned by his father and his dashing older brothers, his uncle and his cousin in the night. Left to face an army. Doubtless his mother’s actions were noble but how must Richard have felt stood beside her as the rampaging army approached? Frightened? Undoubtedly. Determined not to show it? Perhaps. He was the son of a Duke and had his mother’s example to follow. Did he learn the unfair uncertainty of war that day as he saw Ludlow pillaged like a conquered French town? Did he learn the importance of nobility of action from his brave mother? Did he learn real fear? Did he learn that even family could not be trusted?

When Edward IV became king in 1461, Ludlow became a crown residence. In 1472, Edward sent his eldest son, Edward, Prince of Wales to Ludlow Castle. He set up a royal court there and he was schooled in the art of government, his household run by his maternal uncle, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, currently appearing alongside his sister in the BBC’s The White Queen. For 11 years the Prince was installed at Ludlow Castle, until his father’s death. He left Ludlow then for his own coronation in London, an event destined never to take place.

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The Arrival of Prince Arthur

In 1501, Prince Arthur, eldest son of King Henry VII, older brother of the future King Henry VIII and Prince of Wales was also installed at Ludlow Castle to be prepared for power. He arrived with his new wife, Catherine of Aragon but fell ill the following year, dying at Ludlow Castle on 2nd April 1502. Arthur’s body was buried at Worcester Cathedral (another beautiful place well worth a visit!) but his heart was buried in St Laurence’s in Ludlow. Catherine of Aragon’s daughter Mary later spent three winters at Ludlow Castle between 1525 and 1528.

After the Civil War the castle fell into disuse when governance of the Marches was centralised in London. In 1772 the Earls of Powis began renting the castle from the Crown, purchasing it in 1811. The Earl of Powis still owns the castle today and although disuse saw it fall into ruin, it is a powerful monument to a bygone age. Walking the grounds once paced by the Duke of York, the Kingmaker Earl of Warwick, Edward IV, Richard III, Edward V, Prince Arthur, Catherine of Aragon and Mary I amongst others is enough to send a tingle up the spine of one as obsessed with this period as I am.

So Ludlow Castle offers some tantalizing historical ‘what ifs’. What if battle had been given at Ludgate Bridge? What if York had won and brought a swift end to the Wars of the Roses? What if Henry had won? What if Edward V had been crowned? The influence of his mother’s family at Ludlow ultimately threatened his position. What if Prince Arthur had lived and become King Arthur with his Queen Catherine? There would have been no Henry VIII and all that came with him. Ludlow was key in the outcome of all of these questions.

The Church of St Laurence, Ludlow
The Church of St Laurence, Ludlow

St Laurence’s Church is a short stroll across the market square from the castle and is a beautiful medieval parish church. A large stained window celebrates Ludlow’s famous medieval inhabitants the Duke of York, King Edward IV, Edward Prince of Wales and Arthur Prince of Wales. The church is currently undergoing restoration and preservation work but you are guaranteed a warm welcome and a enjoyable time in a stunning church.

St Laurence's Window

Richard, Duke of York and King Edward IV
Richard, Duke of York and King Edward IV
King Edward V and Prince Arthur
King Edward V and Prince Arthur

Castle Lodge on the other side of the market square is a striking building dating from the thirteenth century. Once a prison, it has also been a hotel and is currently in private hands. It is open to the public for a small charge which contributes toward its upkeep.

Castle Lodge
Castle Lodge

Ludlow is also a centre of fine dining, boasting a Michelin starred restaurant, ancient pubs and butchers offering venison steaks and boar burgers. Add to that an array of shops, a market, the Ludlow festival (at which I am mourning the loss of the Shakespeare play until this year performed against the backdrop of the castle interior) and the beautiful Shropshire countryside and you will not be disappointed by a visit to Ludlow. I might even see you there!

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Matthew Lewis is the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

Matt’s has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.