Princes in the Tower Documentary

Yikes!! The fantastic History Hit have released the documentary we did on the #PrincesInTheTower and #RichardIII. 😬😳

I’m somewhere bouncing between excited, terrified, proud, nervous, anticipating bad reactions, hoping it’ll go down well.

I hope you’ll have a watch. You can get a month’s free trial – what better time to use it and encourage more content like this?

Looking confused in the Tower!

I think it’s a pretty big step for Ricardianism to get something as revisionist as an exploration of the possibilities the The Princes in the Tower weren’t murdered in 1483, never mind that Richard III didn’t kill them. If this gets plenty of views and likes and lots of publicity, it should lead to more opportunities to tell a different story about Richard III. So if you can spare half an hour, please sign up for the free trial (you can cancel it before you get charged anything, or keep it and watch more) and watch the documentary.🤞

(And it was the first time I’ve done anything like this, so be gentle!)

https://tv.historyhit.com/watch/37205502

Why Margaret Beaufort Should be Remembered as a Devoted Mother

Guest post by Juliana Cummings

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.

Margaret Beaufort and the Princes in the Tower

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

images8I4PTKSX

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

Meme 01

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

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

Lady Margaret Beaufort
Lady Margaret Beaufort

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

Thomas, Lord Stanley
Thomas, Lord Stanley

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

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

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

The Princes in the Tower
The Princes in the Tower

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

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

Richard III – The Answers

Wodden Roses on the throne at the Richard III Visitor Centre

There is a glut of articles saturating the press at the moment posing some pretty unpleasant questions about Richard III. Maybe it’s time for some answers. We are constantly asked why we are celebrating a child-killing tyrant, or what Richard III ever did for us. Sadly many of the articles cannot answer their own questions because their content demonstrates such a fundamental lack of understanding of the real issues.

Richard III has divided opinion for over 500 years and shows no sign of ceasing to do so as he is laid to rest for the second time in his long and eventful after-life. The Richard III Society exists to promote the re-examination of Richard III and his times. Contrary to the popular impression, most Ricardians are not the ‘loons’ David Starkey sees or any of the other names bandied about, none of which are complementary and all of which are unnecessary and unpleasant.

I’ve been accused of presenting Richard III as a proto-democrat before now. I think it was meant as an insult, but it bears some examination. In the case of Catherine Williamson in 1472, Richard broke the rules of the bastard feudalism under which he lived to hand over men in his service for trial for murder when he would have been expected to protect them. In 1480 he found in favour of John Randson against Sir Robert Claxton, Randson’s social superior who also had a son and son-in-law in Richard’s service. There are a string of examples like these spanning his time in the north. Championing the common man in pursuit of justice unfettered by social rank or wealth? Isn’t that something we could applaud?

What did he ever do for us? More than you might think.

Richard III held only one Parliament during his brief, two year reign. Amongst its statutes were several that we might applaud and which were to have long-lasting impacts. The second statute of the Parliament of 1484 abolished benevolences, a system of forced gifts to the crown used extensively by Edward IV to circumvent Parliamentary taxation. During Henry VIII’s rule Richard’s law was being quoted to Thomas Wolsey when the second Tudor monarch tried to re-impose benevolences. Richard III bolstered Parliament’s power and control over the raising of money at the expense of the Crown’s independence. It was an attitude diametrically opposed to this that led to the fall of Charles I and the Civil War. The fact that you know what tax you will pay and are not at the mercy of HMRC knocking on your door to tell you that the government would like you to give them a large cash gift, which is not optional and will not be repaid, is thanks to Richard III.

Other statutes curbed the corruption rife in the cloth trade and drove out fraud from land transfers. It was not illegal to fail to declare a fault in a title to land when selling it, meaning that buyers could be tricked and defrauded. Richard’s law codified a requirement to be honest and open and is considered a bedrock of English land law even today. If you have ever bought land or property, you have done so in safety and security in part because of Richard III’s legislation.

Anti-alien legislation featured in Richard’s Parliament and was immensely popular. It sought to place restrictions on imports and foreign merchants to protect English trade and jobs and to improve the nation’s finances. Supporting and safeguarding English industry against cheaper imports is still an issue today. Richard III took a positive step to defend jobs. An exception to these constraints was allowed for the printing industry. Books flowed into England from the Continent to the profound benefit of knowledge and learning and the spread of the printed word in England. It is the nature of tyranny and tyrants to control access to information, to prevent its free flow, not to actively encourage it.

The composition requirements of jury membership were re-defined by Richard III’s Parliament so that men had to be worth a specified amount of money to sit on a jury. We may not recognise this as a pillar of our legal system today, but there are still rules defining those disqualified from sitting on juries. In Richard’s time the issue was corrupt juries, often imported and appointed by one of the parties to the case, or easy to bribe because they could not afford not to take the inducement offered. Fair and equitable justice was of concern to Richard III, just as it is of concern to us now. On a different playing field than we enjoy today, the principles applied might be ones we would approve of.

Have you, or anyone you know ever benefitted from legal aid? If so, you can add another item to the list of things Richard III did for us. He established an early form of legal aid that allowed those without the means to employ lawyers to appeal directly to the royal council to have their case heard. Tyrannical repression of the masses hardly fits with improving access to the law, which this Parliament, for the first time in England’s history, published in English. Rates of literacy may not have been high but the emerging merchant classes could read as well as the nobility and clergy – they had to in order to go about their business – and a law in English must have felt like it belonged to an Englishman more than one in prosaic, restrictive and elitist Latin or French.

Then there is that whole bail issue. Richard III certainly did not invent bail. What he did do was to make vital and seismic changes to the law as it existed. The Parliament Rolls record that ‘various people are arrested and imprisoned daily on suspicion of felony, sometimes out of malice and sometimes on vague suspicion, and thus kept in prison without bail or mainprise to their great vexation and trouble’. A suspect could be deprived of their goods and property, even the tools of their trade, before a judge had even weighed the evidence against them. If they were found innocent, there was no requirement to return the confiscated goods and men could be left unable to pursue their profession and make a living. A malicious charge with no base could therefore see a man left destitute. What Richard’s Parliament did was correct this inequity. This is surely a right enjoyed by many today.

From his late teens, as Duke of Gloucester, Richard had displayed an interest in championing the cause of the common man and pursued equity unbounded by social class or wealth. Do these sound like the concerns of a tyrant? It bears more of the hallmarks of my proto-democrat. Those at risk of the greatest loss under Richard’s rule were those with the most to gain from the maintenance of the status quo – the nobility, the minority who ruled the majority. This view offers another explanation for the loss of noble support suffered by Richard III before the Battle of Bosworth. It was not his tyranny that drove them away, but the very opposite. Who knows what the political landscape of England might have looked like if Richard had longer to pursue his programme?

Statue of Richard III outside Leicester Cathedral
Statue of Richard III outside Leicester Cathedral

What of all of those evil crimes?

Usurper? No. It is simply a factually incorrect term for what happened in 1483. Richard was asked to take the throne by the leadership of the City of London and those members of Parliament who were in the capital. It is an important distinction to note that Parliament was not in session at the time, so Parliament didn’t make the request, but a committee of those assembled for the Parliament planned for later that month did. To usurp is to take the power of another illegally or by force. What Richard did was not illegal, nor did he use force. In legal terms, he didn’t steal the power of another either, since Edward V had been declared illegitimate and unable to succeed based on evidence that was presented to that Parliamentary committee and London’s elite. Many will scoff at this lost evidence, but why? Simply because it doesn’t fit with their view of the man and it is too difficult to question that belief.

Murderer? In the cases of Hastings, Rivers, Grey, Vaughan and Haute, probably, by today’s standards. Probably not by those of his own time. All five of those men were found guilty of treason based on evidence that was shared around London. It is true that they had no formal trial, but Richard was Constable of England and was entitled to act as judge and jury in cases of treason based on evidence that he had seen. He publicised this evidence and it was accepted by his contemporaries. Why is it, then, that some find it so hard to accept that evidence now? There doesn’t even appear to be room to discuss it for some.

The death of the seventeen year old Edward of Lancaster, Prince of Wales and only son of Henry VI is frequently attributed to Richard III whilst he was the eighteen year old Duke of Gloucester. Ignoring the fact that according to most contemporary sources Edward died during the battle and so murder is hardly an applicable label for his death, at least one eye witness account states that Richard’s vanguard were pursuing the Duke of Somerset while King Edward’s centre attacked the Lancastrian centre, where Prince Edward was stationed. It is most likely that Richard was nowhere near Edward when he died. It is also likely that Edward died during the fighting and was not ‘murdered’. It is possible he was executed after the battle, but given that the very point of the battle was to conclude matters between the Houses of Lancaster and York, and given the recent history of the Wars of the Roses, there could have been no other outcome. If Richard was involved, unlikely as it seems, it would have been in his role as Constable of England, dispenser of royal justice.

Shortly after the Battle of Tewkesbury, Henry VI died in the Tower of London. In spite of the story put out, exemplified by The Arrival of King Edward the Fourth’s assertion that Henry died of ‘pure displeasure and melancholy’, it seems certain that he was put to death. Contemporary chronicles, including Warkworth, state that Henry was put to death, ‘being then in the Tower the Duke of Gloucester, brother to King Edward, and many other’. Phillipe de Commyne, a Burgundian writer who never visited England, asserted that he heard that Richard ‘slew this poor King Henry with his own hand, or caused him to be carried into some private place, and stood by while he was killed’. This may well be true. As Constable, it was Richard’s function to see the king’s justice dispensed. Who else might Edward trust to see this unpleasant job done, especially considering that it almost certainly had to be done. If Richard did the deed, or oversaw its completion, it cannot have been done without Edward IV’s instruction.

Then, of course, there are The Princes in the Tower. It is one of history’s greatest and most enduring murder mysteries precisely because it is a mystery. I can freely admit that Richard might have had his nephews killed. He has to be the prime suspect if there was a murder. Could you convict him in a court of law? No. Not even a civil court using a balance of probabilities test. You might think you could, but you really couldn’t. There are other suspects, other outcomes, every bit as likely and fascinating to examine. Yet for some it’s easier just to deny any possibility but Richard’s wilful guilt, however unlikely, unnecessary and out of character it can be argued the murders would be.

Engraving at the Richard III Visitor Centre

All of the fuss about the re-interment of Richard III bemuses some, but Richard himself would have recognised the process his remains are undergoing and indeed might well have expected it sooner. In 1476, whilst Duke of Gloucester, he was chief mourner when the mortal remains of his father Richard, Duke of York and his brother Edmund, Earl of Rutland were transferred from their original burial place near Wakefield, where both had died in the Battle of Wakefield in 1460. Over a period of nine days a funeral procession made its way in pomp and reverence to the family mausoleum at St Mary and All Saints Church, Fotheringhay. In 1484, as king, Richard organised the re-interment of Henry VI’s remains, translating them from their humble resting place at Chertsey Abbey to the royal splendour of St George’s Chapel. He certainly wouldn’t have found anything, with the exception of Protestant ceremony, odd or disconcerting about the treatment he is receiving now.

Why do we care about Richard III? The British love an underdog, a wronged man, and for many Richard has been wronged by history. The myths obscuring his character don’t stand up well to scrutiny and it is this that interests Ricardians. In an age where labels are discouraged and we pride ourselves on tolerance, how is it that a person can be called a ‘Ricardian loon’ on live television simply for believing a man might not be the evil murderer he is accused of being? Ricardian baiting has become a national pastime, but it only works because some Ricardians will always take the bait. There are Ricardians who take their views to an extreme and are as unreasonable and sometimes as unpleasant as those who refuse to re-examine the evidence available about Richard III.

The interesting place is the quiet, reasonable space in the middle where there is a real story to be told and a debate to be had.

The shame is that this space is lost to the sensationalist, noisy extremes with more volume than knowledge.

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

Matt has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth. Both novels are just 99p or 99c each until Sunday 29th March 2015 to celebrate re-interment week.

The Richard III Podcast and the Wars of the Roses Podcast can be subscribed to via iTunes or on YouTube

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.

 

Kindle Countdown Offers for Re-Interment Week

Loyalty, my novel of Richard III, and the sequel Honour, which follows the aftermath of the Battle of Bosworth, are both on a Kindle Countdown offer and are just 99p / 99c each on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

The offer is on now in the UK, will be live very soon in the US and lasts until next Sunday, 29th March to celebrate re-interment week.

Loyalty UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Loyalty-Matthew-Lewis-ebook/dp/B0088JHNCS/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Loyalty US: http://www.amazon.com/Loyalty-Matthew-Lewis-ebook/dp/B0088JHNCS/ref=pd_sim_kstore_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=1SBHYBAW5VQXJ76D8SGY

Honour UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Honour-Matthew-Lewis-ebook/dp/B00H8APXBG/ref=pd_sim_kinc_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=0JM5RP244VR1CXEV9JN1

Honour US: http://www.amazon.com/Honour-Matthew-Lewis-ebook/dp/B00H8APXBG/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8

Richard III Judicial Review Distilled

I have read the judgement of the High Court in the matter of the reburial of King Richard III and, frankly, find some of it startling. I have a law degree, so am interested in the legal aspects of the case as well as the historical context. This is significantly different to practising law, so my comments are my own opinion and I would defer to those more learned in such matters.

The intention of this is not to offend. I have thought carefully about posting it at all because the arguing needs to stop, not be perpetuated, and I fear that may be precisely what this has the effect of doing. That said, it is perhaps an opportunity to draw my own line under things. I shall try to distil the 40 page judgement and offer my thoughts on the matter, for what they may be worth.

The Judicial Review was asked by The Plantagenet Alliance Ltd to examine the legality of the Ministry of Justice’s grant of an exhumation licence for up to six sets of human remains at the site of the Grey Friars Priory, where it was believed Richard III had been interred. This was never, and could never, be about the correct place to inter the remains in terms of selecting a city. That is not a matter for the courts. This is an important distinction. The outcome of the case was never going to be a court instruction to reinter the remains in York, or anywhere else.

Paragraph 1, in the second sentence, states that “His death marked the end of the Middle Ages”. This has always been a prevailing view, but not a statement of fact in a linear, dated sense. I can’t help wondering whether this end of the Middle Ages being dated by the court to 22nd August 1485 will ever prove significant as it becomes absorbed by the amorphous, hoarding nature of the English Common Law. Paragraph 23 also confidently dates the end of the Wars of the Roses to the same date. I might dispute that, too.

The judgement opens with a summary of the history of Richard III’s life. Even this, though, cannot be recounted accurately. Paragraph 15 refers to Clarence’s trial and execution in 1482 when this occurred in 1478. Paragraph 16 refers to Richard’s journey from Yorkshire to London in 1483 after King Edward’s death “with Lord Hastings”, who was in fact already in London. It seems that even within the judgement of a court of law, the facts of Richard’s life can be muddled. I am nitpicking, though, and these fact are not, perhaps, material, though they are symptomatic.

The legal background provided to the Judicial Review made for very interesting reading, not least because it highlighted how easily this could have been avoided and what a doomed distraction it was. From January 2011, when initial contact was made with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) by Ms Langley, the MoJ stated that a licence would be conditional upon the satisfaction of certain concerns, including “what arrangements are proposed to deal with the remains; whether they might command public confidence and whether there are, or might be, objections from any legitimate quarters” (Paragraph 31). The MoJ pointed out that there were “potential descendants, so this would raise greater sensitivities” (Paragraph 31). In answer to these concerns, the MoJ received from Ms Langley the “Reburial Document” describing a “potential way forward” as “reburial in Leicester Cathedral” (Paragraph 32).

When approaching University of Leicester Archaeological Service (ULAS), Ms Langley apparently advised Mr Buckley that after discussions with representatives of the Palace, the Duke of Gloucester, Leicester City Council, Leicester Cathedral and the Richard III Society, “all were content with the proposal for re-interment in the Cathedral” (Paragraph 33). Mr Buckley agreed as this approach was in line with archaeological best practice.

Three months later, in April 2011, at a meeting with ULAS and the Council, “Ms Langley again made clear her desire for the remains of Richard III, if found, to be re-interred in Leicester Cathedral” (Paragraph 35). At this same meeting, the real core of the trouble that was to follow seems to have been exposed. The Council’s Head of Arts and Museums stated that she thought there was “a less than 1% chance” of finding Richard III (Paragraph 35). Working on this assumption seems, to me, both flawed and fatal. How can a process be effectively established and confirmed when it is presumed that the purpose for it will fail? How can this be a method of decision making within a public body? Surely all should have worked on the basis that the remains would be found and established a clear, unambiguous programme of activity to follow the discovery. Failing to do this allowed the adoption of a flawed process with a somewhat slapdash attitude toward the success of the project in some quarters and therefore of its own need to be rigorous and clearly defined.

It is here that tangents created problems precisely because of the room for doubt left by the process. The Cathedral emphasised “its early agreement to re-interment” (Paragraph 36). The Council began to view itself as “responsible for all human remains found, and to have decision-making responsibility”. When a “Written Scheme of Investigation” was submitted by ULAS, in consultation with Ms Langley, “The Scheme provided for the re-interment in Leicester Cathedral” (Paragraph 37). The Scheme made no mention of where the decision making responsibility lay, allowing the Council’s impression of their authority to continue.

It was stated that the Council would have been “unlikely” to permit the dig if re-interment elsewhere than Leicester was a possibility and ULAS would “have been unwilling to spend money on exhumation if there had been a real prospect the re-interment would sever the link between Leicester and Richard III” (Paragraph 40).

The first public announcement came on 24th August 2012 when the University held a press conference, with accompanying statement, followed up on 31st August by a second press conference. At both press conferences and within the statement released it was made clear that “If Royal remains were found, they would be re-interred in Leicester Cathedral” (Paragraph 42). It was noted that “these announcements did not appear to generate controversy … over the location of reburial” (Paragraph 42).

When human remains were uncovered on the first day of the dig, 24th August 2012, an exhumation licence was immediately required by law. The application was lodged on 31st August by Mr Buckley of ULAS. Although it could have been submitted by anyone, it is usual for an archaeologist to apply for the licence to demonstrate that they can meet the requirements of the exhumation. This application allowed for remains to be placed in the Jewry Wall Museum, but further stated “… in the unlikely event that the remains of Richard III are located the intention is for these to be reinterred at St Martin’s Cathedral, Leicester, within 4 weeks of exhumation” (Paragraph 45). I am struck again by the reference to the “unlikely event” of succeeding in the stated aim of the dig and believe that this sustained pessimism is at the root of the controversy that followed.

The Secretary of State for Justice granted the licence requested on 3rd September 2012. It was granted to the University under section 25 of the Burial Act 1857. This piece of legislation and its incumbent Victorian vagaries will add to the problems as we shall see later. The licence states in section 2(c) that remains should be “deposited at the Jewry Wall Museum or else be reinterred at St Martin’s Cathedral or in a burial ground in which interments may legally take place” (Paragraph 46). This clearly permits burial in a place other than Leicester and I wonder why this lack of specificity was allowed both by the MoJ and the University, given their previous concern to ensure Richard III’s remains were kept in Leicester. Once more, the near certainty of failure possibly meant that it was overlooked. Paragraph 47 states that “Ms Bernstein of the MoJ still saw it as an inherently speculative project, as did many others.” That may be the case, but it cannot be acceptable to fail to properly provide for the success of that which a licence is being grated to permit by a government department.

At a press conference on 12th September, the University revealed that remains potentially belonging to Richard III had been found and that if they were confirmed as such, “they would be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral”. (Paragraph 49). It is here that the uncertainty of the licence grant reared its head. Mr Buckley requested a clarifying amendment to the licence regarding re-interment at Leicester Cathedral and was informed by the MoJ that the licence was to be read alongside the application form and covering letter, which made the position clear; “the precise location was for ULAS” (Paragraph 50). To my mind, this was the point at which things were settled and clear. ULAS were responsible for arranging the re-interment and the location was for them to decide. Their stated intention was to reinter at Leicester Cathedral. The end.

Or not.

Leicester Council now began to investigate the notion of consultation with “key stakeholders” (Paragraph 51), identified as “the Council, the Society, the Cathedral, the Royal Household, possibly the Council of Faiths, the Secular Society, the University “and other funders”” (Paragraph 51). Fatally, this consultation was designed to investigate “the principle of reburial, the manner of reburial and the location” (Paragraph 51). The MoJ had already made the position plain, as mentioned above, so this notion was only going to add fuel to a fire that should never have started.

Nevertheless, the Council continued with their belief that there existed a “duty to consult” (Paragraph 53). The Council envisaged a consultation process via its website and a decision being made jointly by ULAS and the Council, with an opportunity to appeal the decision. Worryingly, “The decision-maker was then to be the Council in consultation with the University, and ultimately the City Mayor” (Paragraph 57). As has already been established, though, the decision making body was ULAS. Mr Buckley objected to this approach and the Council’s plans were never made public.

The Royal Household was contacted, since the MoJ Burials Team were keen that there should be “no concerns” from that quarter regarding the location of reburial. No concerns were raised (Paragraph 58).

Parliamentary interest heightened and, on 6th February 2013, 2 days after DNA confirmation beyond reasonable doubt that Richard III had been found, the City of York wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice “making representations for the re-interment to take place in York Minster” (Paragraph 62). On 7th February, York Minster issued a statement “supporting the wish of the Chapter of Leicester for re-interment in Leicester” (Paragraph 63). Shortly afterwards, York Minster retreated to a position of neutrality. This flurry of ill-conceived activity in early February was akin to poking a sleeping bear with a pointy stick that had a hornets’ nest hanging from it.

That which had long been decided and settled was made to appear as though it was open to a public vote, a popularity contest. The REX-Factor was born. And there was only ever going to be one loser.

The MoJ wrote to Mr Buckley on 26th March 2013 suggesting a meeting between interested parties “to allow attendees to make representations and express any concerns that they may have”, adding that “ultimately, the decision on re-interment remains a matter for the University to decide” (Paragraph 68). Around this time, the Society “changed to a more neutral position as between Leicester and York” (Paragraph 70). This, I believe, was an error that acted as an accelerant to the kindling fire of an argument that should never have been. I can appreciate the difficult position that the Society was propelled into; it may have felt obliged to represent its membership more evenly and not be viewed as partisan, but the fact is, it had taken a side, then backed away from that side. The message was confusing and dangerous.

By now, an impression had been created and allowed to endure that Richard III’s remains were ‘up for grabs’. If all parties had kept to the original plan and the original agreement, his remains would have been re-interred and treated with respect and dignity in a timely fashion. Some may have clung to a sour taste at the place being Leicester Cathedral, but that timely, dignified conclusion, wherever it may be, is what most will tell you is the important thing, but it has been prevented by the brawling that has pervaded social media ever since.

On 3rd May 2013, Judicial Review proceedings were lodged by the Plantagenet Alliance, seeking ostensibly to see Richard’s remains re-interred in York. This could only be achieved by bringing proceedings to review the decision to grant the original licence. The challenge was made on four fronts (Paragraph 75);

“The Licence Decision” – meaning the failure to consult or attach a requirement to consult regarding re-interment.

“The Failure to Revisit” – the lack of re-examination of the licence by the Secretary of State for Justice when it became clear that the University would not consult.

“The Council Decision” – Leicester Council’s decision to support the University’s plans to re-inter in Leicester Cathedral, and

“The Re-interment Decision” – the University’s decision to re-inter at Leicester Cathedral.

It is vital to understand that this review is a review of the legal process only. It could never and should never have sought to take account of opposing preferences or the weight that any other location may carry versus Leicester. This was a legal review of the decision by the MoJ to issue the licence in the terms in which it was issued. This is why it was doomed to fail. Paragraph 76 makes clear the flaw, stating “The Claimant’s Grounds also asserted that Leicester Cathedral was not the most appropriate place for re-interment”. This appeal was based upon a passionate plea in favour of an alternative location, not on a fault within the legal process of granting the original licence.

The subsequent legal wrangling can, in my opinion, be distilled thus. The court could not cancel the original licence. To exhume human remains without a licence is a criminal offence and cancelling the licence would retrospectively make criminals of the archaeological team. This is both undesirable and deeply inequitable. The licence could not be re-issued under different terms because the remains were already exhumed.

In order to bring proceedings for a judicial review, the Claimant must demonstrate sufficient standing in the matter; a strong enough interest. In legal jargon, this is called the ‘locus standi’ (‘place of standing’). The Plantagenet Alliance claimed locus standi based on collateral descent. Members were 16th, 17th or 18th generation collateral descendants. Importantly, the court allowed proceedings to be brought on the basis of public interest, not that of collateral descent, which was judged to be too distant (Paragraph 82).

The Burials Act 1857 is described as a “paradigm example of a sparse Victorian statute” (Paragraph 88). Modern legislation is formulated to capture all aspects and to provide thorough procedures and processes. The Burials Act 1857 has never been superseded or repealed and its language is broad and sweeping rather than specific. Where this is the case, English Common Law will insert requirements of fairness into the application of the statute. Equity is a watchword of the Common Law.

The Plantagenet Alliance relied upon three perceived duties regarding the failure to consult;

1. A duty to consult.
2. A duty to carry out sufficient inquiry.
3. A duty to have regard to relevant considerations.

There is “no duty to consult at Common Law” (Paragraph 98(1)). Such a requirement can be imposed in four defined circumstances (Paragraph 98(2)). The first is where the statute imposes a duty to consult, which the Burials Act 1857 does not. Secondly, where there has been a promise to consult, which there never was. The Council may have privately investigated the notion, but not publically, nor had the University offered such an assurance. Thirdly, where there is a precedent to consult, and finally where failure to consult would result in “conspicuous unfairness” (Paragraph 98(2)). Without one of these factors, there can be no obligation to consult. It was the last two notions upon which the Plantagenet Alliance hung its hopes.

The Plantagenet Alliance cited four documents to support their assertion of an established precedent to consult. These were the MoJ’s ‘Guidance Note on Application for the Removal of Remains’, the Church of England and English Heritage’s ‘Guidance for best practice for treatment of human remains excavated from Christian burial grounds in England’, a DCMS document entitled ‘Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums’ and a Council document of 2012, ‘The Curation, Care and Use of Human Remains’.

The Court found, however, that none of these supported the circumstances at hand nor did they create an expectation of consultation with collateral relatives after a period of over 500 years (Paragraph 153). Each document was guidance rather than a statutory requirement, but was found not to be applicable anyway.

The Court further found that no unfairness could be derived from the failure to consult. The Claimant also cited the “unique and exceptional nature of this case” (Paragraph 154) as creating a requirement to consult. The Court was, I think understandably, unwilling to set such a precedent, since unique circumstances could be said to exist in virtually any given case.

Interestingly, some calculations indicated that there were potentially between 1 million and over 10 million individuals who may be able to claim the same level of collateral descent as the Claimant. The Plantagenet Alliance was also insisting firmly on a requirement for public consultation, meaning “the public consultation regarded by the Claimant is entirely open-ended and not capable of sensible limit of specificity” (Paragraph 156). Legally, case law stipulates that open ended consultation cannot be expected and that the Courts cannot impose a level of specificity that would see them effectively acting in the role of legislators (Paragraph 157).

The Court therefore dismissed the Plantagenet Alliance’s application for a Judicial Review.

In my opinion, this whole episode has been a vast white elephant that has, and will for a long time to come, cost the Ricardian community dearly. I can fully appreciate passionate believe that Richard should rest in one place or another, but the tug of war into which it has descended is grubby and lacks the decorum an anointed King of England deserves.

The University of Leicester and ULAS appear to have established their position from the outset, made it public and never moved from that position. In my opinion, that was the correct course of action. The Society (with the benefit of hindsight) erred in faltering to a neutral position. Having entered the arrangements in support of Leicester Cathedral, that is the position that they should have maintained. Leicester Council’s attempt to hijack affairs was “unnecessary, unhelpful and misconceived (as it, itself, ultimately acknowledged)” (Paragraph 164). York City’s intervention, which appeared in opposition to York Minster’s position, which itself then altered, was equally inappropriate. The Minster’s changing of position from pro-Leicester to neutral fed the uncertainty.

The legal position appears to me to have been clear from the outset. The Licence was granted to ULAS and it was clear that they were responsible for the remains and their re-interment. Their stated intention was to re-bury Richard III at Leicester Cathedral. Other parties to the project agreed with this position and proceeded on the basis of this arrangement. There was no requirement to consult and to do so would have been almost impossible in scope. As I suggested before, the level of certainty of failure with which most parties seems to have entered the project was the fatal flaw. Shocked when Richard III was, in fact, discovered, they found that they no longer wished to maintain their stated positions. This lack of forethought was calamitous. At this point, to my mind, it is too late. Your bed is made by your own hand and you must lie in it. Several parties, added to by outside bodies, instead threw off the bedclothes and sleepwalked into the debacle that, as I stated before, has only one loser.

A legal challenge to re-interment at Leicester was never going to succeed. So who is the real loser? Not the Plantagenet Alliance, nor the City of York. The Ricardian movement, inside and outside the Society, whether in Yorkshire, Leicestershire or overseas, exists to promote the study and re-assessment of the life and times of King Richard III. Many also feel an emotional connection to the king that, unfairly, is all too frequently sneered at. The discovery of the remains of King Richard III is a once in a lifetime, once in a 500 years’ time, occurrence. Never again will his worldwide profile be so high. And we, collectively, have wasted it.

There are, I think, (at least) two things upon which all Ricardians will always agree.

Firstly, regarding his re-interment, his remains should be afforded the respect that they demand as those of an anointed King of England. Catholic ceremony should probably play some part in proceedings because he was Catholic. A box in a lab is not where we want to see him. This is, I suggest, common ground for us all. I fear that in allowing the community to be consumed by the unanswerable and divisive question of where is best, we have utterly ignored the unifying and infinitely more attainable question of what is best. If we all agree on what we want to be done, where becomes an irrelevant distraction. We do not, in spite of all of the ink spilt upon the matter, know where Richard III wanted. We do know, as a Catholic, what he wanted, needed even. This has become lost in the squabbling. Why is he still unburied, possibly in a box in a lab (though we do not know precisely where his remains currently are)? Because of the fights over where. That which we purport to despise is perpetuated by our own unsettled and unsettling hand.

Perhaps Richard made some plans at some time to rest in York. Perhaps he planned, as king, to be interred with his wife at Westminster Abbey. Perhaps, had he re-married and had another heir, he would have been buried in the Yorkist kings’ mausoleum at St George’s with his second wife, mother to a future Yorkist king. Just maybe Fotheringhay held a pull upon him, to rest with his father and brother. When he took the field at Bosworth, he would been aware that losing would result in a quiet, obscure burial nearby. He might also have believed that he would one day be moved somewhere else. He had the precedent of Richard II and Henry VI to consider, but on that morning, defeat brought no certainty beyond death. One thing is for certain. We do not know what he wanted. It is therefore an irrelevant and distracting argument. It can be discussed, yes. I love discussing such things. But to allow it to detract from the dignity of his treatment is not helpful.

Ask yourself one question: Will I stop being a Ricardian if the remains of Richard III are re-interred at Leicester?

Would anyone really answer yes to that question? Will he deserve re-assessment less if his mortal remains rest in Leicester than if they were elsewhere?

If you answered no, then where simply does not matter.

The re-assessment of the reputation of Richard III is the second area of common ground. This is different to the promotion of Richard as a saintly figure. He was a medieval man and monarch, not an unblemished, flawless saint. But he was not what Shakespeare wrote either. An examination of the man, hidden for centuries behind the myth, is what is sought. One day, proof may be unearthed that he ordered his nephew’s murders. I cannot say that he didn’t do it. Neither can I say that he did. But there is plenty in the myth enshrouding his reputation that is simply, demonstrably, not true.

This is where we have all failed.

Where are the documentaries on Richard III, his life, his times and his reputation, since his discovery? I have watched a Tudor Court season on BBC2 and a three part broad sweep of the Plantagenet dynasty which felt unsatisfactory in its depth and offered nothing of note on Richard III. Why is there no Richard III season, or Wars of the Roses season even? I fear that the simple truth is that production companies and documentary makers don’t want to get their fingers burnt. We have created a hot potato at a time when we should have been serving up lashing of ginger beer and scones. Instead of providing a ready-made, out of the box set of appealing program options, all fully researched and grounded in fact, we have guarded the Precious, sometimes jealously.

The real loser is King Richard III. The greatest chance for a balanced re-assessment of his life has been lost in what time will prove to be an irrelevant distraction of an argument.

The very fact that I felt the need to preface this with an assurance that I seek to cause no offence speaks volumes. The fact that I know I will cause some offence screams further tomes.

We have a choice now. Focus on the what, initiate and embrace the debate while the opportunity lingers, or fester on the where and condemn King Richard III to 500 years more in the darkest shadows of English history.

I have chosen.

Further Reading

Full text of the Court judgement: http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/richard-3rd-judgment-.pdf

Ministry of Justice’s ‘Guidance Note on Application for the Removal of Remains’: https://www.merton.gov.uk/living/register/cemeteries/single_exhumation_guidance_notes.pdf

Church of England and English Heritage’s ‘Guidance for best practice for treatment of human remains excavated from Christian burial grounds in England’: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/human-remains-excavated-from-christian-burial-grounds-in-england/16602humanremains1.pdf

‘Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums’: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.culture.gov.uk/images/publications/GuidanceHumanRemains11Oct.pdf

Happy Birthday King Richard III!

The 2nd October 2013 marks the 561st anniversary of the birth of one of England’s most controversial monarchs, King Richard III.

Richard III Facial Reconstruction
Richard III Facial Reconstruction

On the throne for just 2 years, he has spent more than half a millennium dividing opinion and is still doing just that today, perhaps more than ever. With a judicial review of the decision to reinter his remains at Leicester Cathedral due to take place on 26th November, I wonder what King Richard might make of all of the controversy surrounding him on his birthday.

Do you know what?

I think he’d quite like it.

Here’s why.

Richard, as Duke of Gloucester and as king, was no stranger to controversy and can often be found courting it. The first glimpse of this can be seen in his dealing with the feud between the Stanley and Harrington families. I have written a separate blog about this dispute entitled ‘Hornby Castle – The Price of Power’ so I won’t go into great detail here. Suffice it to say that Richard took a side and made it very clear that he was doing so. When Lord Stanley sought to blast the Harringtons out of Hornby Castle with his immense canon Mile Ende, the 17 year old Richard can be found issuing a warrant on 26th March 1470 signed ‘at Hornby’. He had clearly placed himself in the way of Stanley’s ambitions to defend a family I think he viewed as far more loyal and more deserving of his brother the king’s rewards.

Hornby Castle
Hornby Castle

When the Earl of Warwick rebelled, Edward IV was forced into exile in Burgundy. He boarded a ship at Lynn on the Norfolk coast for an uncertain future. With him, amongst others, was his youngest brother Richard. The date that they took ship is recorded as 2nd October 1470. Richard’s 18th birthday. I don’t think that he would have hesitated a moment to sail with his brother though it seems likely his mentor Warwick and the brother to whom he was probably much closer, George, were on the other side and staying may have seemed an easy option at the time.

When Edward IV invaded France in 1475 there was no fighting. Edward signed Louis XI’s Treaty of Picquigny which effectively bought off the English king and his nobles with hefty bribes, termed pensions by Edward, who was keen to put a positive spin on the campaign. A few dissented from the Treaty. Richard, Duke of Gloucester was amongst them. Louis had a private interview with Richard before he left France and gave him gifts. He doubtless used the opportunity to measure this intractable young man. What did he find? When Edward had been keen to accept Louis peace terms, Richard argued that, in spite of Burgundy’s failure to provide the promised aid, they had enough of an army to defeat the French in the field. Then, if he still wished, Edward could negotiate a better peace from a position of power and return to England having achieved martial glory. I suspect Louis, The Universal Spider King, found a man willing, even keen, to fight for what he believed in. Fiercely loyal to his friends and prone to seeing things in black and white, right and wrong, with no room for shading or half measures.

1482 saw Richard handed command of a campaign against Scotland that Edward IV lacked the drive to pursue personally. As well as retaking the strategically vital border town of Berwick for the final time, the campaign saw Richard marching his army all the way to Edinburgh without the loss of a single man. This was in part due to the meltdown of Scottish internal politics, but Richard gave orders that his men were not to sack the city and so it was. He controlled his army so completely that there was no looting or unruly behaviour whilst he occupied Edinburgh before withdrawing to England having achieved his aim. Edward IV wrote to Pope Sixtus IV after this Scottish campaign with unrestrained praise for his brother; ‘Thank God, the giver of all good gifts, for the support received from our most loving brother, whose success is so proven that he alone would suffice to chastise the whole kingdom of Scotland. This year we appointed our very dear brother Richard Duke of Gloucester to command the same army which we ourselves intended to have led last year, had not adverse turmoil hindered us.’ Of Richard’s control and mercy, Edward wrote; ‘The noble band of victors, however, spared the supplicant and prostrate citizens, the churches, and not only the widows, orphans, and minors, but all persons found there unarmed.’ The temptation, and the popular choice, would surely have been to allow his men to run riot in Edinburgh in vengeance for years of border raids to enrich themselves and blow off steam, but Richard opted for honour and strict control instead.

In 1483 Richard acted (rightly or wrongly) decisively and definitively when he took the throne. If he truly believed his nephews were technically illegitimate, then that left no option but for him to take the throne. If he really feared a Woodville takeover to his own exclusion, then he felt that left him no option but to seize power, and so he did it. If it was the opportunity he had awaited for so long then he grabbed it with both hands and would not let go. The easy option? Well, that might have been to dissolve back into the north and defend his power base, from his power base, and hope for the best. Taking the throne, whatever the real reason he did it, was not the easy option.

Then, of course, there is the greatest controversy that surrounds his name, even to this day. What to do with his nephews, the Princes in the Tower. The rebellion at the end of the summer of 1483 involving the Duke of Buckingham surely provided Richard with the perfect opportunity, if he wished the boys dead, to blame Buckingham, mourn them and move on. He could join the nation in sorrow, even apologise that he had failed to protect them from a snake in the bedchamber and the problem would be over with. He would know what was coming in terms of a public outpouring of sorrow and would be able to manage it. This was not the path that King Richard chose. Silence was far from the easy option. It allowed rumour to ferment and grow. Uncertainty was no friend to a mediaeval king. Why,then, did King Richard choose silence? Was it because he didn’t see why he should explain himself? Or perhaps because there was no murder to report and he simply wanted the boys to melt into forgotten obscurity; safe, but no threat. But that’s a whole different story!

The Princes in the Tower
The Princes in the Tower

It certainly was not the case that Richard was in the habit of keeping silent on big issues. When rumours began to grow at the beginning of 1485, as his wife of over ten years suffered from failing health, that he was poisoning her to speed her to her grave so that he could marry his (now legally illegitimate) niece, Richard did not hold his tongue. After taking the advice of Sir William Catesby and Sir Richard Ratcliffe, the king addressed the great and good of London to deny the foul rumour that he was causing the death of his wife. The easy road at such an emotionally fraught time might have been to ignore the nonsense and hope it went away. Richard chose rather to confront the matter head on and set the record straight.

Richard was not a man to shy away from controversy or confrontation.

Bosworth is the perfect, tragic demonstration of that. When Richard heard of Tudor’s landing whilst at Nottingham he was supposedly elated and keen to march on the impudent invader immediately. Some have attributed this reaction to a nervous overcompensation but I think that this is to apply hindsight to the matter. Richard would surely have been confident that he would win. Why mess about? Let’s get it over and done with now!

On the field at Bosworth, Richard led the famous, thundering charge of his household knights across the battlefield to attack Tudor himself. It is understood that Richard saw a chance to end the matter once and for all. No prolonged chase. No fleeing and regrouping for either side. It would end that morning, one way or another. We know how it did end, but this is a final demonstration of his willingness to confront issues head on, to throw himself in the way of harm for what he believed in and not to take the easy path. At the very end, offered the chance to escape the field on a horse a squire offered, Richard refused to be chased away. He refused to cower. He refused to back down from the fight. He stood, prepared to die, his spirit unbroken even as his body was crushed.

Richard III's Cavalry Charge at Bosworth Re-enactment 2013
Richard III’s Cavalry Charge at Bosworth Re-enactment 2013

The arguments over his final resting place rumble on with no sign of diminishing in passion. E-petitions are closing with large numbers signing to show their adherence. Some are becoming increasingly vehement and angry as they fight for his bones. Most seem to feel it is a real shame that it has descended into such an undignified tug of war over the mortal remains of an anointed King of England. I thought that too. Then I thought something else.

Now, on the 561st anniversary of his birth at Fotheringhay Castle, 550 years after his time at Middleham in the Earl of Warwick’s household, 541 years after the founding of the Council of the North which he ran for his brother from Middleham for a decade, 528 years after his death at Bosworth, hasty burial at Greyfriars, Leicester and York’s recording that “King Richard late mercifully reigning upon us…was piteously slain and murdred to the grete hevynesse of this citie”, 1 year after his bones were dug up and examined, I have one question.

What would Richard make of all the controversy surrounding him?

I think he would smile to himself.

I think that he would think it was right and proper for people to fight for what they want and believe in (within the bounds of acceptable modern behaviour – no dragging canons the length of the country please!).

I think he would be quite pleased that over half a millennium after his death people are still talking about him.

To all sides, to Leicester, to York, to those who want to press their point, to those who think we should show more dignity, to all who love him and to those who hate him, I think he would say:

“Stand strong and true for that which you believe in. Do not be silenced.”

And I don’t think he would hesitate a moment to tell us where he really believes he should be buried.

Which is, of course, …………

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 Lost Coronation Of King Richard III

The coronation that took place on Sunday 6th July 1483 was, only a fortnight earlier, unplanned. London was prepared for a coronation, that of King Edward V on 22nd June but that was fated not to take place. Edward had been declared illegitimate and his Protector asked to take the throne. Therein lies another story.

Crown

King Richard III’s coronation was significant on many levels but the political and dynastic shockwaves of the following years have overshadowed the magnificent spectacle of a coronation memorable for a catalogue of reasons. A coronation had been made ready, so the pomp and splendid pageantry was in place, streets bursting with colour and packed with bodies hungry to catch a glimpse of their new monarch.

The first matter of note was that this was a joint coronation. King Richard and his wife, Queen Anne Neville, were crowned together. This had only happened three times before. Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine had enjoyed a dual coronation on Sunday 19th December 1154, though they had perhaps not enjoyed their subsequent relationship quite as much. Edward I was crowned alongside Eleanor of Castille on 19th August 1274 and his son Edward II had his wife Isabella of France crowned beside him on 25th February 1308. The joint coronation of Richard and Anne was a first in 175 years.

The absence for so long of a couple being crowned together was in part a testament to the upheavals of the previous century or more. Edward III had taken his father’s throne at a young age. His heir had died less than a year before he was to, leaving his 10 year old grandson to reign. Richard II was to be punished for his tyranny when the widowed Henry IV removed him. Henry died aged 46, leaving his unmarried son to be crowned King Henry V. When that warrior king died, his son was only 9 months old. Henry VI’s insipid rule brought about the Wars of the Roses and saw Edward IV seize the throne, crowned at 19 before he met Elizabeth Woodville. It was his son, aged 12, who had been due to be crowned on 22nd June. So, perhaps, this joint coronation of a settled, mature couple, Richard being 30 and Anne aged 27, promised much. They had a son to act as their heir. The omens were promising. This was something new at a time when the country did not want old problems.

On Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th July, King Richard and Queen Anne processed from White Hall to Westminster Hall, walking on a carpet of vibrant red cloth. The master of the ceremonies that had now begun to unfold was Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. Another matter of some significance. John Howard had been granted the offices of Earl Marshall and High Steward of England, making him the man traditionally positioned to oversee the coronation. Buckingham, though, had handed Richard his crown and he was determined to be the second most significant man in attendance. It is questionable whether second was ever enough for this proud man. The coronation set a precedent of spoiled indulgence that was soon to overflow into rebellion.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey

The spectacle proper began as the king and queen processed now from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey. They walked barefoot, as was traditional, behind a large cross and members of the clergy. Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland carried the blunt sword of mercy. Thomas, Lord Stanley bore the Lord High Constable’s mace. Next came the Earl of Kent and Richard’s closest friend Francis, Viscount Lovell each carrying a pointed sword of justice. Richard’s brother-in-law, the Duke of Suffolk held the sceptre and the king’s nephew John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln bore the cross and ball. Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey solemnly bore the sheathed sword of state held upright before him. Finally came Surrey’s father, John Howard, Duke of Norfolk carefully holding the crown in his hands.

King Richard himself walked enrobed in a sumptuous purple velvet gown, a bishop at each shoulder and his train born without humility by the Duke of Buckingham. The Wardens of the Cinque Ports held the cloth of estate above the king’s head. The luxury and vivid, vibrant colours would have been a sight to behold and the message of a bright new future clear for all to see.

Behind followed a series of earls, barons and lords bearing the queen’s regalia. Anne walked behind with Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond holding her train. Richard’s sister Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk walked alone in state followed by a further 20 ladies of the nobility and a host of knights and squires. The sheer scale of the event must have been enough to inspire awe, creating a wave upon which the new king and queen might ride to glory.

Westminster Abbey Interior

As they entered Westminster Abbey, the space erupted into ringing choral rejoicing. Divested of their ceremonial garb, the king and queen were anointed with holy oil by Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury. When they had been enrobed in sumptuous cloth of gold, the elderly Archbishop lowered a crown upon the heads of the new king and queen. Organ music filled the sacred space. A solemn Te Deum was sung and High Mass was said. England was rejoicing in the king and queen that God had appointed to her.

The Coronation Throne
The Coronation Throne

The spectacle was far from over. The coronation feast was eagerly expected next. In Westminster Hall, the Duke of Norfolk entered riding a charger adorned in cloth of gold to evict the gathered spectators and make room for the feast. A table on the dias was laid for the king and queen. On the floor of the hall, four further tables were placed, one for the attending bishops, the second for the high ranking nobility, a third for the barons and the fourth for the ladies invited. Each filed in, pledging their loyalty before the king and queen before taking their seat. In all, over 3,000 people attended the feast. Richard III’s coronation was perhaps the last on this scale. Numbers catered for at the feast fell dramatically in subsequent years until it was abandoned altogether in 1830 by William IV on the grounds of cost. No monarch since has reinstated the event.

Westminster Hall Interior
Westminster Hall Interior

Before the second course of the feast was served, the King’s Champion burst into the hall. Sir Robert Dymmock (whose family still hold the ceremonial position today) rode a destrier draped in red and white silk and wore armour of bright, pure white. He issued the traditional challenge to any who doubted King Richard’s right to rule and the room rang to shouts of ‘King Richard!’. With no challenge forthcoming, the Champion was served a covered goblet of red wine. Taking a draught, he cast the rest upon the floor, keeping the cup as his reward, and rode from the room.

Cloth of Gold
Cloth of Gold

The whole event had been an unmitigated success, perhaps the most lavish, well attended and best celebrated coronation Westminster Abbey had ever seen. At least it was in living memory. The Tudors are renowned for their use of spectacle as propaganda, but here King Richard III set a benchmark that even they would struggle to match.

Lost amid the rapturous pageantry were several notable anomalies, full of both promise and foreboding. With the exception of three earls who were minors too young to attend and a small handful of others, the entire English nobility turned out to celebrate the coronation. By comparison, the ceremonies both before, of Edward IV and after, of Henry VII, were bland, partisan affairs. Richard appeared to have embraced all of his new subjects. The Lancastrian Earl of Northumberland and Margaret Beaufort were in places of honour. Conciliation and the healing of old wounds seemed a real possibility. Without the benefit of hindsight, England must have appeared settled and happy.

However, examining the makeup of the procession more closely raises an interesting question that adds to the foreboding hinted at by Buckingham’s leading role. Thomas, Lord Stanley, proudly carrying the Constable’s mace, walked in a position senior to dukes and earls alike. An odd turn of events for a man known for a lack of loyalty that was unpalatable to Richard. Stanley had been involved in a long feud over possession of Hornby Castle with Sir James Harrington. Richard had, as early as 1470, taken Harrington’s side in the affair yet chose to lavishly honour Stanley. Was this a nod to the inescapable political reality that Edward IV had worked within? Stanley headed a veracious, up and coming family that boasted a huge force of men upon which they could call. It may have been a genuine attempt to build political bridges. If he was to rule all of England, niggling local feuds would have to be put to bed. Either way, an old enemy was in a place of high honour.

Behind Queen Anne walked another figure of some interest. She happened to be both the wife of Thomas, Lord Stanley and the mother of the final, glowing ember of Lancastrian hope in exile. Margaret Beaufort was a natural Lancastrian yet she too walked ahead of a duchess. Her son and his uncle had spent the last fourteen years in exile. There is evidence that Edward IV had been some way along the path of negotiating Henry Tudor’s return as a friend and his marriage to Edward’s own daughter, Elizabeth of York, Henry’s future queen. Was Richard intending to continue the attempt to bring the final stray within the fold? Or was he simply unable to escape the need to appease powerful enemies who remained irreconcilable? Henry Tudor was the final potential threat to the House of York. Imagine if he were made a friend…

Hindsight will tell us that the reign of King Richard III and his Queen Anne was not to last. Those honoured that day contributed to his downfall. Its attendants did not have this knowledge. For those who stood in Westminster Abbey, for those who sat indulging at the feast and for those who lined the streets cheering and soaking up the atmosphere, it was a spectacle like no other they had ever seen. It promised security, safety and a settled contentment for a country nursing ragged scars. Or perhaps the signs were there, just beneath the polished veneer, that this was a veil drawn over old, unresolved problems and new lurking threats, a bandage applied to ragged scars about to reopen once more.

Were there those who already plotted against the cheers of the crowds? Or could none have known the troubles to come as the streets of London joyously rang to a single call;

‘Long live King Richard III’

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.

William Shakespeare’s Richard III – The Convenient Villain

William Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Richard the Third is a masterpiece in the depiction of evil and the study of the psychology of the anti-hero, the villain we love to hate to the point that we almost hope they succeed. Yet we may have been deceived by Shakespeare’s play because he may not have meant us to see King Richard III in it.

Shakespeare Richard III First Folio

It is beyond doubt that Richard III is replete with errors of all kinds; factual, chronological and even geographical in its efforts to damn King Richard to its audience; and it succeeds. This is the image of King Richard that has imprinted itself onto our collective consciousness; the scheming, evil murderer, worst of all, murderer of children. Yet Shakespeare’s genius in passing fiction into historical fact may have been an accident, or at least an unintended by-product or convenient cover for what he was really asking his audience, and his Queen, to think about.

The play was written in the early 1590’s, probably around 1593 and it is important to consider the context in which Shakespeare was writing. The concerns of his contemporaries were great and growing. There was still religious upheaval, with no settlement reached in the country during the sixty years since Henry VIII’s Reformation. Queen Elizabeth I was aging and clearly not going to produce an heir. The question of the succession was growing like a weed, out of control, and no one was tending to it openly, including the Queen. Elizabeth ardently refused to address the issue but it was the proverbial elephant in the kingdom. The religion of the next monarch was a vital matter to the people of England. Transitions from Edward VI to Mary, Protestant to Catholic, and back again to Elizabeth’s Protestantism had been violent cataclysms tearing at the seams of Tudor England and another point of uncertainty was approaching.

Shakespeare is widely believed to have been a devout Catholic to the end of his life, forced to hide his faith but doubtless keen to see a Catholic monarch upon the throne after Elizabeth. He was close to his sponsors the Earls of Essex and Southampton who were known Catholics. If we can view Hamlet as a call to arms for English Catholics then Richard III contains similar thinly veiled undercurrents. William Shakespeare appears to have been happy to promote the Earls’ Catholic cause in his writing and skilled at hiding it. So who was Shakespeare aiming his quill at? I believe his audience were meant to see, and at the time would have clearly understood that they were meant to see, Robert Cecil.

Robert Cecil was a hunchback. In 1588 Motley’s History of the Netherlands described Cecil as: ‘A slight, crooked, hump-backed young gentleman, dwarfish in stature’ and later spoke of the ‘massive dissimulation (that) … was, in aftertimes, to constitute a portion of his own character’. Motley could almost have been describing Shakespeare’s King Richard III. Robert was the son of William Cecil, Elizabeth I’s lifelong advisor and Lord Privy Seal. In 1590 Robert became Secretary of State and was being groomed by his father to succeed him as the closest advisor to the monarch. After William Cecil died in 1598, Robert succeeded him as Lord Privy Seal but as early as the beginning of that decade, when Shakespeare was writing, the Cecils were operating a covert campaign to see James Stuart, King James VI of Scotland, a Protestant, succeed Elizabeth. Read in this context, the themes and dark threats of Richard III take on a new meaning.

King Richard III was perhaps an obvious candidate for the representation of evil. He had lost his life and his throne at the Battle of Bosworth to Elizabeth’s grandfather, King Henry VII. On 22nd August 1485 the monumental Plantagenet dynasty had crumbled and the Tudor rose had flourished in the remains. Henry VII had married Richard III’s niece, Elizabeth of York. As a daughter of King Edward IV, slandering this portion of the Yorkist Plantagenet family was thoroughly out of bounds – Elizabeth of York was Elizabeth I’s grandmother. Richard III sat alone between Edward IV and Henry VII with none to defend him. Henry had made great play of rescuing the country from Richard so he was an obvious villain for a Tudor writer.

The first thing to consider is the physical representation of King Richard. Shakespeare shows us a hunchback with a withered arm. Whilst stories of King Richard having uneven shoulders existed and Sir Thomas More had used the word ‘crookback’ in his Historie of King Richard III, Shakespeare may have exaggerated these into the limping hunchback of his play, but Robert Cecil was, in fact, a hunchback. The withered arm seems to be a fabrication, perhaps a hint that it was not really Richard. I imagine the gasps when he walked out on stage for the first time and people nudged each other with knowing looks, whispering “It’s Robert Cecil!” furtively, the knowledge spreading like fire through the crowd.

Shakespeare Richard III

The warnings of Richard III were plain to see. Richard had upturned the natural order, murdering his brother amongst others until he stole the Crown from his nephew, slaughtering the two young Princes in the Tower and poisoning his own wife. This upsetting of the correct way of the world had seen Richard king for a while but had ended in disaster, with him betrayed and killed at Bosworth and his dynasty blown to the wind. Ultimately, Richard was the architect of his own demise and I believe that Shakespeare was offering a warning that Robert Cecil was to become the architect of the downfall of the Tudors.

Richard is an appealing villain – he is funny and clever. We are forced to examine our attitude to the blatant evil played out before us. We almost like him, and we are supposed to. Elizabeth I liked Robert Cecil, a man she called her ‘little imp’ and Shakespeare was warning that this veil of amiability hid dark schemes that would doom the Crown. Namely, Cecil’s plot to see the Scottish Protestant James Stuart as King of England. Richard is the archetypal anti-hero. In his opening soliloquy he tells us all what he is planning to do, that he is ‘determined to prove a villain’, drawing us in so that we feel like we are his co-conspirators, accessories to what follows since none of us leap up to stop him. Complacency in the face of such deeds will bring ill upon the kingdom, as will allowing Cecil the room to plot a Stuart succession.

Another key theme of the play is the balance of free will against fatalism. Richard appears to be the master of his own destiny, to be driving events, giving us a Machiavellian lesson in power politics. To balance this, Richard also appears to act as though God intends the outcomes of his actions, to try and use religion to circumvent the unpleasant nature of his actions. His professed free will is an illusion. So religion becomes a central theme, man’s desire for free will against God’s plan. Cecil’s desire for a Protestant succession versus a return to the ‘correct’ religion, Catholicism. Robert Cecil is acting contrary to God’s will to try and get what he wants.

As Elizabeth I grew older and had no heir, the issue of the succession was a rising concern to the whole country. The last time that there had been a serious issue with the succession was following the death of Elizabeth’s brother Edward VI, but this was possibly a little too close for comfort. Before that, the seizure of the throne by Richard III from his nephew Edward V had thrown the country into political convulsions. Edward IV had died leaving his twelve year old son in the care of his uncle Richard. On the basis of illegitimacy, Richard had taken the throne from his nephew. This had led to civil war and, in Tudor mythology, to the need for a saviour to right the wrongs. Shakespeare was warning Elizabeth that she risked plunging the country into darkness that would lead to a violent restitution. Her duty was to ensure a smooth transition. She was failing to do this and it was the country that would pay.

Read in this context, the context in which Shakespeare’s audience would have watched it, the play becomes a moral warning to Queen Elizabeth about the effects of the uncertain succession and of allowing Robert Cecil to follow his own course. Shakespeare and his Catholic sponsors were keen to see a Catholic monarch return England to the true religion. They certainly did not want Cecil, to whom the Earl of Essex was openly opposed at court, orchestrating the Protestant succession of a Scottish monarch. The Earls of Essex and Southampton later rebelled, trying to capture the Queen in order to force their demands upon her. Essex was executed after their failure. Southampton was condemned to death but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Elizabeth never named an heir. Cecil got his Stuart succession and served James I, being elevated as Earl of Salisbury. Shakespeare became a legend. Richard III became a villain. Perhaps by accident.

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.