The Brandon men, father Sir William Brandon and his three sons, William, Robert and Thomas, had been loyal servants to King Edward IV. The king died on 9th April 1483 and his successor was his twelve-year-old son, Edward. However, the new king’s Uncle, Richard of Gloucester had the boy and his younger brother, Richard of York, declared illegitimate due to a precontract his brother had with Lady Eleanor Butler. As the late king’s only legitimate heir, Richard was asked by Parliament to take the throne and he was crowned King on 26th June 1483.
With a new King on the throne, the loyalties of the Brandon men lasted less than a year.
During the summer of 1483 a rebellion was planned against Richard III. Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham had been convinced by Dr John Morton, Bishop of Ely, to switch his allegiance from Richard III to Henry Tudor, the Lancastrian claimant in exile. It should be noted that Dr Morton was an associate of Sir William Brandon and it is highly probable, with the following events, that Morton and Brandon spoke about Brandon’s participation and support in the rebellion. The Brandon men decided that the oldest son William, and his youngest brother Thomas, would join the Duke of Buckingham’s rebellion.
The rebellion was set to begin on the 18th of October however rebels in Kent rose early and began to march to London. In response Richard III sent John Howard, Duke of Norfolk to crush the rebels. It was planned that Buckingham and his men would meet up with supporters in the West. The weather was horrid and continual rain caused the rivers Severn and Wye to break their banks, flooding the surrounding lands making it near impossible for Buckingham to progress. With his soldiers beginning to retreat Buckingham knew the cause was lost and he fled. He was betrayed and quickly arrested, beheaded in the market place at Salisbury on the 2nd of November.
At the end of 1483 or early 1484 William and Thomas Brandon left England and headed to Brittany to join Henry Tudor. The actions of the Brandon sons clearly showed that they believed themselves to be in danger. However, on the 28thMarch 1484, a general pardon was granted to William Brandon II.
It is unknown if the pardon was issued before or after William Brandon left England to join Henry Tudor. If it was before and William knew of it, it may be that he did not trust Richard III. Or perhaps it was simply too late and Brandons had no knowledge of the pardon. Either way William Brandon II and his younger brother Thomas had thrown their lot in with Henry Tudor.
Less than a month later, on the 11th April William Brandon II was being referred to as a rebel in government documents. Three months later on the 7th July an act of Attainder was passed on William Brandon II. The act stripped Brandon of all his land, manors, property and wealth, which reverted to the Crown. In addition to this, the act charged Brandon with high treason. If caught his sentence would be death.
While this was happening William’s father, Sir William Brandon fled into sanctuary at Gloucester. Unfortunately, it is unknown what Robert Brandon, the middle son, was doing during this time. Perhaps he was simply laying low, trying to keep out of Richard III’s gaze.
On the 1st of August, after fourteen years of exile, Henry Tudor set sail from France to lay claim to the English throne. He set sail from the port of Harfleur accompanied by approximately 2,000 soldiers, one of those being William Brandon II. It is unknown if Thomas Brandon accompanied Henry, there are no records of him over the next few months. If he did not travel with his brother, it may be that he remained in France with William’s wife and newborn son, the future Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk.
The fleet landed on the 7th of August at Mill Bay six miles west of Milford Haven located along the Pembrokeshire coastline. Over the next two weeks Henry Tudor and his men marched across England gathering support and soldiers as they went. On the 21st August Henry chose to knight several men who had shown great loyalty to him throughout his time in exile, one of these men was William Brandon II.
The Battle of Bosworth Field took place on the 22nd of August 1485. It is estimated that Henry had an army of between 5 – 8,000 soldiers and Richard III had 12 – 20,000 men. Thomas and William Stanley had a combined force of approximately 6,000 men but they had not yet committed to either side. Sir William Brandon had been chosen to be Henry’s standard-bearer.
The battle was fierce and as the battle continued Richard III, despite being told to flee, saw an opportunity to charge at Henry Tudor. As he and his men surged forward, his aim to bring down Henry, his lance pierced Sir William Brandon II and broke in half. History records that William Brandon ‘hevyd on high’ [the Tudor standard] ‘and vamisyd it, tyll with deathe’s dent he was tryken downe.’
Sir William Brandon II had given up everything to join Henry Tudor’s cause. Richard III had passed an Act of Attainder upon him, his land, his property and wealth forfeited and his life worthless. He had bid goodbye to his wife and baby son, sailed to England and ultimately given his life fighting for Henry Tudor’s cause.
Richard III and his men continued fighting and it was at this point that William Stanley and his men charged down in support of Henry Tudor and the rival armies clashed. At some point, Richard III was killed.
After Henry was declared victorious, he ordered that all those who had died to be buried, many of those being at the nearby church of St James the Greater, Dadlington. Sir William Brandon II was the only member of nobility on Henry Tudor’s side killed at Bosworth. Unfortunately, the exact location of Brandon’s grave remains unknown.
While the fortunes of the Brandon men had suffered under the reign of Richard III, with William Brandon II losing his life, when Henry VII claimed the throne fortune’s wheel turned upwards for the surviving Brandon men.
Henry VII reappointed Sir William Brandon I to the position of Marshall of the King’s Bench, of which he had been dismissed by Richard III. In addition to this he knighted Robert Brandon in 1487 and Thomas Brandon in 1497. He also trusted all three surviving Brandon men with overseeing various judicial matters across the country.
In 1499 Thomas Brandon was appointed as Master of the Horse, a position he was reappointed to under the rule of Henry VIII. In January 1503 Sir Thomas was part of a select group of ambassadors sent to meet with Maximillian I, Holy Roman Emperor in order to discuss the Emperor becoming a member of the elite Order of the Garter. He was also tasked with trying to persuade the Holy Roman Emperor not to support the staunch Yorkist, Edmund de la Pole, 3rdDuke of Suffolk.
In addition to all of this, in April 1507 Sir Thomas Brandon was elected into the Order of the Garter and also appointed as Marshal of the Court of Common Pleas.
The fortunes of the Brandon men suffered greatly under the rule of Richard III. For whatever reason the family became dissatisfied with Richard III. Perhaps they believed he did not deserve to be King, thinking instead the throne should have passed to Edward IV’s son. Or maybe they were simply unhappy with how Richard III sought to rule the country. For whatever reason the Brandon men threw their lot in with Henry Tudor. They had lost their freedom, their land and property and William Brandon II lost his life, but in 1485 their gamble paid off when Henry VII proved victorious at Bosworth. The first Tudor king proved to be a loyal King and lifted the Brandon men back to prominence.
Sarah Bryson is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours. She currently works with children with disabilities. She is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in the Brandon family who lived in England during the 14th and 15th centuries. She has previously written a book on the life of Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII and wife of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. She runs a website and facebook page dedicated to Tudor history. Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing and Tudor costume enactment.
Brady, Maziere, The episcopal succession in England, Scotland and Ireland, A.D. 1400 to 1875: with appointments to monasteries and extracts from consistorial acts taken from mss. in public and private libraries in Rome, Florence, Bologna, Ravenna and Paris (Rome: Tipografia della Pace, 1876).
Bradley, John, John Morton: Adversary to Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors (Gloucestershire: Amberley Publishing, 2019).
Burke, John, A genealogical and heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain and Ireland, enjoying territorial possessions or high official rank, but uninvested with heritable honours, Volume 1, (London: R Bently, 1834).
Calendar of the patent rolls preserved in the Public Record Office, 1476–1485 Edward IV Edward V Richard III. Great Britain.
Calendar of the patent rolls preserved in the Public Record Office, 1485–1494 Henry VII v. 1. Great Britain
Calendar of the patent rolls preserved in the Public Record Office, 1494–1509 Henry VII v. 2. Great Britain.
Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1871).
Campbell, William, Materials for a history of the reign of Henry VII: from original documents preserved in the Public Record Office (London: Longman & Co, 1873).
Clowes, William, Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records, Volume 9 (London: Clowes and Sons, 1848).
Ellis, Sir Henry, Three books of Polydore Vergil’s English History: Comprising the reigns of Henry VI., Edward IV., and Richard III (London: Camden Society, 1884).
Gairdner, James, History of the Life and Reign of Richard the Third (Cambridge: University Press, 1898).
Gairdner, James, Letters and Papers Illustrative of the Reigns of Richard III and Henry VII (London: London, 1861).
Harris Nicolas, Sir Nicholas, History of the Orders of Knighthood of the British Empire; of the Order of the Guelphs of Hanover; and of the Medals, Clasps, and Crosses, Conferred for Naval and Military Services, Volume 2 (London: John Hunter, 1842).
Hutton, William, The Battle of Bosworth Field, Between Richard the Third and Henry Earl of Richmond, August 22, 1485 (Fleet Street: Nichols, Son, and Bentley, 1813).
Meyer, G.J., The Tudors The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty (New York: Delacorte Press, 2010).
Royle, Trevor, The Wars of the Roses, England’s First Civil War (United Kingdom: Abacus, 2009).
Skidmore, Chris, The Rise of the Tudors The Family That Changed English History (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2013).
A paper by Professor Tim Thornton of the University of Huddersfield, first published on 28 December 2020 and available here, has reached the national press, for example here, with claims that it has solved the mystery of the Princes in the Tower and proven the version of events provided by Sir Thomas More to be accurate. The paper is very interesting in its consideration of the emergence and evolution of the stories of the Princes in the Tower, with a focus on Richard III’s culpability in the murders. However, it will come as little surprise that I don’t see anything conclusive, and I concede that efforts to portray it as resolving the mystery may be tabloid clickbait headlines rather than Professor Thornton’s assertion, while noting that he believes it means More ought to be given almost unquestioned credence. The paper overlooks several aspects of More’s account as it reaches to establish the veracity of his version of the events of 1483.
Essentially, the proposition is that the two sons of Miles Forrest, one of those More identifies as the murderers of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, the Princes in the Tower, were at the court of Henry VIII, and acted as servants of Cardinal Wolsey. Having come into contact with Sir Thomas More, their testimony against their father is assumed to have been volunteered and used by More to record a true and accurate account of the murders thirty years later. I have previously written about my issues with More’s Richard III as historical evidence, including here and here, but I thought I would address it again in light of this new connection.
Professor Thornton is clear that the Forrest brothers, named Edward and Miles, cannot be definitively identified as the sons of the Miles Forrest of More’s account. The evidence cited is, though, compelling enough to accept that they probably were the sons of the servant of Richard III associated by More with the murders. The assertion that they came into contact with Sir Thomas More on occasions is established, but otherwise uninterrogated. There is an assumption that they were willing to tell the story they knew about their father to More for inclusion in his version of the event of 1483. This relies on the brothers knowing the story. When Miles Forrest died in 1484 and his widow and son Edward were provided an annuity by Richard III, no age is given for Edward, but there is a presumption that he was still quite young. The younger sibling, Miles, is not mentioned at all, suggesting he may have been no more than a babe, or even that he was born after his father’s death.
Assuming for a moment that Miles Forrest took part in the murders as More asserts, the Forrest brothers must have been too young in 1484 to have known or understood what their father had done. How, then, did they come to know such a story? Their mother may have told them, or another close associate of their father, but to what end? If it was such a secret that no one knew of Miles Forrest’s involvement until his sons told More, why perpetuate a tale that could only damage the family? Why would the Forrest brothers have been willing to believe the slur on their father if it were related to the years later?
Assuming Miles Forrest was involved in the murders, and his sons knew of their father’s crime, the next problem is their willingness to tell the story to Thomas More. As servants at court associated with Henry VIII and Thomas Wolsey, but not with service to Thomas More directly, it is hard to unravel a circumstance in which they would have volunteered such a dark family secret to a virtual stranger, even if they were aware he was writing about the events of 1483. As Professor Thornton points out, both men continued a long and successful career, unhampered by their willing association with the most heinous deed in living memory and beyond. Perhaps the sins of the father would not be held against the sons, but I am less certain that the risk would be one worth taking.
So, for me, the connection is interesting, but does not convince me of More’s veracity. The fact of their affiliation in an official capacity gives no hint at the nature of their relationship. The brothers donating information to More that damned their father suggests a level of trust and perhaps even friendship that cannot be evidenced. If the Forrest brothers were rivals during More’s rise, friendly or otherwise, they may have been eviscerated in his story in recompense for some trespass or perceived slight. It is hardly the act of a friend to accuse one’s father of the double murders of royal children.
Part of what makes the account offered by Thomas More superficially plausible is his use of real people sprinkled throughout his narrative. He is the first to involve Miles Forrest and John Dighton, the former clearly identifiable, the latter less definitively so. The messenger used by Richard, ‘one Iohn Grene whom he specially trusted’ possesses a name so common there are several candidates, meaning he may or may not have been real and involved. Of these three names introduced together by More, only one can be confidently attached to a person within the historical record. The other two may, or may not, have existed as the men used by More.
More is the third writer, after Polydore Virgil (some time between 1506 and 1513) and Robert Fabyan (some time between 1504 and 1512), to identify Sir James Tyrell’s involvement. All three accounts date from after Tyrell’s execution in 1502. More’s, however, written after the other two, is the only account to mention a confession of the murders of the Princes in the Tower being given by Tyrell at the time of his arrest, a detail even later Tudor writers appear unaware of. This requires More to have cognisance of something unknown to Virgil, Henry VII’s official court historian, writing almost contemporaneously. It would be odd for Virgil to be unaware of the confession, or for him to know of it, and accuse Tyrell without providing the confirmation offered by his confession. Given that an unverifiable family legend claims that James Tyrell hosted the Princes and their mother at his home at Gipping Hall when Richard III facilitated their meetings during his reign, More and others potentially seized on this truth of his involvement in their story to attach him to tales of their murders. All of the best lies are wrapped around a kernel of truth.
There is at least one other example of More’s incorrect use of a real person to blur or obscure the truth in his telling of Richard III’s story. More’s description of the emergence of the pre-contract story that ultimately led to the decision to bar Edward IV’s sons from the throne on the basis of illegitimacy is startling in bearing all of the hallmarks of throwing the kitchen sink at the problem. Dr Ralph Shaa’s sermon at St Paul’s Cross began, More relates, by alerting the people ‘that neither King Edward himself nor the Duke of Clarence were lawfully begot’.1 In the charge that Edward was described as illegitimate, More appears to follow Dominic Mancini’s difficult, and often inaccurate, account of events. Mancini, an Italian visitor to England in the pay of the French court, most likely as a spy, spoke no English and never met any of the central figures in the story he relates. Mancini himself describes his wish not to write down his account, but his resignation to doing so at the insistence of his patron.2
Mancini relates that the sermon insisted ‘that the progeny of King Edward should be instantly eradicated, for neither had he been a legitimate king, nor could his issue be so. Edward, they say, was conceived in adultery’.3 Here, Mancini probably betrays his continental bias and lack of understanding of England and English. The story that Edward was illegitimate, the son of an archer who shared his huge frame, was current at the French court throughout the reign of Edward IV and was a favourite joke of King Louis XI. Unable to understand what was said, if he even witnessed the sermon, Mancini layers what he knows, and what he believes his audience will appreciate and relate to, over the gaps in his comprehension. Mancini later adds that Shaa ‘argued that it would be unjust to crown this lad [Edward V], who was illegitimate, because his father King Edward [IV] on marrying Elizabeth was legally contracted to another wife to whom the [earl] of Warwick had joined him.4
More uses this charge, demonstrating that Mancini’s account may well have been in circulation in England, since no other contemporary or near contemporary, and no English, source mentions it. He adds the claim that the sermon designated George, Duke of Clarence as illegitimate too. This is novel. The reason for Clarence’s exclusion, or rather that of his children, since he had been executed in 1478, was his attainder for treason which parliament extended to exclude his descendants from the line of succession.5 Mancini was clear that this was the reason for the exclusion of Clarence’s children from consideration; ‘As for the son of the duke of Clarence, he had been rendered ineligible for the crown by the felony of his father: since his father after conviction for treason had forfeited not only his own but also his sons’ right of succession.’6 The Crowland Chronicler concurs that this was the reason for overlooking Clarence’s children; ‘the blood of his other brother, George, Duke of Clarence, had been attainted’.7
More continues to describe the pre-contract, the legal basis on which Edward IV’s children were declared illegitimate due to bigamy, naming Dame Elizabeth Lucy as the wife of King Edward IV before his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. More then explains that Dame Elizabeth Lucy was brought to London in 1483, only to deny that she had been married to Edward IV.8 Mancini believed the pre-contract related to a marriage made by proxy by the Earl of Warwick on the continent.9 The lady identified as Edward’s first wife was, in fact, Lady Eleanor Butler, née Talbot, a daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, who had died in 1468.10
Elizabeth Lucy was a long-term mistress of King Edward IV, and was possibly the mother of one or more of his illegitimate children, perhaps including Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle. Her introduction by More into the story of the pre-contract in 1483 demonstrates the use of real, documented people improperly within the story to both add credence to his version and remove credibility from Richard III during the events of 1483. It is possible that Miles Forrest served a similar purpose for More. Details are also added by More that do not appear in other versions before or immediately after he wrote his account. Most notable of these is the supposed confession provided by Tyrell and John Dighton, Miles Forrest’s accomplice. ‘Very truth is it and well known that at such time as Sir James Tyrell was in the Tower, for treason committed against the most famous Prince, King Henry the Seventh, both Dighton and he were examined, and confessed the murder’.11 The phrase ‘Very truth is it and well known’ reads a little like ‘honest guv’nor’, particularly when no other writer records something supposedly well-known and so critical to the establishment of Richard III’s, and Tyrell, Forrest and Dighton’s, guilt. The introduction of the idea that Dighton ‘yet walks alive, in good possibility to be hanged ere he die’ only seems to add more incredulity to the tale. A confessed regicide and child murderer is simply allowed to walk away after confirming his guilt? Miles Forrest is described as ‘a fellow fleshed in murder’ when explaining his selection for the job of killing the Princes, so if his sons were More’s source of detail about their father, they must have despised the man who died when they were both young, possibly too young to even remember him.
The proliferation of other fates ascribed to the Princes in the Tower is also suggestive that, despite More’s insistence, their doom in the manner described by More was not well-known. One version that is worth particular mention is that of John Rastell, published in 1529. Rastell related the attempt to smother both boys, during which the younger escaped, was caught and had his throat slit.12 Rastell wrote that there were several theories about what happened to the bodies, including that they were locked alive inside a chest and buried beneath stairs in a similar story to More’s. Yet his first assertion is that they were placed into a chest, sailed along the Thames and thrown overboard on the way to Flanders.13 The variance in the story is narrowing, but more than a decade after More’s version was compiled, it is clear that other narratives still had currency. Rastell’s input is of particular interest because he was Sir Thomas More’s brother-in-law, married to Elizabeth More. Both Thomas and John were lawyers in London too, so it seems striking that more than ten years after More’s account, based on certain knowledge, testimony of witnesses and a signed confession which was ‘well known’, Rastell still presented alternative stories from his brother-in-law; similar, but not identical, still uncertain, and apparently unaware of the confessions.
Conviction that More presented a factually accurate account of events is demonstrably incorrect. The very first sentence of his The History of King Richard the Third is erroneous, not as a matter of interpretation or opinion, but of fact. ‘King Edward, of that name the fourth, after he had lived fifty and three years, seven months, and six days, and thereof reigned two and twenty years, one month, and eight days, died at Westminster’.14Edward IV was born on 28 April 1442 and died on 9 April 1483. He was therefore forty years old, a few weeks short of his forty-first birthday, not fifty-three. More therefore begins with an error, compounded by the precision he claims, down to the number of days. If the counter to this observation is that More surely meant to go back and check his data, then why be so precise, and why never correct something relatively easy to confirm, and why assert hids other claims are unquestionably true? Part of the reliance on More is anecdotally based on assertions that as a lawyer and a devout man, he would do his research properly and would not present lies, yet he does just this with his first sentence. He goes on to describe Edward V as ‘thirteen years of age’ when he was in fact twelve years, five months old, and his brother Richard as ‘two years younger’ when the Duke of York was nine years and seven months old at the time of their father’s death, three years younger.15
It is worth considering what More hoped to achieve by writing his History, and whether it ought to be considered a work of history as it might be presented today. I believe More’s work should be read as rhetoric and allegory rather than a factual work of history. More’s other famous work, Utopia, describes a perfect society. The full title of the work, published in 1516, at the same time More was gathering his story of Richard III together, translates as ‘A little, true book, not less beneficial than enjoyable, about how things should be in a state and about the new island Utopia’. A true book about a fiction island? More’s ideal pardise has many striking features; slavery (each household has two slaves) raises the question of whether the perfect society is perfect for everyone. There is no private property, euthanasia is legal, priests are permitted to marry, and a number of religions exist tolerant of each other. These are all societal structures held up as a model of perfection, but which More himself fundamentally disagreed with.
The errors that open his History are perhaps the clearest signpost that what follows is not an accurate relation of history. It may, or may not, be pertinent that King Henry VII (28 January 1457 – 21 April 1509) was fifty-two at his death, much closer to More’s description of Edward IV’s age. The two innocents destroyed for the new regime that wished to establish itself on the death of the old king might be intended to represent Sir Edmund Dudley and Sir Richard Empson, executed on 17 August 1510. Though they were not innocents in the sense that young children were considered to be, nevertheless they were arrested on Henry VIII’s accession and subsequently executed for no crime but doing as Henry VII had instructed them. It was a cynical and brutal bid for popularity. If read through this lens of contemporary political commentary, Richard III is used a vehicle to safely deliver an otherwise dangerous message; that tyrants who begin their reigns with unjustifiable murders risk losing the kingdom, the crown, and their lives.
The development of the manuscript through the 1510’s could have been a reaction to this unnerving early sign of reckless tyranny by the young Henry VIII. The work could then have been abandoned as More moved into royal service and either hoped to affect and influence the king and his policy in person, or felt the device too dangerous. The risks were something Sir Thomas would have been acutely aware of, if his son-in-law William Roper is to be believed. Roper related that Thomas More had, in parliament in 1504, made an eloquent and impassioned speech against Henry VII’s taxation that had affected the king’s income and led to the arrest of his father Sir John More on trumped-up charges as a warning to the young lawyer, who was protected by parliamentary privilege.16 Whatever the truth, More did put his manuscript down and never completed or published it, both tasks later undertaken by his nephew William Rastell, son of More’s sister Elizabeth and brother-in-law John.
As a lawyer, More’s Richard III may have been little more than a legal exercise that was never meant for public consumption. Utopia was an example of arguing for a set of beliefs and standards that More fundamentally disagreed with. Can a case be constructed with minimal evidence and all of it circumstantial and hearsay testimony? Was he testing his own belief in Richard III’s character and guilt based on the stories related by his former patron Archbishop Morton? Was the manuscript Morton’s work, revisited by a former pupil, but abandoned for lack of evidence and the obvious errors included? Thomas More spent time as a teenager in the household of John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor after the accession of Henry Tudor. Morton was an inveterate and irreconcilable enemy to Richard III for reasons that remain unclear, and was arguably the greatest beneficiary of the Tudor victory at Bosworth besides the new king. This raises the possibility that More’s understanding of Richard III’s story was heavily influenced by Morton, who told the tale both to explain away his own part in treason and to indoctrinate young men into a new regime, strengthening its foundations, to protect his new prominence. Professor Thornton suggests that Morton’s personal testimony could have informed More’s reference to strawberries at the 13 June 1483 council meeting,17 but this would require the addressing of More’s additional reference to Richard’s withered arm, displayed at the meeting, which his skeletal remains have proven not to have existed.18 In addition, More repeats the claim that Lord Stanley was not only at this infamous meeting, but was injured and arrested.19 No contemporary source places Lord Stanley at the Tower that day, and the suspicion of his involvement in treason and arrest on 13 June makes little sense in light of his position carrying the Constable’s mace at Richard III’s coronation on 6 July.20
More potentially explored the use of a legal charge of notoriety to establish guilt in a crime. He may have been aware that a significant element of Titulus Regius, the act of parliament in 1484 that set out Richard III’s title to the crown, rested on a charge of notoriety to place a burden of proof on the accused.21 In Titulus Regius, the burden of proof was placed on the children of Edward IV to prove their legitimacy because of the notoriety attributed to the claim that Edward IV had married their mother bigamously. Titulus Regius purported to be a replication of the petition placed before Richard III in June 1483 asking him to take the throne. At the time, the children of Edward IV were not in a position to defend their legitimacy, so the charge of notoriety was a mechanism to avoid the scrutiny of an ecclesiastical court, to the jurisdiction of which a charge of legitimacy should usually have been referred. By 1484, More contended that the Princes were dead, so unable to counter the charge of notoriety. In More’s story, ‘Very truth is it and well known’ serves the same purpose. It introduces notoriety, placing the burden of proof on the accused who, in Richard III, is certainly dead and unable to refute the charge. Did the lawyer in More wonder whether this was enough to prove the case? He may be disturbed to find that 500 years after he wrote it, his unpublished work is used widely as proof of Richard III’s guilt and the detailed manner of the murders, as well as to convict Sir James Tyrell, John Dighton, and Miles Forrest of involvement.
Professor Thornton’s discovery of a connection between Sir Thomas More and two men who may well have been the sons of Miles Forrest is a fascinating addition to the thin but important bank of information on the events of 1483. No evidence appears to survive as to the nature of their relationship, so More’s use of the man likely to have been their father may be the result of rivalry or animosity as easily as a voluntary confession. It also does little to add weight to the claim that More’s work is accurate and to be believed. There remain too many unaddressed inaccuracies and problems, the above being by no means an exhaustive survey thereof. Contemporaries provided different versions of the event More described as well-known. His brother-in-law published an account more than a decade after Sir Thomas laid down his manuscript that was similar enough to suggest they had discussed it, but different enough to highlight the uncertainty still alive in 1529. The fixation on More, the desperation to prove his version of events authentic and truthful, and to attribute the murders of the Princes in the Tower to their uncle King Richard III consistently refuses to allow sufficient attention to other potential suspects, but ignores the much bigger question that the available evidence begs. What if there was no murder of the Princes in the Tower in 1483 at all? The narrow debate continues to detract from some of its most fascinating elements.
Richard III The Great Debate, ed. P. Kendall, The Folio Society, 1965, p86
The Usurpation of Richard III, Dominic Mancini, trans C.A.J. Armstrong, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1989, p57
The Usurpation of Richard III, Dominic Mancini, trans C.A.J. Armstrong, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1989, p95
The Usurpation of Richard III, Dominic Mancini, trans C.A.J. Armstrong, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1989, p97
Rotuli Parliamentorum, Vol VI, pp193-5
The Usurpation of Richard III, Dominic Mancini, trans C.A.J. Armstrong, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1989, p97
Ingulph’s Chronicle of the Abbey of Croyland, trans H.T. Riley, London 1908, p489
Richard III The Great Debate, ed. P. Kendall, The Folio Society, 1965, pp84-5
The Usurpation of Richard III, Dominic Mancini, trans C.A.J. Armstrong, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1989, p97
Rotuli Parliamentorum, Vol VI, p241; Ingulph’s Chronicle of the Abbey of Croyland, trans H.T. Riley, London 1908, p489
Richard III The Great Debate, ed. P. Kendall, The Folio Society, 1965, p106
The Pastyme of the People, J. Rastell, 1529, p139
The Pastyme of the People, J. Rastell, 1529, p140
Richard III The Great Debate, ed. P. Kendall, The Folio Society, 1965, p31
Richard III The Great Debate, ed. P. Kendall, The Folio Society, 1965, p31
The Lyfe of Sir Thomas Moore, Knighte, William Roper, ed. E.V. Hitchcock, London, 1935, pp7-8
More on a Murder, Professor T. Thornton, The Historical Association, 2020, p20
Richard III The Great Debate, ed. P. Kendall, The Folio Society, 1965, p70
Richard III The Great Debate, ed. P. Kendall, The Folio Society, 1965, p71
Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me, M. Lewis, Amberley Publishing, 2018, pp272-5
Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me, M. Lewis, Amberley Publishing, 2018, p295
I’m planning to do a series of talks online using Crowdcast. This year has seen all of my in person speaking engagements cancelled, so I thought I’d try to find a way around it. Engaging with audiences and talking about my research and books is one of the most enjoyable aspects of this historian and author lark, and I’ve missed it this year.
Yes. It’s also left a dent in my income that I need to fill. Although I still can’t deliver talks face to face, this seems like a good compromise which I hope you will be able to enjoy.
The first talk covers the year 1450, and serves as background to the causes of the Wars of the Roses, and to the birth of Richard III, who is sure to be the focus of later talks.
So, if you’d like to see the talk, please grab your ticket and I’ll see you there.
Yikes!! The fantastic History Hit have released the documentary we did on the #PrincesInTheTower and #RichardIII. 😬😳
I’m somewhere bouncing between excited, terrified, proud, nervous, anticipating bad reactions, hoping it’ll go down well.
I hope you’ll have a watch. You can get a month’s free trial – what better time to use it and encourage more content like this?
I think it’s a pretty big step for Ricardianism to get something as revisionist as an exploration of the possibilities the The Princes in the Tower weren’t murdered in 1483, never mind that Richard III didn’t kill them. If this gets plenty of views and likes and lots of publicity, it should lead to more opportunities to tell a different story about Richard III. So if you can spare half an hour, please sign up for the free trial (you can cancel it before you get charged anything, or keep it and watch more) and watch the documentary.🤞
(And it was the first time I’ve done anything like this, so be gentle!)
There has been an explosion of interest in the announcement made by Steve Coogan last week that he is due to start filming a movie about Philippa Langley’s search for Richard III. I’ve seen a lot of slightly nervous noise on social media about the film. The main concerns seem to be that it will be a comedy, and that it will make fun of the dig, of those involved, and of Richard III.
We need Corporal Jones. Because there is absolutely no need to panic, Mr Mainwaring, or anyone else.
Philippa has confirmed that she’s closely involved with the film.
The second thing to note is that it will not be a comedy. Steve Coogan is co-writing the script with Jeff Pope, a pairing that first delivered the BAFTA award-winning and four-time Oscar nominated Philomena in 2013. Steve Coogan will play Philippa’s husband in the movie – no news yet on who might be playing Philippa though. Jeff Pope is a multi-award-winning writer and the Head of Factual Drama at ITV Studios. This will be a drama, a human story, and not a comedy. Oscar-winning director Stephen Frears, who directed Philomena, The Queen and A Very English Scandal, is also rumoured to be attached to the project.
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope made a low-key visit to the Richard III Visitor Centre in Leicester as long ago as 2017 as part of their research work on the project.
With filming due to begin next year, more details will hopefully be forthcoming soon. In the meantime, it’s exciting to look forward to a serious film that will explore the drama of a search against all the odds for the remains of one of history’s most famous kings. And it’ll be weird to see some friends portrayed in the film!
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.
It seems that a lot of the hardback copies of The Survival of the Princes in the Tower are not reaching people after the release on Thursday. I’m told there has been a delay getting copies to the warehouse, but that they are there now and should be shipped early next week.
The Kindle version is available if you like your books electronic, but I know the feel of a hard copy book is irreplaceable to many. I’m sorry that there has been this delay in getting copies to you of a book I’m really keen for everyone to read. By way of an apology, I’m dropping a little extract here from the section dealing with Perkin Warbeck, detailing some of the rising tension in England in 1493-4. I hope you enjoy it until the books begin to drop on doorsteps.
The lack of direct action from Margaret’s pretender does not mean that concern in England was not reaching a thinly veiled peak. On 20 July 1493, Henry VII wrote a letter recorded in Ellis’s Original Letters Vol I to Sir Gilbert Talbot and expressly blamed Margaret for instigating the problems he now faced and tried to dismiss her prince as a ‘boy’, but it also ordered Talbot to be ‘ready to come upon a day’s warning for to do us service of war’ against the threatened invasion of ‘certain aliens, captains of strange nations’. It was all very well for Henry to call this pretender a mere ‘boy’, but Richard, Duke of York would have been nineteen years old by this point, an age at which his father was leading armies and devouring enemies, not only at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross but at the cataclysmic Battle of Towton, the largest battle fought on English soil, which Edward IV won to cement his own position on the throne. Henry would have been all too aware of this so his flippant disregard can only have been a blustering front.
Ellis’s Original Letters Vol II offers further illumination of the concern Henry felt, but needed desperately to hide. This document is a set of instructions given to Clarenceux King of Arms for an embassy to Charles VIII in France. The current holder of the office of Clarenceux King of Arms on 10 August 1494, when these papers were signed by Henry VII at Sheen Palace, was Roger Machado, who had been appointed to the role on 24 January that year. Roger Machado was of Portuguese extraction, which may be important to the tale, and had served Edward IV as Leicester Herald and appears, during the early part of 1485, to have undertaken several journeys on behalf of Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, which may have been in relation to Henry Tudor, then in exile and planning his attack, or might equally have related to one or more of Thomas’s half-brothers, the Princes in the Tower, in hiding abroad.
In this instance, Henry VII’s instructions remain in full. The first part of the instructions order Machado to let Charles VIII know that his emissary, Messire George le Grec, had been afflicted by gout on his way to England but that Charles’ messages had been received from an esquire, Thomyn le Fevre, who had travelled in le Grec’s stead. Henry wished Charles to know that he had received the news that an embassy from Charles to Maximilian had returned to Paris with confirmation that the Holy Roman Emperor meant to do all in his power to assist Margaret’s pretender and that Maximilian had travelled to Flanders to help champion that cause. Charles appears to have sent Henry an offer of assistance, despite his own efforts to raise an army to assault Naples. France would lay the fleets of Brittany and Normandy at Henry’s disposal on the sole condition that he met the costs of running them whilst they served him and Charles, in line with his agreement at the Peace of Étaples, had ordered that none of his subjects should join or aid the pretender’s efforts. Henry thanked Charles for this offer, but said that he would not need to avail himself of it because the ‘garçon’ was of so little importance that Henry was not at all concerned by him. This, of course, was not true, as the king’s letter to Gilbert Talbot attests. Henry, though, needed to maintain a calm appearance above the surface as his legs beat furiously below the water, against a strengthening tide. The instructions, written in French and containing parts that cannot be clearly read, continue;
‘And in regard to the said garcon the King makes no account of him, nor of all his . . . . , because he cannot be hurt or annoyed by him; for there is no nobleman, gentleman, or person of any condition in the realm of England, who does not well know that it is a manifest and evident imposture, similar to the other which the Duchess Dowager of Burgundy made, when she sent Martin Swart over to England. And it is notorious, that the said garcon is of no consanguinity or kin to the late king Edward, but is a native of the town of Tournay, and son of a boatman (batellier), who is named Werbec, as the King is certainly assured, as well by those who are acquainted with his life and habits, as by some others his companions, who are at present with the King ; and others still are beyond the sea, who have been brought up with him in their youth, who have publicly declared at length how . . . [a few words are wanting] the king of the Romans. And therefore the subjects of the King necessarily hold him in great derision, and not without reason. And if it should so be, that the king of the Romans should have the intention to give him assistance to invade England, (which the King can scarcely believe, seeing that it is derogatory to the honor of any prince to encourage such an impostor) he will neither gain honor or profit by such an undertaking. And the King is very sure that the said king of the Romans, and the nobility about him, are well aware of the imposition, and that he only does it on account of the displeasure he feels at the treaty made by the King with his said brother and cousin, the king of France.’
Here we have Henry’s riposte to Richard’s pretension; the king claims that the youth is a native of Tournay, the son of a boatman and that his true name is Werbec, though it is unclear whether this is offered as the imposter’s forename or the family name of his father. Henry asserts that he has a wealth of creditable information confirming this and that Maximilian knows he is supporting an imposter, rather than a genuine pretender. This accusation is important for the very reason Henry points out. It should be considered beneath a prince of any nation to undermine the authority innate in royalty by holding up a known impostor, and a commoner from a foreign land to boot, against a fellow prince, whatever their personal quarrels may be. Supporting a legitimate potential alternative was fair game and an important political tool, but to cause a common man to be treated as royalty, allowed to wear royal cloth of gold and be hailed as a rightful king was not something any prince should, or would, do lightly, not least for the harm it would do to their own exalted position. From the descriptions provided earlier, Maximilian does not seem likely to take such an unwise step simply to help the step-mother of his deceased wife keep a personal feud alive. It is possible that Maximilian took the inadvisable step as an expedient to keep Margaret onside and harness her popularity in Burgundy for his son’s benefit, or that he turned a blind eye to the possibility that Richard was not Margaret’s nephew, at least not the one he claimed to be. One explanation for the family likeness is that this Richard was an illegitimate son of Edward IV, though a child from Edward’s exile in Burgundy in 1470-1 would appear too old and one fathered during his 1475 invasion of France too young to pass off as Richard, Duke of York, born in 1473. It is possible that another illegitimate child was sent to Margaret to be raised in comfort, away from the glare of Elizabeth Woodville, and that Margaret now saw in him the perfect chance, but such an illegitimate child is undocumented and no contemporary is recorded to have made such a suggestion.
Henry went on to offer his mediation in the dispute over Naples, since he and Charles VIII were now firm friends and the King of Naples was also on good terms with Henry, being a knight of the English Order of the Garter. Machado was, if asked about the state of domestic affairs, to assure Charles that England was more peaceful now than at any time in living memory, though Ireland remained something of a lost sheep that the king was resolved to bring back into the fold. In this way, any further input from Ireland into current problems could be written off as typical Irish troublemaking. Henry expressed his intention to send an army to quell the ‘Wild Irish’ and bring firmer order back to the Pale, where the English writ at least nominally ran. The last instruction to Machado was to thank the King of France for his assurance that if the King of Scotland were to launch an attack on England, Charles would neither condone nor offer any support to the action.
A separate instruction was added to the end, after the main set had been signed, giving Machado authority to show evidence to the King of France that Maximilian knew the pretender he supported was a fake and that his sole motive was anger at the peace now being enjoyed between England and France. Henry expressed a firm belief that he could reach terms with Maximilian if he wished to, but said that he would not for as long as Maximilian continued on his present course, trusting that England and France together could comfortably overcome any storm opposition to the Holy Roman Emperor might bring their way. Early the following year, Machado, having returned from this embassy, was sent back to France with fresh instruction drawn up at Greenwich on 30 December 1494. Henry reminded Charles that the French king had promised to send an envoy to discuss the state of affairs in both their countries but that none had arrived. Machado was therefore returning to France with news that Henry was in fine health and as beloved by his people as any of his predecessors had ever been. All was well in Ireland, where the men of power had submitted to Henry’s Lieutenant.
The final instruction to Machado (who, as well as holding the office of Clarenceux King of Arms was Richmond Herald) was ‘Item, in case that the said brother and cousin of the King, or others about him, should speak at all touching the king of the Romans, and the garçon who is in Flanders, the said Richmond may reply as he did on his former journey. And he shall say, that the King fears them not, because they are in capable of hurting or doing him injury. And it appears each day more and more to every person who the said garçon is, and from what place he came.’ It seems that Machado was briefed with a response to be used only if the matter to the pretender was raised by the King of France or any of his ministers. The response was to be repeated as it had been before; Henry was not afraid, but in sending Machado back so quickly on the pretence of a delay in Charles’ envoy arriving, Henry betrays a strong sense of concern. He protests too much and perhaps wanted a trusted, experienced pair of eyes at the French court again to make sure that Charles was not double-dealing. The constant reference to Richard as a boy smacks of bluster, an attempt to depict smooth confidence where none really existed. All was not, as Henry tried to make out, quiet in England and this second embassy by Machado was in response to shocking events at home.
The performances of Shakespeare’s Richard III scheduled to take place inside Leicester Cathedral on 19th and 20th July 2017 are causing waves. There can be little doubt that the size and extent of the waves is by design. What theatre company and venue wouldn’t want publicity for a controversy they were causing to appear on the BBC, in the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Times and many other media outlets that would not otherwise have given it a single line of copy?
A petition on Change.org has been started to mobilise a campaign to prevent the performance taking place. As I write, it has over 800 signatures and I can see it spread widely across social media. The play is due to be performed at other cathedrals, stopping at Ely, Peterborough, Gloucester, Bristol and Salisbury before a run of fifteen performances at Temple Church, London. The group putting on the play, Antic Disposition, have asserted that it will be staged in a ‘sensitive’ and ‘careful’ way.
I’m not averse to this in principle, though I know plenty are and I can see beyond my perspective to appreciate their concerns. Churches and cathedrals have long been centres not only of worship but of community and it is important for their future that they explore new ways to keep themselves at the heart of those communities as society becomes a more secular institution that might question the need for religious ones. My problems with this are really two-fold.
Firstly, the staging of this particular play in this particular spot is, at least on the surface, insensitive. I don’t think this is simply because it’s in a religious house ,because it offers an examination of the darker sides of human nature and causes the viewer to consider the conflict between predetermination and free will. There can be few subjects better suited to consideration in church. The real issue is that this play, Shakespeare’s Richard III, is to be performed in close proximity to the king’s new tomb. Given the way his character is demonised in the play, it seems an insensitive and inappropriate move.
I have a strong suspicion that the widespread reporting of the play and the outrage it is causing is precisely what was wanted. Ricardians are notoriously easy to get a rise out of and it is this enragement that is being harnessed to produce more publicity than the play would otherwise have ever generated. Antic Disposition claim that their interpretation will be sympathetic and sensitive but without an almost complete rewrite, this seems ambitious at best and disingenuous at worst. I am a firm believer that, and have previously blogged here about the idea that, sections of Shakespeare’s Richard III have been grossly misinterpreted but the subtleties are nuanced, rely on a wider understanding and would be difficult to turn into a focus for the play.
My own response to hearing of this was to contact Antic Disposition and ask them whether they would be interested in some copy for their programme, perhaps to explain the differences between the myths and the facts around Richard III and the events of the play. I sent a link to my blog about the play to demonstrate my work and opinion and essentially offered to help if I could. Four days later, I have received no reply, not even a ‘thank you for getting in touch’ or a ‘thanks but no thanks’. Facebook Messenger shows that the message was read on Monday. (UPDATE: 12/05/17 – I have now received a reply from Antic Disposition and am waiting to see whether I can be of any assistance to them. I sincerely hope that I can!) I am also aware that others amongst the Ricardian community had been in touch with the Cathedral and with Antic Disposition directly and quietly to try and express some concerns. The lack of response to any of this and then the sudden eruption of media interest is at least suggestive of a publicity stunt. But, it’s a commercial enterprise, so surely that’s a fair tactic, isn’t it?
This is where the Cathedral’s involvement begins to concern me though. Rev’d David Monteith’s response found in many of the articles that ‘What we now know is that he belongs to the whole nation and not just to one section of people particularly committed to his story’ is confrontational rather than helpful. It makes it far easier for view the Cathedral’s interest in Richard III as cynical and financial. The added comment that ‘I’ve heard most people say how glad they are that Richard III, the Shakespeare play, will be performed here’ seems to add to the quarrelsome tone. The Cathedral’s page on Richard III’s background and history begins ‘King Richard III was born at the Castle in Fotheringhay on 2 October 1452, the youngest of three brothers’. Richard was, in fact, the youngest of four brothers – Edward, Edmund, George and Richard. If even this most basic fact is incorrect, it raises concern as to the Cathedral’s commitment to offering even the factual truth about, let alone a re-examination of, their charge.
The second element of my annoyance lies with the Ricardian community – of which I consider myself a part (unless I’m ejected after what I have to say!). Sometimes we are our own worst enemies and expose ourselves to ridicule that does nothing to help the cause of promoting the re-examination of Richard’s life and times. I’m sure many would insist that the ridicule is a price worth paying, but it isn’t when it does nothing to forward the cause. If the Cathedral and/or theatre company were relying on harnessing outrage about the performance at Leicester Cathedral to help promote the performance, then the Ricardian community has played right into their hands and given them more than they could ever have hoped for. They went fishing. We fell for it, hook, line and sinker.
When Richard III’s remains were discovered, the real opportunity for a re-evaluation of the man and his reputation was lost, engulfed by a tidal wave of bitter arguments about where he should be buried. That fight is still very much alive and I don’t doubt the conviction of those who feel they are standing up for what they believe in, but I would contend that any hope of advancing the real aim of the vast majority of the Ricardian community was hindered hugely by these disputes and still is. Does it really matter where his mortal remains lie? Absolutely not. Does it matter if a play that paints him in a bad light is performed next to his tomb? Absolutely not. Mortal remains are very different to the soul Richard would have hoped would find its way to Heaven.
Most medieval kings would object to an awful lot of modern life, not least the irreverence for those holding political power that we take for granted as our right. I find it amazing that there has been no serious documentary on Richard III’s life since he was discovered, given all the publicity around the dig and subsequent events. The only explanation for this gaping omission is that if Ricardians can’t even agree amongst themselves, then what hope can any production company have of producing a documentary that would be widely appreciated and welcomed?
It is perhaps telling that English Heritage are, on 23rd and 24th August, showing a rare film of a production of Shakespeare’s Richard III from 1910 within Middleham Castle – Richard III’s long term home. If the performance in the Cathedral is insensitive, then surely the one at Middleham Castle is too. However much outrage we offer in response to however many performances, the play is over 400 years old and isn’t going away.
The time has come. I’m going to say it. I’m ready for the fallout. Here goes.
Ricardians need to let go of the Shakespeare play.
It has been a source of irritation to Ricardians for as long as there have been Ricardians, but I would suggest that it should be harnessed as the biggest weapon in a Ricardian’s locker, not be feared and shunned like a monster chained up in the cellar.
Shakespeare’s Richard III is ubiquitous and represents the first, and perhaps only, exposure many will have to this particular king. Some are well aware that it is fiction with political undertones and overtones that have nothing to do with Richard III and everything to do with Elizabethan politics (most notably Robert Cecil, as I have previously blogged). Some, though, will walk away accepting Shakespeare’s history plays – not just this one – as factual, historical documentaries and look no further, leaving Richard III as a murdering, deformed monster.
The challenge, and most importantly, the opportunity is to harness this widespread exposure to improve the understanding of the line between demonstrable fact and Shakespearean fiction. It might not be an overnight change, but if Ricardians, perhaps through the medium of the Society, could foster close relationships with theatre groups that meant we supported productions as a method of improving awareness, then the process could get underway. If theatre groups knew they could get a positive reception from Ricardians who would be willing to write copy for their programmes, they would surely do it because it lightens the load on them whilst offering their audiences an interesting and endlessly variable new perspective on Richard to compliment the play and add to their appreciation of it. I would suggest that this approach would be more productive and would bear more fruit than continuing to oppose and rant.
This approach, a unifying and moderating of the Ricardian stance, taking opportunities and letting go of those things that cannot, or need not, be changed, is what will lead to increased media interest in a revision of the history surrounding Richard III. This is what could lead to a documentary offering factual information to push gently back against the traditional view. It might even lead to a sympathetic film of Richard III’s life. How amazing would that be? If we keep fighting battles that don’t really matter between ourselves, we will never even take part in the war, never mind have a chance of winning it.
Here’s hoping I’m still allowed to call myself a Ricardian!
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.