1
Sep

Richard III: Elected Monarch or Usurper?

   Posted by: Barbara Gaskell Denvil   in Medieval Miscellany, Medieval People

We thank our branch member Barbara Gaskell Denvil for her kind permission to use this article here.  It was first published on 30 August 2014 on her own website.

richard smlVery little reliable documentary evidence survives from the Middle Ages. The life and times of Richard III therefore remain a period of frustration and fascination for historians, scholars and interested amateurs alike. So why is it – when one very clear contemporary document survives from that period – that so many people choose either to ignore it, or disbelieve it?

This one original and incontrovertible document dates from 1484. It sets forth in plain language (of the time) the entitlement to the throne of the man crowned Richard III, and states that, after certain facts were brought to light which made it clear that King Edward IV’s sons were now considered illegitimate and young Warwick, Clarence’s son, was debarred by his father’s attainder, Richard, at that time Duke of Gloucester, stood next in line.

After lengthy investigation and consideration of the newly disclosed situation by the Royal Council and the members of Parliament originally called to London for the expected coronation of the young prince, (most of whom were present) the agreed conclusion was that the crown should be offered to Richard, who was already ratified as Protector of the Realm. He was petitioned by the three estates, being the Lords Temporal, the Lords Spiritual, and representatives of the Commons who included a good many leading citizens of London. He was officially and legally asked to take the throne. It could actually be said that he was elected. Indeed, the wording of Titulus Regius includes the words ‘this Eleccion of us the Three Estates’, And yet he is consistently accused of being a usurper, and of having ‘seized’ the throne.

The accepted modern meaning of the verb ‘to usurp’ according to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, is simply: “To take a position of power illegally or by force.” Using this definition alone, it is perfectly clear that a man who was asked after due deliberation by England’s government to accept the throne, a right which was then ratified by the full parliament, did not in any manner usurp that position.

However, the modern definition of usurpation does not always sit easily in history. After the initial tyranny of kings was firmly established in 1066 with the unarguable usurpation of William I, over subsequent reigns England gradually began to modify and moderate her attitude to the royal rights of inheritance and the power of both kings and lords of the realm. Unlike the French model which continued doggedly with absolute power resting in the hands of royalty, England changed, adapted, and finally adopted a system of government by which an alternative administration could substitute for the rule of her monarch in certain matters when he was considered incapacitated either by age or health.

The Plantagenet line continued to uphold the right of kings to pass down the crown to their sons or grandsons, but clearly this was not always possible and under such circumstances, suitable but less direct heirs were necessarily sought within the bloodline. With this in mind, accusations of usurpation have been levelled against the first Lancastrian king, Henry IV who took the throne in 1399 and even against King Edward IV (1461). This went to the heart of the Wars of the Roses, but it is important to remember that in both cases, i.e. the enforced abdication of Richard II and the crowning of Henry IV as monarch in his place, and later the official acceptance of Edward IV’s father Richard, Duke of York, as the heir to Henry VI, these were actions carried out in circumstances where the monarch of the day had forfeited confidence and support by showing himself to be dangerously unfit to rule. And, of course, both these irregular successions were enacted and confirmed by Parliament. The term ‘usurpation’, therefore, now depends on whose side the speaker is on. Clearly the succession rights of kings were not inviolate and the later opinion (of Tudors and Stuarts, for instance) that an anointed monarch held an unarguable God-given right to absolute power, did not at all apply in the 15th century.

In 1483 following the death of Edward IV, it was expected that his eldest son would inherit the throne as Edward V. Yet shortly before his coronation, Robert Stillington (Bishop of Bath and Wells) announced that Edward IV’s marriage to the mother of the heir to the throne had been, to state it simply, bigamous, and that therefore all his children were illegitimate. Stillington was an important and respected ecclesiastical figure, and a previous Lord Chancellor of Edward IV, so his word would have been taken very seriously indeed. It is hard to see what possible benefit he would have gained from lying. Indeed, a good deal of detriment was the far more likely result had his story been false. His announcement, however, would never have been accepted without enormous investigation. Whatever proofs he offered we can no longer know. There is no surviving record of his exact report, nor of any witnesses called or other evidence shown at the time. But the lady who was named as Edward IV’s first wife was the Lady Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury and sister to the Duchess of Norfolk, a widow and member of a noble and highly important family. Not someone to make the subject of ludicrous and improper rumours. The Lady Eleanor was now deceased, but she had been very much alive when Edward married Elizabeth Woodville, the mother of his children. Many close and high-powered members of Lady Eleanor’s family were still alive and would certainly not have stood silent if they knew the lady was being wrongfully slandered.

Some now choose simply to disbelieve Stillington’s claim. Yet they have not one shred of evidence to support this, nor one hint that this first marriage never took place. Certainly direct proofs that it did take place are also lacking. A few bewildered souls ask where’s the marriage certificate? But no such thing existed in 15th century and you could, for instance, take a lady’s hand, vow to wed her, and if she accepted, you then tumbled her into bed to consummate the match – and lo and behold – you were legally man and wife. The church was naturally not happy with this sort of clandestine affair without banns being called and often without witnesses – but it happened all the time and it was legally binding.

That King Edward IV favoured this type of thing was blatantly obvious, because that’s also exactly what happened the second time around. He wed Elizabeth Woodville in secret, in exactly that same manner. Indeed, he is often said to have ‘married for love’ – an unusual thing for a king in those days. But it was a very strange sort of love – for he made no mention of his secret wedding for 5 whole months. During those months the lady was never invited to the palace, she was entirely unacknowledged, her existing sons (she was a widow), instead of being taken in and elevated by the king, were given elsewhere as wards, and the king even sent his courtiers off abroad to start negotiating for a foreign princess to become his wife. But then, quite suddenly after those long silent months, to the bewilderment of almost the entire country and the dismay of most of the lords. King Edward announced the marriage. He brought his suddenly admitted queen to court, and that was that. A clandestine wedding led to a new queen and eventually a parcel of royal children.

So had he done this on other occasions in the past, yet never acknowledged it? Certainly Lady Eleanor Talbot came into some unusual bequests for which there is no known explanation, nor clear manner in which they could have been acquired. She then retired into permanent religious seclusion.

It does seem strange to many that this wronged and misused lady did not complain, did not announce her legal status as queen, nor denounce her legal husband, even when he took another wife. I have no answer to this beyond pointing out the logic of the situation. This was a high-born lady, and ladies, especially of a religious nature, did not whine or openly humiliate themselves by publicising the fact that they had been used, bedded, ravished, and then abandoned. Nor did they try to cause rebellion and unease (in a land so recently returning to peace) by accusing the king of dishonesty and immorality. She also ran the risk, if she made public announcements, that the king might deny the marriage and thus humiliate her further. Instead she accepted his apology and his gifts (my assumption), though continued to act (as in the manner of making her last will and testament) as a married woman with a living husband. And after all, while the king lived, it was a personal matter anyway and did not yet affect government or the people. It was not until he died and his eldest son’s legitimacy was in question, that the truth of this situation became politically imperative.

So with Edward V no longer considered of legitimate royal descent, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, stood as the one direct and legally legitimate heir.

The document itself (Titulus Regius) states clearly that incontrovertible evidence existed and could be forthcoming if and when required. It was later stated that proofs had already been brought before the Council “authentic doctors, proctors and notaries of the law, with depositions from divers witnesses.” Lady Eleanor Talbot’s powerful family surely stood witness. Certainly none of these relatives came forward to deny the claim, or to defend the lady’s honour by refuting the existence of this clandestine marriage. So why doubt such proofs existed? People were no more stupid at that time than they are now and it is highly ridiculous to presume that they would have accepted such a dramatic and inconvenient fact on the eve of the new young king’s coronation, unless they were well and truly convinced.

The frequent modern assumption that Stillington’s claim of bigamy was not only untrue but a clear manipulation by the evil and ambitious Richard III to usurp and seize the throne, is not only a leap of huge unproven prejudice, but it completely and naïvely overlooks the known power and position of the Royal Council and Parliament of the day. Ignoring the delightful genius of Shakespeare’s dramatic fiction, and the less delightful fiction of Tudor chroniclers who supplied the stories he told, we should at least respect the experience and intelligence of the lords, remembering also the obvious precedent of parliamentary decision regarding Richard II and Henry VI as mentioned above.

Stillington’s announcement must have been made during the latter half of May 1483. It is clear that in the following weeks the Royal Council and those representatives of Parliament present in London met in discussion many times.

The supposition that Richard of Gloucester had the power to threaten and bully all those poor cringing medieval lords is frankly laughable. For a start, Richard’s troops were miles away in Yorkshire, whereas most of the lords had their own armed retinues, not to mention huge private armies on which they could call. Many held particular powers and all were men of substance. These were not lords to be easily bullied, nor convinced without very good reason. A figure of 32 lords temporal, 66 knights, 44 lords spiritual with access to the Pope should they feel obliged to call on him, and 30 members of the Commons have been recorded during meetings of four hours or more, although the Royal Council itself was smaller in number.

Are we now arrogant enough to suppose that these were all corrupt fools to be duped or bribed, incompetent cowards to be frightened into compliance, or men without the slightest interest in the future of the land in which they lived and which supported them and their families and property? It appears that many of us completely underestimate the power of the lords, council and parliament during the 15th century and are happy to ignore the legal precedent for the lords and parliament to debate and determine the situation when the king’s rule was, for whatever reason, in question.

Some now argue that even if proved illegitimate, Edward V could still, with parliamentary agreement, have been accepted as king. But it is clear that parliament rejected any such compromise, since the lords logically and clearly preferred the proven competency of a grown man already ratified as Protector of the Realm and known for his leadership quality.

We also need to remember that King Edward IV had several illegitimate children by various mistresses. Making one illegitimate child legally able to inherit the throne, could even possibly have opened a chain of claims by others. Besides, bastardy called into question not only the capability of the bastard himself to inherit, but looking ahead down the generations, even if overlooked in Edward V himself, it invited later questions as to his dynasty.

The often repeated cries of “Bigamy? A pre-contract? No. It couldn’t be true. It was too convenient,” or “Too much of a coincidence,” can come only from those who already assume Richard guilty of ambitious connivance and malicious manipulation. Only by assuming his guilt and duplicity before the fact, can these accusations be made. This is why we cannot take at face value the handful of hostile narratives from those times, because their preconceptions are evident to even the most cursory scrutiny. And significantly, there are no surviving records from the governing council that supported Richard.

Once you set aside any existing bias, it is clear that this was highly inconvenient, and there was no coincidence at all. It threw everybody into chaos. We cannot even be sure if Richard wanted the throne. Perhaps he didn’t. Perhaps he did. It doesn’t matter. He was the remaining heir and he was asked to accept the throne. Thant’s on record. The matter was put to the three estates of English government who decided that Richard of Gloucester had a clear duty to take the throne. Richard accepted. Actually he had little choice.

Conflicting loyalties and self-interest produced protestors as always, but no one at the time actually refuted the accusation of bigamy posthumously directed against Edward IV. Even Elizabeth Woodville, the mother of the ‘princes’ now declared illegitimate, apparently placed no objection. She was now living within the precincts of Westminster sanctuary, comfortably in the Abbot’s house, where she had direct access to the considerable higher authority of ecclesiastical power (her own brother was Bishop Lionel Woodville) and could easily have made a direct plea to the Pope for a church ruling and intervention. She did none of these things. She accepted the ruling, just as if she had already known the truth of the matter.

Therefore whether you like the sound of King Richard or not – one thing is entirely clear. He was officially and legally petitioned to accept the throne of England, and contemporary legal documentation proves this. He did not usurp nor seize anything. He could be said to have been legally elected by Parliament. He was fully acknowledged and anointed as monarch when his coronation was duly attended by virtually every peer in England, even those whose families supported the Lancastrian dynasty.

So those, including those claiming to be ‘open-minded,’ but who begin their articles by calling Richard III a usurper, or stating that he ‘seized’ the throne, are either proclaiming their secret bias, or they should enlarge their area of research.

With thanks to many, and to various sources, but with particular gratitude to Annette Carson and her books “A Small Guide to the Great Debate,” and “Richard III: The Maligned King.”

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30
Aug

Book Review: Digging for Richard III

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis   in Bookworm

Digging for Richard IIIMike Pitts, Digging for Richard III: How Archaeology Found the King. Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2014

Please note this book had come out before the results of further research were published, and therefore does not contain any information on these issues.

Unlike many other recent books about the Greyfriars Dig, which led to the discovery of Richard III’s remains, this one was written by someone who was not himself involved in the project, which gives it a certain amount of impartiality.

Like a play the book is organised in five acts, the narrative building up to the dramatic climax in Act V. The first act sets the scene for Richard’s death in battle and burial at the Grey Friars in Leicester with a short review of the Wars of the Roses. Act II ‘Looking for Richard III’ tells the story of what led to the archaeological dig and giving background information on the key players like Philippa Langley and the research staff from ULAS. While some details of Philippa Langley’s pre-dig life have been circulated widely, the information about the archaeologists was new to me. It confirmed them to be an experienced team, who knew what they were doing.

Act III looks at the actual excavation resulting in exhuming the skeleton, which was found on the first day and would be shown to be that of Richard. It ends with the van carrying the remains leaving the car park.

Up to that point this was a co-project of the Richard III Society/Looking for Richard Project and the University of Leicester. Act IV marks the beginning of a new research project, one that will be exclusively carried out by scientist. The results of this research are then represented in Act V.

Mike Pitts also includes an analysis of the costs and who paid what. Considering how much misinformation is circulating on this issue, this is highly welcome. The original budget had been £33,000, of which the Richard III Society and its members had contributed a little more than half. However, once remains had been found that warranted further examination –examination, which was necessary to prove that the remains were those of Richard III – the budget had risen (by 31 December 2012) to £142,000. The additional funding came from the University of Leicester, which means that they paid for about 80% of the entire project.

The book closes with an Epilogue, which covers the actual site of the Battle of Bosworth and some of the other battles, which have since been fought over Richard. He also differentiates between history and archaeology, with archaeology making “the concept of history tangible and present, part of our lives.” [p.189] To be honest, I don’t see how any serious history is possible without evidence, be it archaeological or from old records.

This brings me to the one criticism that I have with this book. The author seems to have a rather undifferentiated view of the membership of the Richard III Society. For him, they are bunch of sentimental loonies, who won’t let any facts stand in the way of their pre-conceived idea of perfect Richard. While I can’t deny that some members do think like that, and possibly they are even the most vocal, they do not represent the membership as a whole, which is – like any group of people – very varied.

However, apart from this little niggle, I found the book a highly enjoyable and an informative summary of the facts of the project, without the speculation and assumptions, which some of the other books on the topic cannot leave behind. It tells the whole incredible story in a lively manner, without sacrificing the facts in the quest for readability. Sir Tony Robinson’s quote on the cover sums it up nicely: “An entertaining, knowledgeable and forensic examination of one of the most extraordinary archaeological digs ever!”

 

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30
Aug

30 AUGUST 1483

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis   in Events in History

Death of Louis XI from a stroke.  He was succeeded by his son Charles VIII, who was only 13 at the time.  Charles’ eldest sister Anne acted as regent.

Louis XI had suffered from a series of strokes that had left him partially paralysed since 1480 and a further stroke in August of 1483 was the final one. He died a few days later. Louis had two daughters and a son. Before his death, Louis had declared that Charles, his son, should be the next King of France but because Charles was in poor health and had been given a poor education Louis specified that Anne, his eldest daughter, should act a regent until Charles was able to rule unaided.

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29
Aug

29 AUGUST 1479

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis   in Events in History

Treaty of Picquigny between Louis XI of France and Edward IV, Edward IV and many of his nobles were paid a ‘pension’ to return to England and not to take up arms against France again in his claim to the French throne.  Richard Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) is said to have opposed the treaty and refused the pension.

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28
Aug

Galloping to New Zealand for Richard

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis   in News, Society News

KiwiSince 1997, members from all the Australasian branches meet every second year for a convention. These usually last from a Friday evening to Sunday after lunch. As anyone who has attended one before knows, these RIII conventions present a wonderful opportunity to meet up with members of the Richard III Society from other Australasian branches. It is a time to rekindle old friendships and make new friends.

For the 2015 Australasian Convention, our friends from New Zealand have kindly volunteered to host this important event in the Ricardian calendar. The Convention will be taking place 23 to 25 October 2015, so there is plenty of time to plan your trip. The venue is the Angus Inn in Lower Hutt, which is just 30 minutes by bus from central Wellington. The cost should be $180 for the convention plus about $70 per person for the banquet on Saturday evening, which is the highlight of every convention. The banquet is optional to attend, but I highly recommend it as it is a great time to get to know others, dress up in medieval costumes and experience a delicious selection of food. Special accommodation rates have also been agreed with the hotel.

As our friends in New Zealand would like to get an idea of how many people they can expect, it would be appreciated if members of the NSW branch could let me know if they are thinking of going (webmaster “AT” richardiii-nsw.org.au). Registration forms have not yet been finalised, but should be available shortly.

Please, also consider whether you would be interested in presenting a talk or entertainment item (either on your own or as a group). If there is a topic that you have always wanted to research in more detail, or know a lot about already, please let Annette of the NZ branch know (myotis-13 “AT” hotmail.com).

The 2015 Convention promises to be another memorable event and what would make it even more enjoyable was if YOU were there!

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27
Aug

The King’s Dogge

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis   in Bookworm

The King's DoggeThe following review is by Rob Smith of the New Zealand Branch and was first published in the August 2014 Ricardian Recorder. We thank Rob for his permission to post it here.

Nigel Green, The King’s Dogge: The Story of Francis Lovell, Troubador Publishing Ltd (2014) ISBN 9781783068425

This novel, written in the first person, portrays the life of Francis Lovell up to Bosworth. A sequel is promised. A mixture of known historical facts and events coupled with the author’s vivid imagination results in, to my mind, a rather laborious narrative.

Lovell’s progression from his early days, to his service with Montague and Warwick and thence to their demise at Barnet is informative enough as is his consequent meeting with the Yorkist hierarchy and his entry into Richard’s service. Lovell’s service to Richard in Carlisle and the Border encounters with outlaws and the Scots are laid out but possibly over-emphasised. What I was to find throughout is the author’s tendency to concentrate on the minutia of lesser happenings while allowing other more significant events to be passed over lightly or ignored completely, perhaps relying on the reader’s knowledge to fill in the gaps. However, to be fair, this is a story about Lovell and if he was not involved in these events the author may consider it inappropriate to dwell on them.

What is interesting is Green’s portrayal of the various characters, not least Richard. The author’s Richard is a loyal brother but a vacillating, indecisive king and a pawn in the hands of a scheming Anne Neville who is determined to bring down the Woodville faction for what they did to her father, Warwick. She is shown as the power behind the throne. As Lovell rises to the top in Richard’s service he starts to question and has doubts about his King but remains steadfastly loyal to the end.

Buckingham, Hastings, the Stanleys, etc. are as we know them; Ratcliffe comes out OK but Catesby is shown as a fat, scheming, lawyer, self- serving from the outset as he climbs the ladder of influence, culminating in his engineering of the murder of the Princes (with Richard’s acceptance ), and his ultimate betrayal at Bosworth, being in league with the Stanleys and Northumberland conspiring beforehand in their treachery.

Incidentally, Tudor takes no part in the battle having been hidden away for his safety with decoys taking his place. Did Shakespeare get it right? …. “ I think there must be six Richmonds in the field/Five have I slain today instead of him” (Richard III Act V, Scene iv).

The book is an interesting portrayal of an important figure in Richard’s life but it lacks bite and requires patience and determination to reach the conclusion.

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27
Aug

Book Launch for Isolde Martyn’s latest book

   Posted by: Leslie McCawley   in Bookworm

frame_IsoldeMartyn_TheGoldenWidowsOn Thursday evening, 21 August 2014, Abbey’s Books in Sydney’s CBD hosted a launch for our member Isolde Martyn’s newest book, The Golden Widows. The publishers, Harlequin Mira, provided a lovely selection of wine and hors d’oeuvres for the after-work crowd, which included a good turnout of fellow Ricardians and Plantagenet Society members, many of whom queued to buy the book and have it signed by the author.

The official program began when the book’s editor spoke to those assembled and then introduced Isolde who gave a gracious talk thanking everyone involved with the publishing of this book. She explained that the story is that of Lancastrian widow, Elizabeth Woodville, who later married King Edward IV, and the Yorkist sister of Warwick the Kingmaker, Kate Neville, also newly widowed. Life in the 15th century was hard for all widowed women, even the young and beautiful – wherever their loyalties lay in the War of the Roses.

With her love and extensive knowledge of the late medieval era and armed with finely honed historical research skills, Isolde has produced a new book that promises to be as satisfying to her fans as have her previous works.

You can find out more about previous Isolde’s books by visiting her website.

The Golden Widows is available in Australia and New Zealand in print format or as an e-book through Amazon etc.

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26
Aug

Richard III: The New Evidence – on Youtube

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis   in Greyfriars Dig, News

film_reel smWe reported earlier that Channel 4 would be screening a third documentary on Richard III. It was broadcast in the UK in the evening of 17 August 2014, at the end of the Bosworth Anniversary weekend, leaving us, who do not live in the UK, impatient to get a chance to watch the programme, too. A friend of mine discovered that it has been uploaded to Youtube, where it is available to all of us.

The programme is based on the new scientific research into Richard’s diet, but the main attraction is a young man, Dominic Smee. He is a perfect body double of Richard, slightly built and having the same curvature of the spine. He was taught to fight, on foot and on horseback, like a medieval warrior and had a full set of armour made especially for him. Not only did Dominic show that someone suffering from scoliosis can be an accomplished fighter, but he could also tell us about his own experience. It was interesting to hear that he found riding on a medieval saddle easier than on a modern one and that the armour gave his body support.

By bringing us these facts, it is easier to visualise a long dead king as the real living breathing person he once was. A fascinating programme. What better way to spend a rainy day?!

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25
Aug

Thursday, 25 August 1485

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis   in Events in History

ArchaeologyRichard III was buried in the choir of the church of the Grey Friars in Leicester. Polydore Vergil states that the burial was “without any pompe or solemn funeral”. This is often – mistakenly – seen to indicate that there were no religious rites. However, as John Ashdown-Hill explains, “solemnity” in the religious context refers to certain aspects of a service, which were not essential. It basically means that the service was a private ceremony by the friars, especially as a choir of their church would not have been open to the public.

To the day 527 years later, on 25 August 2012, on the first day of the archaeological dig in Leicester to find out where the church of the Grey Friars actually had been and hopefully to find Richard’s remains, parts of a human leg bone were unearthed. These wre later identified as being part of the remains of Richard III.

Sources:

John Ashdown Hill, The Last Days of Richard III. The History Press, 2010, pp.91-96

Mathew Morris & Richard Buckley, Richard III:  The King under the Car Park.  University of Leicester Archaeological Services, 2013, pp.22 + 36-45

Mike Pitts, Digging for Richard: How Archaeology Found the King. Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp.99-105

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25
Aug

25 AUGUST 1485

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis   in Events in History

Execution of William Catesby by Henry Tudor.  Catesby was Chancellor of the Exchequer under Richard III and Speaker of the House of Commons of the Parliament of 1484.  He fought for Richard at the Battle of Bosworth and was one of very few men of note who were executed afterwards.  It has been suggested that he expected a different treatment from the Stanleys because in his will he asks them “to pray for my soul as ye have not for my body, as I trusted in you.”

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