Archive for the ‘Medieval Miscellany’ Category


A happy third Sunday in Advent

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis Tags: , help all our readers to get into the spirit of the season, here is a link to a rendition of the medieval carol ‘Gaudete’, performed by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge.

(Photograph of the Old Court of Clare College, Cambridge:  © Copyright Scriniary and licensed for reuse under thisCreative Commons Licence)



The “Murder” of King Richard III

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis Tags: , ,

York House Books“King Richard late mercifully reigning upon us was thrugh grete treason of the duc of Northfolk and many othre that turned ayenst hyme, with many othre lords and nobilles of this north parties, was piteously slain and murdred to the grete hevyness of this citie”

([f.169v], York House Books, 1461-1490, Vol.1, ed. by Lorraine C. Attreed. Alan Sutton for Roichard II & Yorkist History Trust, 1991, pp.368-369)


When I read the word “murder”, I think of detective novels. One person kills someone else after careful planning trying to hide the fact that he/she is the murderer, sometimes even trying to disguise it as an accident or suicide. In the end, Hercule Poirot, Lord Peter Wimsey, Miss Fisher etc clears it all up and explains what had been going on.

In the above well-known quote from the York House Books, especially as it is used in the same sentence as the alleged treason of the Duke of Norfolk and others, the word “murder” seems to suggest some kind of whodunnit.   However, was this really what the York city officials wanted to say?  After all, a death in battle, though certainly hoped for by the opposing side, is not the result of careful planning, nor would the person responsible try to hide his deed.

When the other day, a friend of mine referred to the “murder” of Richard, my literature professor at uni came to my mind. He was very strict on interpreting any work of literature, be it fiction, drama or poetry, within its historical context. To this end it was important to find out whether the meaning of a word was at the time it was written the same as its modern meaning. So we would make our way to the library, and check in the many volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary.

What applies to works of literature, certainly applies equally to historical records. Checking out “murder” in the online version of the OED first showed me the detective novel explanation: “The deliberate and unlawful killing of a human being, esp. in a premeditated manner; (Law) criminal homicide with malice aforethought (occas. more fully wilful murder); an instance of this.”

However, a bit further down there was another explanation, marked as now obsolete and recorded for the last time in 1590. Here it said: “Terrible slaughter, massacre, loss of life; an instance of this.”

“Terrible slaughter, massacre” are words which describe a medieval battle perfectly and fit in with what we know about Richard’s death. Therefore I would suggest that the city fathers of York used the word in this sense, without any more sinister connotations.


Richard III: Elected Monarch or Usurper?

   Posted by: Barbara Gaskell Denvil Tags:

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.”


The evolution of the Medieval Fair

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis Tags:

We are very grateful to Dr Mark St Leon to be able to bring you his fascinating talk, which he gave at our branch general meeting on 14 June.  Members and Friends of the NSW branch will also be able to read his talk in the 2014 issue of The Chronicles of the White Rose, due at the December general meeting.  

The evolution of the Medieval Fair


I would like to thank the Richard III Society for inviting me to talk to you this afternoon. The title of my talk is “The evolution of the Medieval Fair”.

I do not confess to be anything more than a dilettante on Medieval history and society. My true area of knowledge and expertise is the history of the circus in Australia, in which earlier generations of my family played a key role for well over a hundred years, since before the gold rush period of the 1850s. My, I daresay, definitive history of the circus in Australia was published by Melbourne Books in 2011.

Nevertheless, the circus of the modern age – which was first conceived in London about the time Captain James Cook was charting the east coast of Australia in 1769 – has roots in the wandering entertainers who roamed the provinces and performed on the fairgrounds of Medieval Europe for well over a thousand years after the fall of Rome. Those wandering entertainers in turn can be traced to the people who amused the crowds with displays of acrobatics, ropewalking and animal training in between the gladiatorial events and chariot races of ancient Rome. Read the rest of this entry »

This essay was written by Rachel during the course of her studies towards a Master’s degree at the University of New England.

 “Have you drunk any malificium, that is, herbs or other agents, so that you could not have children?”[1]

Were contraceptives and other means of family limitation such as abortion, infanticide, and child abandonment practised in medieval Western Europe?  If so, what remedies and methods of contraception were used, to what extent, and were they successful?  Early research into the topic concluded that contraception was virtually unknown in the Middle Ages and that medieval people did not have a ‘contraceptive mentality’. [2]  However, more recent investigations have produced a plethora of writing which clearly demonstrates that medieval society not only knew about various forms of contraception and abortifacients; they used them to such a degree that medical texts, church doctrine and the common literature of the time are strewn with references to their use.  Documents are littered with contraceptive recipes and methods and contain warnings and prohibitions against certain herbs, many of these originating in antiquity.  Contemporary research into the history of human fertility control has therefore ceased to ask when contraception became common place and effective, and instead questions how family limitation was practised prior to the eighteenth century.[3] The idea and practice of controlling the number of children conceived and born has been employed across all cultures through time, although the methods and efficacy vary.[4]

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L’Abbeye Royale de Fontevraud

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis Tags: , , ,

This is the second part of the talk Bruce MacCarthy gave at the general meeting of the New South Wales Branch on 8 February 2014.

Fontevraud Abbey is where Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard Coeur de Lion and Isabella of Angouleme were buried.  Today, within the abbey church one can see their recumbent effigies, though their bodies are no longer there.

The Abbey is located in the Pays de la Loire region, approximately 65 km south east of Angers, and about 300 km south west of Paris – 3- 4 hours of driving from Paris (longer if you are cautious about driving on the right hand side of the road.)  It was considered one of the greatest monastic cities in medieval Europe.  The Abbey is impressive both in its size and its originality.

The Order of Fontevraud was founded around the turn of the 12th century by Robert of Arbrissel, an itinerant reforming preacher.  The first permanent structures were built between 1110 and 1119.  There was a group of monasteries.  Saint Marie housed nuns and Saint Lazar housed lepers;  Saint Benoit was for the sick and La Madeleine was for “fallen women.”  Saint Jean l’Habit housed monks.  Interestingly, given the dominance of men in those days, the overall community was managed by an abbess, as had been decreed by the founder, and it became a refuge for women from noble families, especially repudiated queens and daughters of royal and aristocratic lineage.

Fontevraud-General view of the complex - smlGeneral view of Fontevraud Abbey (photograph by Pierre Mairé, obtained under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

The counts of Anjou had supported the Abbey over the years.  Indeed, one of Henry II’s aunts was Abbess there.  Over the years there were numerous noble abbesses, including members of the Bourbon family.

Given his family long association with the Abbey, it was not surprising that Henry II was buried there after he died in France.  Richard also died in France, and his request to be buried at the feet of his father was honoured.  Eleanor retired to the Abbey and became a nun.  When she died, she was buried beside her late husband.  Although John died and was buried in England, his son Henry III apparently crossed to France to witness the burial of his mother Isabella at the Abbey.  Later, his heart and the heart of John were buried at the Abbey.

With the fall of the Angevin empire, the fortunes of the Abbey suffered.  While it was protected by the Bourbon family during the religious wars of the 16th century, its life as a functioning Abbey ended during the French Revolution.

Following a Revolutionary decree in August 1792 which ordered the evacuation of all monasteries, and the Order of Fontevraud was dissolved.  The last abbess a Madame d’Antin, died in Paris in poverty.  The Abbey was pillaged by revolutionaries in 1793 and the Royal tombs were desecrated.  As far as I am aware, no one knows exactly what happened to the bodies of the Angevins, but fortunately the effigies remain to this day, as I saw to my delight in October 2010.


The decision by Napoleon to transform the Abbey into a prison in 1804, saved it from destruction.  It remained a penal institution from 1804 until 1963 but, as prisoners were used as labourers on the transition from penal facility to its former life as a monastery, the very last prisoners left Fontevraud as recently as 1985.

Cultural Encounter Centre

The Abbey of Fontevraud is the icon for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Val de Loire. Today, as a “Cultural Encounter Centre,” the Abbey is a renowned site for concerts, symposiums and exhibitions.  It also plays a role in creative development thanks to artists’ residencies that are welcomed by the abbey.

On offer at the Abbey is a range of thematic visits off the beaten path that can be shared with the whole family: “The underground passages”, “The last days of the Abbey: before the Revolution”, “The Central prison ” and also “The nuns’ daily life”.

Having been a monastic town for seven centuries, the Abbey of Fontevraud has an architectural style rich in terms of spiritual meaning but also punctuated by the manual activities, which were part of everyday life there.  One can walk in the footsteps of the nuns, and explore the Roman kitchens, the cloisters, the dormitories and the large refectory.  It was in the process of being restored when I was there and no doubt it is now in even better shape than it was four years ago.

Staying there

For those who have always dreamt of sleeping in an abbey, the “Hotel du Prieuré Saint Lazare” offers 52 rooms.  Ours was a comfortable ensuite room overlooking an orchard.

The hotel has mod cons like Wifi, and the gastronomic “Saint Lazare” restaurant.  Guests at the hotel are free to enjoy the site and amble around the gardens.

There is so much to see at Fontevraud, that one could spend days wandering around the Abbey and the surrounding town.  I commend it to you as a “must see” visit on any trip to France.

This is the first part of the talk Bruce MacCarthy gave at the general meeting of the New South Wales Branch on 8 February 2014.


Today, some historians divide the Plantagenets into four distinct Royal Houses: Angevins, Plantagenets, Lancaster and York but, collectively, the Plantagenet family as they are now known formed the longest-running dynasty in British history, with 14 kings over more than 330 years from 1154 to 1485.  Even if we similarly group together the Hanoverians and their successors, from George I onwards, they have so far provided only 11 kings and queens and are only in their 300th year in 2014.

In my two journeys to Europe, I have always tried to visit places with Plantagenet connections.  For example, I have been to the ruins of Dürnstein Castle, where Richard I was held captive by Duke Leopold of Austria in 1192-3.  In May 2008, my wife and I toured King John’s castle in Limerick.  This castle was built on the orders of King John, and was completed around 1200.  It is well worth a visit for the excellent historical displays.  Of course, we also visited the Richard III Museum in York, when we were there in 2010, and I recall an article on this museum in your 2011 journal.

Read the rest of this entry »



   Posted by: Lynne Foley Tags:

The following is the text of Lynne’s fascinating talk from the December meeting of the NSW Branch.

The transcendent, timeless beauty of medieval jewels has not diminished with the passage of time.  Made from precious metals – gold, silver and gemstones, the pieces that have come down to the present day still retain their beauty and quality of craftsmanship.

The humbler ranks in society had their jewellery too, but made of base metals, iron, pewter or copper, and  in place of gemstones, coloured glass. The less well-off left no wills or inventories of goods, no portraits so most of our information deals with the upper classes.

Silver was much more common in the 12th and 13th century and rich mines in Germany supplied silver in great quantities.

Gold was the most valued metal of all, and Cheapside, the principal thoroughfare from St Paul’s to the Tower, became the hub of the goldsmithing industry.  Some goldsmiths were in holy orders and monasteries were good customers, in need of chalices, cups, censers etc. used in services.  Abbot Sugur of St Denis, well known for his love of rich vestments and gold pieces, justified the work of goldsmiths at his abbey by saying that such display was to praise God.

Due to a shortfall in gold from the mines of Western and Central Europe, recycling of older pieces was high.  Ancient coins, jewellery or other gold objects were melted down and reused.  We are lucky that in such circumstances, so much has survived.

Gemstones were largely supplied by trade. Travelling merchants obtained   stones  such as rubies, sapphire, emeralds, diamonds and turquoise from the East – India, Ceylon, Arabia and Persia.  Germany and Russia were sources for amethysts.

All metals – base or precious – were worked by a smith beginning with an ingot which was hammered into a sheet for working, or the metal could be heated until molten and poured into a mould. Such a mould was found in Ashill in Norfolk. It was dated to about 1300 but its current location is unknown.

Surface decoration took many forms – engraving of patterns or letters using a fine tool on the front of the piece; the use of a hammer and punch on the back of the sheet, and adding colour by setting the piece with gems.

Another way to add colour was enamelling – this technique is essentially ground glass fired at very high temperature onto the metal surface. A type of enamelling found on medieval jewellery is champlevé, the metal was deeply engraved with a design, filled with ground glass and fired. Basse taille was translucent enamel which allowed light to be reflected from the gold or silver surface, giving a sparkling effect that as Campbell asserts, no modern goldsmith has ever surpassed.

Perfected in Paris as early as 1400, émail en ronde basse, is the technique which allowed objects to be enamelled in the round by fusing molten glass to gold.

An item showing the beauty of enamel work is the Dunstable Swan. It was found on the site of a Dominican priory in Dunstable, Beds. and owned possibly by a member of the De Bohun family, whose sign was a swan.

Until the fifteenth century, gems were polished, not cut, and irregular gems were held in place with a lip of metal or a four or five-pronged claw setting. Pearls were pierced for sewing onto clothing or mounted on a tiny rod projecting from the body of the pearl.

Several hoards of medieval jewellery have been found – the Fishpool Hoard was voted one of the top ten British treasures. The hoard contains 1237 gold coins mainly dating from the reign of Henry VI and gold jewellery.  Possibly it may have been part of the Lancastrian treasury; concealed by a survivor of the Battle of Hexham who may have died of wounds or killed in a subsequent battle before the treasure could be retrieved. The hoard remained secreted in Sherwood Forest until 1966.

One of the most famous hoards is that called the Cheapside Hoard found in a cellar in 1912.  Again death being a probable reason why the pieces were never retrieved.  Although, as it falls at the end of the period under discussion, it deserves a mention.

The hoard is a veritable Aladdin’s cave; the pieces date from the Elizabethan to Jacobean period and are of the highest quality. An emerald watch is not only one of the most spectacular items in the hoard, it is unique. Other medieval watches exist but none like this.

The maker has cut the lid and case out of one rough emerald or two prisms of matching size, colour and translucency. In fact, there is so much light, the case need not be opened to tell the time. The dial features champlevé enamel; Roman numerals mark the hours and the dots half hours. The hands are lost as is the mechanism, but x-rays have revealed how the watch was driven. The loss of the hands and mechanism may be due to the watch being ajar, allowing water to enter.

The salamander was a popular jewellery design throughout Europe, particularly Spain.  The Cheapside example is made of emeralds; its feet and undercarriage display opaque white; it has flecks of black enamel indicating the scaly flesh of a salamander and a coral tongue, though the tip is snapped off – perhaps during recovery.

For any member who may be visiting London from now until the 27 April 2014, the jewels are on at the Museum of London, Docklands.

Two finds of interest to us are the Middleham jewel, found in 1985 and the Middleham ring, found in 1990.

The Middleham Jewel (photograph by Jonathan Cardy, obtained through Wikimedia Commons)

The Middleham Jewel is a lozenge-shaped pendant, engraved with religious scenes and figures. The front has a large sapphire, a Latin inscription and an engraving of the Trinity.  The reverse side has an exquisitely engraved Nativity scene. This piece is dated to the third quarter of the fifteenth century.  It has slots on the side for pearls, which over time have disintegrated.

The Middleham ring is inscribed with 12 letters ‘S’ on the outside and on the inside with the word ‘sovereynly’ which is thought to mean ‘in a lordly manner.’

The significance of medieval jewellery goes beyond its material or decorative value – in medieval times it served many more purposes than today.

Jewellery was used as symbols of affection or to cement alliances such as the betrothal ring sent to Margaret of York by Charles the Bold; stones were thought to  have magical powers; mainly in powdered form, gems were used as medicines. Before the existence of banks, gemstones and jewellery were well regarded as security for loans and were a form of portable wealth. Jewellery served also religious functions and complemented clothing both for adornment and practical application – brooches were useful in pinning together layers of clothing.

For the nobility, gemstones and jewellery were an unmistakable signal of social standing, wealth and influence.

At the highest end of the social scale was the king, who was expected to maintain a grand estate appropriate to his royal dignity. In this, Edward IV did not disappoint.

From surviving accounts we know that Edward’s routine expenditure on jewellery was considerable. In July 1461, he redeemed from the executors of Sir John Falstoff two valuable jewels which had been pledged by the king’s father Duke Richard, who had owned also a jewelled collar valued at £2,666 – a fabulous sum for the times.

Edward spent £125 on a jewelled ornament ‘against the time of the birth of our most dear daughter Elizabeth.’  In 1469, although a cash-strapped Edward was pawning jewels to raise money, he still found spare change of  £930 for jewels supplied by John Barker and Henry Massey, two London goldsmiths.

A bill survives from Cornelius the goldsmith which gives an idea of what purchases comprised. A few examples are: a gold cross set with a diamond, 4 rubies and 7 pearls; a flower shape with a green sapphire; a toothpick of gold, garnished with a diamond, ruby and pearl; and gold rings garnished with 4 rubies.

On another occasion, Ross says that Edward had bid – unsuccessfully – £3000 for a huge diamond and ruby ornament owned by the Grimaldi brothers.

On his accession, Edward not only reformed coinage but also changed the design of the noble. Featuring a king holding a sword standing in a boat. Edward placed a rose on the boat and practically obliterated the cross on the reverse by his sign of a blazing sun and another rose.

Considered to be one of masterpieces of the medieval times, it is the position of the suspension loops that is notable. Suspension with either side showing would render the design either askew or upside down.  Therefore it is thought that the pendant was designed to be held up to the face. The coin was not reissued after 1471 and existing stocks were popular. The surviving example would have been owned by a supporter of the family York or of Edward himself.

Upon Edward’s death a coat of gilt mail with his arms embroidered in pearls, gold and rubies, survived until 1642 when it was destroyed by the Parliamentary soldiers.

King Richard was no less aware than his brother of the need for kingly magnificence and display, but with one exception, it is difficult to find evidence of his ownership and use of jewellery.

The exception mentioned is that as Duke of Gloucester, Richard wished to buy a fine emerald owned by Sir John Pilkington. He refused to sell and Richard had to accept that decision.  In his will, proved in 1479, however, Pilkington stated that “I will that my lorde of Gloucestre shall have a emerald set in gold for which for said lorde would have given me c marc.’

In 1529, Henry VIII gave Ann Boleyn a fine emerald – the same one? We will never know.

Ecclesiastical jewellery was just as beautiful as that made for secular use.  Reliquary rings and pendants were used to house alleged relics whose power was their proximity to the body.

Another well-known example is the Wyckham jewel. Made in Paris about 1400, it is set with a ruby in the middle; it shows the Annunciation and carved into the letter ‘M’ for the Virgin Mary. It was given to New College Oxford by its founder, Bishop William Wykeham.

Nature as a source of design was prominent from the late C14th to the early C15th.  The All Souls jewel, made of sheet of gold shaped into a flower, is covered with opaque white enamel and set with a pink tourmaline is rare in two respects–  the ronde bosse enamel is intact and pink tourmaline was a gem not used in quantity until the19th century.

Campbell suggests that the condition of the jewel was probably due to its coming into the care of All Souls College soon after its manufacture. An extant record shows that it was received by the college in 1466.

I would like to conclude this introduction to the world of medieval jewellery with this thought:

‘Very many people find that a single gem stone alone is enough to provide them with a supreme and perfect aesthetic experience of the wonders of Nature.’
Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book 37, ‘On Gems.’


1.   Marion Campbell, Medieval Jewellery. V & A Publishing, 2011
2.   John Cherry, Medieval Goldsmiths
3.   John Cherry, The Middleham Jewel and Ring
4.   Gareth Dean, Medieval York. The History Press
5.   Princely Magnificence: Debrett’s Pty Ltd 1981
6.   Hazel Forsyth, London’s Lost Jewels. Museum of London Publishing 2013
7.   ‘The Will of Sir John Pilkington’ – published by the Richard III Society, 2012
8.   Alan Robinson, Masterpieces:  Medieval Art. British Museum Press  2008
9.   Charles Ross, Edward IV
10. Dora Salley, ‘Medieval Jewelry’, Central European University



   Posted by: Barbara Gaskell Denvil Tags: ,

The drama, the tragedy and the thrill of a good colourful story obviously attracts. Villainy can seem far more interesting than honest hard working decency. So can we ever be convinced to relinquish our attraction to myth and propaganda?

The recent discovery of King Richard III’s burial site has renewed so much public interest that many of the old controversies are once again being discussed. Some articles and FB posts are astonishingly antagonistic, even when the writer clearly has never researched the subject at all, let alone seriously studied the few known facts. So why do people still feel so strongly about a historical figure who died more than 500 years ago?

Of course the main accusation against Richard III has always been the assumption that he murdered his nephews, and the discovery of the skeletons of two children under a Tower staircase in the 17th century has often been quoted as virtual proof of this dastardly act.

I should like to try and put a few of these assumptions into perspective.

In 1674  at the Tower of London a group of workmen were employed to demolish a stone staircase attached to the White Tower, and over several days had dug a full ten feet down to the level of the Tower foundations, when they came upon two human skeletons. Seeing little of interest in this discovery, they threw the bones, along with the surrounding rubble, onto the rubbish dump.

When they related these facts afterwards, others realised that this find could be of some importance. Since the skeletons appeared to be of two young people, being neither of fully grown adults nor of small children, someone began to wonder if these could be the remains of the so-called ‘princes in the Tower’ – i.e. the two sons of the late King Edward IV who had seemingly disappeared during the subsequent reign of King Richard III. Sometime later the bones were therefore recovered from the dump. The reigning monarch at the time (Charles II) subsequently ordered the bones entombment in an urn, to be kept in Westminster Abbey. The assumption, given that forensic examination was unknown at that time, was to accept the bones as those of the allegedly murdered ‘princes’.

This was certainly not the first time that human bones had been discovered in and around the Tower. However, not only did these particular skeletons seemingly, judging by size alone, match the ages of the king’s lost boys, but they were discovered under a staircase, and this rang bells with the unfinished story written long before by Sir Thomas More and entitled “The History of King Richard III.”

So those are the simple facts. But a considerable number of myths, misinterpretations and assumptions have gathered around these facts ever since, and the principal one concerns that same unfinished story left by Sir Thomas More.

Neither at the time, nor during the Tudor age following, did anyone else conjecture as to such precise details concerning the boys’ fates – though assumption continued and increased as the blackening of Richard III’s reputation became a political tool of the Tudors. The only reliable account of when they were last sighted (at least by anyone who cared to write of it) appears in a monkish chronicle which indicates they were still resident in the Tower in late August or early September 1483. Yet surprisingly the actual contemporary evidence appears to indicate that little interest was aroused in the vicinity at the time of this disappearance, and Londoners went about their business as usual. Whether the sons of Edward IV then died, were murdered, or were simply smuggled safely away, was guessed at but never proved.

It was not until around 1515 (30 years after the death of Richard III) that Sir Thomas More started to write his ‘history’. Over the years he wrote several versions of this but neither finished nor published any of them. They have survived however, and many researchers have chosen to take them seriously in spite of the anomalies, excessive number of mistakes, and insistence on recording discussions word for word even when the possibility of knowing what had been said was completely non-existent.

Within his pages, More initially records that the fate of the boys remained in doubt. Then later and quite suddenly he offers a detailed scenario of their heinous slaughter. He gives no explanation of how he could possibly know the exact details which he relates, however the story appears to be partially inspired by Polydore Vergil, the man recently employed by Henry VII to write a history of England. More, however, elaborates hugely on Vergil’s account, adding no end of specific extra colour. How (more than 30 years after the fact) he suddenly came by this wealth of gossip is difficult to imagine. Did More chat afterwards with the murderers? Did he talk with the priest, yet decide to confide in no one else even though he then wrote it down for anyone to read? Did he receive information from some other nameless soul, who also chose to disclose these essential facts to no one else? More, however, now confidently tells us that after their violent deaths the two sons of Edward IV were secretly buried at the foot of a staircase in the Tower of London. He then goes on to explain that Richard III (who had ordered the murders) objected to such an improper burial and ordered a priest to dig up the corpses and rebury them in another more suitable (but unnamed) place, and that this was promptly done.

So the burial under a stairwell is certainly mentioned. Yet according to More, (the only one ever to mention burial under a staircase at all) that is NOT where the two bodies were finally left. He specifically says they were moved to a secret place more appropriate to their station. And here the secret supposedly remained – no longer under a staircase at all.

Yet the actual ‘bones in the urn’ were originally found under a stone stair attached to the exterior of the White Tower (known as the Keep). Apart from the contradiction within More’s story, such a rigorous endeavour is difficult to accept as this area was the access point to the only entrance, and would certainly have been one of the busiest parts of the Tower. Anyone digging there would have been clearly visible. So we are asked to accept that a couple of amazingly determined murderers managed between them to dig 10 foot under solid stone, avoiding all passing gentry including the guards, and to deposit there two suspicious bundles – all while the ‘princes’’ staff raised no alarm nor even blinked in curiosity. And the subsequent solitary priest somehow dug them up again? As the night quickly passed, was he, in absolute secrecy, able to dig 10 foot under stone to rebury the boys’ remains? And if so, in accordance with More’s little book – why were they still found under the staircase?

At that time hundreds of busy people, many with their entire families, lived and worked in the Tower. This was no dreadful place of isolated dungeons and cold haunted corners. It was a royal palace with grand apartments and a number of council chambers, beautiful gardens complete with gardeners, clerks and administrators, a menagerie and its keepers, the Royal Mint and all its wealth of workers, a whole garrison of guards, kitchens, cooks, scullions and cleaners. How a pair of strange and suspicious ruffians could have dug such a deep secret grave in one night completely unnoticed by anyone is frankly an impossible situation. Even at night the Tower really was a hive of industry and activity, and the ‘princes’ themselves had servants day and night. They were not under arrest and nor were they locked in the dungeons – they lived together in a comfortable apartment and more than 14 personal staff were paid to look after them. Yet we are asked to believe that their murder was magically accomplished without anyone at all knowing how, who, or even exactly when.

But let us leave that puzzle and return to the urn. It rested undisturbed in the Abbey for many years, but in 1933 it was decided to open it and discover just what was inside.

The complete description of the contents is on record of course, and the boy’s remains were immediately examined by experts of the time.

Apart from the human remains, there were a number of animal bones – clearly all collected together from the rubbish pit. There were, however, no textiles of any kind. So please – let’s forget that other silly myth of the scraps of expensive velvet. Yes – hundreds of years ago an anonymous scribble in a margin evidently mentioned velvet – but no such thing is mentioned elsewhere, no such thing has survived in any form, and the anonymous scribble has also disappeared – if it ever existed in the first place. So no velvet. Another red herring.

I have also read that a dark stain which ‘could’ be blood, was found on one skull. After 200 years underground we are asked to accept an anonymous stain as an indication of violent murder??? And when this same skull had been left for some time rolling around with fresh animal remains from the butchers? Indeed, those who mentioned the possibility of the stain being blood, later entirely retracted their statement, although this important development is often overlooked. So please! Another ludicrous exaggerated myth.

Now the more important evidence – the scientific examination. Oh – but, wait a moment. This was 1933 and science has moved a long, long way since then. No DNA examination was possible back then. Carbon dating was not employed – too suspect, especially with bones that had been so contaminated for so long. Their antiquity could not therefore be established, so simple assumptions were made – which have been seriously questioned since. The age of the children when they died is also extremely open to opinion. There is absolutely no possibility of sexing these bones. They could have been girls and this remains perfectly likely. At the time a conclusion was made that the two children had been related (this from an examination of the teeth and not from DNA) which has now been shown as probably erroneous. Historians and orthopaedic experts are divided. Some still maintain that these remains ‘could’ be the sons of Edward IV, while others point out the inconsistencies and inaccuracies. There really is no consensus of specialist opinion. The arguments have occasionally become quite heated and no confirmed or complete conclusion has been reached. And there are other anomalies.

For instance, it has been shown that the lower jaw bone of the elder child indicates the presence of a serious bone disease. This would have been both painful and visible. Yet the young Edward V is documented as having been fit, active, prepared for coronation, and described as ‘good looking’. No record is shown of any such existing disease which would have seriously undermined his future life and reign.

There’s another red herring here. Doctor Argentine, the elder prince’s long-standing physician, related that, “the young king, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance, because he believed death was facing him.”

But Dr. Argentine did not visit his charge because of ailing health. All junior royalty were under the permanent care of doctors who were responsible for their day to day health. A doctor’s appearance here was a consistent matter of course, and would have been ever since birth. And the prince’s recorded statement, apart from being second-hand hearsay, is extremely ambiguous. I doubt he was cheerful at the time, poor boy – with his status in doubt, and his expected coronation suddenly delayed. He may well have expected (and been warned by his dour and pessimistic Lancastrian and Woodville guardians) a bitter end. This does not mean it actually occurred.

So these are the basic facts, and as anyone can see, they do not point specifically in any direction. They prove nothing, not even circumstantially, and any assumption that the bones in the urn are almost certainly those of the two lost boys of Edward IV is absolutely unjustified. Until permission is finally given (many have asked and always been denied) for the urn to be opened once more and the contents subjected to up-to-date forensic examination, we cannot know anything at all. So far the very sketchy facts seem to point towards the bones dating from Norman, or even from Roman times, and at least some experts strongly suggest that the elder is female.

Those interested authors of articles claiming these bones are definitely those of the lost boys, are either fooling themselves or attempting to fool their readers.

Should the bones eventually be examined and proved by DNA matching to be the ‘princes’ after all – we may with our present level of technology discover roughly when they died (to the nearest 50 years). We may perhaps also ascertain the causes of their deaths, but unless there are signs of injury it is unlikely we will learn whether they were killed – still less who killed them.

If, on the other hand, as seems most likely, they are proved NOT to be the ‘princes’ it will settle a long-standing controversy, and provide some very interesting material for archaeological study. In particular it will silence some of the more exaggerated and erroneous myths.

There remains the bigger question – WHAT exactly happened to Edward IV’s sons, and on whose orders? Well that is quite another problem – and there is as yet no answer to that either.

Note: Barbara Gaskell-Denvil is a historical novelist and member of the NSW branch of the Richard III Society.  Her new book, Sumerford’s Autumn, which deals with – possibly – one of the princes, is has hit the shelves during the past week.  It is published by Simon & Schuster Australia, ISBN 9781922052582.

This article appeared first on Barbara’s website and is reposted here with her permission.



   Posted by: Dorothea Preis Tags: , ,

This article is by Stephen Lark, a Ricardian friends from Ipswich, Suffolk.  We thank Stephen for making it available to us.  It was first published in the Journal of the American Branch of the Richard III Society, Ricardian Register, Vol.43, No.2 (June 2012).

Thomas Stafford was executed on this day in 1557.


This is the story of Richard’s controversial and, consequently, short-lived great great nephew. Genealogical tables can be included, showing his Clarence and Stafford descent, also his relationships with the Hastings family (William, Lord Hastings, and the Earls of Huntingdon).

He is of particular interest as the first proven legitimate Yorkist to initiate a rebellion against the Tudor regime and I feel passionately that he does not deserve his present relative obscurity. I shall attempt to answer some of the mysteries surrounding his life and actions.


Thomas Stafford was born between 1530 and 1533, in about 1531, according to the original DNB, or 1533 in the new edition. At this time, four of Henry VIII’s key advisers (Cromwell, More, Cranmer and the recently deceased Wolsey) all bore the forename Thomas, which may explain his parents’ choice.

His father was Henry Stafford, only son of Edward, 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Eleanor Percy. His mother was Ursula Pole, only daughter of Sir Richard Pole and Lady Margaret Plantagenet (daughter of George, Duke of Clarence). Thomas’ parents married in February 1519, expecting to succeed to the Duchy but this did not happen because Edward was executed in 1521 for “treasonable utterances”.

He is supposed to have said that, were the King to die childless, he would seek the throne and to have consulted a fortune-teller about this. Burke’s says that he was executed “for his vanity and loquacity”. Shakespeare, in Henry VIII portrays him as a plotter, as did the recent ITV film.

His attainder was reversed soon afterwards and Henry was recreated Baron Stafford in 1548.

Thomas was the ninth of fourteen children born to Henry and Ursula Stafford during a 44-year marriage. Many of these, as was usual, died in infancy, including Henry, the eldest. Another Henry was, the eldest surviving son and became the 2nd Baron; Edward became the 3rd Baron and progenitor of the senior branch ever since; Richard was the father of Roger (Froyde) Stafford (an old man deprived of the title under Charles I, for his poverty, after it had passed to him on the initial failure of Edward’s male line).

Dorothy married Sir William Stafford of Grafton (a very distant cousin whose grandfather Sir Humphrey Stafford had been executed in 1486), becoming the mother of William Stafford (1554-1612), a later rebel. For further Stafford genealogy, see Robinson or the author’s Stafford Line (Mid-Anglia Group, 2004). The Buckingham and Grafton lines separated some time in the thirteenth century but Sir William and Dorothy’s marriage partially reunited them.

During Thomas’ childhood, his paternal aunt, Margaret Stafford (Lady Bulmer), was executed with her husband (1537) for their part in the “Pilgrimage of Grace”, his maternal grandmother and uncle (Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (1541) and Henry Pole, Baron Montagu (1539)) both beheaded.

He grew up knowing that his father’s family was one of the oldest in England, his earliest known ancestors being born in the tenth century and, also being of Beaufort stock, were closely related to the Tudor monarchs. His mother’s father was of Lancastrian stock and her mother, as daughter of the Duke of Clarence, was of the Yorkist royal line.

He would also have become aware how dangerous this combination of ancestry could be.


Little is known of his education but Thomas toured Europe in the early fifties, including Paris (1550), Rome (where he was to visit his uncle, Cardinal Reginald Pole), Venice (where he stayed until summer 1553) and Poland, where King Sigismund Augustus received him, writing to Queen Mary to suggest that the young man be restored to his grandfather’s Duchy, although his brother, Henry, was alive and was knighted in 1553.

In Rome, Cardinal Pole tried to re-convert Stafford to Catholicism. In Venice, Stafford was permitted to view the jewels of St. Mark and the armoury halls; furthermore he and two servants were permitted to carry arms.

Thomas returned to join the Wyatt conspiracy (probably under Henry of Suffolk in the Midlands), being briefly imprisoned in the Fleet – at the same time, Stafford’s cousin, Francis of Huntingdon, and his son, Lord Henry Hastings, were detained in the Tower. He then developed a violent objection to Mary’s Spanish marriage although it is not known whether, like Edward Courtenay (12th Earl of Devon), he considered himself as an alternative suitor.

He declared that she had forfeited the throne, thereby ignoring the claims of Princess Elizabeth, Mary Stuart as a descendant of Margaret Tudor, any remaining descendants of Henry VII’s daughter Mary (i.e. Lady Catherine Grey) and his own brother, Sir Henry.

On his release, Thomas travelled to Fontainebleau, residence of Cardinal Pole, who refused to meet him again, embarrassed at his objection to Mary’s choice of husband, moving on to the Low Countries to mix in extreme Protestant circles, which emphasised his belief that he was destined for greater things.

He had a seal made, consisting of the undifferenced royal arms, tantamount to claiming the throne and, therefore, a treasonable act. Thomas fell out with many of his fellow exiles, such as his brother-in-law Sir William Stafford (Hicks calls him Sir Robert), attempting to assassinate Sir William Pickering (April 1554) and, after further imprisonment in Rouen (1556), left for Dieppe.

Scarborough Castle

After his restoration, Edward IV granted Scarborough Castle to the Duke of Gloucester who visited it in 1484. Perkin Warbeck promised it to his “aunt”, Margaret of Burgundy. Robert Aske led a siege during the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 but troops led by Sir Ralph Evers withstood it. The castle was located in the Catholic north-east of England, accessible by sea but easily defensible.

Thomas Stafford and his band of thirty-five men sailed in two ships from Dieppe on 18 April (Easter Sunday), landed on the Yorkshire coast, sailed up to the undefended Scarborough Castle on 25 April and took the garrison completely by surprise. He warned that the Spanish marriage would enslave the English people, that Scarborough and other castles would be ceded to the Spanish, proclaimed himself Lord Protector and announced his intention to reclaim his grandfather’s title (a pretext employed by Henry of Bolingbroke in 1399, Richard of York in 1460 and Edmund of Suffolk in 1502).

The keep of Scarborough Castle (photograph by Stephen Montgomery, obtained through Wikimedia Commons)

However, the rebellion failed to gather momentum and the local militia acted swiftly. Under Henry Neville, Earl of Westmorland (Thomas’ uncle), they retook the castle. Many of the rebels (who included four Scots) were summarily hanged (hence the phrase “Scarborough warning”, meaning none at all) and others were executed across Yorkshire. Thomas was taken to London and tried for treason, beheaded at Tower Hill on 28 May and buried at St. Peter ad Vincula. With the other executed rebels, he was attainted. Two of his party were pardoned.

The DNB (both editions) says that he was drawn, hanged and quartered but, his father having been restored to the Barony nine years earlier, this seems unlikely. John Strype (1643-1737) confirms that Stafford was beheaded, his work being re-published in 1822, names many of the co-conspirators and includes both Stafford’s and Mary’s proclamations: “May 28: Stafford was beheaded on Tower Hill”.

As a consequence of the rebellion, Queen Mary declared war on France, during which the French took Calais, England’s last possession on the continent.

Five years later, Elizabeth almost died from smallpox.  Lord Henry Hastings (now the 3rd Earl of Huntingdon), together with Lady Catherine Grey, was on the shortlist of successors considered by Parliament – a Yorkist heir who would have inherited the throne peaceably and went on to serve Elizabeth at the highest level for twenty-three years.


Early sources claimed that the Scarborough raid had official French backing because Thomas was a continental Protestant and England’s Catholic Queen was married to a Spaniard. According to Hicks, this is unlikely, as Henri II would have wished to avoid provoking an Anglo-Spanish alliance. Other theories, such as Thomas as a “stalking horse” or victim of Tudor provocation, are also rejected; indeed the reports you may read can be taken at face value.

Both DNB editions, Burke’s and the Complete Peerage all claim that Thomas had a surviving elder brother. His parents’ first son, Henry, died very young and Thomas’ other brother by that name (later the second Baron) seems to have been born by 1527 and Edward (3rd Baron) in 1536. These three “standard sources” do not correspond perfectly and interpretation is important.

There is a little scope for confusion but, having exchanged e-mail with Professor Hicks during which he summarised one of his sources (1534 pedigree: British Library MS 6672 f.193), Thomas’ position in the family has probably been finalised. However, he claimed on several occasions to have been born before Sir Henry. This seems to be analogous to the Lancastrian fantasy (of Henry III’s sons) that formed the basis to their claim.


Dictionary of National Biography (Entry by A.F. Pollard, 1897).
New Dictionary of National Biography (Entry by Michael Hicks, 2004).
The Staffords (J.M. Robinson, 2002).
The Earlier Tudors (J.D. Mackie, 1952).
The Tower of London: The Official Illustrated History (Edward Impey & Geoffrey Parnell).
Elizabeth I: A Study of Power and Intellect (Paul Johnson, 1974)
Ecclesiastica Memoria (John Strype, volume 3 part 2, 67-9, 513-9, 1721-33).