Richard Armitage / Richard III rumble, Week 12!

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The latest news on the Richard III excavations at King Richard Armitage fan initiative — right now, we’re really, really waiting …


rLook who came to Servetus for Chanukkah and into my office today on the first day of the term! Richard Armitage as King Richard!

Thanks very much to the friend who sent me this, and a few other cute things, including a special key ring that commemorates King Richard Armitage Week 2012.

The KRA bling is really striking, if you’re so inclined, and all purchases generate a donation to an Armitage-endorsed JustGiving charity.

This isn’t the best picture; those stripy things over his crown are the reflection of my striped top today.

eSo, he came to work, but I’m a little concerned about what might happen in my absence. Because you know who else lives in my office. Someone has a little status anxiety and got worried I might think that Richard III is a more important king than the King under the Mountain! Thorin Oakenshield pulled out Orcrist in order to put Richard III in his place!

It took me a while to calm him down, so I guess I’m going to have to put them on opposite sides of my computer monitor and hope for the best.

Sign the petition to support Richard Armitage’s Richard III ambitions here!


And now, on to the group read. As always, instructions for joining the Twitter and FB discussions of the book are available at the end of this post.

Note that this week and next week involve six (shorter) chapters.

This week: George finally gets it. Here’s your silly quiz as a reward for continuing to read.


516px-TwynyhoArms[Right: Ankarette (née Hawkeston) Twynyho’s brother-in-law, John’s, coat of arms. Source.]

Last time: TSIS, Book III, ch. 5-9 covered May, 1475, to April, 1477. We began (ch. 5) with Richard preparing to join Edward’s campaign against the French, Anne miscarrying, and Véronique in love with Francis Lovell. In August 1475, we joined the English armies in France (ch. 6), where they were bought off of their belligerence, which Richard resented. Back at Middleham in July, 1476 (ch. 7), a pregnant Anne reviewed conditions in England and referred to yet another miscarriage; Richard was concerned for his wife. The Gloucesters entered York in January, 1477 (ch. 8) to learn that Isobel, brought to bed of a son, had died; Anne and Richard rode to Tewkesbury to attend the obsequies and encountered George/Clarence, clinging to the edge of reason. Finally (ch. 9), we learn via a letter from Cecily Neville to her daughter that George’s execution of Ankarette Twynyho, the midwife who delivered Isobel, will not be ignored by the crown.


[Left: Exterior of Crosby Place, where the Gloucesters stayed while in London, as it appeared in 1790. The fifteenth-century building was demolished in 1907. Source.)

This week: TSIS, Book III, ch. 10-15, begins with Anne at York in June, 1477 (Book III, ch. 10), reflecting on the previous six months. She is about to join the Corpus Christi guild in York, but she and Richard fight over news that John Neville‘s orphaned son, George, Duke of Bedford, is to lose his title to Edward IV’s third son. The couple also chews through the problem of how Edward will deal with George over the Twynyho affair; Richard defends Edward as having regretted his earlier leniency. Anne and Richard have makeup sex. At the end of the chapter, Edward orders George to the Tower to await trial on charges of treason. Elizabeth Woodville, Edward’s queen consort, rejoins the narrative in September 1477 (ch. 11), rejoicing over George’s resort to drink in captivity, as he has admitted to sedition while in his cups. Noting that Edward, too, has been drinking a lot and gaining weight (a detail Penman takes from Commynes), Elizabeth seeks her husband’s bed to persuade him to have George executed. Edward seems to dismiss her worries (rumors that Edward was not his father’s son and thus not eligible to be king) till he learns that George has been babbling that Edward’s marriage is invalid as well, and thus his children illegitimate. When Elizabeth raises this point, Edward responds fearfully, convincing Elizabeth that this piece of the rumors is true. A meeting with Robert Stillington, bishop of Bath and Wells, who has gotten wind of the story, forces Edward to admit to Elizabeth that he had made a precontract with Eleanor Butler, two years prior to his marriage to her. George’s drunken murmurings necessitate his elimination; were Edward’s children illegitimate, George would be rightful heir to the throne. In October 1477 (ch. 11), Richard comes to London to try to straighten things out, and we see the much-vaunted licentiousness of Edward’s court and the silliness of Jane Shore through his eyes; Richard gathers that Edward plans George’s execution. In January 1478 (ch. 12), Richard details to Anne the story of George’s trial and tells her that he’s convinced it’s Elizabeth, not Edward, who wants George dead. Will Hastings contemplates the constellation of favorites around Edward (Greys/Woodvilles, the duke of Buckingham) — this material is a setup for understanding the politics of Richard’s takeover of the throne. Richard is refused permission to see George before his execution. In February 1478 (ch. 14), Cecily Neville pleads with Edward for George’s life, reminding him of his ransoming of Rob Apsall after Edmund’s death at Wakefield Bridge (Book I, ch. 4) and of a loving letter he wrote to his siblings at that time. But even she is refused permission to visit her condemned son. Edward calls for Apsall (whom Penman names Apsall rather than Aspell and makes a knight rather than a priest — I had no time to track this detail down, but a Sir Robert Apsall was apparently killed immediately after Wakefield and thus couldn’t have been drinking with Edward in 1478, unless it was his son, oh I hate history research), spends the night drinking with him, and lets be burned the letter that Cecily saved as evidence of his earlier charity. Finally, also in February 1478 (ch. 15), George is executed — and here, his last hours are described. Bereft of the succor of his family, he is shriven and told that his property will not be attainted, so that his son (an unfortunate individual who spent much of his life in prison after Richard’s death) would succeed him.


Wand 1-004I wish I were finally getting some space, but I’m not, and so this will once again be quick and dirty historical commentary. The two major plot engines in this week’s reading are the question of legitimate vs illegitimate marriage and birth, and the significance of witchcraft in terms of what it could accomplish for those who accused others of it. On the second question — what does witchcraft mean in the fifteenth-century English context? — I wrote a great deal during King Richard Magic Week 2012, and I refer you to posts on how fifteenth-century people saw witchcraft threats and the question of what witchcraft accusations might mean in Shakespeare’s Richard III in light of recent research on the topic. Penman’s position on this question, in which witchcraft accusations were a result of madness and gullibility, or that they were used as political pretexts, is now over thirty years old and has largely been superseded by the research. Twynyho died horribly, but was granted an immediate pardon by the crown after George’s execution. The text of the pardon is here.

I discussed the matter of marriage extensively when treating the date and matter of Anne and Richard’s nuptials, three weeks ago. As I noted in that post, a marriage was considered valid in canon law if the prospective partners to the marriage agreed with each other to marry — if one asked (it did not have to be the man) and the other answered in the affirmative. Such agreements allowed heterosexual couples to engage in intercourse in the conviction that they were married, if no canon law impediment to the marriage existed (which, as discussed, was Anne and Richard’s problem). Consecration of the union by clergy was necessary to legitimate property transactions or inheritances. In the later middle ages and early modern period, surviving court records suggest that breach of contract suits in cases of promises to marry were common. By the mid-fifteenth century at the latest, numerous records survive from all over Europe of jilted pre-contracted partners of both sexes suing partners who had not married them publicly, either for damages or to force a wedding by clergy. Penman has Edward plighting troth with Eleanor Butler in order to get into her bed, which was probably a fairly common strategy among men. When the king did it, it certainly would have been effective, insofar as the sexual partner of a monarch had things to gain, whether or not a marriage was ever consecrated by clergy. Eleanor eventually entered a convent and died in 1468, four years after Edward married Elizabeth. But since Eleanor was still alive when Edward married Elizabeth, his marriage to her under such circumstances would have been bigamous, and had it been known, the clergy would have been obliged to try to separate them.

ft1d5nb0d9_00011[Right: Illustration of a clandestine marriage from a sixteenth-century Venetian edition of the Decretals of Gregory IX, an important work of canon law. Note the exchange of a ring as a sign of promise; in northern Europe the joining of hands was more customary. Source.]

I say “would have been” because I have mixed feelings about this plot point. On the one hand, speaking for it: it reinforces the significance that the question of valid marriage held in English politics for about a century. Bastard feudalism required exuberant fertility in order to sustain affinity networks; in an age of high morality, noble families needed many heirs, which facilitated men’s lack of worry about the consequences of their casual sexual liaisons; an illegitimate child could not inherit certain kinds of property or a title, but a son could play a role in family politics and military affairs and a daughter could be dowered and married to secure an alliance. At the same time, when the nobility administered their fertility as they pleased, their steps and missteps had big consequences, a major lesson of late Plantagenet and early Tudor history. Penman’s story also takes place on the threshold to the Reformation, just as the clergy were about to fight out big church / state issues over clandestine marriage, which had been a nagging problem all through late medieval history, and European states of all religious stripes would begin to take a role both in forbidding such marriages by requiring parental consent for minors and public performance of all vows. I hardly need to remind us of what it cost England to get rid of the problem that reluctant or expensive papal dispensations played in Tudor politics. So this matter is important, and Penman gets the atmosphere correct.

Screen shot 2012-12-30 at 5.41.28 PM[Left: How a papal dispensation to marry looked when it was at home — it’s one subspecies of a bull, written in Latin on parchment and authenticated with a lead seal. Here a seventeenth-century dispensation for consanguinity in respect of the marriage of a member of the Medici family. Source.]

On the other hand, the problems: First, no sources survive from before 1483 to suggest that Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth was invalid or that anyone thought it was before that time. Second, the assumption that Edward and Elizabeth’s children would have been illegitimate because Edward’s marriage was bigamous misstates canon law. On the first point, the charge of a valid pre-contract as an impediment to Edward’s marriage is documented for the very first time ever in Titulus Regius, the English parliamentary statute that Richard pushed through to justify his seizure of the throne, i.e., the story is only documented for the first time in the very text that mobilize it as a pretext. It seems odd that Eleanor would not have come forward in 1464; or that had Edward actually been aware of such an obstacle, that he wouldn’t have applied in Rome to be dispensed; or that, were there witnesses to this claim, that Richard would not have attempted to have it adjudicated in a canon law court and call them to offer testimony as to their knowledge. No record survives of any of these steps having been taken. On the second point, whether or not Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth was bigamous, as long as one partner married in good faith (in this case, Elizabeth), the children, as offspring of a so-called putative marriage, would have been legitimate in canon law and entitled to succeed. (Note that Anne and Richard’s marriage could never have been putative, as they were both aware of canonical impediments to it.) Had there been any doubt, again the Pope could have legitimated Edward and Elizabeth’s children via dispensation (such documents routinely declared the offspring of dispensed unions to be legitimate). This is a strongly Ricardian moment in the book; presumably — like fifteenth-century observers — Penman thought that the charges upon which George were convicted were so flimsy that they could hardly have justified an execution had Edward not had larger fears, and so writes Richard’s later justification for his seizure of power back onto the 1470s.

George_Plantagenet,_Duke_of_Clarence[Right: a non-contemporary image of George, Duke of Clarence. Source.]

To some extent, I think Penman leads us down a rabbit trail here. It seems that Edward must have decided George needed to go; the only question was when. The other question of illegitimacy, raised by Elizabeth in Penman’s narrative, and which she has Edward pooh-pooh, is arguably the more significant as political factor: the question of the identity of Edward IV’s father. Rumors that Edward could not have been the son of Richard, Duke of York, were said to dog the king at least since 1464, according to Dominic Mancini, an Italian spy who wrote a gossip-ridden memoir in the 1480s that languished in a French archive till the twentieth century. I’ve also read several secondary accounts that assert that Warwick‘s revolt against Edward in 1469 (with which George / Clarence had been associated) mobilized a justification on these terms.

In any case, whatever the reason, it seems Edward decided that George’s repeated toying with sedition had become more than an annoyance. The last straw, according to historian Michael Hicks, was that George’s client, Thomas Burdet, along with two others, wrote a horoscope for Edward IV, which was treasonable at the time (doing anything that might predict the death of the monarch was a highly suspect activity); Edward had Burdet and his fellows executed; George spoke for Burdet posthumously at a royal council. Obviously George could not be convicted for the treason of others; the bill of attainder in the case, said to have been introduced personally by Edward, cited George’s subversion of the law in the Twynyho affair; seditious speech against the king; and claiming to have been named by Henry VI as his rightful successor. Some historians have also thought George to have supported an anti-royal revolt that took place in Cambridgeshire around the same time. The Croyland continuator does not note the charges but was present at the parliamentary proceedings. He writes:

The circumstances that happened in ensuing Parliament my mind quite shudders to enlarge upon, for then was to be witnessed a sad strife carried on before these two brethren of such high estate. For not a single person uttered a word against the duke, except the king; and not one individual made answer to the king except the duke. Some parties were introduced, however, as to whom it was greatly doubted by many, whether they filled the office of accusers rather, or of witnesses: these two offices not being exactly suited to the same person in the same cause. The duke met all the charges made against him with a denial, and offered, if he could only obtain a hearing, to defend his cause with his own hand. But why delay in using many words? Parliament, being of opinion that the informations which they had heard were established, passed sentence upon him of condemnation[.]

Mancini, and later, Tudor chroniclers, were similarly skeptical.

A side note: Had Edward in fact been illegitimate, and had George succeeded to the throne, assuming no conquest by Henry VII and no other intervening disasters occurring, George’s surviving heir, a lineal descendant, is the fifteenth earl of Loudon, who’s about my brother’s age, and single — living and working in Australia, where he is a citizen. He also has three surviving siblings — a sister who looks like a twin, an older sister who’s my age, and a younger brother.

MalmseyWine[Left: a modern butt of malmsey wine]

As to the question of George’s death — Shakespeare has Richard frame him for treason as his first step toward the throne. Penman’s version involves Stillington encouraging George to drown himself (it’s not said with which tools). Tradition held it that he was drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. His remains were buried at Tewkesbury next to those of his wife, have been exhumed and examined, and do not suggest that he was beheaded. Penman makes Elizabeth angry over Edward’s refusal to have Stillington executed as well. The bishop was imprisoned briefly in 1478, possibly in connection with this matter, although no justification survives. According to Commynes, Stillington’s the one who informs Richard of the precontract story that eventually surfaces in Titulus Regius, serving as the pretext for the deposition of Edward V.


Eleanor-small-198x300A worthwhile read: John Ashdown-Hill’s book on Eleanor (Butler) Talbot: Eleanor: The Secret Queen (2010). The first piece of the book presents a painstaking, detailed, effective and highly readable reconstruction of the life and context of Eleanor based on surviving sources. This the first full biography of Eleanor and in the absence of new sources, its arguments about her as detailed through chapter 11 are likely to remain definitive. I’m not convinced by his arguments beginning in chapter 12 — I am always looking for the source — but that’s possibly a failure of imagination on my part.

CDoart interviews Ashdown-Hill here. Buy the book to generate a charity donation by entering here.


See you next week for TSIS, Book III, ch. 16-21.


The Sunne in Splendour Group Read continues on Sunday night at 9 p.m., U.S. East Coast time, and continuing Sunday nights through February.

Directions for veterans of #ArmitageWatch are found here.

Participate via the Institute of Armitage Studies facebook page, here. You can sign up there for a reminder to come and chat on facebook, too.

If you want to sign up for Twitter in order to participate in the chat, but haven’t yet, an explanation of procedures is found at the bottom of this post. The tweetchat “room” for this event will be here.

The chat is free form — come to tweet your impressions, or even a favorite quote from the first five chapters of the book.

~ by Servetus on January 7, 2012.

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