Richard Armitage / Richard III rumble, Week 13!

leicesterAt right: a buddy of mine was in Leicester this week for a conference and sent me this picture. No, it’s not this pub, recently reconstructed, but a modern pub that names itself after our favorite late medieval English king. I couldn’t find out anything about it, other than it has a facebook page and the people who’ve uploaded pics look quite happy. My buddy was shy and didn’t go in.


Updates from King Richard Armitage fan initiative regarding the timetable for delivery of results of the Richard III excavations in Leicester; more evidence of Armitage’s ongoing interest in the project.


Screen shot 2013-01-14 at 3.36.17 PM

And as of this writing, the fan petition to support Armitage’s Richard III ambitions has garnered 1,111 signatures! More signatures are nice evidence to be able to point to for investors in this project. If you haven’t added yours yet, you can do so 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.

Please note that all further group watch dates on Twitter will occur on Mondays at 9 p.m., US East Coast time.

Note that this week involves six (shorter) chapters but we go back to five chapters next time, as we finally start Book IV and Richard’s own path to the throne.


Screen shot 2013-01-14 at 5.28.43 PM[Left: How readers felt about George’s death.]

Last week: TSIS, Book III, ch. 10-15, covered June, 1477 to February, 1478, beginning with the news (Book III, ch. 10), that Edward IV accused George / Clarence of treason. Encounters with Elizabeth Woodville and Robert Stillington revealed Edward’s precontract to Eleanor Butler, the political significance of which I discussed at length last week (ch. 11). Richard‘s arrival in London (ch. 12) was insufficient to prevent his brother’s execution, as he explained to his wife (ch. 13). Attempts to get Edward to pay attention to his scruples (ch. 14) were unsuccessful, and in the wake of responses from various quarters to the impending execution (ch. 15), after a visit from Stillington, George drowned himself (ch. 16).

This week: TSIS, Book III, ch. 16-21. I got ahead of myself last time by discussing George’s death (ch. 16); if you’re not up to speed on the piteous end of that story, click here to read more. The rest of this week’s reading covers February, 1478, to April, 1483. In August 1478 (ch. 17), we meet the next gen, assembled in Middleham. Richard and Anne’s son, Ned, is being raised with his …


435px-Elizabeth_of_York_from_Kings_and_Queens_of_England[Right: a portrait of Penman’s Bess, Elizabeth of York, after her wedding to Henry VII. Source.]


… half-brother, John, and we see a touching scene when Richard’s wolfhound, Gareth, has to be replaced with puppies for the boys; when Edward IV comes to visit and mend his fraternal fences, we also meet for the first time the second-in-line to the throne, Edward’s son, Richard, and his sisters, Cecily — rumored to have been Richard III’s marital target after his son Ned’s death — Bess — the future wife of Henry VII — and Mary. In July, 1480, Richard’s sister, Margaret, now Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, visits England for the first time in twelve years (ch. 18). We learn that the orphaned Duke of Bedford is being raised by Anne and Richard, a right for which they have paid, although George’s surviving children are in the custody of Elizabeth Woodville‘s son, Thomas Grey. Edward and Cecily Neville try to reconcile. Next, in May 1482, the crowd at Middleham awaits Richard’s return from a border skirmish (ch. 19), after which he begins preparations for war with Scotland, a war which Edward lacks the physical condition to lead. In December 1482 (ch. 20), Edward is clearly ailing and Richard comes to London, encountering there his niece, Bess, whose marriage to the king of France is now off, as a treaty between France and Burgundy has altered the regional balance of power. Edward concedes that Richard had been right about the French (a reference to TSIS, Book III, ch. 6). In April, 1483 (ch. 21), the reader learns in a conversation between Elizabeth Woodville and Thomas Grey that Edward, concerned over the minority of his heir, Edward [V], has named Richard Protector of the Realm in his will — a decision they heartily oppose. On his way home, Grey runs into the grieving Jane Shore and engages in acquaintance rape. In the end, Edward dies in the company of his daughter, Bess, warning her ominously that the worst sins are about to be discovered.


800px-Berwick_on_Tweed_Fortress_Detail[Left: surviving portion of the medieval fortress at Berwick. Source.]

So, a little stream of consciousness here again as context. The main thing that I should probably discuss is the war with Scotland, but I admit I find that a little boring and the way Penman wrote that chapter, I kind of feel like she did, as well. The main point of that material is to demonstrate that Richard had gained and maintained a great deal of respect across the north of England, as a military commander and also as a governor — especially in York, and we see Edward jealous of Richard’s popularity. (It’s interesting that Penman doesn’t take up more of this, given her love for Richard, for apparently there’s a lot of material in the city records of York of the period.) In this particular moment, the problem occurs over an unfulfilled promise to marry — Edward’s been paying a dowry to the Scots for the marriage of his daughter Cecily; there’s also the problem that the Scots are allied with the French, who are starting again to be a problem. So England invades Scotland. One of the goals of the incident — the attempt to replace James III of Scotland with his brother — remained unachieved; nor could Richard take Edinburgh castle; but the capture of Berwick-upon-Tweed was considered an important political landmark in that it has remained in England since. James III’s seat on the throne of Scotland was not particularly firm; but he was not, in contrast to Penman’s claim, a “confirmed believer in the divine right of kings.” That term (‘divine right of kings‘) is anachronistic for this period, and historians connect it most strongly with a rather later Scottish James. The theme of kingship that emerges most prominently from this episode is a point underlined by historian David Hipshon in Richard III and the Death of Chivalry (2009): that by failing to appear at the head of his own army, Edward had abdicated one of the major functions of the medieval English king.

Irish_Wolfhound_Puppy[Right: An Irish wolfhound puppy]

On to stuff I find more interesting. First, the wolfhounds. If you follow Penman’s facebook page, you learn that she’s a big dog lover, so it’s no surprise that animals make it into her narrative here. (While it was common for nobles to keep pets, as far as I am aware, historians know nothing about those kept by the Plantagenets.) In the book, Gareth, the animal originally given by Edward to Richard and named by Anne in 1464 (Book I, ch. 8), and which Francis Lovell reunited him with in 1471, has recently died, suggesting a lifespan of a whopping fourteen years, well over the average lifespan of seven years for the modern breed. (The breed is ancient, however, and the modern animal has been outbred many times, so perhaps they lived longer back then.) Anne’s attempt to replace Gareth here runs afoul of her forgetfulness that her stepson will want a puppy, too; in next week’s readings, we learn that Anne has replaced Gareth with Loki, an alaunt — a similarly ancient, but now extinct breed of dog. While both breeds had their origins in uses as hunting dogs, the heritage of the alaunt was originally apparently closer to that of working animals like sheepdogs and such. Alaunts were used in aristocratic hunting, and make appearances on coats of arms. Wolfhounds, in comparison, were a clearly royal animal, and when the English conquered Ireland they forbid any but royalty to keep wolfhounds. In fact, in thirteenth-century England, they could only be owned by royal families and were given as particularly prestigious gifts. The wolfhound, however, appears not to join the visual canon of English heraldry until the nineteenth century. A quick check of Chaucer suggests that he uses the term “alaunt” to mean “wolfhound” or “mastiff,” so perhaps the distinction is minor or arbitrary.

Next, all those Plantagenet children! This is an ongoing theme in the book, a device Penman uses to paint Anne in a sympathetic light. A woman who could not have all the children she would have liked can foster those of other women, especially when their parents die or are killed (we will see that happen again next week, when Richard will regain the wardship of his nephew Edward from Thomas Grey and we witness another touching scene). This is a delightful depiction of Anne; no evidence, however, survives to discuss her attitude toward children — her own son, or any others. It continues to frustrate me that motives Penman attributes to other players (for instance, that Thomas Grey took over the wardship of Edward of Clarence because of the potential financial benefits) are not even potentially ascribed to Richard and Anne. The contrasting example here to Edward of Clarence is that of George Neville, son of John Neville, Anne’s uncle, for whose wardship Richard has paid Edward. What Penman doesn’t tell the reader (although in last week’s reading she notes that George’s title of Bedford was given to Edward IV’s third son) is that Anne and Richard’s continuing pursuit of the Neville inheritance had led to a parliamentary act in 1475 that had given George’s paternal inheritance to them already. Really, housing their nephew was probably the least they could do.

EdwardiV[Left: tomb of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville at St George’s Chapel, Windsor]

Finally, Edward’s death. He was only forty-one, and contemporary observers seemed surprised about his death. Historians have been happy to attribute it to a malaise in conjunction with the striking weight gain of his later years. Penman goes along with this — what the Croyland continuator calls a new style that increased the opulence at court, Penman terms a technique for hiding Edward’s fat. In any case the Croyland continuator writes,

For, shortly after … the king, neither worn out with old age nor yet seized with any known kind of malady, the cure of which would not have appeared easy in the case of a person of more humble rank, took to his bed. This happened about the feast of Easter; and, on the ninth of April, he rendered up his spirit to his Creator, at his palace of Westminster, it being the year of our Lord, 1483, and the twenty-third year of his reign.

The continuator goes on to assure the reader of Edward’s eternal salvation (a frequent trope in sources like this), and compares him to Zaccheus. He then notes that Edward had made a will long before his death. But in the last ten days of his life, Edward seems to have been aware that he was dying, and in additions to his will, may have formulated the plan to make his brother, Richard, Protector of the Realm. (It’s hard to say what happened because the will is no longer extant.)

Castell_de_Windsor_-_Capella_de_Sant_Jordi[Right: ceiling of St George’s chapel, Windsor, as viewed from the choir. Edward IV was a major patron of this institution. Source.]

While it’s impossible to know what went through Edward’s mind, in understand this decision, it’s important to keep in mind historical precedent. He would have known how badly royal minorities under councils had gone — the examples of Richard II and Henry VI and the resultant unrest of those periods would have been familiar. Edward possibly hoped that giving his son the support of a noble with a great deal of power but also a reputation for fairness and impartiality — Richard, Duke of Gloucester — would bolster his position. If he did so, however, Edward failed to estimate accurately the persisting enmity between the Woodvilles and not just Richard, but also many other magnate families, which immediately set his plans awry. Or perhaps Edward felt he had no choice, thinking that if he left the boy’s government in the hands of a council, the Woodvilles would control it, anyway, and that such clear partisanship would inevitably cause problems. In any case, the language of the chronicle sources makes clear that the will was set aside insofar as a council to superintend the young Edward V was created and made immediate plans for his coronation. The extreme rush with which all this was done forced Richard to react — he was not even allowed time to get to London to attend his brother’s funeral. The consequences of that decision for English history are the topic of next week’s reading.


See you next week for TSIS, Book IV, ch. 1-5.


The Sunne in Splendour Group Read continues on Monday nights at 9 p.m., U.S. East Coast time, and continuing Mondays 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 15, 2013.

7 Responses to “Richard Armitage / Richard III rumble, Week 13!”

  1. Love these executive summaries! They are so helpful to keep me in the frame of our discussion for a particular week–since I have read ahead. Thanks!


  2. I’m not even reading the book and i’m finding it interesting and useful.

    Incidentally, i looked into irish wolfhounds when we were about to adopt a dog last year and there seems to be an opinion that even in the last 30 years the lifespan has gone down considerably. I saw testimonials from people who used to have wolf hounds that got to more than 10 years and now even the predicted 7 is optimistic. Bone cancer is a huge problem and a theory that, in order to decrease the size of these dogs to make them more popular, it has become common practice to breed from the runts and this increases the likelihood of other defects. So, in short, i don’t think Penmans 14 years for Gareth is unrealistic.


    • Thanks for this and apologies for the long delay in replying. I don’t know anything about dogs, really — but this is interesting. I have to say I wouldn’t want a 150 lb animal living in my house …


  3. Wonderful as ever, Servetus!
    I very much like your reference to the implications, certain events have beyond the obvious consequences or just the mere historical fact. For example the perception of RIII leading the Scottish campaign and what it must have meant for the people of the time.


    • Yeah, especially given Edward’s reputation for military prowess it must have appeared very odd to people when he didn’t lead his own army … also because he was granted a subsidy to do so …


  4. […] Last week: TSIS, Book III, ch. 16-21. I had gotten ahead of myself by discussing George / Clarence’s death (ch. 16); here was more about that. The rest of the reading dealt with February, 1478, to Edward IV‘s death in April, 1483. In August, 1478 (ch. 17), the royal and the cadet branches of the governing family met at Middleham, especially their children. In July, 1480 (ch. 18), Richard’s sister, Margaret, dowager duchess of Burgundy, visited England for the first time in twelve years, and we learned the fates of the children of George / Clarence and John Neville. Edward and Cecily Neville tried to reconcile. In May 1482 (ch. 19), Richard returned from a border skirmish (ch. 19) and made ready to war on Scotland at head of Edward’s armies. In December 1482 (ch. 20), Edward was ailing and a treaty between France and Burgundy had altered the regional balance of power. In April, 1483 (ch. 21), Edward’s deathbed plans for a protectorate under Richard to cover the minority of the royal heir, Edward [V] and opposition to them among Elizabeth Woodville and her kin were revealed. Thomas Grey ran into and assaulted the grieving Jane Shore; Edward died with ominous last words. […]


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