Richard Armitage / Richard III rumble, Week 14

[Sorry this comes so late. You’d think one would be stress free at work on a national holiday, but this was one of the most unpleasant days of my entire sojourn here so far. I apologize for the lack of pix and hope you don’t hate me.]

Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 2.45.02 PM***

First, while we await the release of the conclusions about the remains found in Leicester, catch up on various press updates via the homepage of the initiative to realize Richard Armitage’s Richard III ambitions, here. There’s a nice article on images of Richard there, as well as a link to a new report on Canadian television, “Old Bones,” that’s worth a view.

And sign the petition in support of Armitage’s ambitions, here!


Check this out (here I’m linking to my earlier reblog to make sure everyone sees it): a new fan of Richard Armitage attracted via The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey gets excited about the Richard III possibilities.


Screen shot 2013-01-21 at 2.41.12 PM [Left: Last week’s survey results. They are inexplicably amusing to me.]

Yes, they did have sex in the middle ages, or at least they had weddings.

This week, in Plantagenet history: Sharon Kay Penman’s FB page notes some wedding anniversaries:

On January 15, 1478, Edward IV’s second son, Richard (the Dickon mentioned in TSIS, Book III, ch. 17, and younger brother of the future Edward V) married the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk (they were both about five years old; she died in 1481, and he disappeared in the Tower in 1483). They probably didn’t have sex.

And on January 18, 1486, Henry VII married Elizabeth of York (Penman’s Bess). They did.


And now to the group read. As always, links to the Twitter and FB opportunities to chat are found at the end of this article. We’re back to five chapters per week and continuing on Monday evenings.


66451076[Right: the current appearance of the inn at Stony Stratford where Edward V is supposed to have spent his last night out of his uncle’s custody. Source.]

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.


[Left: Thirteenth-century West front of Wells Cathedral, the episcopal seat of the Bishop of Bath and Wells. Source.]

This week: TSIS, Book IV, ch. 1-5, covers the fateful months of April, May, and June, 1483, with a lot of plot devoted to explaining who lines up where after Edward’s death — which the reader knows about before Richard learns of it. A feast (ch.1) lets Anne explain the political configuration of the English North, where the Earl of Northumberland dislikes Richard. Penman sets us up here for Northumberland’s inactivity at Bosworth — usually a factor in the explanation of Richard’s defeat. The party’s interrupted when Richard receives a condolence letter from Will Hastings, who had accompanied him and Edward into exile and was Edward’s Lord Chamberlain, warning Richard to get to London (ch.1). Véronique and Francis Lovell are still together; Richard is angry that Elizabeth Woodville didn’t notify him herself. Still in April (ch. 2), Will sends a second letter, warning of the Woodville’s further steps to exclude Richard. Anne ponders the problems as Richard decides not to travel with a large army, solicits oaths of allegiance to the new king, has requiem masses said for the old one, and receives support from Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham and an offer of a meeting from Anthony Woodville, also an ally from the exile days but now governor of Edward V’s household. (Note another plot set up here — Buckingham appears here for the first time in the book and is perhaps the main chief alternative candidate for “murderer of the two princes.”) Richard begins his journey south. A missed rendezvous signals the Woodvilles’ fear that Richard intends to seize Edward V. Richard also counts his own allies, adding Jack Howard to the list. Buckingham finds Richard in Northampton and reports: Edward IV buried, Elizabeth’s brother and son given important positions, the laying aside of Edward’s will in favor of a council, and notice of an army behind Anthony Woodville, 2,000 strong, bringing Edward V to London. Richard decides to follow Will’s advice — take custody of Edward V and get to London. In bed, Anthony Woodville ponders the same questions, worries Elizabeth is too eager to settle old scores, wonders what will happen if Richard and Will Hastings get together, and calculates that accommodating Richard’s protectorate would have been safer for Edward V, who is unlikely to be much swayed by Richard’s influence. His brother, Dick, has ridden to him to urge them to flee for London early, but in the middle of the night, Anthony witnesses the entrance of Richard’s and Buckingham’s men into Stony Stratford. Edward, forced to meet with Richard and Buckingham, is not informed of the full political circumstances, but feels torn between the desire to obey his father’s plans and his loyalty to his uncle, Anthony. Richard arrests Anthony and his supporters and dismisses their army. Richard tries to explain to Edward, but the boy rejects him.

Dio_Bath_Wells_arms[Right: the coat of arms of the Bishop of Bath and Wells.]

In May, 1483 (ch. 3), Bess and Cecily watching their mother frantically move the family into sanctuary in Westminster as Richard and Buckingham march toward London with Edward V. Elizabeth and Bess fight. Edward; Richard and Buckingham enter London; Edward lodges in the Bishop’s Palace. Richard meets Will and notes that Elizabeth’s retreat means that Edward will never trust him. Hastings and Buckingham fight over whether the archbishop of York and chancellor, Rotherham, can be trusted. Still in May, 1483 (ch. 4), Richard decides at first against charging the Woodvilles and their party with treason despite evidence they were preparing for it; Edward has been moved to the royal residence in the Tower of London, and Penman builds her case that Edward will never trust Richard or believe he’s acting in England’s interest. Will uses private time to argue Richard out of rewarding Buckingham, and the two quarrel. In bed with Anne, Richard notes that Edward Woodville has stolen the late Edward’s treasury; and that Elizabeth is still in sanctuary and refusing to come out unless her relatives receive seats on a regency council. Richard concedes that he doesn’t have the political skills his brother had. Finally, we reach June, 1483, where we turn surprisingly to George’s son Edward (ch. 5) — he’s just been taken into Richard and Anne’s custody. Richard and Anne are surprised in flagrante by Buckingham, Lovell, and –wait for it– Robert Stilington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, with the news of the Eleanor Butler story and urges Richard to take the crown himself. Richard doesn’t want to accept this responsibility, but is persuaded by Anne’s warnings of what could happen to them and their son if he doesn’t, especially once Edward V attains majority. At the end, Richard admits that he also wants to be king.


Jerusalem Chamber looking south, Westminster Abbey[Left: The Jerusalem Chamber of the abbot’s dwelling at Westminster Abbey, where Penman locates Elizabeth Woodville’s flight to sanctuary. Source.]

So, that was a lot of plot, with more detail than I usually give you. What does it mean?

Part of it is Penman giving us a chance to assimilate the names and attitudes of the roughly dozen characters who played important, if partial roles, in the outcome of the summer of 1483, in which Edward V was set aside and Richard III assumed the English throne by act of Parliament. Part of what makes the case for or against Richard as villain in the episode around his coup d’état so difficult to assess is the huge number of independent variables that had to come together that summer to make it possible, and Penman’s trying to give us as much insight as a non-specialist can bear. If Richard was a villain, he was aided by the ruthless pursuit of self-interest on the part of numerous other parties to the incident, in particular Will Hastings and Buckingham, as well as the political failure of others, in particular Anthony and Elizabeth Woodville.

The other thing that seems obvious is Penman’s attempt to give evidence for rational justifications about why Richard might have thought he had to take the crown. In doing so, she consistently downplays evidence of his willingness to thin the ranks of his enemies preemptively; for instance, Woodville, Grey and Vaughan were imprisoned at Pontefract right after their arrest at Stony Stratford, and Richard petitioned for their execution for treason well before he had taken the crown; his request was simply refused by the royal council. In the end, though, even Penman concedes that no one would ever have done such a thing who didn’t “want” to. And Richard had lived among ambitious men since his very earliest childhood. Though Penman paints Richard, following the contemporary account of Mancini, as motivated by rage toward Elizabeth over the execution of George, this argument is problematic insofar as the rush to crown Edward V tends to suggest that the Woodvilles did have ambitions of their own that Richard would have been silly to ignore. Events in his brother’s reign had brought him closer and closer to the throne; in the later years of his reign, Edward was less automatically trusting than he had been in the earlier ones, and possibly one reason Edward did not let George’s son be fostered by Richard and Anne was the boy’s precedence to Richard in the succession (he had not been attainted for treason and disqualified). Historians these days have tended to conclude that both things were true about Richard: he was both compelled by circumstance and ambitious. Of course, even if his greatest ambition had lain in remaining duke of Gloucester, he was left without many options to do so as long as Edward V lived and the Woodvilles’ influence with the boy king persisted. At the same time: no one becomes king in this way who doesn’t harbor significant personal ambition, whether or not it is politic for him to say so.

The first problem — and because magnate politics guaranteed or endangered the stability of the realm, it was a potential problem for England as well as for Richard — was the question of what the Woodvilles might do if left with the young king in their hands and the power to reign through him at least during a three-year minority and possibly longer. Woodville attempts to rush the coronation must have confirmed what Richard had seen as their hostility to him. Moreover, they counted as a “new” magnate family (Elizabeth’s father was a knight created baron by Henry VI), and as we’ve known since the beginning of the book, had been resented by “old” magnates like the Nevilles / Warwicks / Yorks at least since Elizabeth’s marriage to Edward, which she used, with his cooperation, to further her family’s penetration into England’s nobility. Although it was permissible for old families to engage in the rapine of the day, as we saw with Anne and Richard’s landgrab after their marriage, they resented newcomers who attempted to do the same. Richard’s position was tremendously complicated; the term of his Parliament-approved seizure of the Neville estates (which I discussed here) had expired with the death of their ward, John Neville’s son, George, and was threatening to pass to George’s heir if not renewed. It seemed likely that Richard could thus be deprived of a large part of his incomes. How would anyone respond in this situation?

The second problem thus stemmed from the first — if the Woodvilles attempted to advance their own causes at the expense of other noble families, what would others do in reaction or response? They had been seen as willing to ride roughshod over what other families saw as their prerogatives, and Richard’s precarious position was only one instance of the way that this problem could have intensified. Buckingham’s immediate resort to Richard’s ranks in this part of the story is also explained by this issue. Buckingham, Richard’s first cousin and Anne’s second, was also a royal duke who’d been in his own view disadvantaged by the Woodvilles — first, by being forced as a child to marry Elizabeth’s younger sister (which prevented him from seeking a more status-appropriate or advantageous match) and then by being prevented from obtaining a piece of inheritance he thought his by right. In light of this sort of problem, the Croyland continuator notes that the deceased king’s councillors felt that the new king should not stand under supervision of his mother’s family.

In all of this, Hastings was the wild card, and a surprisingly unreflective one, it seems from our perspective today. On the one hand, he was also “new” nobility; on the other hand, unlike the Woodvilles, he could not hope to challenge anyone’s claim to the throne. His main likely ambition was probably to continue as Lord Chamberlain under the new king, a position in which he controlled much of a developing state bureaucracy. His main problem in continuing in his office lay in conflicts with the Woodvilles — with Anthony Woodville over the possession of the office of Captain of Calais, and with Thomas Grey over women. In that sense, Richard would have realized, Hastings’ interests lay with Woodvilles more than with him. Now, Penman has Hastings inform Richard of Edward IV’s death, probably in light of the Croyland continuator’s implication that Hastings would have wanted Richard to come to London quickly, and his statement that Richard and Buckingham were the men “in whom he placed the greatest confidence.” Even so, Hastings stood to gain more from resolving his problems with the Woodvilles than from allying with Richard, unless Richard were king; and Hastings was in conflict with Buckingham, Richard’s biggest supporter, over some property in the north Midlands. Penman makes that much clear — that Buckingham and Hastings don’t get along; what’s not yet so obvious to the reader from her narrative — because we don’t have a sense of what exactly Hastings’ position is — is the extent to which it would have lain in Richard’s interest to prevent Hastings from allying with the Woodvilles. How this played out for Hastings, of course, we will see very soon.

We’ll eventually have more data upon which to judge Richard’s case, for any who are interested in doing that — I am not, but Penman is, and it may be worthwhile asking, as I will in a subsequent episode, what Richard’s views of government and kingship likely were. From this point in the story, it seems helpful to note that — and the fact that Armitage has been quoted in ways that suggest that he knows this makes me like him as a candidate for the role — the possibility of Richard’s attempt at the throne was only created by Edward IV’s sudden death at a still relatively young age. Had Edward lived even three more years, his son would have succeeded, and the entire question would likely have been moot. Furthermore, Richard was in an impossible position at Stony Stratford. Had he let Edward proceed to London with Anthony Woodville, he would have been in great danger; by preventing this from happening, however, he completely alienated his nephew and set himself on a path to having to neutralize him, even if he wanted to maintain his own position.

In this light, one further question we might ask about Penman’s book is why the character of Edward V is drawn in such a relatively flat way. He expresses essentially only one emotion — resentment toward his uncle. On one hand, this stance advances Penman’s case that setting himself through as Protector was not enough for Richard in the long term, because Edward V was reasonably like to succeed in three years, and would take his revenge then at the latest over the humiliation to his relatives from the incident at Stony Stratford, had the Woodvilles not managed to do so before. More significantly, however, Penman takes her portrayal of the boy king fairly strictly from the literature, here following Mancini. As historian David Hipshon has noted, the only recorded words of Edward V proved “a death sentence,” as he expressed loyalty to his mother’s family. Also following Mancini, here, Penman’s Buckingham hardly makes friends with Edward by impugning his mother’s right to govern, government not being women’s business. The Croyland continuator concurred with Mancini, making this piece of the puzzle relatively reliable.

And finally — I’ve always wondered what could have possibly motivated Robert Stillington in this story, who has seemed like a loose cannon all along. That we know it was Stillington at all who had custody of the rumor is due only to Commynes, who says not only that Stillington is the source of the information about Eleanor Butler, but that he was present:

[Richard III] had the two daughters of Edward degraded and declared illegitimate on the ground furnished by the bishop of Bath in England. The bishop had previously enjoyed great credit with King Edward, who had then dismissed and imprisoned him before ransoming him for a sum of money. The bishop said that King Edward had promised to marry an English lady (whom he named) because he was in love with her, in order to get his own way with her, and that he had made this promise in the bishop’s presence. And having done so he slept with her; and he made the promise only to deceive her. Nevertheless such games are very dangerous, as the consequences show. I have known many courtiers who, if such good fortune had befallen them, would not have lost it for want of a promise. This wicked bishop kept thoughts of revenge in his heart for, perhaps, twenty years.

Now, Penman drastically overstates the significance of the role of this incident in motivating Richard, probably based on a reading back of the content of Titulus Regius (as we’ve discussed, the first source to discuss the events in question) on to earlier events. Richard had way more than enough reasons to set aside his nephews simply seen from the perspective of his own interests. Stories about the illegitimacy of Edward IV and his children were more of an excuse or a matter for moving public opinion than a reason for Richard to take the throne.

I have to stop now; I’m sorry.


See you next week for TSIS, Book IV, ch. 6-10.


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 22, 2013.

4 Responses to “Richard Armitage / Richard III rumble, Week 14”

  1. Thanks for another great summary and insightful analysis!


  2. Your explanations are great, Servetus! I very much like the multi-reasons and the explanation of the defensive position Richard III was in, when all the things were started with the sudden death of Edward IV.


  3. You are both very welcome. Apologies that I didn’t get to finish the post.

    One thing that I continue to be surprised about is how the Ricardians have essentially assimilated all of the terms of discussion of the people they are arguing against — instead of saying, let’s ask some different questions about this material.


  4. […] Last week: TSIS, Book IV, ch. 1-5, covered April, May, and June, 1483. At a feast (ch.1), Anne sketched the northern English political world before Richard learned of Edward’s death from Will Hastings. While still in York (ch. 2), Richard thought about how to protect himself against the gathering threat of the Woodvilles and gained Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham as ally before journeying south to take custody of his nephew, Edward [V], from Anthony Woodville. His options limited in light of events encountered there, Richard assumed control of Edward at Stony Stratford, arrested Woodville, and proceeded to London, but alienated his nephew in the process. In May, 1483 (ch. 3), the late king’s family went into sanctuary at Westminster Abbey as Richard and Edward entered London and Hastings and Buckingham revealed their rivalry. Richard dealt with the situation there (ch. 4), moving the still angry Edward to the Tower of London, considered an appropriate lodging for the monarch about to be crowned, quarreling with Will over Buckingham, and bemoaning his own lack of political skill. Finally, in June, 1483 (ch. 5), we met George’s son Edward, just before Buckingham, Lovell, and Robert Stillington alerted Richard to the Eleanor Butler story and urged Richard to take the crown. A reluctant Richard, afraid of what might happen to his family, admitted he wanted to be king. […]


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