Richard Armitage / Richard III rumble, Week 15!

Screen shot 2013-01-14 at 3.36.17 PMThe King Richard Armitage fan initiative made the Leicester news! And attracted a hundred further petition signatures. Sign it yourself, HERE!

Also at the fan initiative web page, CDoart ponders the significance of the bodily deformity aspect of the Richard III story and how it might be revised in light of the Leicester excavations.

Finally, she gives information about the schedule for the airing of the Channel 4 documentary on Richard III — the one that fans convinced the network to make. It will air on February 4th and 5th, 2013.


And now to the group read. As always, links to the Twitter and Facebook locations for discussions are included at the end of the post.

We’re nearing the end of the book, so I’m going to stop explaining who everyone is, as all of the major players have been introduced. Do click on the links to go to wikipedia if you’re ever confused.



[Left: The Stafford flag, emblem of the Duke, with eleven Stafford knots. The Stafford knot is one of the oldest heraldic motifs in England, with archaeological examples dating to at least the seventh century CE]

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.

BloodyTowerMain2[Right: Called the Garden Tower at the time, the location in the Tower precincts where Edward V stayed when he came to London. Source.]

This week: TSIS, Book IV, ch. 6-10 narrate the decisive month of June, 1483. First, Jack Howard informs Richard that Stillington has gone to Hastings with the Eleanor Butler story (ch. 6), while Richard tells him that the Woodvilles are conspiring with bishops Morton and Rotherham and Tom Stanley. The two identify Jane Shore, who’s sleeping with Will and hanging out with Thomas Grey in the Woodvilles’ Westminster sanctuary during the day, as a potential leak of information to Richard’s enemies. Richard writes to York, asking for military support against the conspiracy. Buckingham reminds Richard that he needs custody of Edward’s younger brother (Dickon) as well, if he is to stop the Woodville threat, and Richard realizes that as soon as he reveals the Woodville conspiracy, the Eleanor Butler story will come to light and he will be forced to act. One of Richard’s clients, William Catesby, informs him that the Woodville conspiracy extends to Will and Louis XI of France. Grey escapes sanctuary. Jane Shore admits that she’s the one who’s brought Will to the Woodvilles’ side (ch. 7), motivated by loyalty to the late king, her former lover; and also that she hadn’t considered the consequences of her actions, since she doesn’t love Will but rather Grey. The council meets, and Richard accuses both bishops and Will of treason; he orders Will’s execution, conceding only time for a last confession. Lovell tries to dissuade him even as Buckingham affirms the necessity of the action. Anne comforts Richard afterwards at Crosby Place.

Ludgate_Hollar[Left: An illustration of Ludgate around 1650. Prisoners were housed in the rooms above the gate; the structure was demolished in 1760. Source.]

After the council, we find Jane imprisoned at Ludgate (ch. 8), where she learns that she will be spared execution, but will have to walk through the London streets, doing public penance. Yes, she is flirting with Lynom, whom we’ll hear from again. When she does her penance, the crowds support her. Elizabeth Woodville and family remain in sanctuary (ch. 9), where we learn that Bess had resolved to alert Richard to her mother’s treasonable intent before she learned of Will’s execution. Receiving a delegation that reassures her of her family’s safety and insists that Dickon join his brother in the Tower, Elizabeth fatalistically predicts that Edward will never be crowned. Jack Howard tells Bess the Eleanor Butler story. Confronted by Bess and Cecily, Elizabeth admits the story is true. Back in council, Richard’s faction decides to imprison Rotherham and Morton, not to punish Stanley, and to execute Anthony Woodville and Grey. The result of all these events, the sermon that alerts Londoners that Edward IV‘s marriage was bigamous, the parliamentary request that Richard take the throne, and Richard’s acceptance of same (ch. 10), is anti-climactic in comparison to Anne’s annoyance at having to move from Crosby Place into Baynard’s Castle, her distaste at becoming queen, and her sorrow over her lack of issue. After his coronation, Richard goes to the Tower to visit the now set-aside Edward and Dickon, finding Dickon confused, and Edward full of rage.


King-edward-v[Right: an illustration of Edward V included in the first book printed with movable type in England, 1477]

This will have to be quick and dirty.

So, here we are, arrived in the home territory of the Ricardians — the issues upon which history, following Tudor historiographers, indicted Richard III. Given the extent to which most of Richard’s steps were predetermined, it’s easy to understand why a primary school of Shakespeare criticism sees the play, Richard III, as a discussion of the conflict between free will and fatalism. We noted last week that the initial turning point for Richard in responding to Edward IV’s unanticipated occurred at Stony Stratford. There he faced an unpleasant dilemma: leave Edward with Woodville and risk his own safety, or take custody of him as provided for in his brother’s will and alienate the boy and further anger the Woodville faction. Either way, the Woodvilles and their allies were ranged against him; it was simply a question of whether to grasp the initiative. Once he did, he had to find a way to hold them off, and to do so he had to neutralize the main party in the quarrel who was an unabashed supporter of Edward V — Will. The attack on Hastings (whose treason has never been proven or disproven — no evidence survives) also seems understandable, if cruel. Executing a noble without trial was, however, illegal, and there’s no way for a Ricardian to get around this state of affairs. Historians are divided on whether Richard planned this move — intentionally calling the York troops to London as part of a coup which he had planned to pursue since the date of the letter on June 10, a position that Penman’s story resists — or whether Will’s murder at the June 13 council meeting was a more unpremeditated move. In any case, Will’s murder meant that Richard no longer had any choice but to take the throne if he wished to survive. Once Will was dead and the pro-Woodville bishops on ice, Elizabeth had little choice but to give up her younger son, which happened June 16. On June 22, Shaa preached his sermon; Parliament petitioned Richard to take the throne on June 25 and he accepted it on June 26. The York army made it to London on July 2 and Richard and Anne were crowned July 6.

StPaul'sCross[Left: Old Paul’s Cross, where Jane did her penance, in a seventeenth-century illustration.]

As historian David Hipshon notes, at this point, anyway, the “total bodycount” of people mowed down on Richard’s path to the throne was four: Woodville, Grey, Vaughn, and Hastings. As we will learn soon, the princes, being the possible object of uprisings, would also have to go, but even so, that meant six deaths against the prospect of yet another civil war in England, one of the kind that had killed men in their hundreds and thousands defending the claims of Henry VI, Warwick, Edward IV, and Edward of Lancaster. Had Edward succeeded, Richard would certainly have ended up in the same position as his own late father and brothers had been in before Edward’s second accession. My own judgment: Richard was an efficient pragmatist with a tendency toward pride befitting his class and a readiness to be brutal, if I am not quite ready to call him an opportunist who’d always coveted the throne. He was good at understanding and defending his own interests, and at recognizing where they could be advanced and pursuing such advances in ways typical of his time. He had clearly governed the North effectively, and as (I hope) we will see, he was taking steps to put obstacles in the way of the extreme patronage / clientelist system that drove English politics at the time — even if such steps would have inevitably increased royal power, and thus improved his own position. (The Tudors after him did this as well — it was the only way to prevent constant political disruption in England.) It would have been hard for him to have survived the next five years of his reign, given the forces ranged against him at the time of his ascension. Still I doubt that the case against him would have persisted so long, however, had his reign not been so short and the victims not included two minor children and yet again his nephews. Medieval history would not have judged him as harshly for this as the changing mores of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with their discovery of childhood, were ready to do.

I find Penman somewhat less Ricardian on that point (the moral valences of Richard’s actions in ascending the throne) than on the whole question of the extreme credence she gives to the Eleanor Butler story, to making it the motivating engine of an entire swath of English history. The topic of Shaa’s sermon (that Edward IV had not been legitimate) was a rumor that had circulated much earlier and been used by Warwick in his revolts; but the story of Edward’s precontract has no documented written or oral source earlier than Titulus Regius in 1484. Most historians nowadays see it as a pretext or a publication relations move on the part of Richard’s camp (not discounting the possibility that he may have believed it, and that those observers familiar with Edward’s womanizing or the looseness with which the English aristocracy seemed to play with canon law in expectation of purchasing papal dispensations might have been persuadable on that line).

Some additional notes:

  • Contrast the scene of the council and Will’s murder with Shakespeare’s Richard III, Act III, Scene iv, which is the primary literary account with which any author would have to compete on this account.
  • Catesby, while one of Richard’s most important supporters, is mostly known to us today as one of the subjects of this witticism.
  • Note Penman setting us up for some kind of encounter between Richard and his niece Bess.

And a question I ask myself after reading this chapter for the third time:

Does Penman’s clear defense of Richard III really strike a fundamental dramatic chord? We get a more balanced, sympathetic picture of Richard based on her historical reading. But do we get the same sense of a tortured anti-hero that we do from Shakespeare? To me, where Shakespeare’s Richard is often seen snarling in the teeth of ill fortune and attempting to turn it to his advantage, Penman’s Richard ends up being more of a victim.


See you next week for TSIS, Book IV, ch. 11-15.


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 29, 2013.

5 Responses to “Richard Armitage / Richard III rumble, Week 15!”

  1. Great recap and insights! Thanks!


  2. Youre right about him coming off as a victim He wins in battle but his weakness lies in politics, understanding relationships and being patient with delegation of those.


    • Yes — and those are flaws, but Penman really wants us to feel sorry for him. It’s hard for me ever to feel sorry for a historical actor, but especially not for one with that much privilege.


  3. […] Last week: TSIS, Book IV, ch. 6-10 covered June, 1483. Stillington spread the Eleanor Butler story further and a conspiracy surfaced involving the Woodvilles as well as Morton and Rotherham and Tom Stanley, with Jane Shore serving as messenger to Will Hastings. Richard asked York for military support against them. Jane pondered her decision to push Will toward the Woodvilles (ch. 7). At a council meeting, Richard ordered Will executed for treason, with Buckingham‘s support. Afterwards, Jane was jailed at Ludgate (ch. 8), flirted with her prosecutor, and did penance at St Paul’s Cross. Elizabeth Woodville and family remained in sanctuary (ch. 9), but Bess was no longer completely on the Woodville side. Dickon went to the Tower to be with his brother and Elizabeth admitted to Bess that the Eleanor Butler story was true. Richard’s council decided to treat Rotherham and Morton and Stanley leniently but to execute Anthony Woodville and Thomas Grey. Richard was crowned, Anne was upset about everything, and Edward V hated his uncle (ch. 10). […]


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