Richard Armitage / Richard III rumble, Week 16!

facebook_19292[Left: forwarded by obscura]


Back to the Richard III rumble — the book is getting closer and closer to finished!

Via her FB page, Sharon Kay Penman reminds readers that February 2 was the anniversary of the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, which she describes in TSIS, ch. 4. Shortly beforehand, Edward [soon to be IV] saw a parhelion (non-scientists call this effect a sun dog) and interpreted it as a symbol of the Holy Trinity, which heartened his troops. When he won, he took the emblem of the Sunne in Splendour as his emblem — and centuries later, gave Penman the title for her book.


Screen shot 2013-02-04 at 2.24.33 PM


This interesting tale is usually mentioned as dramatized by Shakespeare in Henry VI, Part 3, but its original source is a manuscript that historians usually call the “English Chronicle,” composed by a well-informed Yorkist sympathizer after March 4, 1461, but before May 22, 1471. Shakespeare probably read it in an early edition made by English printer William Caxton in 1480.  You can read a critical edition of the entire chronicle and its history in a nineteenth-century edition made by J.S. Davies, here. Above you find the relevant excerpt. Here’s my rough paraphrase into our English:

The third day of February of the same year [1461], Edward, the noble Earl of March, fought with the Welsh near Wigmore in Wales, whose captains were the Earl of Pembroke and the Earl of Wilshire, who wanted to destroy the said Earl of March completely. And the Monday before the day of battle, that is to say, on the Feast of the Purification of our Blessed Lady, about 10 a.m., were seen three suns in the sky, shining very clearly, at which the people marveled greatly, and were aghast. The noble Earl Edward comforted them and said, “Be of good comfort and dread not; this is a good sign, for these three signs represent the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and so let us have a good heart, and go against our enemies in the name of Almighty G-d.” And so by [G-d’s] grace, [Edward] had victory over his enemies, and put the two earls to flight and slew about four thousand Welshmen.

Something that’s interesting about this — we’ll see in a little while that another “sun event” is said by contemporaries to have had a specific effect on the fate of one of our major protagonist in all of this.


And now on to the group read. As always, links to the Twitter and Facebook events are found at the end of this post.


Minster_Lovell_Hall,[Left: Minster Lovell Hall, where Richard visited Francis in ch. 11. It fell into the hands of Henry VII’s uncle, Jasper, after the Battle of Bosworth, which resulted in Francis being attainted. Source.]

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).

Henry7England[Right: Henry Tudor, later Henry VII. Source.]

This week: TSIS, Book IV, ch. 11-15 treat July, 1483 to October, 1483. We open at Minster Lovell (ch. 11), with Francis preparing for Richard’s visit on a royal progress. Thomas Lynom has written to Richard asking to marry Jane — and Richard consents. In the wake of this cheery episode, Buckingham arrives at Minster Lovell to tell Richard that his nephews are missing, apparently kidnapped from the Garden Tower. Penman has Richard draft a letter directing an investigation, but Buckingham urges Richard not to let the affair become public immediately. In September, 1483, (ch. 12), we witness the coronation of Edward of Middleham as Prince of Wales and the child’s view of the festivities in honor of his elevation and the knighting of his half-brother John and cousin, Edward (George’s son). From Lincoln in October, 1483 (ch. 13), Lovell recounts the stations of Richard’s royal progress, noting favorable responses from the different cities visited and friendly overtures from foreign nations — with the fateful exception of Brittany, where the next Lancastrian royal hopeful, Henry Tudor, was being sheltered, but whose duke was interested in using him as a poker chip between England and France. The princes have still not been found. Francis ponders his lack of affection for his wife, and her childlessness as well, wondering whether he could be the responsible party. Into his thoughts breaks news that Buckingham is leading a rebellion against the crown on behalf of Henry Tudor. Penman uses Francis to present her theory: that Buckingham’s behind the princes’ disappearance. Richard realizes with grief that the boys must be dead. Still in October (ch. 14), Bess ponders her situation, decides that it’s all her mother’s fault, and lets the reader learn more about the latest Woodville plot. She’s informed by her mother’s doctor that she’s to be betrothed to Henry as part of the plan, and that her brothers are dead. Elizabeth reveals that she doesn’t believe the boys are dead, and that although both Tudor and Buckingham have reasons to want the princes dead, she believes that the two rebels will cooperate only long enough to eliminate Richard and then turn on each other. At Weobley (ch. 15), Buckingham ponders his many setbacks, including Tudor’s non-arrival and the failure of supporting revolts to materialize, and admits to having the boys killed — all the while dreading having to face Richard’s armies.


York_Minster_close[Left: York Minster, where Richard III might have contemplated his original burial, but will not be reburied. Source.]

Apologies for the quick and dirty again — I’m catching cold.

  • Richard’s royal progress. The progress (or entry) was a ancient and medieval ritual by which a monarch made a tour through numerous cities in his realm in order to display his power and to allow the citizens of different urban communes to demonstrate their fealty. The ritual fell out of usage by the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the state begins asserting its power through an increasingly efficient bureaucracy rather than via the impressiveness of its visual symbols and iconography. These are also the occasions that gave rise to some of our most important sources about Anne and Richard, the biographical roll associated with John Rous. But what’s interesting (as with Penman’s choice not to discuss the coronation, which is odd because it’s one of the points that gives us some firm data about Anne Neville — surviving sources record elements of the ritual and what Anne wore) is that Penman doesn’t explore this theme much more closely. On this progress, Richard made many of the promises that later contributed to his reputation as a fair, impartial king who sought to maintain law and order, end his brother’s disastrous fiscal excesses, and reign in the power of the magnates over against the towns and commoners. Instead, Penman skips over these themes and weakens her case for Richard’s virtue or even her insistence that he was a moralist. A surviving letter from Thomas Langton to a friend, quoted by David Hipshon, notes of this time:
  • [Richard] contents the people where he goes best that ever did Prince, for many a poor man that hath suffered wrong many days hath been relieved and helped by him and his commands in his progress. And in many great cities and towns were great sums of money given him which he refused. On my troth I liked never the conditions of any prince so well as his; God hath sent him to us for the weal of us all (Death of Chivalry, loc 4040-4042).

  • Second, Edward of Middleham’s elevation to Prince of Wales. Interestingly, this is the first surviving source to mention Richard’s bastard, John of Gloucester. By this time, as well, Thomas More reports that Edward was betrothed to Buckingham’s daughter, all of which would come to nothing very shortly, of course. This is another event for which extensive evidence survives due to the condition of the York city records; Richard made extensive promises to the city and lavish religious foundations which were begun but, however, never finished or paid for. It is on this basis that some current partisans in the burial debate believe that Richard’s mortal remains should be buried in York Minster.
  • John Nesfield — although Penman’s Bess doesn’t realize it, according to the Croyland continuator, Nesfield was there to make sure that she and her sisters could not escape and thus enter marriages that would give rise to further political ambitions and rebellions on the parts of their partners.
  • Buckingham’s rebellion, Elizabeth’s motivation, and Bess’ stance — Penman does quite well here on the first two; Buckingham had a strong claim to the throne (if not as strong as either Richard or Henry). I meant to look up what Rosemary Horrox has to say about this in light of her concerns about clientelism, but the book is at home and I’m at work — I can talk about it more next week, when Buckingham’s head will roll. Elizabeth would have had no reason to support Buckingham or Tudor had she believed her sons dead. However, here we are getting some serious whitewashing with regard to Bess, the future wife of Henry VII. All of the same questions we’ve asked about Anne and her motivation for marrying Richard should be asked, mutatis mutandis, about her.

And so, to the princes.

It’s an interesting question to ask: by what point is the elimination of the princes unavoidable? In July, 1483, gentry supporters from Edward IV’s household attempted to remove the princes from the Tower; by this point at the latest, it was clear they constituted a concrete ongoing problem to Richard’s control of the realm. Real Ricardians know this material better than I do, but here’s a brief summary.

Traditionally, there have been four serious suspects:

  • James Tyrell. He was a member of Richard III’s household, possibly eager for advancement against favorites Catesby and Ratcliffe. The primary evidence for this theory comes from Tudor humanist Thomas More, who claims that Tyrell confessed to the murders when being tortured in light of treason charges made when he supported Edmund de la Pole in rebellion against Henry VII in support of the pretender Pekin Warbeck in 1501. Tyrell was executed in 1502. Tyrell was unable to locate the bodies, according to More: “Very trouthe is it & well knowen, that at such time as syr Iames Tirell was in the Tower, for Treason committed agaynste the moste famous prince king Henry the seuenth, bothe Dighton an he were examined, & confessed the murther in maner aboue writen, but whither the bodies were remoued thei could nothing tel.”
  • Henry Tudor, later Henry VII. This is a strained argument, but made in the late nineteenth century by a historian whose name I forget at the moment. As all of the sources agree that the princes were missing by the end of 1483 at the latest, this would have been hard for him to accomplish, since Henry was hanging in out in Brittany and didn’t make it back on to dry land in England until 1485. There’s some source support for the possibility that his mother, Margaret Beaufort, had it done at his behest, since, as Polydore Vergil pointed out, she was the one who was pushing the marriage between Henry VII and Penman’s Bess, “And she, being a wyse woman, after the slaughter of king Edwardes children was knowen, began to hope well of hir soones fortune”.
  • Buckingham. This is Paul Murray Kendall‘s candidate, and he certainly had motive, means and opportunity; he could have done it either independently, at the behest of Richard, or at the behest of Henry Tudor. Penman also likes him for it as well. Two sources have been discovered recently that support this explanation: a fifteenth-century diplomatic report by a government secretary found in the Portuguese archives (Codice 443 da Coleccao Pombalina da B.N.L.) and a manuscript source in England (College of Arms Collection, Queen Victoria Street, London, manuscript MS 2M6) that dates from the sixteenth century. For this charge to be true the boys would have had to have been dead by October, 1483, because that’s when Buckingham lost his head.
  • and, of course, Richard III. This was Henry VII’s explanation; it became the position of the Tudor historiographers, especially Holinshed, by which path it became Shakespeare’s explanation. And, although I know a lot of people won’t like it, in the absence of better evidence, it remains the most responsible standard explanation aside from the possibility that they simply died of illness. (The position that they survived, for a time or longer, or that Pekin Warbeck really was Edward V’s younger brother is simply not credible.) Richard had the most to gain by it and the most means and opportunity. This doesn’t mean that we have to hate him for it, incidentally. Just that the best evidence remains in favor of his agency here.

It’s funny to note that there are candidates for the skeletons of the two princes, which are currently interred; the royal family has, however, consistently refused requests to subject them to the sort of DNA analysis used to prove Richard III’s identity.

Sorry this is so short, but my throat is starting to seriously bother me. Apologies for that split infinitive.


Next week: TSIS, Book IV, ch. 16-20. See you then.


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 February 5, 2013.

10 Responses to “Richard Armitage / Richard III rumble, Week 16!”

  1. Great analysis! My money is on Buckingham as the culprit.

    Sorry to hear about your cold. I’m fighting one, too. Try Halls Lemon/Honey menthol cough drops–very soothing on the throat and clears out the sinuses. They even have a sugar free version–which is what I use. Snap!


  2. I have no idea who dunnit but it’s very interesting to see the suspects all lined up. It would be wonderful if the remains found in earlier excavations of the tower could now be DNA tested – we would be no further on in terms of the murderer but we would at least know definitively whether both boys did die in the tower.

    Thanks for this Servetus – and hoping the sore throat gets better quickly.


    • The pedant in me feels forced to note that even if they were buried there they could have died elsewhere. However, it would be nice for them to be identified. I always feel terrible when I see world war battlefields with unidentified soldiers buried in them.


  3. I hope you feel better soon. I suspect the recent stressors paved the way for a viral invasion. Fight back, rally the resistance with chicken soup, toddies, and the rest of the arsenal.

    This is an excellent summation — thanks for explaining it all so well, especially for those who aren’t history majors. It occurred to me that the two boys could have died of natural causes (as many did), but Buckingham would have motive for suggesting concealment, where Richard would not.


    • Yeah, this has been weeks coming. I somehow managed to get my period, which was delayed, along with the flu. I think the body was saying, okay, I held out as long as I could and now you pay me back.

      Could they have just died of sickness? Yes. Especially as it was the summer, and sweating sickness was a regular occurrence in England in that period. The major reasoning impeding that explanation, I suppose, is that in that case there would have been witnesses to attest to the veracity or falsehood of the public statement which certainly would have been made.

      Thanks for the nice words about the explanation. I find a lot of the reading about this overly complicated myself (and i do this for a living …)


      • I hope you’re recovering well and completely.

        Hmm. At that time, I’m not sure witness statements would have been made or their veracity ascertained. Look at how long it took Stillington to come forward, at the kind of accusations made by George Duke of Clarence, as just two examples. Anyone charged with the boys’ care might be in fear that they would be charged with a crime, even if they had done nothing wrong.


        • Well, we haven’t established that Stilington actually did come forward with that story — its first reported source is 1484. That Stilington’s revelation of this material to George was the reason for George’s execution is claimed, afaik, only by Kendall, who has no source beyond (iirc) the Croyland continuator saying that Elizabeth Woodville had it in for George, which is hardly a direct proof. As I said in a previous post in this serious, I agree with most historians today, who diagnose it as regime propaganda, not as fact or event.

          That said, what’s suspicious for Richard is that he doesn’t make the deaths public either immediately or ever. Should the boys have died of illness, this would not have been difficult — Richard would have had the bodies and they could have been buried with the necessary honors. People (their personal attendants, who were appointed by Richard) would have attested to the course of the illness and its end. A physician was among those charged with their care. Moreover, they would not have had a reason to fear because multiple people would have witnessed these deaths — as was common for all kinds of political and religious reasons in late medieval Europe. They could have corroborated each other’s stories. I just don’t see that there would have been any reason to hide such a death had it happened in that way. To me, the only really plausible argument that they died of illness would be that they did so essentially after it didn’t matter any more — and their deaths were not reported because no one cared. It’s possible, I suppose — although it depends a lot on how ruthless one thinks Elizabeth Woodville really was.


  4. […] Last week in TSIS Book 4, Ch. 11-15 in Penman’s fictionalized account, Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham admits to killing the boys in the tower for his own kingly ambitions: […]


  5. […] Last week: TSIS, Book IV, ch. 11-15 treated July-October, 1483. At Minster Lovell (ch. 11), Francis prepared for Richard’s visit on a royal progress; Richard consented to Thomas Lynom’s marriage to Jane Shore. Buckingham informed Richard that his nephews were missing from the Tower. In September, 1483, (ch. 12), Edward of Middleham was created Prince of Wales and his half-brother John and cousin, Edward (George’s son) were knighted. From Lincoln in October, 1483 (ch. 13), Lovell recounted Richard’s royal progress, noting that the next Lancastrian royal hopeful, Henry Tudor, was lurking in Brittany. The princes were still missing; news came of Buckingham’s rebellion in favor of Tudor. Still in October (ch. 14), Bess pondered her situation, learned that the rebellion would demand her betrothal to Tudor, and heard the rumor her brothers were dead, as Elizabeth Woodville explained that she supported the rebellion to get Tudor and Buckingham to destroy each other. At Weobley (ch. 15), we learned of the failure of the rebellion to catch as Buckingham pondered his many setbacks and admitted his role in the destruction of the princes while awaiting Richard’s armies. […]


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