Children in the Wood, The (The Babes in the Woods) [Laws Q34] --- Part 02
DESCRIPTION: Continuation of the notes to "The Children in the Wood (The Babes in the Woods)" [Laws Q34]. Entry continues in "The Children in the Wood, The (The Babes in the Woods) [Laws Q34]" --- Part 03 (File Number LQ34B)
Last updated in version 4.1
NOTES [13984 words]: SPECULATIONS ABOUT THE ORIGIN OF THE SONG
This song is well enough known that it may have inspired various literary references. In Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies (1863), for instance, we read that young Tom would have been trapped in the rhododendrons "till the cock-robins covered him with leaves" (about two-thirds of the way through the first chapter; p. 22 in the Wordsworth Classics edition). The other possible explanation for this, however, is a legend of Jesus's flight into Egypt. Herod and his men are after Jesus, and looking for signs of where he went. Mary, in the legend, cut herself on thorns and was bleeding. The robin dragged leaves over the blood so as to hide the trail -- and thus became blessed (O hOgain, p. 36). Alexander, p. 234, has a variant in which the robins covered the body of Jesus after it was taken down from the cross. If either version of this legend underlies the song, it obviously emphasizes the innocence -- perhaps even the holiness -- of the murdered children.
The story of the Princes in the Tower isn't the only possible explanation for the song. Various sources for this legend have been mentioned. The Baring-Goulds cite an abandonment that took place at Wayland in Norfolk, but offer no names or dates. Based on the notes in the Opies, this is apparently based on an item licensed in 1595 entitled "The Norfolk gent his will and Testament and howe he Commytted the keepinge of his Children to his owne brother whoe delte most wickedly with them and howe God plagued him for it."
Interestingly, the story of the robin (and the wren) covering the dead with leaves goes back to about this same time; there is a hint of it in Shakespeare's Cymbeline, IV.ii (lines 224-227 in the Riverside Shakespeare second edition; p. 1595). Webster's "White Devil" of 1612 is even more explicit, saying that the robin and wren "with leaves and flowers doe cover The friendlesse bodies of unburied men" (Opie/Tatem, p. 329).
Percy, who contributed materially to the popularity of the piece, knew of no relevant legends, but mentioned a play of 1601 on the same theme. Briggs, volume A.2, p. 391, describes what appears to be the same item: "An Elizabethan play, Two Tragedies in One (Yarington), was written about 'The Babes in the Wood' but without the incident of the robins." Briggs, however, offers no historical parallels to the song, which probably means that she does not believe there are any.
Kathleen Lines, in the notes to the 1972 booklet illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, alludes to the 1601 play as "the second of Two Lamentable Tragedies," which is set in Italy, in which the father is Pisaurus, the uncle Androgus, the boy Cassander, and the girl Kate or Jane. (A truly odd collection of names, that, the men being classical and the girl having an English name.)
Garnett and Gosse, volume I, p. 307, mentions that "The Babes in the Wood is conjectured, though doubtfully, to have been a veiled allegory of the murder of the young princes in the Tower." Percy/Wheatley, volume III, p. 170, says, "Sharon Turner and Miss Halsted favored the rather untenable opinion that the wicked uncle was intended to represent Richard III.... urner wrote in his History of England, 'I have sometimes fancied that the popular ballad may have been written at this time on Richard and his nephews before it was quite safe to stigmatize him more openly.'"
To expand on these brief comments, it has been suggested that this song is an account of King Edward V of England, his brother Richard Duke of York, and their uncle Richard III of Gloucester. Edward V was deprived of his crown, and then he and his brother vanished, never to be seen again, and Richard III took the throne. This seems to be the most popular explanation for the song -- for example, Hicks, in his biography of Edward V, p. 13, seems to take the link between the song and the princes for granted (or at least thinks most people assume the link). Seward-Richard, p. 112, states unequivocally, "Richard would be commemorated as the Wicked Uncle in the ballad of the Babes in the Wood... it was undoubtedly inspired by the fate of the little King and his brother."
Contrary to Seward (a *lot* in this note is going to be contrary to Seward, because of his biased attitude) the other explanations for the song show that the link with Richard III is very doubtful. If the possibility is to be admitted at all, it must surely depend on the continuity from the 1595 Stationer's Register piece about the "Norfolk Gentleman" to the modern song (even in 1595, it's hard to believe that there would be need for a *concealed* song about the Princes in the Tower, since it was about events more than a century old, and it is absurd if the song is more recent than that). If that identity is accepted, though, and if the song is in fact a century older than that date, it makes some sense to assume that this is one of Henry VII Tudor's attempts to blacken the memory of Richard III, whose throne he had usurped in 1485.
Pollard, for instance, states on p. 17 that the popular account of Richard III, found e.g. in Shakespeare, is a graft onto actual history from folktale, citing "the story of the children in the wood" as another instance of the legend. Pollard observes that the theme of children being abducted is found even in Chaucer's Clerk's Tale (the tale of Griselda), although that has a happy ending of sorts. In other words, in Pollard's view, Richard did not inspire the Babes in the Woods; rather, the folklore about Richard took on the existing theme which produced the song/tale.
Pollard, p. 19, does think that the Babes in the Woods took on some language from Shakespeare's "Richard III" -- but the text he cites comes from the section on the trial of George of Clarence, not the Princes in the Tower! I think he exaggerates the similarities -- and, in any case, he's looking at the Percy version of the song, which Percy almost certainly hacked at significantly; we have no solid reason for believing the words Pollard cites are actually original. On p. 20, Pollard quotes Seward's comment on "The Babes in the Woods" and replies, "This has it the wrong way round. The story of Richard III and his nephews, as it was repeated and elaborated after his death, fitted easily into the model of one of Europe's oldest folk tales concerning children who fall into the hands of an ogre.... Both were variants on the same archetypal story." He adds that there is "an inescapable literary dimension to the history of Richard III and the Princes in the Tower."
THE HISTORICAL PROBLEM: THE BLACK LEGEND OF RICHARD III
As Ross comments, on p. xi, the story of Richard and the Princes is a subject on which "William Shakespeare himself took a long look, and we have been living with the dramatic consequences ever since." Sadly, the Bard's was a thoroughly inaccurate look -- consider, e.g., the character of Margaret of Anjou in Shakespeare's "Richard III": She was *dead* by the time Richard III took the throne, having died in 1482 at the age of about 52 (Cunningham, p. 104). Oh, and there's that little detail in Shakespeare's "King Henry VI, Part II," in which Richard kills the Duke of Somerset at the first Battle of Saint Albans. Talk about growing up fast -- Richard was two years old at the time.
Part of the problem is the temptation is to see Richard as a modern man. He was not; he was a man from a brutal time who in some ways actually rose above it and in some ways, clearly, did not. As Ross comments on p. 228, "No one familiar with the career of King Louis XI of France, in Richard's own time, or Henry VIII of England, in Richard's own country, would wish to cast any special slur on Richard, still less select him as the exemplar of a tyrant."
Compounding the problem is a lack of sources; Lander, p. 1, notes the case of an earlier historian who found it impossible "to form a regular History out of such a vast Heap of Rubbish and Confusion." Pollard, p. 182, observes, "[A]lmost all surviving contemporary or near-contemporary comment on his character was made retrospectively by people who were hostile. In this respect it is as difficult to see Richard the royal duke before 1483 as it is to see Richard the king. Contemporaries quickly applied hindsight to their interpretation of his character and motives before 1483, even those writing before 1485. Richard himself never put his personal thoughts on paper; or rather no personal letters, diaries or memoirs of his have come to light. No confessor in whom he confided, or companion-in-arms whom he inspired, subsequently extolled his virtues." It's all hostile witnesses.
Or maybe the problem is simply Shakespeare; as Ross declares on p. xi, since that time "considerations of the life and reign of Richard Plantagenet have been largely concerned to rebut [or to confirm!] the historical interpretation on which Shakespeare's great play rested." This has been an immense problem for me in writing what follows; I am sure that much of what follows will sound more pro-Richard than it should, simply because I react so strongly against Shakespeare and the Tudor propaganda.
We have two questions here: What actually happened in 1483, and whether the events of 1483-1485 are actually related to this song. Unfortunately, we don't really know what happened then -- and I have to give you a long preface to explain why we are so ignorant, and then a long explanation in which I will try to give you the best chance of making your own decision. It may not help. It is very hard to manage neutrality on the subject of Richard III.
It is the most obscure period in post-Conquest English history. The Wars of the Roses caused many chronicles to be destroyed or abandoned (Cheetham, p. 202). The historians who wrote after the death of Richard III, since they had to keep Henry Tudor on his throne, were forced to produce the caricature of Richard III which eventually gave rise to Shakespeare's impossible portrait -- as Fields observes, p. 7, "It was politically correct and sound policy for any historian writing during Henry's reign to blacken Richard's reputation in any way possible."
Unfortunately, though the Tudor historians clearly had reason to lie, they are also the only detailed sources for most events of the period; there is no way to separate fact from propaganda. For example, everyone follows Polydore Vergil's account of the Battle of Bosworth, at which Richard III died, because there is no other account extant (Ross, p. 216; Kendall, p. 570; Burne, p. 286, says that it is the least-documented major battle in English history. Griffiths/Thomas, p. 158, says that "Aside from Polydore Vergil, the Croyland Chronicle and the Stanley Balladeers, no one living within a generation of that day has left a record of its momentous events." There may even have been a deliberate Tudor attempt to suppress the record; Bennett, p. 163, notes that Bernard Andre, Henry Tudor's official panegyrist, had to leave a blank in his "Vita Henrici Septimi" for Bosworth -- there is an actual gap left in the Latin manuscript!)
Where the Tudor historians are silent, we are often at a loss. Ross, p. 29, gives two examples of this. We do not know the date of Richard III's marriage -- the best guess is some time in 1472 (so, e.g. Pollard, p. 65), but the first mention of Richard as being married is in 1474. We don't even know to the nearest year the date at which his only legitimate son was born; Kendall suggests 1473, Ross prefers 1476! (Cunningham, p. 106, tentatively accepts the latter date; Seward-Richard, p. 67, offers late 1473 or early 1474. Etc.)
The usual effect of this lack of data is to cause students either to accept the Tudor propaganda, and treat Richard as Satan's Spawn -- or to deny everything and end up trying to whitewash him. Instances of the latter are myriad. Horace Walpole, Richard's first great defender, actually tried to claim that Perkin Warbeck -- of whom more below -- was really one of the Princes in the Tower, still alive (Potter, p. 180). Amazingly, Fields, pp, 217-219, seriously discusses the possibility as well, suggesting that perhaps the boys, or just Richard of York, had been smuggled out of England, probably with Richard's consent, by Sir James Tyrell; York then became "Perkin Warbeck."
If that weren't bad enough, each side has its partisans who, by selective presentation of the evidence, try to make it look as if everyone on the other side is engaged in a smear campaign (as, e.g., Ross does in a small way on p. 96, listing a series of wacko pro-Richard authors without mentioning more scholarly defenders. Potter is even more extreme in a pro-Richard way, reviling useful sources and blaming everything on the "Tudor Legend."). Or consider Seward's analysis of the death of the Princes in the Tower, whom he is sure Richard murdered. Seward-Richard, pp. 119-120, comments, "During the following reign HenryVII was to dispose of Warwick, the last surviving Plantagenet male... but would use legal murder (after trapping the youth into a technically treasonable plot). It is a measure of Richard's neurotic insecurity that he could not wait for the Princes to reach a more acceptable age and use the same method." Excuse me? Keeping someone in prison for six years, entrapping him, subjecting him to a kangaroo trial, and then killing him is better than just killing him? Oy.
The one thing that seems certain is that Richard was more complicated that Shakespeare's human cancer. On this point, observe that one of the men he executed, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, thought enough of Richard's honesty to name him one of the supervisors of his will, even though the will was written after Rivers was condemned! (Fields, pp. 102-103).
A specific example of how all this proceeds: Ross, pp. 96-97, mentions the common statement that Richard "could not have been convicted of murder in a modern court of law." Saul3, who like Ross thinks Richard guilty, says on p. 221 that "no modern jury would be convinced by [the case agains Richard]." Fields, p. 301, declares: "Richard would be acquitted of the crime by virtually any jury that heard the case. The possibility that no murders were committed, or that if they were, Henry [Tudor] or Buckingham committed them, together with the paucity of admissible evidence against Richard, would almost surely raise a 'reasonable doubt' in the jury's mind; and that , of course, would call for acquittal."
Yet Ross then goes on to list several historians who do "convict" him. Similarly, Weir, p. 163, remarks, "It has been stated many times.... that there is no proof that Richard III murdered the Princes in the Tower, and very little likelihood that the full facts.... will ever be known." She goes on to state, correctly, that historians can only try to learn as much as possible from such facts as we have. Her response to this, however, is not to become more cautious about the difference between fact and speculation; it is to lower her standard of accuracy!
Both responses ignore the point: Richard very likely was guilty of conspiracy to commit murder -- but the charge in fact could not even be brought because it cannot be proved that the princes were murdered!
The Tudors still influence historians: The Tudor era is often held up as a great era -- e.g. WilliamsonJ, pp. 22-23, waxes enthusiastic about their trade policies. Yet Gillingham, p. 11, claims that national income declined steadily during the reigns of Henry VII, Henry VIII, and Henry VIII's children. Russell gives detailed information on this point. On p. 5, he notes the steady inflation "which began about 1510 and continued, at rapid but varying speeds, at least until 1620." Some of this was due to gold and silver from the new world -- in a gold-based market, an increase in gold supply without a corresponding increase in production would cause inflation (Willson, pp. 276-277). But most of that gold ended up in Spain, not England; the increase in prices exceeded the increase in specie (the overall inflation over this period, according to Russell, p. 7, was on the order of fivefold, and on p. 10 he gives strong reasons why the increase in precious metals cannot be the primary explanation for the inflation). Russell's conclusion, on p. 11, is that the price rise was caused by increasing population, which put pressure on food supplies.
The only cure for this was agricultural improvements. But improvements are only possible where there is available capital to generate it. (Look at what happened to poor Ireland in the early 1800s. The situation in Tudor England which Russell describes on p. 13 sounds exactly like Ireland.) It was Tudor economic policies (high taxes, restrictions on movement of information and, indirectly, products, and, later, a debased currency), not those of the Plantagenets (including Richard III), which brought a permanent recession. Even Henry's policy of free trade, usually praised by economists, brought little benefit to England, because it had nothing to export except wool and a little Cornish tin, and it was already shipping as much wool as it could (Russell, pp. 23-24), and Henry actually increased the export duties on tin (Russell, p. 36).
(Please note: It will probably be evident that I strongly dislike Henry Tudor. This is not to imply that he was incompetent. Chrimes, p. 16, offers evidence that he was a very intelligent pupil. He was probably the best financial manager ever to hold the English throne -- it is genuinely unfortunate he could not have been placed in charge of the exchequer under other kings. What I object to are his despotism and his money-grubbing -- his tight-fistedness, for instance, kept England away from world exploration for many years. The Tudor monarchy did bring good things -- would England have turned Protestant without Henry VIII? And would there have been a counter-Reformation had he not turned Protestant? But the Tudors produced probably the worst reign of terror in England since Norman times. And I simply can't respect a monarch who insisted on the title "Your Majesty," rather than "Your Grace," the address used by his predecessors; Morris, p. 32.)
Mattingly, p. 25, sums up the Tudors, and their situation, about as well as can be said, I think: "Probably Henry admitted to himself that there was too much doubtful blood in his dynasty. The grandson of Owen Tudor, clerk of the Queen's wardrobe and heir to no more than a rocky mountainside and a few goats, could never have come to the English throne had not the Wars of the Roses almost extinguished the Plantagenet stock. Henry's own mother, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, gave the King his only drop of royal blood, and though she had descended from John of Gaunt... Margaret Beaufort's grandfather had the misfortune to be born on the wrong side of the blanket. Like so many of the Italian tyrants, whom they resembled in other ways, the Tudors sprang from bastard stock; and Henry VII knew that, though he had married the daughter of Edward IV to help set things right for his children, his own best claim to the throne was that he had won it by the sword and held it against all comers."
One thing I find fascinating is that the two worst Richard-haters of recent years, Seward and Weir, both base their opinions on the history of Richard III written by Thomas More. Yet this is a secondary source riddled with patent errors. To take it as a primary source, as Seward and Weir do, is to come at history having already decided what happened.
Cheetham, p. 202, makes the point that, to most historians, "the King's guilt or innocence in the murder of the Princes is an acceptable yardstick whereby we can judge everything else he did." This is fallacious. In a murderous age, the judgment on Richard III would be based on how well he reigned -- which would govern how people saw his treatment of the princes, not vice versa. We must look at him by the standards of the situation. So: Was he better than those around him, or worse?
Let me confess to being pro-Richard -- but also pro-truth. I truly do not know whether Richard III was a conniving schemer such as Seward portrays, or a near-saint such as we find in Kendall, though my very strong suspicion is that the truth lies in between -- probably slightly closer to Kendall, since the anti-Richard historians seem unable to distinguish their own opinions from documented facts. Unlike most authors cited here, I think our goal must be to "speak the dead" (to steal an idea from Orson Scott Card): To try to look both at who Richard was and why he did what he did. This rarely presents a simple picture, and to try to make it simple is an absolute failure. Seward would call me a portrayer of the "grey legend" -- the only version of history which treats Richard as an actual human being. I freely plead guilty.
I have tried to take all this into account in my citation patterns (though I can do this only imperfectly, because of the order I consulted the sources). For points in Richard's favor, I have cited the virulently anti-Richard Seward or Weir on the rare occasions they actually say anything useful. Since that is truly rare, I will usually end up citing the anti-Richard but sane Ross and Hicks if possible, the more neutral Jenkins or Cheetham or Cunningham if not, the pro-Richard Fields and Kendall if I must, and the extremely pro-Richard Potter as a very last resort. For anti-Richard material, I have tried to take things in the reverse order: Kendall's admission that Richard probably killed the Princes in the Tower is more meaningful than Cheetham's and Jenkins's concurrence, which means more than Cunningham's opinion on this point, which in turn is more important than the fact that Ross thinks Richard was responsible, which is more meaningful than the fact that Hicks thinks so, which in turn has more value than the irrational opinions of Seward and Weir.
As for the approach I take in what follows -- give that we *know* the Tudor historians are biased, it seems to me that we have to start with the little that we know from earlier sources. To summarize in advance: We know, to his extreme discredit, that Richard III executed several men (Lord Hastings, Earl Rivers) very abruptly and probably without trial (though Fields, p. 101, thinks that Rivers at least *did* have a trial. Seward-Richard, pp. 108-109, claims there was a trial but it had no validity). We know that he disinherited his brother's son Edward V, though he claimed legal justification. On the other hand, we know that he passed good legislation, and that he was the chief prop of his brother's throne from the age of 18 until the year Edward IV died.
THE HISTORICAL SOURCES
To understand how hard it is to learn the truth, we must look at our primary sources. (As Ross says on p. xxi, "The sheer power and endurance of the Tudor tradition, especially when consecrated by Shakespeare, makes a sober assessment of its historical value an essential pre-requisite for any consideration of the 'true' Richard.") We have a number of chronicles, letters, government documents, and passing comments, but only a few substantial narratives of the period -- and, really, only two substantial sources who were in England and near the center of things at the time of the key events: Mancini and the Croyland Chronicler.
The following list describes our most important sources:
* Dominic Mancini. Although contemporary, this document was unknown to early historians; it was not noticed until 1936, when it was found in France (Ross, p. xli). Mancini, an Italian in the employ of various French officials, went to England in 1482, and stayed there until July 1483; he wrote his account later in 1483 while the information was still very fresh in his mind. His document was actually prepared as a briefing for his superiors, so he was trying to give honest information and did not engage in rhetorical tricks to try to convey an impression.
There are nonetheless several problems with Mancini. The greatest one is that he apparently was not fluent in English (Ross, p. xlii). He had to rely on secondhand information, which could sometimes be distorted. Also, it seems to me he had a slightly anti-English attitude. He is often very critical of Richard III -- but some of this may be because Richard was the dominant player of the period he was covering. Still, he has proved crucial to our understanding of the period, because, as Ross notes, p. xliii, his narrative makes it clear that Richard had enemies from the start.
Laynesmith, p. 23, says that is now believed that he was fed misleading data, adding on p. 175 that "Horrox and Pollard have shown how inadequate this source is, and suggested that Mancini was influenced by [Richard III]'s anti-Woodville propaganda, even though he was aware himself of the attempts to arouse antagonism toward the queen's kin."
On the other hand, St. Aubyn says, p. 65, "The defects of Mancini's History... are principally those of omission. His account seldom looks beyond London.... his knowledge of English geography was inclined to be hazy and his understanding of the British Constitution preserved its mysteries intact. Throughout the whole of his History he only supplies one date, and that he gets two days wrong."
Still, given his lack of personal prejudice, he is a vital source for the period he covers.
* The Croyland Chronicler. In terms of inside information, clearly our best source -- we don't know who he was (many names have been mentioned, including most notably Bishop John Russell, Richard's Chancellor, although most scholars since Ross have discounted this suggestion), but we can be certain he was a member of Edward IV's government.
In April 1486, this unknown man (he says very little about himself except that he was a doctor of canon law and a diplomat during the reign of Edward IV) went to Croyland monastery and, over the space of several days, dictated his view of events from 1459 to 1486 (Dockray, pp. xiv-xv). These were added to the earlier sections of the chronicle kept at Croyland, so the 1486 text is technically known as the "Second Continuation of the Croyland Chronicle." But it is a much more important document than the other sections in the Croyland Chronicle.
A mystery about his work is that it is far less detailed about Richard III's reign than Edward IV's. This is the strongest single argument against Bishop Russell's authorship: Why would Russell know less about Richard's reign, in which he stood very high in the government, than about Edward's, where he stood lower? (Dockray, p. xv, also notes that Croyland's style differs markedly from Russell's own work elsewhere.) Kendall, p. 512, suggests that there are actually two authors involved, which would explain much: Russell dictated the first part, but halted or ran out of time before he had time to describe Richard's reign, and his amanuensis padded out the account based on brief comments by Russell or simply on the information he knew from outside the government. This hypothesis is possible but does not seem to have commended itself to historians.
Croyland is thus contemporary (though dictating from memory rather than documents) and very close to the center of things. Ross, p. xliii declares Croyland "the single most important source for the reign as a whole" (Ross, p. xliii). But he can be infuriatingly vague -- although anonymous, had a Tudor investigator at the time really wanted to know who he was, said investigator surely could have found out. So Croyland clearly covered his tracks on some points (Ross, p. xlv, says "he is a cautious and politic author who... unfortunately does not always choose to tell all he knows. His judgements were often elliptically phrased and sometimes appear intentionally inscrutable"). On certain points, such as the fate of the princes, he preferred to quote gossip or hearsay evidence rather than state something definitive. Despite his likely connection with the court, his chronicle is, as Ross says on p. xliv, "distinctly hostile" to Richard. Ross on p. xlvi lists several places where Croyland plays up evidence of "deceit and dissimulation which marked Gloucester's conduct." He also had a very strong dislike of Northerners -- Richard's strongest supporters (Fields, p. 14).
There may also be a few corruptions in the text. The original has been ruined by fire, and we must rely on transcripts (Fields, p. 11). In sum, there are reasons to question particular statements from Croyland, but in general it deserves much respect.
* John Rous (or Rows) was contemporary but far from reliable. As Ross says on p. xxi, "According to Rous, Richard was an Antichrist," a claim which Rous supported by saying Richard was born under Scorpio "and like a scorpion displayed a smooth front and a vicious swinging tail" -- but, even if you believe the astrological nonsense, Ross points out that Richard in fact was born under Libra! (See also Pollard, pp. 24-25, with supporting evidence, and Langley/Jones, p. 39). Saul3, p. 13, says that Rous was "the first writer to manifest a distinctly 'Tudor' view of the past."
Cheetham, p. 198, gives a brilliant example of Rous's Tudorization of history (cited also by Ross, pp. xxi-xxii): In the reign of Richard III, Rous penned a book which calls that king "an especial good lord... in his realm fully commendably punishing offenders of the laws, especially oppressors of the Commons, and cherishing those that were virtuous." (Note that Rous's patrons were not the Commons but the nobles -- his book was about the earls of Warwick -- so praising Richard for supporting the commons was not something to win him points. This is an argument, though rather a weak one, that Richard really *did* try to protect the Commons -- i.e. the vast majority of people.)
After Henry Tudor took over, Rous wrote a revised edition which he dedicated to Henry, and came forth with the statement that Richard was two years in his mother's womb, born with teeth and hair to (or perhaps growing from) his shoulders. (Ross, p. 139, notes the interesting fact that not even Rous calls him a hunchback; there seems no contemporary evidence for this at all). Since Rous's claim is physically impossible, I submit, it tells us nothing about Richard; it tells us only that John Rous was a suck-up -- but his statements have actually been repeated by historians who claim to have been serious.
Rous seems also to have been the earliest source for the claim that Richard poisoned his wife (Rubin, p. 315; Cunningham, p. 98).
St. Aubyn actually believes Rous's waste of good paper to have "some value," but admits (p. 68) that Rous's work "appears to be based on two assumptions: that Warwick is the centre of the universe, and that the principal purpose of writing history is to please patrons." Wolffe, p. 5, calls him a "syncophantic priest," and Bennett, p. 5, describes him as "scatter-brained and malicious."
* Philip(pe) de Commynes, or Commines. A Burgundian civil servant, diplomat, and historian. Starting around 1489, he compiled a memoir of his experiences. He knew most of the major figures of the period, including Edward IV and most major French lords (he worked for Louis XI; Dockray, p.xix), giving his account significant value, but as Dockray says on p. xx, "He had no first-hand knowledge of events in England; often he acquired information from others and drew on rumours circulating at the French court; and, when he finally set pen to paper, he had to rely a great deal on his own (perhaps defective) memory."
Kendall, p. 498, suggests that he had most of his information from Henry Tudor's court in exile, and accuses him of contributing to the Tudor legend. The former is likely true (Commynes met Henry Tudor in 1484, and Tudor reportedly complained of his long time in exile; Langley/Jones, p. 218), but the latter I think unfair. Commynes paints an unflattering picture of Richard, but, unlike (say) Rous, he wasn't trying to flatter any Englishman; he was trying to justify himself. What he says about Richard is often ill-informed, but we can assume that he is generally telling the truth as it was told to him. And, since his work was not published until 1524, it had no effect on More or Vergil, though it influenced Hall (and hence Shakespeare).
* A fifth near-contemporary source, dealing only with the final event of Richard III's reign, is "The Ballad of Bosworth Field," cited by Ross and found in the Percy manuscript, but rarely used by other authors. Child mentions it in his notes to "The Rose of England" [Child 166] but does not deign to print it. Its value is debated; see the notes to "The Ballad of Bosworth Field."
Somehow related to the "Ballad' is "Lady Bessy" or "The Song of the Lady Bessy," which Child mentions alongside "Bosworth Field" in his notes on "The Rose of England." Child correctly calls "Lady Bessy" a more interesting piece, telling of how Elizabeth of York, Henry Tudor's future wife, calls upon Lord Stanley to bring Henry Tudor to the throne and helps weave together a conspiracy. The earliest copy dates from the reign of Elizabeth I, and there is another copy in the Percy manuscript.
Child thinks "Lady Bessy" near-contemporary -- but there is the curiosity that it shares verses with "Bosworth Field." One, therefore, must predate the other, and "Bosworth Field" looks older to me. My personal guess is that "Lady Bessy" was written in the time of Elizabeth I to glorify her grandmother and namesake, Elizabeth of York. This would explain much -- e.g., why the ballad describes Elizabeth of York reaching out to Henry Tudor. Why, if she is so independent before her marriage, would she allow herself to be effectively enslaved by such a man? (And enslaved she was; Henry Tudor even saw to it that her coronation was muted, so that she had little chance to build up what was known as an affinity; Laynesmith, p. 92. He also refused to let her use the arms to which she was entitled as Edward IV's heir; Laynesmith, p. 184. And he deliberately restricted her dower lands so that she would be financially dependent on him; Laynesmith, p. 236. On the other hand, when she died, he truly went all-out to commemorate it; Laynesmith, pp. 123-127. Could this have been some sort of posthumous tribute from a king who so thoroughly rewrote history?).
It is easy to imagine Elizabeth of York working to overthrow Richard III -- but why not take charge in her own right, with a compliant husband and one who might also have a stronger claim to the throne? Weir seems to be the only author to take "Lady Bessy" at all seriously, although Laynesmith, p. 21, says that the nineteenth century historian Agnes Strickland also used it.
Griffiths/Thomas, p. 115, argue that "Lady Bessy" gives a much too active role to Elizabeth of York, and suggest that the role played by Lady Bessy in the ballad was actually the work of her mother Elizabeth Woodville. This is possible -- but if the song changes the role of such a key player, how can we rely on any other part of it? And how was it affected by Elizabeth Woodville's disgrace at the hands of Henry Tudor? Or her death in 1492? These questions we simply cannot answer.
To me, the woman in "Lady Bessy" sounds more like Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor, whom we know *did* plot against Richard III. Could the song be trying credit Margaret's actions to her daughter-in-law? In this connection, it is worth noting a well-known quote about Elizabeth and Margaret written to the Spanish court by Don Pedro de Ayala: "The King [Henry VII] is much influenced by his mother.... The queen, as is generally the case, does not like it" (Laynesmith, p. 208, who notes other indications of conflict between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law).
The fact that this list of sources is so short is why so many scholars continue to trust in the Tudor historians:
* Polydore Vergil. Although he worked in the Tudor court, Vergil had no direct experience of what he was writing about. He was an Italian who came to England in 1502 (Ross, p. xxiii). Henry VII some years later asked him to write a sort of official history of England. Vergil's book went back to Roman times (Vergil apparently made himself unpopular by questioning the existence of King Arthur; St. Aubyn, p. 69), but it is most important for the Yorkist and Tudor periods, since that was the only era for which he could consult any significant sources we don't have now.
Vergil began writing probably in the period 1505-1507 (Fields, p. 14, supports the earlier date, Dockray, p. xx, says "not later than" the latter; either way, contrary to St. Aubyn, p. 68, Vergil could hardly have consulted Elizabeth of York, who was at least two years dead). The work was completed in 1517 (Fields, p. 14) but not published for another decade and a half.
Ross says of Vergil, rightly, that he "was no official hack. Equally, he could not afford to be wholly detached and impartial. He has been seen in the posture of 'a modern historian of repute who undertakes to write the history of a large business firm.'" He probably tried to get good information (Dockray, p. xx, says that his handling of sources was "remarkably scholarly and sophisticated by early sixteenth-century standards"), but he inevitably talked mostly to pro-Tudor people and was exposed to (and transmitted) pro-Tudor interpretations. Unlike More, he would not fabricate -- but because of his lack of sources, uncorroborated statements of his cannot be trusted absolutely. Ross, pp. xxiv-xxv, describes him as clearly attempting to make Richard look bad -- but subtly, with careful psychological digs. (Ironic that Ross has a tendency to do this himself.)
Saul3, p. 15, observes that it was Vergil who came up with the idea that the overthrow of Richard II, and the various troubles of the fifteenth century, were all one related problem. "His achievement was to give meaning to [Richard's] reign.... Previous writers... had seen his evil as a unique evil. Vergil saw things differently. He showed Richard's reign to be the final stage in a grand historical sequence That sequence had begun three-quarters of a century earlier with Henry of Lancaster's seizure of the crown.... It was Vergil, in other words, who invented the notion of the Wars of the Roses. It was Vergil who was the originator of the Tudor Myth."
* Thomas More. More is probably the most controversial of all the sources for the reign of Richard III, because of course he came to be famous for his integrity in the reign of Henry VIII -- and because he was by far the best stylist of any of our sources. And yet, Ross says, "Despite its author's great reputation, and the justified celebrity and wide influence of the work itself, Sir Thomas More's History of King Richard III deserves less serious consideration as a source of information for Richard's life and reign than does Polydore's Historia.... [I]t has long and with some justice been questioned whether More was seriously writing history in the modern as opposed to the classical sense of the word (i.e. drama)."
Ross, p. xxvii and following, goes on to describe More's invented details and invented speeches. Even St. Aubyn, who does not seem to realize the degree to which he has followed More, admits on p. 69 that this "most influential of early histories of Richard was also the least reliable." St. Aubyn goes on to echo Ross: "More never intended his book as history in the modern sense of the term." Dockray, p. xxi, adds that he had no first-hand knowledge of the period (he was born in 1478, and so was only five years old when the Princes vanished, and seven with Richard III died).
It is true that More studied under John Morton, Bishop of Ely (Fields, p. 16), who knew Richard -- and who was a prime move of events in the 1480s. St. Aubyn, p. 71, also mentions that the Earl of Surrey, who fought for Richard at Bosworth, was More's patron. But few believe Surrey had any part in the writing, and Morton worked hard to overthrow Richard even before Richard's usurpation really took shape (WilliamsonA, p. 76, believes him the single most significant anti-RIchard conspirator); even such parts of More's history that came from Morton were probably wildly distorted, and the rest seems to be completely un-researched. A notable feature of More is the lack of accuracy even on matters of simple fact -- e.g. his book was off by a dozen years on Edward IV's age, and it didn't know the name of the woman with whom Edward IV precontracted for marriage. The list could be vastly multiplied.
There are many curiosities about the work, such as the fact that it simply halts around the time of Buckingham's rebellion (Ross, p. xxvii). In all likelihood More abandoned it half-finished; it was found among his papers after his execution (Fields, p. 15). It was not published until 1543, and that in corrupt form; the first proper edition was in 1557 (Kendall, p. 499). It appears More began his work (which exists in slightly different English and Latin versions) in some time in the period 1513-1516.
Some have speculated that More abandoned his history because he came to realize that it was largely false. This frankly strikes me as unlikely -- he would not have come so far in preparing editions in two different languages if that were the reason. Probably he realized that it would not suit his purpose. As St. Aubyn, p. 70, remarks, "His 'History' shares much in common with medieval morality plays, in which fidelity to fact is scarcely relevant." My guess (following this idea and a hint on p. 500 of Kendall) is that More was trying to construct a guideline for what kings *should not* do, and stopped when he realized that the history was so far-out that no one (except crackpots like Seward and Weir) could take such a thing seriously ("There is no surer way to misinterpret More than to overlook his ever present irony and to accept literally what he intended as a joke," St. Aubyn says on p. 70).
Pollard, p. 120, goes so far as to say, "The clear similarities even in More's tale to the story of the Babes in the Wood, especially in the manner in which one of themurderers subsequently confessed, powerfully suggests a literary rather than factual inspiration [for More's history]."
Despite his originality and his undeniable personal integrity, it should also be remembered that More was not particularly honest or fair in his scholarly writings; Scarisbrick, p. 111, refers to the "mere assertion and jeering that is to be found in so many anti-Protestant works by Catholics, especially those of More." It is hard to understand why More is considered a significant reference -- except that it is the most anti-Richard of all the early sources.
* Edward Hall. Weir seems to like Hall a lot. But Ross, p. xxii, calls him simply the "principal plagairizer" of Vergil and More. Ross, p. xxxi, observes that Hall, who wrote in 1548, was a late source *and* writing to flatter the Tudors. What little good material there is in Hall comes from Polydore Vergil; much of the rest comes out of his head and is clearly designed to make Richard look bad (Ross, pp. xxxii-xxxiii, gives examples, including once case where Hall produces a flat-out falsehood to make his case). Hall was a primary source for Holinshed, who in turn supplied much material to Shakespeare (Fields, p. 19) -- but that doesn't make him any more accurate.
For the most part, Hall's peculiar material (I use the term in the technical sense of "things not found elsewhere") must be considered highly suspect, though he does seem to have gathered a certain amount of folklore. He is, for instance, the earliest printed source of the warning to the Duke of Norfolk before the Battle of Bosworth, which he quotes as "Jack of Norfolk be not so bold, For Dickon thy master is bought and sold" (in a curious note, Shakespeare's version of this, which begins "Jockey of Norfolk" rather than "Jack of Norfolk," is written on what is apparently the only painting of Norfolk. Ross, p. 141, and Jenkins, in reproducing the photo in a plate facing p. 112, say that the painting is probably from the sixteenth century -- meaning that it is not contemporary with Norfolk but probably predates Shakespeare. Might it be taken from an earlier painting? There is much that is curious about this painting -- the title at the top refers to the "Duke of Norfolke," but the text of the "Jockey" rhyme spells it "norfolk" -- no "e" and no initial capital, though it uses capitals for "Jockey" and "Dickon." It is also spaced strangely. I suspect the text of the rhyme may be a later addition).
It will be observed that these sources range from the not-really-biased-but-unfriendly-to-Richard (Mancini, Commynes) to the clearly hostile (Croyland, Vergil) to the outright propagandistic (More, Hall). We have nothing telling us Richard's side -- and, as Ross notes on p. xlviii, nothing from the north of England, where Richard was best known. All Richard's positions may have been as openly specious as the claim that Elizabeth Woodville used witchcraft to lure Edward IV into marriage (although even this wasn't as crazy as it sounds; Edward married her secretly, proving that he knew she was unsuitable as a wife; Laynesmith, p. 58). Elizabeth's mother Jacquetta of Luxembourg was also accused of sorcery at least once (Laynesmith, p. 214; again, this isn't as crazy as it sounds, since there was a story that the royal family of Luxembourg was descended from the demon Melusine; Langley/Jones, p. 121). George of Clarence had also condemned the marriage (Laynesmith, p. 61). In addition, the Church strongly disapproved of secret marriages, since it cost them control and also deprived outsiders of the chance to object (Laynesmith, p. 79); priests were not supposed to conduct them ( Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 105).
But we do not know his reasons for Richard's actions, and so we must be very careful not to fall into the trap of listening to the extremist sources when we don't know the other side.
There is one other source we should perhaps mention, the historian George Buc(k), who wrote in Stuart times (his work was first compiled in 1619, according to Pollard, p. 214). Buck was the first to attempt a serious defense of Richard. He cites several manuscript sources which can no longer be found. His material is extremely problematic. He had what we might call a conflict of interest -- his family had been attainted and ruined after Bosworth (Pollard, p. 214). This obviously makes the value of his discoveries somewhat questionable. But Buck's defence of Richard is very piecemeal, with no overall theme -- if he were inventing sources, why not create more? All that can really be said of Buck is that he presents material we cannot discount but cannot fully trust, either.
RICHARD'S REDISCOVERED BODY
From the time Mancini's work was discovered until the twenty-first century, essentially no additional information related to the controversy was discovered. But in 2012, a dig organized and promoted by Philippa Langley found a body believed to have been that of Richard III. The story of the dig need not retain us (it's the primary subject of Langley/Jones, and none of it is relevant to the ballad; you can read the book if you want). But Richard's body has much to tell us -- less about actual history (although it has some value even for that) than about the chroniclers who blackwashed him.
Of course, this matters only if it's Richard's body. Is it? The evidence discovered so far is as follows:
1. The body was found in Leicester, in what is believed to have been the Greyfriars monastery, which is the place Richard's body was said to have been buried. And he was buried so hastily that there seems to have been no proper shroud or coffin, and they didn't even provide enough space for the body to fit, causing it to be buried in a hunched position (Langley/Jones, pp. 207-208).
2. Radiocarbon dating gave conflicting analysis; if done strictly, it gave a date for the body of c. 1445. However, analysis of stable isotopes in the body showed that the man involved had had a diet rich in protein -- itself a rare thing, and evidence that he was, at the very least, a nobleman. But such a diet affects carbon dating; adjusting for that gives a death date of c. 1495 with a standard deviation of about 25 years (Langley/Jones, pp. 168-169). Since Richard died in 1485, that means the dating is just right for Richard.
3. The skull sutures say the body was of a man in his late twenties to late thirties (Langley/Jones, pp. 170-171), so that fits. The fact that his wisdom teeth had come in, but most of his teeth were in good condition, supports an age in his twenties or thirties. Richard was 32 when he died, so the age is a precise fit.
4. He had died violently; there were evidence of several un-healed blows to the head (Langley/Jones, pp. 173-174), at least one of which would have been fatal. Interestingly, all eight of these had been aimed at the back of the head; it seems likely that Henry Tudor wanted to be sure Richard's corpse would still be recognizable so there would be no false Richards (Langley/Jones, p. 176).
5. Two blows appear to have been inflicted after the victim was dead and his armor removed. One, based on the angle of the blow, appears to have been inflicted after the body had been flung over the back of a horse. He had been stabbed in the rear end. The experts regarded this as an "insult" blow -- a mocking assault on a dead man (Langley/Jones, pp. 176-177). Such a blow would probably only be inflicted on a significant enemy -- not necessarily King Richard, but if not the King, then presumably a member of his inner circle.
6. DNA unequivocally shows the body to have been male (Langley/Jones, p. 181), and analysis of the mitochondrial DNA (which is passed only in female line) showed the body to have the same mitochondrial DNA as a person whose maternal-great-in-the-seventeenth-generation-mother had the same mother as Richard III -- including one quite unusual genetic marker (Langley/Jones, pp. 181-182), one found in only a few percent of the population. So far, tests on Richard's Y chromosome have not been done to verify the match (Ashdown-HillDNA, pp. 48-149).
Thus we have the body of someone who was Richard's age, who was found where we would have expected to find Richard's body, who had been well-nourished for most of his life, who had died violently, whose body had been treated with scorn by his enemies after his death, who certainly died within fifty years of Richard's known death date and probably within ten, who has the DNA we would expect Richard to have. It's not proof beyond a reasonable doubt -- but by far the simplest explanation is that the body is Richard III's.
And while the body cannot tell us who Richard was or what he did, it tells us a lot about the stories told of him -- and the falsehoods they contained. There was no withered arm (Langley/Jones, pp. 137, 172). The one major abnormality was scoliosis -- a curved spine. There was no obvious cause for this; he probably did not suffer from it as a child (Langley/Jones, p. 171), and it probably did not affect his walk. It probably accelerated as he got older, so it only became a major issue in his later years. It likely caused one shoulder to be higher than the other; the shoulders in his skeleton are mismatched. He probably didn't have any other physical abnormalities. He wasn't a "crookback"; this was one of the stories his enemies spread to vilify him.
Having said all that, let's get down to the actual issues.
WARS OF THE ROSES
For a more detailed sketch of the history I am outlining here, see the notes to "King Henry Fifth's Conquest of France" [Child 164]. The story really begins more than a century before the Princes in the Tower, with King Richard II (reigned 1377-1399). Richard II was the grandson of King Edward III, who had started the Hundred Years War with France and won the great battle of Crecy in 1346; Richard II's father was Edward "the Black Prince" who had beaten the French at Poitiers in 1355. But the Black Prince had picked up some sort of disease in his travels, and died in 1376, a year before his father (Seward-Hundred, pp. 112-113). Little Richard II came to the throne as a 10-year-old surrounded by unprincipled uncles (HarveyJ, p. 152). Culturally, it was a great era -- the period of Chaucer, Langland, and the Gawain-poet (HarveyJ, p. 146) -- but politically it was difficult; the war with France, begun by Edward III, was going badly due to lack of money, and the king's uncles and many of the nobles thought that they had a quick fix to turn the war around. (Highly unlikely, but that's the way nobles thought in those days.)
Richard II did not gain power until 1387 (Seward-Hundred, p. 137), and when he finally took charge, it produced a rebellion by the nobles he had displaced. Richard managed to survive that, but in 1397 he took steps to stamp out the last survivors of the rebellion. Having done so, he tried to rule as an absolute despot (HarveyJ, p. 149, says that he insisted "upon the sacred and indissoluble nature of the regality conferred on him by his consecration"). In 1399, one of the men he had exiled, Henry of Bolingbroke, the Duke of Lancaster (hence the name "Lancaster" for his house, even though Henry, like Richard, was of the Plantagenet family) returned to England, deposed Richard II, and had himself crowned as Henry IV (HarveyJ, p. 160; Seward-Hundred, p. 142). Richard died, probably murdered, the next year.
Henry IV was a member of the royal family, and Richard II's closest relative in the male line, but not the true heir of Edward III or of Richard II. That distinction went to certain young members of the Mortimer family, descendants of Edward III's second son Lionel of Clarence by a female line (for their complicated ancestry, see HarveyJ, p. 192). Richard II had been the only surviving child of the Black Prince, Edward III's oldest son; Henry IV was the son of Edward III's third son John of Gaunt, and thus behind the Mortimers in the line of succession.
Some sources, notably Gillingham, try to deny a fundamental fact of the Wars of the Roses: That the wars were the consequence of the deposition of Richard II. He states his case explicitly on pp. 2-3, pointing out that this Shakespeare-inspired view is dramatically wrong. Shakespeare, following the Tudor historians, makes the fifteenth century a time of great evil, with the various upsets a sort of divine retribution and the Wars of the Roses a period of extreme violence. Saul3, p. 11, makes the point that Shakespeare's Richard II begins in 1397, as that king is already starting toward deposition, because his theme only begins there.
Tuck, p. 222, says that "it would be quite wrong to suppose that the ills that befell the Lancastrian dynasty... arose from a defective title to the throne in 1399." This is true; the Lancastrian dynasty fell because Henry VI was incompetent. But it was the weakness of Henry VI's claim to the throne that caused Richard of York, rather than someone else, to become the focus of the opposition.
As Saul3 puts it on p. 215, "Richard II's deposition ushered in almost a century of unparalleled political instability in England. For the act of deposition, once carried out -- or, rather, carried out twice -- was easier the third, fourth, or fifth time." He adds on p. 216 that, although all the coups were made possible by force, all depended on a claim of legitimacy. If Richard II had had heirs, there might still have been civil conflict -- but it would surely have taken different form. On pp. 225-226, he says that "Had Richard II not been deposed, there would have been no Richard III, or at least no Richard III in 1483. This is not to say that there would have been no Yorkist dynasty. Almost certainly, there would have been." But it would have followed a natural succession: "Richard [II]'s deposition changed everything. By opening the dynastic question, it paved the way for later depositions."
Still, Gillingham is correct at the heart. The Wars of the Roses were not as bad as painted, and it is by no means obvious that Henry VII cured a great evil. Unfortunately, Gillingham throws out the baby with the bathwater: Shakespeare's view of divine kingship needs to go, but not the fact that Richard II's deposition led to the Wars of the Roses.
Prior to the deposition of Richard II, English kings had been set aside, the most important example being Edward II in 1327. But Edward II had been succeeded by his son Edward III. The deposition of Richard II was the first time since the reign of Stephen in 1135-1154 that a monarch had not been succeeded by the previously-accepted heir. What is more, it was brought about by a revolution by the high magnates. This showed something that hadn't really been considered before (to twist Tacitus's observation about Galba's election to the Principate; Histories I.4): "A secret of the monarchy had been revealed, that the Barons could make a king."
Gillingham is right in part: Had the Lancastrian dynasty been successful and prolific, its illegitimate origins would surely have been forgotten, just as it has been forgotten that the Tudors were even more illegitimate. But the Lancastrians were not prolific, and Henry VI was a disaster. It was clear that he had to go. And *someone* had to succeed him. The barons had by this time been drawn into various factions, and Edward III had left many, many descendants with at least some claim to the throne. Given the certainty that a new king would have to be chosen, naturally they all tried to improve their situation by supporting their candidates. It was partisanship with longbows. The actual monarchs involved were, in some ways, almost incidental. (There is actually a board game, called "Kingmaker," produced by Avalon Hill, which makes them *entirely* incidental. They are just markers on the board. All power belongs to the nobles. This exaggerates, but it reveals the situation clearly.)
The Mortimer claim generally sat quiet for half a century, though there was one attempt to assert it in 1403 and another in 1413. But Henry IV was able to survive the attempts to overthrow him, though only barely. And his son Henry V (who came to the throne in 1413) had conquered much of France and been declared the heir to the French throne; no one wanted to depose him! Then Henry V died in 1422, at the age of 35 (Seward-Hundred, p. 188), and his heir was his son Henry VI, not yet a year old.
Before Henry VI reached the age of thirty, the English had been thrown out of France, and England was in chaos. As for Henry VI himself, he was a weakling even after he attained his majority, and in 1453 he had a nervous breakdown (Gillingham, p. 75. HarveyJ, p. 188, notes that his body was found to have a "rather small skull," whatever that tells us).
Henry's government also ran the royal finances into the ground, making it impossible to conduct the war against France or do much of anything else (Ross-Wars, p. 26, says that the debt in 1450 was 372,000 pounds, up more than 200,000 pounds from 1733, and the annual revenue no more than 33,000 pounds. Seward-Roses, p. 5, gives even more dire numbers: Henry's government by the end had income of only 24,000 pounds per year, and debts of 400,000; the royal income barely covered household expenses, with nothing left over to service the debt or provide government. Jenkins, pp. 8-9, notes how various nobles had taken over most of the government's sources of revenue, leaving Henry VI with far less than his predecessors). The Duke of York -- who was also the inheritor of the Mortimer claim to the throne -- ended up having to self-finance the war in France and his government in Ireland, something no ordinary man could possibly afford to do.
England is sometimes described as being in chaos in this period. This is exaggerated. Fighting was rare, and armies small; Gillingham, pp. 22-24, notes that the nobles were making no real attempt to fortify their lands, and quotes Commynes to the effect that England was the best-governed of the many nations he had visited (pp. 15-16, 24).Lander, p. 10, notes that no city in England suffered a prolonged siege, and none were forced to burn their suburbs. Many major towns, including Oxford, were not even fortified.
But the monarchy was non-functional. There was no question but that the government had to change: Either Henry VI had to go, or someone competent had to take charge for him. But the feeble-minded Henry had no skill to choose a minister to do what he himself could not do, and his wife Margaret of Anjou was absolutely unwilling to listen to sense (Rubin, pp. 232-233, attempts to defend Margaret. But it's an impossible task. Yes, Margaret was a strong leader, but she was not emotionally fit -- she played favorites and gave no attention whatsoever to the needs of the country. She forced nobles to be part of the court faction or the anti-court faction -- and then forced the anti-court faction into revolt).
Nor were there any immediate relatives to help out; Henry VI had no brothers, and one of his three uncles had died before Henry V, and the other two were both dead by 1447, all without issue -- Henry IV, amazingly, had had four sons, but only one legitimate grandson, Henry VI (Perroy, p. 335). Henry IV had had some half-brothers, the Beauforts, and there were quite a few of them left (including the Earl of Somerset and his heirs), but though Margaret of Anjou liked them a lot, they were neither particularly competent nor particularly popular. Their main claim to fame was that Henry Tudor was descended from them, but the future Henry VII hadn't even been born when the Wars started.
I won't bore you with the details of the first round of the civil war which began in 1455 (there are plenty of books on the subject, plus some brief notes in the entry on "The Rose of England" [Child 166]), but the final outcome was this: In 1461, Edward Plantagenet, who had become Duke of York when his father was killed in 1460 and who was the Mortimer heir (and hence the rightful king of England) as well as a descendent of Edward III's fourth son Edmund of Langley, was able to crown himself King Edward IV. He then won the battle of Towton, by far the largest battle of the Wars of the Roses, making him the master of almost all of England (Seward-Roses, p. 6).
Edward had to deal with some conspiracies in his reign, and at one time was even deposed in favor of the restored Henry VI (Gillingham, pp. 179-188; HarveyJ, p. 206), but he managed to crush all the rebellions by 1471 -- greatly helped in the final battles by his youngest brother, Richard of Gloucester.
The key battle of the 1471 civil war was the Battle of Barnet. Here we come to another of our conflicts in interpreting the evidence. Kendall, pp. 108-114, makes Richard the hero of that battle, saving Edward IV's right wing. This draws extreme criticism from Ross (pp. 21-22), who essentially accuses Kendall of fabricating the story -- yet to substantiate his claim Ross compresses six pages of Kendall's book down to seven lines of type. It is undeniable that Kendall's account is overly dramatic and detailed. But in essence it is the same as Burne, p. 257fff. The only differences between Kendall and Burne concern commanders at different parts of the front, and in fact Kendall's reconstruction is more reasonable at this point than Burne (Burne has the Earl of Warwick commanding the Lancastrian army from the left flank, whereas Kendall has him command the reserve, in the center of the army, and send it to the left flank. Interestingly, Ross-Edward, p. 167 note 2, points out Burne's error and is far less critical of Kendall). And Burne, p. 277 calls Richard "[the] hero of Barnet."
Even more ironic, Ross-Wars, p. 123, prints a map of Barnet which is without question directly derived from Kendall's of twenty years earlier.
Cheetham does not have a map of the battle, but his description of Barnet (pp. 70-71) is closest to Kendall though it does not give quite as much credit to Richard. Seward-Roses, p. 180, also gives an account much like Kendall's though he downplays the role of Richard; Seward-Richard, p. 51, questions whether Richard had actual command of the right wing, but names no alternate commander and agrees with Kendall's description of the battle.
The second battle of the conflict of 1471 was the Battle of Tewkesbury; here again Richard had command of a third of the army, so clearly Edward IV liked his performance at Barnet. And, again, Richard seems to have performed well (Young/Adair, p. 91; on page 92, they describe his performance as giving Edward "invaluable support").
It seems likely that Kendall and the others are mostly right in his praise of Richard here. Even his worst detractors regarded Richard as a great soldier -- see Seward-Roses, p. 257, who gathers the evidence of the Tudor historians on this point. Keegan/Wheatcroft, p. 262-263, declare that "Whatever the black legend of the Tudors may say of the character of Richard III, it does nothing to conceal his skills as a soldier.... Had Richard had the chance to display his military talents on a wider, European field, his military reputation would stand much higher." The Italian Mancini says that he was the chief prop of Edward's throne in the 1480s: "such was his renown that any difficult or dangerous task necessary for the safety of the realm was entrusted to his direction and generalship" (Fields, p. 60).
To be sure, Ross-Wars, p. 128, thinks Richard's military reputation inflated. He points out, correctly enough, that Richard's record consists of command of a wing at Barnet and Tewkesbury, control of an invasion of Scotland, and the lost battle of Bosworth. But Ross's own account reveals the relative insignificance of strategic planning at this stage. What counted was speed, good logistics, and tactical control of one's forces. Richard consistently demonstrated the first, showed the second in the invasion of Scotland, and clearly displayed the third at Barnet. The single best argument for his ability is the fact that Edward IV -- the only undefeated general of the Wars -- consistently gave Richard extremely senior posts. And it is noteworthy that the war with Scotland, although expensive, went well under Richard; once he became King and others took charge, it collapsed (Pollard, p. 159).
In the aftermath of Tewkesbury, Seward-Richard, p. 54, says that Richard "first sent men to execution without mercy" and accuses him of "his first murder." The first claim is technically true but extremely misleading. Richard was constable of England, and conducted trials of the leading survivors of the battle -- very quick trials. And they did result in executions (Young/Adair, p. 92, who note that the result was"inevitable"; Pollard, p. 51, says that "His role as constable presiding over the courts of chivalry was not exceptional, nor was the summary justice exercised unusual"). However, the chief victim of the trials was the Duke of Somerset. Somerset was unquestionably guilty of treason; he had commanded at Tewkesbury and had been a senior officer at Barnet. The penalty for treason was of course death. It is true that the traitors were executed very hastily -- but they had been taken in battle, so they certainly should have arranged their affairs earlier!
Ross-Edward, who is generally anti-Richard, barely mentions Richard in this context, saying on p. 172 that about a dozen "die-hard Lancastrians were sentenced to death and summarily executed in Tewkesbury market-place, though they were spared any of the usual indignities and given honourable burial afterwards. Not too much should be made of this incident as a lapse from Edward's record of clemency to his opponent. The victims were all men who had shown themselves irreconcilable, and nearly all had been pardoned by Edward in the past, only to abuse his generosity. Given their records, they could have expected little else."
There is an illustration of the execution of Somerset in an early French translation of the Arrival of Edward IV [a chronicle of Edward's return from exile]. Ross-Wars, p. 120, reproduces it. In the foreground, looking on carefully, is a man wearing a crown, whose shield bears the quartered arms of England and France -- the tokens of the English King. It is clearly supposed to be Edward IV. There can be little doubt that contemporaries thought Edward, not Richard, responsible for the execution.
Some have argued that the capture of Somerset and his men was a violation of the right of sanctuary; they were taken from a church in Tewkesbury. This has caused much debate over the years about whether that particular building had the right of sanctuary (Seward-Richard, p. 54; Kendall, p. 529). But even if it was a true violation, the decision was Edward IV's, not Richard's. And Henry VII would notably pressure the King's Bench to rule that there could be no sanctuary in cases of treason (Chrimes, p. 71).
If this tells us anything at all about Richard, it is only that he learned about justice in a very hard school, and to punish swiftly and forcefully. Lord Hastings would suffer unfairly as a result, but Richard probably was not deliberately unjust.
If you accept Seward's definition of "murder" as meaning "enforcing the law," then Seward is actually wrong about Richard's first murder, because he had in 1469 helped judge a court case resulting in a jury convicting two peers of a capital crime (Ross-Edward, p. 123). This was in a civil court, whereas the Tewkesbury executions followed what amounts to a court-martial -- but both were legal executions of men known to be guilty of treason.
Seward-Richard, p. 55, accuses Richard of murdering Edward, the Lancastrian Prince of Wales. Kendall, pp. 528-529, cites *seven* contemporary sources as saying Edward died on the field at Tewkesbury -- and quotes them to prove it. Seward brushes this off as "very few" sources and says that, since they aren't specific, we are still entitled to think Richard killed the prince. Dockray, p. 83, is wishy-washy but says "although there is considerable disagreement in the sources, the balance of likelihood is that Prince Edward of Lancaster was killed during the action." Pollard, p. 51, says flatly that "There is no contemporary evidence to support" the accusation against Richard. And Ross, p. 22, says unequivocally that "No shred of blame can fall on Richard for Prince Edward's fate." Burne, p. 283, agrees that Edward died in the battle. We can give Seward this much: Had Edward been captured, he would surely have been executed (indeed, this seems to be what the Arrival of Edward IV says happened: Edward "was taken, fleeing toward the town, and slain in the field"; Dockray, p. 92). But even that is not murder, given that Edward was old enough to fight.
Seward-Richard, pp. 56-57, and Weir, pp. 27-28, are on slightly firmer ground in accusing Richard of the murder of Henry VI. Thomas More said he did it, the equally unreliable Rous says Richard *might* have taken part, as does Commynes (WilliamsonA, p. 35), and a London chronicle reports Henry "was slain, as it was said, by the Duke of Gloucester" (Dockray, p. 91; note the slightly uncertain language). Warkworth makes the more ambiguous statement that Richard was in the Tower when Henry VI died (Dockray, p. 86; Pollard, p. 52). The argument loses some force, though, when one notes that Warkworth says "many others" were there also.
Adding to the confusion, Polydore Vergil says Richard killed Henry with a sword (Weir, p. 28), while Seward-Richard, p. 57, says that the dagger so used was venerated in Reading Abbey in 1534. Yet a 1910 medical examination of Henry's corpse found he had been beaten about the head. This is at best peculiar -- Henry VI was an imbecile, so why beat him before killing him? One has to suspect the blows to the head were the cause of death. (To be sure, WilliamsonA, p. 34, remarks that the skeleton, when examined in 1910, was too badly preserved to allow many clear conclusions about Henry's death -- or, presumably, life).
It is curious to note that, when Richard became king, he moved Henry VI's body to a better burial site (Pollard, p. 163), and perhaps tried to associate himself with the aura of sanctity starting to gather around Henry VI (Pollard, p. 164); Ashdown-HillDNA, p. 51, suspects he might even have helped foster Henry's reputation for sainthood. This reputation was undeserved -- Henry was a nitwit, not a saint -- but dead kings tend to grow on people, since by being dead they are incapable of doing anything else stupid or oppressive. And Richard might, possibly, have regretted Henry's murder, whatever his own role in it. (Henry Tudor himself would eventually upgrade Richard's own tomb, when Perkin Warbeck was threatening him and it was useful to remind people that Richard and the Yorkist line was dead. The location of Richard's burial was apparently known in the early 1500s; the grave was only lost with the dissolution of the monasteries, when the building containing it was probably despoiled; Ashdown-HillDNA, pp. 105, 108-109.)
Ross, p. 22 concludes, "An element of suspicion regarding his involvement in the death of Henry VI perhaps remains.... At most, however, he may have been the agent, not the director of King Henry's murder, since, as Gairdner pointed out long ago, the decision to murder another king could only have been made by [Edward IV] personally." Ross-Edward, p. 175, says that Richard may have been in the Tower, but that the decision was Edward's. Similarly Pollard, p. 55, although he thinks Richard played a role, says that "It is highly unlikely that Henry would have been killed on any authority but the king's. At worst Richard, if involved, was but Edward's agent; there is no reason at all to suppose that he personally stabbed Henry to death with his own dagger...." Lyon, p. 142, doesn't even mention Richard, merely saying that his death came about "almost certainly by murder on Edward IV's orders."
The Milanese ambassador, in fact, says explicitly that Edward IV decided to get rid of Henry (Dockray, p. 94), though the ambassador's statement is weakened by the fact that he though Margaret of Anjou had also been executed. Even Weir, p. 28, admits Edward's ultimate responsibility. Kendall, p. 121, seems to think Richard brought the order but took no part in the execution. HarveyJ, p. 188, claims that Richard was "away" at the time. Dockray, p. 82, tells us of the unlikely scene of a meeting between Edward IV and Henry VI before Barnet, which implies that Edward was trying to decide what to do. On p. 83, Dockray declares, "The official version of this even in the Arrival -- that [Henry] died 'of pure displeasure and melancholy' -- can surely be discounted, while any role... Richard of Gloucester may have had in the hapless Henry's demise is far from clear: Edward IV himself, in all probability, was responsible for ordering... the death of the last Lancastrian king."
But while he was likely innocent in fact, the various chronicles prove that at least some people *thought* Richard had killed Henry, which from a public relations standpoint was just as bad as having actually done it.
Seward-Richard, p. 58, also accuses Richard of murdering the Bastard of Fauconberg, though he admits no one knows how Fauconberg -- who led an army which attacked London around the time of Tewkesbury but then surrendered -- died. Not even Weir supports this allegation; Gillingham, who devotes pp. 208-213 to Fauconberg's fight, says on p. 13 that Edward IV had him beheaded and his head placed on London Bridge; he suspects that Fauconberg went back on his pardon. Kendall, p. 121, says much the same. Ross-Edward, p. 181, says that Fauconberg was executed "probably by Gloucester, for some new offence"; in his biography of Richard, Ross simply ignores the Bastard's execution, which implies that he does not think Richard acted wrongly. What is certain is that Fauconberg was a Neville (the illegitimate half-brother of the Earl of Warwick), and it is reasonable to assume he backed his family's cause even when it was lost. (Perhaps he went north to try to gather troops?)
After Barnet and Tewksbury, Edward IV's future seemed secure. In strict line of blood, the next heir of Henry VI if one reckons ancestry from John of Gaunt was King John II of Portugal, a descendent of King Henry IV by his second wife (Ross-Wars, p. 93), but he was foreign (which often debarred a succession), and his claim was in female line. The closest thing to a Lancastrian heir among men born in England was the young Henry Tudor, who sprang from the Beaufort family -- i.e. he was a descendent of John of Gaunt by his third wife (Henry IV had been the son of John's first wife) -- but the Beaufort children, as the children of the liason with Katherine Swynford came to be named, had been born before John of Gaunt had married their mother. Henry IV, although partially legitimizing them, had explicitly barred them from the succession (Kendall, p. 185). This apparently was done at the request of Archbishop Arundel in 1407 (Tuck, p. 236), although there is no obvious reason why Arundel would want such a thing (unless it was simply that the Beauforts were allying themselves with Henry V against their father and Arundel, which may have been the case; Tuck, p. 238. Givens-Wilson, p. 450, thinks that Henry did it mostly to keep the Beauforts from getting too ambitious; he trusted them, but didn't want anyone feeling too confident of their places).
This disbarment is another touchy point. Jenkins, p. 14, notes that the Beauforts had been explicitly legitimized by Richard II, with no stated restrictions on their rights to the succession, and that this was done by act of parliament. Saul3, p. 159, notes that Richard had called them "our own dear kinsmen... sprung from royal stock"; he suggests that Richard -- who had no son or brother -- may have been trying to strengthen his party. Henry IV had modified their standing by letters patent, which could not override an act of parliament (cf. WilliamsonJ, p. 15).
But there are three points here. First, people clearly did doubt the Beaufort claim (Ross-Wars, p. 93), which makes the actual law almost irrelevant.
Second, the King *could* regulate the succession -- as late as the reign of Anne, it was generally accepted that her heir would be whoever she said should take the throne. Even more to the point, Henry VIII had put Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I all in the line of succession, even though it is nearly impossible to find an argument which makes all of them legitimate. (this is the main argument of de Lisle, p. 23, who uses it to advance a claim that the Stuarts should never have succeeded Elizabeth I). Of course this is far later -- but Henry VIII could only claim the right because it existed prior to him
The bottom line is, the succession law had been repeatedly fiddled with prior to the time of Richard III, notably in the reigns of Henry I, Stephen, Henry II, John, and Henry IV himself. So Henry did have the right to say that legitimized children could not succeed, and (it seems to me) only an express act of parliament could override this clarification. And it was a clarification Richard II had not had to worry about; he still hoped for an heir at the time of his death, and in any case he had at least eight heirs senior to the Beauforts even if they were fully legitimized. He surely had no thought that they might succeed him, so they were not something he had to think about. They *were* a concern to Henry IV and his heirs, since they were Henry's closest relatives except for his sons. Despite the claim by Jenkins that that Henry IV's alteration of the succession was of dubious legality, it appears to me that parliament implicitly went along with Henry IV's restriction.
A third point is made in RicardianXIII, pp. 27-38, which lies at the heart of the whole Lancastrian claim to the throne. Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king, had known when he took the throne in 1399 that he was not the heir of the deposed Richard II. Oh, he was Richard's heir in male line, and this is usually treated as the basis of the Lancastrian claim. But although England had never had a ruling queen in 1399, it was established that claims could be trasmitted through females -- Henry II, the very first Plantagenet, had claimed the throne because he was the son of Matilda/Maud, the only child of King Henry I. So Henry IV, in taking the throne, offered as one of his claims the fact that he was descended from Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster, the brother of King Edward I.
The argument used by Henry IV was that Edmund Crouchback was actually older than his brother Edward, and should have been King, but was set aside due to his disabilities. This is quite certainly false -- Edward I was the older brother. But the interesting point is, if Henry IV claimed to be king by descent from Edmund Crouchback (which, apparently, he did), then the claim came from his mother Blanche of Lancaster, *not* his father John of Gaunt, the third son of Edward III.
But Henry Tudor, note, was descended not from John of Gaunt's first wife Blanche but from his third wife, who was not a descendent of Edmund Crouchback. Thus, even if you ignore his exclusion from the succession, he failed to have *either* of the characteristics of a Lancastrian claimant -- he was not descended from Edward III in male line (since his claim came only through his mother) and he was not descended from Edmund Crouchback at all.
As Ross-Wars, p. 93, puts it, "There was now no respectable Lancastrian claimant to the English throne left alive.' (In this sense, Ross points out, the original conflict of the Wars of the Roses -- the fight between Lancaster and York -- was over.)
Henry Tudor was so remote from the throne that he didn't even really have a hereditary title, and certainly not a royal title such as a dukedom. The only thing he could claim was the Earldom of Richmond, which had been given to his father by Henry VI, but which Edward IV took away from him (Jenkins, p. 22). In any case, Henry's claim to the throne passed through his mother, Margaret Beaufort -- who was still alive at the time Henry took the throne; if you allow Beaufort succession, she, not he, should have reigned. (Indeed, Henry would grant her the right to sign herself as "Margaret R"; Chrimes, p. 57 n. 2). There is *no* line of argument which makes Henry Tudor the hereditary king of England in 1485.
While Edward was relaxing his vigilance, Richard was building a power base in northern England. Pollard, p. 73, accuses Richard of being "an unsettling force in the early 1470s," and says that Edward had to work hard to restrain him. But this was not all bad. Pollard describes on pp. 74-77 how Richard built a power in the north, saying that "Within an exceedingly brief period he had risen from the distrusted interloper to the acknowledged lord of the north." He adds that "The use to which Richard put his power was largely beneficial to the north. By healing the old wounds between Neville and Neville, and Neville and Percy he removed the principal cause of the civil strife and disorder which had plagued the region since 1453."
Pollard, p. 78, also notes that, in this period, "Gloucester went out of his way to uphold the law even against his own men." He notes a great concern for justice in Richard (though he somehow doesn't view this as a virtue), and notes on p. 79 that Richard was "a benevolent lord" to the city of York; he made serious efforts ti improve the northern economy.
Last updated in version 4.1
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.