Children in the Wood, The (The Babes in the Woods) [Laws Q34] --- Part 05

DESCRIPTION: Conclusion of the notes to "The Children in the Wood (The Babes in the Woods)" [Laws Q34].
Last updated in version 3.8
The claim that Richard did nothing but evil is patently false. He promoted learning and tried very much to establish justice; in better times, he very likely would have been a good king. Wilkinson, p. 300, says that "Richard took his business of ruling very seriously," adding that he brought able men into his council, encouraged trade, and established an admiralty as well as trying to clean up the national finances. Wilkinson concludes that he was "an able and effective king."
The laws passed in Richard's sole parliament were very positive. Cheetham, p. 158, lists as the major accomplishments laws regulating the granting of bail, assuring that juries were selected honestly and kept free from pressure, and governing the sale of property so that rich landowners couldn't cheat buyers. Jenkins, pp. 204-205, adds that he implemented laws to protect the property of those who were charged with crimes (WilliamsonA, p. 111, notes that the Woodvilles had been notorious for this). He set up a postal service. And he made revisions to the customs laws, most notably abolishing all duties on printed books and allowing foreign booksellers to sell their wares. (Garnett and Gosse, p. 273. Think about *that*, Shakespeare fans! -- and note that Henry VIII repealed this and banned foreign booksellers; Steinberg/Trevitt, p. 49. Tudor renaissance? Hah.) One of Caxton's books was dedicated to Richard (Cunningham, p. 88).
He also banned the royal use of "benevolences" -- that is, forced loans (Russell, p. 38). These amounted to direct extortion from the nobles, especially as there was no real guarantee that they would be paid back. WilliamsonA, p. 109, notes that this was remembered -- apparently the citizens of London tried to use the precedents set by Richard to argue against Tudor tax policy. (It shouldn't take much knowledge of history to know how well *that* went over. The fact that anyone even tried the argument shows how strong was the contrast between Plantagenet and Tudor monarchy.)
The acts of Richard's parliament were published in English, according to Fields, p. 162 -- the first time the laws were published in the vernacular instead of in Latin. This was another help to the common people, since for the first time they could understand the law without having to rely on a cleric or lawyer.
Ross sourly comments (p. 189) that most of Richard's reforms were badly needed, and hence obvious -- but they had been obvious for decades and no one else made them; Ross-Edward, p. 347, documents how little constructive legislation had passed in the reign of Edward IV, and Chrimes, p. 136, admits that Henry VII's parliaments produced little significant legislation; Richard was the only genuine reformer of the fifteenth century. Ross observes that the 1484 parliament seems to have been full of Richard's supporters (it elected Richard's friend William Catesby as speaker even though Catesby had never served in parliament before; Ross, p. 185); Ross may be right in thinking that this indicates an unusual degree of parliament-packing, but I'm not sure why he thinks that so significant, since the results were still positive.
Pollard, p. 156, questions how much of the legislation was actually proposed by Richard, who allegedly had no "personal interest" in the acts involving commercial law (which he admits are good). But Pollard, like Ross, believes (although he admits that we have no data) that that parliament of 1484 was packed (Pollard, p. 151). If the parliament was under Richard's thumb, then Richard can be credited with the legislation. And even Pollard, p. 177, says that many of the changes which made Henry Tudor so strong a king (and he certainly was a strong king, if not a pleasant one) were in fact Richard's work. He goes on to compare Richard to Henry V -- a comparison which, I suspect, neither king's partisans would like.
Learning was clearly important to Richard. He gave major endowments to two colleges at Cambridge (Cheetham, p. 163; Ross, p. 135). Ross also says, on p. 130, that Richard endowed many foundations -- and that most of his activities of this sort came before he was king, when they became (in effect) part of his job. Among his foundations while still duke was Middleham College. He also started a college at York Minster as king, though he didn't have time to properly endow it. Pollard, too, notes his charities (p. 193), even while condemning his techniques of land aquisition. (Given the behavior of every other noble of the time, this strikes me as imposing modern morals on a medieval man.) Cunningham, p. 87, credits him with a grand total of ten major endowments. This is by contrast to his brother Edward IV, who (according to Dockray, p. 5) was neither especially religious nor especially devoted to learning.
Richard may also have enjoyed scholarly discussion himself; Ross, p. 149, notes an occasion when he spent two days listening to scholarly debate at Oxford (but can't resist adding a dig, "how much he understood of them is an open question.")
Nor was this the only time Richard listened to scholars debate. According to, Richard while Duke of Goucester heard a debate between William Grocyn and John Taylor. Richard gave Grocyn five marks and a buck -- a significant gift at the time. And Grocyn, according to Rylands, p. 18, became the first-ever teacher of Greek at Oxford. Although little is left from his pen, this makes him one of the most important classical scholars in English history -- but he seems to have gotten no support from the Tudors; only Richard heard and supported him. Like his support for books, Richard's support for Greek scholars gives strong evidence of his belief in the value of learning.
Protestants might be interested to note that, at a time when the Catholic Church refused to sanction vernacular translations and generally restricted ownership of the Bible (the Lancastrian dynasty had officially tried to suppress the Lollard translation of Wycliffe, along with a number of other books they or the Church did not like; Rubin, pp. 194-195), Richard had his own copy of the Wycliffe English Bible (Kendall, p. 386; Ross, p. 128, claims it was a "non-Lollard" version of Wycliffe's translation, but there is no such thing. Ross may be referring to an attempt by Cardinal F. A. Gasquet to prove that the translation known as Wycliffe's was orthodox and that the actual translation by Wycliffe has not survived. But we actually have copies of the Wycliffe translations in the autographs of translators Nicolas of Hereford and John Purvey; Kenyon/Adams, pp. 278-281, completely demolishes Gasquet's hypothesis. What Richard had was a Wycliffite Bible based on Wycliffe's and Hereford's first draft, without Purvey's heretical prologue to the revised translation).
I'm not saying Richard was a proto-Protestant; it appears he was always at peace with the official church, and in addition to that Bible, he owned a set of visions of St. Matilda (Saul3, p. 185) and a Book of Hours. But he does seem to have been someone who believed in the substance rather than the form of piety.
Richard's Book of Hours had originally been compiled for someone else -- but the prayers he had added to it are fascinating. One has the explicit statement "Keep concord between me and my enemies"; another, while asking that he be delivered from his enemies, asks that he might "find grace and favour in the eyes of his adversaries" (Saul3, pp. 188-189). These are sentiments which make a lot of sense in the context of the Wars of the Roses -- but are fascinating from a man so known for swift action! Even Saul3, no fan, admits on p. 197 that the evidence seems to indicate a troubled mind. He also thinks, p. 198, that Richard believed his religion justified his acts. We might not agree -- but certainly it makes his moral guilt a complicated matter.
Seward-Richard, p. 87, mentions Richard's Wycliffite Bible and other religious activities -- and concludes that Richard was a hypocrite who failed to acknowledge his actions. But this is precisely backward -- Richard's spiritual life was largely secret. If there is a key to Richard, I think it lies here: His definition of morality was not ours. We may not agree with Richard's (I certainly don't!), but in trying to assess what kind of man he was, we must ask if he was true to his morals, not ours. (Ross, in his final chapter, addresses this. Seward and Weir never do. Ironically, Kendall never really does, either.)
Richard was able to appoint only two bishops, but both were exceptional men (Ross, p. 133): Thomas Langton was first made Bishop of St. David's, then of Salisbury (and, under Henry VII, Bishop of Winchester and was nominated Archbishop of Canterbury but did not live to assume the post), and John Sherwood became Bishop of Durham (one of the most important of all English sees). Langton was a canon lawyer and a humanist; Shirwood, even more unusually, knew Greek as well as Latin and studied the actual Bible, not the badly-corrupted Latin Vulgate texts of the period that were the official Catholic texts. Richard even recommended that Shirwood be made Cardinal. For his own chaplain, he chose another Greek scholar, who had actually written a commentary on Plato (Ross, p. 134). Henry Tudor, by contrast, held bishoprics vacant in order to increase his own revenues (Russell, p. 57).
Richard established the Council of the North in 1484 (Cheetham, pp. 167-168, 209, Dockray, p. 111), which was maintained even by the Tudors; it lasted until the Union of the Crowns largely eliminated the Scottish border problem. Pollard, p. 176, observes that this solved a long-term problem: The crown had little control of the north, and many rebellions had come from there. Even Seward-Richard, p. 71, admits that "Beyond question the Duke's overall administration [of his territory in the North] was brilliantly successful.... [H]is firm hand and employment of Northern officials won him golden opinions and devoted servants among the townsmen and among some of the gentry." Dockray, p. 111, declares that Richard "brought a degree of stability to the region not seen for years." The problem was that it made him seem like the leader of a section of the country rather than the nation as a whole. The Tudors, in fact, adopted the idea and created a similar Council for Wales (Russell, p. 47). But Pollard, p. 150, suggests that the Earl of Northumberland may have resented the Council, since it reduced his power somewhat.
Richard also founded the ancestor of the modern Court of Requests, which gave ordinary people a chance to try to gain justice from their superiors (Cheetham, pp. 207-208; Jenkins, p. 205; Cunningham, p. 58, says that "Richard did have a genuine motivation to maintain impartial justice"; Ross, p. 175, notes the founding of the Court of Requests but sneers that Richard was prepared to ignore justice when it got in his way; Russell, p. 51, tries to deny the link to Richard by saying its "origins are obscure." According to Langley/Jones, p. 145, Richard had a substantial knowledge of and interest in the law; in the circumstances, perhaps it is not surprising he established a judicial circuit to deal with things other courts did not handle).
Ross, p. 151, quotes Bishop Langton as saying, "He contents the people wherever he goes best that ever did prince; for many a poor man that hath suffered wrong many days have been relieved by him 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 hath refused." Langton was allied with Richard, but this was in a private letter, so the sentiments are probably genuine. And Ross, p. 152, goes on to note that even hostile witnesses testify to his attempts to his attempts to supply tax relief and bring justice to the commons.
This seems to have been a genuine respect for all people. When he made an endowment to Queen's College, Cambridge, for a memorial to his dead soldiers, he didn't list just the highborn men; he appears to have included even the ordinary infantrymen -- a rare thing at the time (Langley/Jones, p. 191).
That respect for the common people reminds us of one of his other innovations -- one which may have been fatal. Richard tried to build his faction of relatively low-born men -- knights and esquires, rather than the high nobility (Cheetham, pp. 161-162; Seward-Richard, p. 117, calls them a "mafia"!). For example, when it came time to appoint a Lord Treasurer in succession to the deceased Essex, he did not choose a baron or a bishop, but gave the post to John Wood, the under-treasurer, a competent man but a commoner. He seems to have chosen men of high ability -- but, of course, the barons would have resented it, and in the period of the Wars of the Roses, they were in the habit of helping to decide who was king. As we have seen, several authors make exaggerated claims about how few of the high nobles fought at Bosworth. They usually blame it on repugnance for Richard. I suspect that the repugnance was more of a petty hissy fit, "How can he employ people like that? Just because their intelligence and education is greater than mine...."
It is often urged that the reign of Richard produced nothing in the way of literature and art, whereas Henry VII started the Tudor renaissance. It is true that there are no significant works from the period, and we have no record of Richard supporting the arts (Ross-Wars, p. 85). But we must note that the whole era was lacking; Amderson, p. 255, declares "No century in the history of English literature since the Norman Conquest has been more .often reproached for its barrenness than the fifteenth; and certainly its accomplishment is by any standard comparatively insignificant." Chaucer and Langland and the Gawain-poet and Gower were dead by about 1400 -- and no one succeeded them (barring the faint possibility that a great poet's work was lost. It could have happened; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, after all, survived in only one manuscript). There were "Chaucerians," to be sure, but the only tolerable writers among them, ironically, were Scottish! (Anderson, pp. 263-265).
The simple truth is, the Lancastrian era gave us no great writer except Thomas Malory (several authors speculate that the religious bigotry of the Lancastrians was a major factor in this), and the (much shorter) Yorkist era gave us none at all. Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur, written by a man who was in constant trouble with the law, was in fact published by Caxton in 1485, just days before Henry Tudor's invasion, meaning that Richard's reign was responsible for making available the only significant literary work of the era. (It is curious to observe that, of Caxton's early publications, Malory's is among the least preserved -- only one complete copy plus a second with quite a few leaves missing. It can't be that it was unpopular -- it was reprinted as early as 1498.)
But Henry VII's reign -- which lasted exactly as long as the combined reigns of the Yorkist kings -- also produced nothing. I checked four major poetry anthologies; between them they quoted only three poets born between 1420 and the death of Henry VII, and only two of them were mentioned in all the anthologies: John Skelton was in his twenties (probably 25) at the time of Bosworth, so he was formed by Yorkist tastes, not Tudor; Thomas Wyatt was only six when Henry VII died, so Henry can hardly claim credit for him!
The third poet of the period, Stephen Hawes appears in only one anthology, seemingly to bring in one early Tudor writer other than Skelton. (Hawes was one of Henry VII's grooms and a Chaucerian hack, according to Anderson, pp. 261-262. Kunitz/Haycraft, pp. 254-255, say that his writing was "essentially medieval," and marked by "sameness of... style" and "careless construction, confused meter, and bizarre and artificial wording." There is a work of his in Percy, but again, it seems intended to fill a chronological gap.) In any case, he seems to have worked primarily in the reign of Henry VIII, not Henry VII.
The next major poet after Wyatt was Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey -- and he came from the family to which Richard III had given the Norfolk earldom, and Henry VIII executed him as a result. Great way to start a renaissance.
Morris, p. 18, makes the startling observation that, in literature, "Tudor men and women talked and wrote as if they had virtually no 'inner life.'" Their art was little better. Morris, p. 21, declares, "Tudor taste was still very gothic; it was a taste for the excrescent, the florid, the flamboyant. It ran to profusion. It could not resist filling all available space with arabesque and ornament; it had to be lavish and garish in display."
The Royal Library, which formed the basis of what is now the British Library, was founded by Edward IV. Henry Tudor seemingly took no interest in it (so BarkerEtAl, p. 26). Considering that the printing press was active in the early Tudor period, as it had not been in the Yorkist, the lack of great works stemming from Henry's reign is noteworthy. Culturally, far from starting the Tudor renaissance, Henry VII continued the great cultural vacuum. It has been said that Henry VII paved the way for Elizabeth I (and there is no denying that hers was a great era culturally). But in truth Henry left little behind but a strong centralized government and a large war-chest -- and Henry VIII spend the latter and the reign of Mary (and indeed of Henry VIII and Edward VI) showed how dangerous the former could be. Even Elizabeth's regime censored publications.
The Vatican imposed censorship starting in 1487, and Tudor censorship was even more extreme -- Henry VIII had an index of prohibited books, just like theVatican (Gillingham, pp. 9-10). Ashley-GB, p. 223, notes that one reason the Reformation succeeded was that Henry VIII was able to publish books supporting his side, but suppressed Catholic books. We have actual physical evidence that Tudor officialdom hacked at at least one play which Shakespeare worked on. (Who knows what he might have done had he had a free hand? It has been observed that, of the English kings from Richard II to Henry VIII, Shakespeare wrote plays about all but Edward V, who hardly had a reign, and Henry VII...). Richard III appears never to have instituted prior restraint.
And Tudor England was not an economic success -- Henry Tudor faced a peasant revolt in 1497 which made it all the way to London (Morris, p. 26), and Henry VIII faced an even worse revolt in the 1520s (Russell, p. 79). The Tudor regime pushed taxes very high (Ashley-GB, p. 229, notes about an eight-fold increase from Henry VII's average to the average in the final years of Henry VIII; even allowing for inflation, that implies a threefold increase in effective tax rates), with bad results for the economy. It was in Tudor times that inflation first began to affect England seriously (Morris, p. 30; Ahsley-GB, p. 230, estimates that prices tripled from the beginning of Henry VIII's reign to the beginning of Elizabeth I's. That's not an extreme rate of inflation -- a little less than 2.5% per year -- but it was a dramatic change for a society used to almost no price fluctuation at all).
Henry VIII would debase the coinage (Morris, p. 31; Halliday, p. 92), something the Plantagenets had largely avoided and which made the inflation far worse. According to Gillingham, p. 11, real wages fell throughout the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth, hitting their nadir in 1597. Enclosure drove many off their lands, and the number of poor increased dramatically in Tudor times (Mattingly, p. 177). It seems clear that this was the result of the exceptional taxes levied by Henry VII and his heirs, and the currency manipulation of Henry VIII. Halliday points (p. 96) that when Elizabeth succeeded to the throne, England was a poor nation -- yet it had been one of the richest in Europe even during the nadir of the Lancastrian era!
The very pro-Tudor WilliamsonJ says, on pp. 16-17, that while Henry Tudor at the time of Bosworth was "cool, humorous... diplomatic... capable of instant decision... and... a man of his word" (a description which, even then, I find far too flattering), he concedes that this was not "an altogether just picture of the Henry VII of twenty years later" (in other words, Henry VII showed his real side when he was secure on the throne -- and it wasn't a very pretty picture).
Let us not forget who pushed through the legislation which empowered the Star Chamber (WilliamsonJ, pp. 27-28, though he tries valiantly to claim both that the Star Chamber was actually a positive step and that Henry didn't really create it. Russell, however, notes on pp. 49-50 that being summoned before the Council or the Star Chamber was "one of the most alarming experiences which might befall a Tudor gentleman." WilliamsonJ's rather delicate way, on p. 38, of describing Henry's regard for law is to say that "Henry's upbringing in foreign countries had not imbued him with the instinctive respect for the constitution which he might have had if he had been educated near the throne." In other words, he was a despot. It is rarely stated this way, but the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was largely an attempt to limit the powers the Tudor monarchs had taken to themselves).
The Tudors also added many more government officials -- some, like those who ran the Navy, useful, but many just to watch over people. Henry Tudor, for instance, created the county officials known as feodaries, responsible for collecting rents and fees for the king, plus the receiver, surveyor, and woodward (Russell, p. 49). Some of there tasks were important, but mostly they added to the burden of government. And, since government posts paid very little, most survived by squeezing people; at this time, big government was generally bad government (Russell, p. 45).
Henry Tudor's Engliand was, flatly, a police state for the noble families. According to Ross-Wars, p. 152, "Of the twenty families which made up the higher nobility... in 1485, only half still held their titles in 1509" -- and many of those under suspended attainder, meaning that Henry could pick them off at any time if they misbehaved. Ross-Edward, p. 339, quotes Lander's statement that it was a "terrifying system" and refers to one of the crown officers as the "chief agent of extortion." Hicks, on p. 269 of RicardianXIII, notes that Henry almost never fully reversed an attainder. The treason laws were also toughened; in the past, treason had required an actual act of rebellion, but under Henry VIII, just speaking seditiously was considered sufficient reason to die a traitor's death (Russell, p. 90). Had the nobles known in 1485 what they were getting themselves in for, I doubt Henry Tudor would have lasted a week on the throne.
It seems that more people trained in the law under the Tudors than under the Yorkist regimes (Russell, p. 54). And, since there still were no officers of justice other than the sheriffs, now badly underpaid and with little use for their task, there was a vast upsurge in informers (Russell, p. 45). Many of these were merely witnesses bringing stories about property crimes and the like -- but far too many were governmentinformants, or people who used the Tudors' security mania to get back at personal enemies.
Or consider this: Columbus, for his explorations of America, was granted great titles and revenue by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain. But when John Cabot tried to explore the New World for the English, Henry Tudor gave him -- ten pounds (Mirsky, p. 24). Little wonder he eventually went into Spanish service (WilliamsonJ, p. 93). England eventually acquired overseas colonies, but would surely have done so sooner (and at less cost!) had Henry not been so unwilling to make investments in the future.
Or this: Erasmus of Rotterdam, arguably the greatest scholar of his age, came to England about the time Henry VII died. He left five years later -- because no one paid him enough to support him (WilliamsonJ, p. 92).
Or this: Henry VII's council was so unpopular that his son Henry VIII, on taking the throne, had not only to expel two of them but to execute them (WilliamsonJ, p. 76). This even though Henry VIII otherwise kept the rest of the council intact; he was not trying for a completely new policy.
Henry VII didn't even show much gratitude to the men who put him on the throne. Sir William Stanley, who saved his life, would be executed in 1495 (Kendall, p. 457). Rhys ap Thomas, who had brought in most of the Welsh troops that fought at Bosworth, was never promoted above the status of knight (Mattingly, p. 45).
Turning back to Richard, the one thing he clearly was not was a peaceful man -- at least before he became King. When Edward IV invaded France, the French quickly tried to buy off the English, and Richard opposed the deal. He commanded an invasion of Scotland, and probably wanted to lead more (Dockray, pp. 111-112, who clearly thinks the border war unwise; in this, he follows the Croyland Chronicler, who thought it an expensive boondoggle). But, in 1484, he agreed to a three-year truce and a marriage alliance with the Scots, agreeing to marry his niece (the daughter of the Duke of Suffolk and the sister of Richard's later heir the earl of Lincoln) to the future James IV (Ross, p. 193, though Ross interprets these attempts at peace as evidence that Richard wanted more war with the Scots).
The Scots were not a real threat to Richard's throne. The French were. Ross, pp. 195-196, notes that Richard's enemy Henry Tudor had long been sheltered in Brittany (which was, in practical terms, independent from France but very afraid of the French. Bennett, p. 85, thinks the time in Brittany was a help to Henry, since it exposed him to the Breton culture -- relatively close to Welsh culture, and Henry, who was a quarter Welsh, would desperately need Welsh support). Richard responded with a campaign of naval pressure on the Bretons (Ross, p. 197), even though they would have been logical allies against the French had he managed the relationship right. Later, after Richard convinced the Bretons to yield the Tudor, Henry escaped to the French (Ross, p. 199, who thinks that Henry's mother Margaret Beaufort may have warned him; she might well have learned of it from her husband Lord Stanley). And, because the French considered Richard their enemy, they let Henry loose and even gave him some French soldiers (Ross, p. 194).
Despite his George W. Bush approach to diplomacy, Richard was ahead of his time in many ways -- e.g. in his support of printing, which of course would make learning available to far more than ever before; in his personal version of spirituality, as shown by his English Bible and other books; in his tendency to appoint learned men rather than timeservers to high office (Ross, p. 76; Ross, p. 132, adds that he preferred Cambridge to Oxford men, but given that his Chancellor, Bishop John Russell, whom Thomas More called "one of the best learned men undoubtedly that England had in his time," was an Oxford man, I think this is exaggerated); and in his respect for the commons.
One of Shakespeare's incidents may have had a vague kernel of truth. Sadly, according to Jenkins, p. 208, Richard's wife Anne Neville was consumptive (probably; Weir, p. 206, says "tuberculosis or cancer"), and toward the end of her life doctors declared her illness contagious. So Richard, whose only legitimate son Edward had died in early 1484, was unable to share his wife's bed in the final months before she too died in early 1485 (HarveyJ, p. 208; Jenkins, p. 210; Seward-Richard, p. 168, in his desire to finish off Richard, apparently wanted him to sleep with her so he too could have gotten sick). While hardly the marriage of enemies Shakespeare portrayed, at the end it was perhaps chaste.
Weir, p. 210, is sure that Richard tried to hasten Anne's end, and cites on p. 211 Rous's statement that Richard poisoned Anne. This apparently was a genuine rumor, known also to Commynes. Seward-Richard, p. 169, says that the rumor came from "no less a witness than Richard himself" -- but he cites no statement of Richard's, instead mentioning Commynes.
Evidence and logic argue against it. Poison was becoming a political tool on the continent, but the English were very slow to adopt it (Lofts, pp. 88-89). In any case, the poisons of the period weren't reliable enough to make someone die of what seemed to be tuberculosis! Plus the Croyland Chronicler reports that, when their son Edward died, both Richard III and his wife were "almost bordering on madness" because of their grief (Ross, p. 145; Pollard, p. 159). Richard, given his illegitimate children, would surely have been of the opinion that he could have more offspring if he married someone else -- and, since he and Anne Neville were cousins, he could almost certainly have obtained an annulment of his marriage. Why poison her and risk discovery?
More to the point, Richard's marriage to Anne Neville helped maintain his alliances in the north, since she was the heir of one of the greatest northern families. Getting rid of her was not good politics (Bennett, p. 68). Even if he wanted her dead, he could surely have waited until Henry Tudor was dealt with. Seward-Richard, p. 168, claims that Richard used "psychological methods" to poison her, and claims support from Croyland -- but in his endnote cites only Polydore Vergil.
Weir admits (pp. 210-211) that Croyland tells us Richard wept openly by Anne's grave, and that his face was always drawn after this. Naturally Weir considers this another act on his part.
Saul3, p. 78, does note that Anne's death, plus the death of his son Edward, may have made Richard's cause seem "blighted," and adds that Richard cannot have expected her to bear another son, because her line didn't bear sons (a false statement, since Anne's sister Isabel had a son, the Earl of Warwick). But his note on p. 157, that the death of Richard's son was seen as a reflection on his treatment of Edward IV's sons and a token of his Richard's failure, is probably true.
There is disagreement about whether the marriage between Richard and Anne Neville was a love match -- Kendall thinks it was; Ross, p. 28, vigorously denies it, and Ross-Edward, p. 188, suggests Anne married Richard because he was the only man strong enough to prevent Anne from being despoiled by Anne's sister Isabel and her husband George. Seward-Richard, p. 62, in a rare moment of balance, confesses, "There is no evidence how he regarded her, nor even if their marriage was happy or unhappy."
The only direct evidence we have seems to be an ambassadorial report, which claims Richard married Anne for her property -- but it is so distorted that it doesn't even list Richard's earldom correctly (Laynesmith, p. 70). I doubt it counts as evidence.
I would note that Richard had Anne crowned Queen at the same time he was crowned -- very unusual in this period, according to Laynesmith, p. 75. Both Elizabeth Woodeville and Elizabeth of York had to wait quite a while to be crowned. Is this a sign that Richard loved or respected his wife? Hard to tell.
The strangest account is that of Harvey, who largely follows the Hall/Holinshed/Shakespeare version of history to the exclusion of primary sources, but for some reason thinks that Richard loved Anne passionately: After Warwick's death, "Clarence, her brother-in-law... tried to whisk her into obscurity. Disinherited, branded as a traitor, nameless and unknown, dressed in rags, forced to work the kitchens and empty the slops in mighty houses, he had survived for five years. She did not know that Gloucester had loved her, had sought for years to find her, to marry her...." Unfortunately for romantics, her father died in 1471, and Anne's son was born by 1474, so she wasn't hidden for five years.
Pollard, p. 65, declares, "Although the young couple had known each other in childhood, there is no evidence that theirs was a love-match. One might be drawn by the romantic notion that is was, particularly since Richard does indeed seem to have rescued the unfortunate girl from virtual arrest in Charence's household. Sadly there were mundane and material reasons for the match on both sides." On this basis Pollard seems certain that Gloucester married her for her lands (although, it should be noted, there was no guarantee that she would have any lands when he rescued her, since the threat of attainder still fell upon her father, and her mother was still alive).
The biggest obstacle to the idea of a love match is the four year gap in their ages (Ross-Edward, p. 94n., says Anne was born in June 1456. Richard was born in 1452). If a 19-year-old boy fell in love with a 15-year-old girl, it would be no great surprise. But how about an 11-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl? If Richard had any feelings about Anne when he met her, he probably thought she was a young pest.
In fact there is some evidence regarding their mutual feelings, but of questionable value. According to Potter, p. 170, Buck cited a manuscript claiming that Richard refused to take part in the killing of Edward of Lancaster because Richard loved Anne Neville, then married to Edward (WilliamsonA, p. 32). This manuscript, however, was presumably lost in the Cotton Fire if it existed at all, and in any case was probably written after the fact.
Seward-Richard, p. 41, suggests that her father the Earl of Warwick offered to have Anne marry Richard (Ross-Edward, in fact, suggests on p. 94 that, after Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville, marriages to the Plantagenet princes were the only prospects left for his daughters, since the Woodville sisters had used up all the other eligible nobility); this is a possible but unsupported speculation and does not explain why the two went through with it after Warwick was killed. We can only try to infer. What is interesting to note is that Richard was one of few English Kings to have an English wife (since the Norman Conquest, there were only three others: John had married then divorced Isabel of Gloucester, Henry IV had married Mary de Bohun before he was in line for the throne, and Edward IV had married Elizabeth Woodville).
Of these four instances, only Richard would have known his bride for any length of time before they were married, since Richard lived in the Neville household in his early years. So Richard and Anne -- contrary to Shakespeare -- *could* have fallen in love. The Croyland Chronicler told a confusing story of George of Clarence hiding his sister-in-law and Richard rescuing her (Dockray, p. 100), but as several historians have pointed out, this makes little sense as told -- Anne Neville could have rescued *herself* had she wanted to.
Which leads to another point: Consider when Richard's two illegitimate children were conceived: Seemingly in 1469-1471. This was the period when Warwick was fighting Edward. Richard probably could have sired children before that, and *certainly* could have had illegitimate children after that -- but it appears he didn't. Lamb, p. 14, declares that "no gossip exists about his family life." The only time he sowed his wild oats was when Anne Neville appeared to be unavailable, since she was betrothed to Edward the Lancastrian Prince of Wales. It's an argument from silence, but it really does seem to imply that he cared for Anne Neville. Whether she returned the emotion is another question.
(In the Department of Odd Asides, Richard's marriage to Anne may have added to his tragedy. Charles of Burgundy was killed in 1477, his only heir being a daughter -- the most eligible heiress in Europe. Everyone in Burgundy wanted her to marry an Englishman, to form a marriage alliance. Edward IV couldn't manage it; his only available husband was George of Clarence, whom he simply could not trust; Ross-Edward, pp. 249-251. Richard would have done admirably, but he was married to Anne Neville. They perhaps could have gotten a divorce on grounds of consanguinity, but Richard seemingly did not want it. Whether this was for love, or because he did not wish to disinherit his son, or for some other reason, we cannot tell.)
The one thing that is certain is that Richard and Anne were able to cooperate; they engaged in several joint religious projects (Langley/Jones, p. 157).
Cheetham, p. 163, makes the interesting observation that the death of Richard's son may have changed the political equation, since Richard no longer had a dynasty to assure the future fortunes of his supporters. It's hard to know how important this would be to the nobles of the time -- it would doubtless disturb them that Richard had no heir, but Richard was only 32; he had plenty of time to sire another son. Except that, if Richard died young, as his brother had, then England would again have the problem of a boy king....
There was apparently another rumor, after Anne's death, that Richard wanted to take his niece, Edward IV's daughter Elizabeth, as his second wife. Weir, p. 203, claims that "it was only days [after Christmas 1484] before a passionate attraction was kindled between them." She also suggests that Elizabeth Woodville may have pushed her daughter in that direction. She bases this "passion" on a comment by Croyland (which she quotes on p. 204) about Richard wanting to marry Elizabeth to "put an end" to the hopes of a rival. Seward-Richard, p. 171, says there is "no question" that Richard intended to do so.
Harvey, p. 99, also mentions a rumor that Elizabeth had a child by Richard -- but cites no source for this information, and elsewhere states as if they were fact things which are rather her own imagination.
Apart from Croyland's comment, which we note is about politics, not passion, there seem to be only three pieces of actual evidence for the idea, all weak. One is that, at a Christmas ball in 1484, Anne Neville and Elizabeth of York wore similar dresses (Seward-Richard, p. 168). This led to a great deal of speculation about Elizabeth replacing Anne -- but raises the problem of why Anne would go along. Despite the gossip, Pollard's explanation (pp. 162-163) is that Richard was taking Edward's children back into favor, and the Woodvilles were now supporting Richard.
One might also note that the same dress might have looked good on both of them; the Croyland chronicler describes them as being "alike in complexion" (Laynesmith, p. 52).
The second bit of evidence is the testimony of Edward Hall, which Weir quotes with great approval. But we know Hall's testimony to be a mixture of (mostly) plagairism with a little hostile gossip. It has almost no real value.
The third item, and perhaps the most significant, is that Buck claimed to have seen a letter in which Elizabeth declared love for her uncle rather than the reverse! If real, this would explain much -- but the letter has not survived, and Buck is the only witness to it. And Buck also alluded to a lost letter claiming that Cardinal Morton and an unnamed countess (Margaret Beaufort?) arranged to having the princes killed (Lamb, p. 89). All these lost letters make him seem a dubious witness.
WilliamsonA, p. 142, suggests that Elizabeth's love letter was real because Buck was trying to defend Richard, and the mere thought of incest would cause his readers to disapprove of Richard. Similarly, Potter, p. 171, argues that the letter could be authentic, and says it is evidence that Richard III did not kill the princes. (I doubt the former and deny the logic of the latter; we can say, empirically, female primates other than humans often mate with males who killed their relatives, and in any case Elizabeth and Edward V were rarely together, so they would have no real basis for affection). Oddly enough, Weir, p. 208, also thinks it is real, but instead of being a statement about Richard's innocence of the death of the princes, she regards it as proof that he actually was sexually involved with his niece! (Weir, pp. 209-210).
Perhaps the best evidence that the whole thing is an illusion comes from Chrimes, p. 35, who points out that Elizabeth Woodville and her daughters left sanctuary *before* Richard's son and Anne Neville died. Thus there can have been no discussions of marriage at that time, and by the time Anne Neville died, Elizabeth of York's bastardy was quite official, meaning that marrying her could not strengthen Richard's claim.
We should note that uncle/niece marriages were not unknown in Europe in this period. The younger brother of France's king CharlesV, John Duke of Berry, would marry Charles V's daughter Katherine; Earle, pp. 82-83. But the patent defect with Weir's hypothesis is -- Richard had not had any illegitimate children for more than a dozen years. It should be remembered that, after 1471, he was the third man of the kingdom, and after 1478, he was the second; in the North, he was little short of a king. If he had been the sort to indulge his lust with any pretty girl who caught his eye, he'd have had bastards in half the parishes of Yorkshire. He didn't. He may possibly have lusted after his niece. It seems extremely unlikely he acted upon that lust.
And Elizabeth of York was used to being a pawn. She had already been betrothed twice -- once to George Neville when Edward IV was still allied with Warwick (HarveyN, p. 9), then to the Dauphin of France (HarveyN, p. 29).
Potter, p. 173, does raise one important point: One of the big reasons for Richard to marry Elizabeth, as Croyland said, would have been to assure that Henry Tudor could not marry her. Richard could have taken care of that by simply marrying her to someone else -- after all, she was 18 or 19, and (by the standards of the time) approaching spinster-hood. And, as the daughter of Edward IV -- said by some to be the handsomest man in England -- and Elizabeth Woodville, she was probably very pretty (though her only known portrait is not flattering. Her effigy, on p. 99 of Ross-Wars, is more attractive, but of course was made after her death). So why didn't Richard marry her off and drive Henry Tudor crazy? We can't say. Potter thinks he was honoring a promise to her mother to find her a good husband. But, of course, it's at least possible that he wanted her himself (hence the rumors), and was having to bide his time until he could get a dispensation.
There is also a claim that Richard tried to arrange a marriage with Joanna of Portugal (Langley/Jones, p. 164), which might have helped heal the Lancastrian rift -- Joanna (1452-1490, making her just Richard's age) was descended from John of Gaunt, although in female line; with the line of Henry IV extinct, the Portuguese house could claim to be the heirs of John of Gaunt and hence, arguably, the Lancastrian claimants to the throne (Joanna was the daughter of Alfonso V of Portugal, son of Edward of Portugal, son of John/Joao I of Portugal by Gaunt's daughter Philippa). Certainly they had a better claim than the Beaufort line which spawned Henry VII; there was no hint of illegitimacy in her lineage.
Richard, whatever his actual plans, publicly denied planning to marry Elizabeth (Potter, p. 171). Obviously Richard didn't have any modern handlers writing his speeches and telling him not to admit to anything; one suspects the denial made people take the rumor more seriously than they otherwise would have.
Richard, from what we can tell, had strong but localized popularity: The North of England revered him -- and Ross, p. 47-48, notes that the northerners' loyalty was not easily earned. But Ross, p. xlvii, offers strong evidence that he was disliked in the south. (He confesses to little data about the midlands, but Bennett has a fascinating map on p. 52 showing where Richard's known allies and enemies were based. Richard conplately dominated north of a line from Gloucester to the Wash. South of a line from Bristol to London, he had almost no supporters. In East Anglia, it was about an event split. Geographically, Richard dominated more than half of England. In terms of wealth and manpower, he was outnumbered.) And Richard really does seem to have an "if-you-aren't-with-us-you're-a-fiend" attitude reminiscent of some modern extreme conservatives; he labelled his enemies who were with Henry Tudor murderers, adulterers, and extortionists (Ross, p. 208). Ross is surely correct in thinking that these over-the-top statements hurt rather than helped Richard's cause.
Horace Walpole, whose Historic Doubts was one of the first great defences of Richard, claims (according to Potter, p. 179) that Richard's enemies accused him of ten significant murders: Henry VI, Henry's son Edward Prince of Wales, Richard's wife Anne Neville, his brother George of Clarence, Edward V, Edward's brother Richard, Lord Hastings, Earl Rivers, Elizabeth Woodville's son Richard Grey, and of Edward V's tutor Thomas Vaughan. An honest assessment gives a much more interesting scorecard:
Richard was certainly responsible for the deaths of Hastings, Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan. (And some, such as Lamb, p. 88, considers only the execution of Hastings to be unfair, although an honest judgment would surely find Rivers and Vaughan innocent as well.)
Richard was certainly innocent of the death of Edward Prince of Wales (as shown above). It is unlikely that he had a part in Anne Neville's death
If Richard had any part in the death of Henry VI, it must have been at the instructions of Edward IV. George of Clarence, according to the Croyland Chronicler, was prosecuted solely by Edward IV, with no other speakers for the prosecution and Clarence himself being the only man speaking in his defence (Dockray, p. 102; WilliamsonA, p. 37; it is interesting to note that the sentence of death on Clarence was pronounced by the Duke of Buckingham, Richard's future ally and enemy, who played his first major public role at this time). Mancini says Richard was very grieved by George's death. Even Thomas More says Richard publicly showed grief (Seward-Richard, p. 69), though naturally doesn't believe it to have been genuine (and Seward of course thinks More's mind-reading more accurate than actual data). The Princes in the Tower are the only remaining question.
Potter, p. 183, has an ironic note about Walpole's work. It was eventually translated into French -- by Louis XVI as he awaited execution. France's maligned king apparently sympathized with England's most maligned king.
I can't help but note the comparisons with another much-maligned English king, John. John, like Richard, killed a nephew (Arthur of Brittany) with a senior claim to the throne (HarveyJ, p. 82). As with Richard III, there have been attempts to defend John -- even claims that John was a proto-Protestant (which he was not; he was simply a skeptic, unacceptable to Catholic and Protestant alike). Certainly John was not as bad as the Robin Hood legends make him. But even Warren-John, which seems to be a deliberate attempt to defend the third Plantagenet king, is forced to conclude with words of faint praise: "He could be mean and nasty, and there was an ignoble small-mindedness about his suspicion, but he was not a devil incarnate" (pp. 257-258); "He had the mental abilities of a great king, but the inclinations of a petty tyrant" (p. 259).
No one, it seems to me, has made a convincing defence of John, despite several attempts. Richard, by contrast, has had many. The defence has hardly been a great success -- but the mere fact that it has been so regularly made implies that there is more to work with in the case of Richard than John. Let's face it: It would be a lot of fun for historians to have a Shakesperean King of England -- Seward in fact says as much. (It's too bad Shakespeare didn't try to work on Charles the Bad of Navarre....) But in fact there was no English king as vile as Shakespeare's monstrosity.
Whether he deserved it or not, Richard's position in 1485 was precarious, due primarily to the decimation of the nobility. Edward IV had ruled prior to 1470 by giving much power to the Earl of Warwick. After Warwick's rebellion failed. Edward depended largely on Richard of Gloucester and the Woodvilles. (Dockray, p. xxxiv calls them "regional troubleshooters" and notes that it was a very dangerous precedent, since it created "overmighty subject[s]." According to Bennett, it was actually a justice in the reign of Henry VI who coined the phrase, which shows how obvious the problem was).
Richard III had followed his brother's precedent and turned to the Duke of Buckingham. With Buckingham dead, it was almost impossible to build a noble faction. (As Henry VII himself would discover.) Richard advanced the Howard Duke of Norfolk as far as he could (Bennett, p. 71), but only so much could be done for a man who, two years earlier, had not even been an earl, and had only been made a baron in 1470 (Cunningham, p. 107). Richard tried to bind Northumberland and Huntington to him, but this failed in the former case at least. It left him largely dependent on lesser men -- and caused him to bring a relatively small army to the greatest battle of his life; estimates run from about 3,000 to 10,000 men, the majority of them Norfolk's if you exclude the "neutrals."
Saul3, p. 100, suggests that Richard relied on his followers on the basis of chivalry, but that they had reached the stage where chivalry no longer bound them.
Meanwhile, Henry Tudor had been very, very lucky in his friends. The Bretons had planned to turn him over to Richard (in which case this discussion probably wouldn't be necessary), but he was warned just in time, and escaped to France. The French were temporarily in a very anti-English phase. And, just at the time when Richard was most distracted, they gave Henry Tudor a fleet and let him invade (Pollard, pp. 160-162).
The Wars of the Roses witnessed, in all, six changes of King, but only once, at Bosworth in1485, did the two rival claimants face each other in battle (Bennett, p. 99). And Bosworth proved decisive mostly because Richard III died there. Henry Tudor, the closest thing the Lancastrian faction had to a claimant, finally invaded. (I can't help but note the irony that he set out from Harfleur, the place where Henry V had invaded France seventy years earlier; Ross, p. 202). Henry's invasion force was sponsored by the French (Arthurson, p. 5) and initially consisted mostly of mercenaries from countries hostile to Richard (Ross, pp. 202-203), though of course he picked up some supporters in Wales.
For the actual Battle of Bosworth, see the notes to "The Battle of Bosworth Field." Here we will summarize by saying that four armies met at Bosworth, one led by Richard, one by Henry, and one each by Lord Stanley and Sir William Stanley. In the battle, Richard saw an opportunity to attack Henry directly. He attempted it -- and his company was attacked in the rear by the forces of William Stanley. Richard was killed, and Henry VII became King.
Perhaps we should give the last word to Ross-Wars, p. 100, who writes, "Richard was by no means the personification of evil which he was to become in the hands of hostile Tudor propagandists. He had charm, energy, and ability, and he worked hard to win popularity. But it took time to live down the legacy of suspicion and mistrust generated by the violence of his usurpation. Even in that ruthless age, many men were appalled by what they clearly believed to have been his crime against the princes.... Had Henry Tudor's invasion been long delayed, its outcome might have been very different, but in 1485, Richard was still far from having won the confidence of his people in general."
Even with Richard III dead without a direct heir, Henry Tudor had his problems. He wasn't Richard's heir by any line of thinking -- but there were three Yorkist possibilities:
1. Elizabeth, the oldest daughter of Edward IV, whose claim was blocked by the precontract that had blocked her younger brother Edward V;
2. The Earl of Warwick, son of Richard III's older brother George of Clarence, blocked by the fact that Clarence had been attainted (plus Warwick may have been mentally deficient; Potter, p. 168, mentions a contemporary report that he could not "tell a goose from a capon"; it is interesting that Richard III never imprisoned Warwick (Langley/Jones, p. 126) -- it was Henry VII who did that); and
3. John, Earl of Lincoln, the son of Richard III's oldest sister, who was rather far back in the line of succession if you ignore the precontract and such but who was Richard's official heir (at least, most sources say so, though Ross, p. 158, says that there is "no direct evidence" for this. Even Ross, though, admits on p. 159 that Lincoln was made Lieutenant of Ireland which was the standard post given the Yorkist heir; cf. Cheetham, p. 166; also, Ross notes on p. 182 that Lincoln was president of the Council of the North -- meaning that, in effect, he had been given Richard's own former bailiwick. If we don't have a direct statement that Lincoln was Richard's heir, the indirect evidence is overwhelming).
The Earl of Lincoln was probably the best choice of the three, but Chrimes, p. 72, says that Lincoln, who was in his early twenties, "does not seem to have been regarded as particularly suitable" for the throne. Warwick, being young and foolish, was also unsuitable, and of course Elizabeth was a woman.
The Yorkist confusion made it difficult for them to oppose Henry -- and Henry, though his only Plantagenet blood was in a bastard line from John of Gaunt, had all the Lancastrians behind him simply because English politics was so divided that it was better to support a pretender than a legitimate member of the enemy party. Even so, he had to marry Elizabeth of York to strengthen his claim. (Meaning that, even though Henry VII didn't really deserve to be on the throne, all his heirs did. At least genetically.)
(Let's be clear here: Henry Tudor had no claim to the throne no matter how you slice it. If descent had to be in male line, as the Lancastrians had once claimed, his claim came through his mother. If female descent was allowed, there were still plenty of descendants of Richard of York ahead of him. Plus the Beaufort line was barred from the succession anyway. As Chrimes says on p. 50, "Learned discussions on the subject of by what right Henry assumed the crown are largely otiose. There is no evidence of much if any overt discussion at the time." He took the throne by right of conquest, and that's that.)
Lincoln did raise a revolt in 1387, supposedly on behalf of the pretender Lambert Simnel, but it was crushed at the Battle of Stoke, the last real battle of the Wars of the Roses (Burne, p. 305; Cunningham, p. 79.)
In an interesting twist, Henry set about to destroy all copies of Titulus Regius the law which had declared Edward V and his siblings illegitimate -- one of Henry's first parliamentary acts tried to retrieve and destroy all copies (Chrimes, p. 66). Only one survived, and that seemingly by accident (Jenkins, p. 204). This had an interesting effect: In the absence of that parliamentary declaration, it would seem that Elizabeth of York was rightful queen (and should have been Queen regnant, except that few were ready for that at the time) -- but if somehow either of the princes were still alive, they would be senior to Elizabeth and the rightful rulers. In other words, Henry needed the princes to be legitimate but dead.
This furnishes the strongest evidence that (barring the extremely faint chance that Henry himself killed the princes) he did not know -- and never found out -- where the bodies were buried. If he had had them, he would have displayed them. It would have stopped the Pretenders.
The many, many Pretenders. As early as 1487, a youth named Lambert Simnel was declared to be the nephew of Edward IV and tried to claim the crown. (There was a real problem with this theory, in that Simnel was claiming to be the Earl of Warwick, son of Edward IV's brother George of Clarence, and Warwick was still alive in Tudor custody!) Henry VII let Simnel live (while executing the Earl of Lincoln, who had been deep in the conspiracy); the boy seemed harmless enough. (For more on Lambert, see the notes to "The Mayor of Waterford's Letter.")
Fields, pp. 203-205, reports on a speculation that Lambert was a scapegoat or stalking-horse for one of the real Princes, who had somehow survived and was now in a position to lead a rebellion against Henry. Lamb, pp. 90-93, is also sure that Richard did not kill them, and believes they survived. I just don't buy it; if the myriad conspirators had had a real Yorkist prince, they wouldn't have bothered with Lambert. (Fields, p. 225, even reports on modern attempts to prove that various sixteenth century people were the princes in hiding. One of these unlikely claims is made on behalf of Thomas More's son-in-law by adoption. Believe *that* if you can....)
In 1491, an even more serious impersonator showed up in Perkin Warbeck, who eventually claimed to be Richard of York, the younger prince in the tower. Warbeck -- who, unlike Simnel, was an adult directly involved in the plotting -- was executed in 1497, but he had gained a strong following before then. (For more on Perkin, see "The Praise of Waterford.") Arthurson, p. 3, thinks that it was Warbeck's rebellion which turned Henry into such a tyrant in his later years -- he wanted to stop any such outbreaks in future. (Even Thomas More called it a decade of "perpetual winter.") Henry's firmness didn't help. More rebellions would follow -- e.g. the Earl of Suffolk, the younger brother of the Earl of Lincoln was on the run from 1499 until Henry caught himin 1506 (Cunningham, p. 85). Supposedly there was even an attempt to prevent the succession of Henry VIII. But none of these plots was as dangerous as Warbeck.
Even Henry's own garrison of Calais struggled with the matter. In 1503, when Elizabeth of York died, the garrison debated the claims of Edward de la Pole (the brother of the Earl of Lincoln) and the Duke of Buckingham (the son of Richard's duke). Supposedly Henry VIII was not even discussed as a potential heir to Henry Tudor (Russell, p. 69).
Henry's response to the "feigned boys" should dispose largely of More's story of where the princes were buried, and entirely wash out Tyrell's confession. If either of these stories were true, then Henry VII would have known where the princes' bodies were, and would have exhumed them. Simple as that. It is Henry Tudor's behavior, not Richard's, that created the mystery of the Princes in the Tower. Had Henry sought to find out the truth, he might have found the bodies and he almost certainly would have found out the truth -- and the truth almost certainly would have pointed at Richard in some way. He *didn't* try, and so created a great mystery. (Not that that relieves Richard's guilt, of course -- it just means that the mystery remains.)
Of course, the truth doesn't really matter here. The princes could have been taken up into heaven by chariots of fire for all the difference it made. What counts is that most people thought Richard had killed his nephews, and that Henry Tudor assuredly wanted them to believe it. And Henry Tudor was definitely capable of propaganda -- just consider the history he commissioned from Vergil. Of course, histories weren't (and aren't) much good at persuading the common people. Popular songs would be a more likely method.
We also know that there were propaganda songs composed in this period; the aforementioned "Ballad of Bosworth Field" is clearly Stanley propaganda, and "The Song of the Lady Bessie" also appears to be intended to make Elizabeth of York look good. Bennett, p. 10, also lists "The Rose of England" [Child 166] as a contemporary ballad, although our only real copy is from the Percy folio from centuries later. (By contrast, we have both the Percy version of "Bosworth Field" and a prose summary of the piece.) It does seem likely that "The Rose of England" is Tudor propaganda, since only an extreme Tudor partisan could possibly come up with the ridiculous praise for the Tudors it contains. But I could also imagine it being written in the reign of Elizabeth I to flatter her dynasty.
On the other hand, the fact that so few people associated the "Babes" with Richard III argues that, if it *was* propaganda, it was a little too subtle. But then, Henry VII was one of the sneakiest creatures ever spawned. Being direct and open probably never even occurred to him.
The various versions of the song (the oldest broadside, Bodleian Harding B 4(30), Percy) match the legend on these points:
* There were two children, taken away by their uncle, and the bodies were never found.
"They were taken away on a warm summer's day." EdwardV was originally to have been crowned in June. Richard III was crowned in July, by which time the Princes were almost gone from sight. So the disappeared in summer, though there is no specific day on which they vanished. And they may not have died until fall.
* The uncle faces disasters until brought to justice. Richard of course faced many blows -- Buckingham's rebellion, the death of his son, the death of his wife -- though they don't match those in the song.
On the other hand, the song differs from the situation of the Princes in the Tower in several important regards:
1. In the broadside and Percy's version, the children are a boy and a girl, not two boys (Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville had sundry daughters, but all the daughters lived -- indeed, the oldest became the wife of Henry VII).
2. In the broadside and Percy's version, the wife dies before the children -- but Elizabeth Woodville lived until 1492, dying nine years after Edward IV and at least six years after her sons died. It is true that Henry VII pushed Elizabeth Woodville out of public life in 1487 (Poole, p. 16) -- but that is still after the princes were dead.
3. In the Stationer's Register record (which has to be this song if the link to Richard III is to be maintained), the tale is of a "Norfolk Gentleman." Edward IV had very little to do with Norfolk -- prior to becoming King, he was Earl of March, a holding centered on the Welsh border. His father was Duke of York, based in the north; York also had extensive holdings in Ireland. If you had to pick one place where Edward IV had the least influence, it was surely East Anglia. Nor did Richard III have any significant holdings in Norfolk -- he was based mostly in the north, especially the northwest, and also had power along the Welsh border.
(This does raise one interesting possibility. The younger of the two Princes in the Tower, Richard, was theoretically Duke of Norfolk -- but he was *actually* Duke of York, and known by that title. Anywhere that "Norfolk" would fit, "Yorkshire" would fit -- and a reference to Yorkshire would be much clearer. Note that John Howard became Duke of Norfolk in Richard's reign, in the place of prince Richard. Norfolk was not prince Richard's uncle, but he *was* the heir of Anne Mowbray, prince Richard's wife in that unconsummated marriage. Although almost no one takes it seriously, there have been a few accusations that John Howard murdered the boys -- mostly to gain the Norfolk earldom. He was not the uncle of the princes, even by marriage; he was a cousin. But, given the age differences, might not a propagandist trying to blame things on Norfolk have called him the princes' uncle?)
4. The older child in the broadside is only five, whereas Edward V was twelve when his father died. In Percy's version, this is even more extreme, the boy was "not passing three years old," and the girl even younger. Of course this might have been suggested by Henry Tudor's claim that Richard III shed "infants' blood." But if the song had been written after Henry VII took power, why not use the actual ages of the children?
5. In Percy's text, the children are kept in Richard's house "a twelvemonth and a daye." But the Princes were never in Richard's house, and were (probably) eliminated within months.
6. In the ballad, one of the murderers confesses early on. In actual history, the only evidence for a confession is More's account of Tyrrell's confession, and even if More's account is true, that confession came more than a decade after the boys died.
7. This is a point of logic, not a matter of the content of the song, but recall that Henry VII for the most part tried to ignore the Princes, never searching for their bodies (Fields, p. 189) and waiting for years before releasing an unsubstantiated and absurd statement about their death. Would he have wanted the matter brought up again in a song?
It should also be noted that the case of Richard and the Princes is hardly the only case of the Wicked Uncle! There was a case that would have been well known in Richard's own time which is in many ways more like the ballad. The tale is told in RicardianXIII, pp. 12-19. Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, died during the siege of Harfleur in 1415. He left at least two sons. The older boy, Michael, of course became Earl in his turn -- but died a few weeks later at Agincourt. He left three (possibly four) young daughters but no son.
The girls' uncle William (1396-1450), who had gained some of the Suffolk lands because they passed in tail male rather than tail general, seems to have coveted what he did not inherit. And two of the daughters soon vanish from the records and the third was pushed toward a nunnery; the fourth is so shadowy that we are not even sure she existed (this is the point of the RicardianXIII article). We have no evidence of foul play, but neither do we have information on how the girls died, nor even their dates of death.
Eventually William gained the earldom, which later became a Dukedom -- in fact, his only son John would marry Edward IV's sister, and John's son was the Earl of Lincoln who was Richard's heir. William himself had dominated the English government in the 1440s and was eventually lynched as a result. And, in an interesting twist, while the de la Poles were Earls of Suffolk, they had intermarried with the Mowbray Dukes of Norfolk (RicardianXIII, p. 21), and John son of William made "high-handed efforts to dominate East Anglia" (OxfordCompanion, p. 758). Thus it is perfectly reasonable to assume that the "Norfolk Gentleman's" story in the Stationer's Register, if true, refers to the de la Poles, not the Plantagenet princes.
Am I seriously advancing this hypothesis? No. I am merely pointing out that, on historical grounds, it is as good a fit for "The Babes in the Woods" as is the Richard III story. The historical similarity asserted between the song and the account of Richard III is, in fact, not a significant similarity.
To sum up: this song could easily have originated as a piece of propaganda. But, of course, that requires that it be much, much older than even the Stationer's Register date, and we can't prove that even that is this song. And if the extant versions, including the Bodleian broadside, represents the original form (not a safe bet, to be sure), the allegory theory is much weakened.
At this point I'll offer a wild speculation, which I don't really believe: Could the short three-verse version be the original which some Tudor boot-licker proceeded to convert into a propaganda piece? (The problem with this theory, of course, is that there is absolutely no early evidence that anything like this happened.)
Or another speculation:The story of the bodies of the princes being walled up was found in a note in the margin of Thomas More's history, said note being written in 1647. Based on the circumstances described, this discovery must have been made by 1614 (though apparently after 1603; Fields, p. 247). This may also be the source of a stray reference in Buck's history (WilliamsonA, p. 191). The two bodies discovered at the time were thought to be six to eight years old. Obviously the bodies were of children too young to be the princes -- but they *could* be the children in the song!
For more details on the background to this final phase of the Wars of the Roses, see the notes to "The Rose of England [Child 166]"; also some tangential references in "Jane Shore" and (especially) "The Vicar of Bray."
One incidental note for the Science Fiction fans out there (I know a lot of SF fans like traditional music): Randall Garrett's much-loved "Lord Darcy" stories refer to a "Richard the Great" who revived the Angevin empire. According to "A Matter of Gravity," Richard the Great lived in the late fifteenth century. In other words, Richard the Great was Richard III. - RBW
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The Ballad Index Copyright 2016 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.