Who Knew Richard III – Last Source


Sir Thomas More

Thomas More was born in London on February 7, 1478, the son of Sir John More, a prominent judge. His education took place at St Anthony School in London. In his youth he served as a page in the household of John Morton, Bishop of Ely who had served Edward IV while remaining at heart a Lancastrian, who predicted he would be a “marvellous man.” More’s studies took him to Oxford to study under Thomas Linacre and William Grocyn. While at Oxford, he studied Greek and Latin literature and wrote comedies.

Around 1494 More returned to London to study law, was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1496, and became a barrister in 1501. However, More did not yet seem to have made the law his permanent career choice. He was undecided as to whether to follow a monastic calling or seek a position in the civil service. While at Lincoln’s Inn, he made a decision to become a monk and to live at a nearby monastery. The monastic lifestyle of prayer, fasting, and penance habits stayed with him for the rest of his life. More’s sense of duty to serve his country, by entering politics, put an end to his desire for the monastery. He entered Parliament in 1504, and in 1504 or 1505 he married for the first time.

One of More’s first acts in Parliament had been to argue for a decrease in a proposed appropriation for King Henry VII. Henry VII imprisoned More’s father in revenge and kept him until a fine was paid and More himself retired from public life. After the death of the king in 1509, More once more became active in politics. In 1510, he was appointed one of the two under-sheriffs of London. In 1511, More’s first wife died in childbirth, but he was soon re-married to Dame Alice.

Over the next ten years, More came to the attention of King Henry VIII. In 1515 he was part of a delegation sent to Flanders to help clear disputes about the wool trade. His work Utopia opens with a reference to this delegation. More also play an instrumental role in helping to quell a 1571 London uprising against foreigners. More was part of the king’s entourage at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. In 1518 he became a member of the Privy Council, and was knighted in 1521.

Henry VIII’s Defence of the Seven Sacraments, a repudiation of Luther, may have been co-written by More who, writing under another name, also sent an answer to Luther’s reply. In further proof of Henry’s favor, More was made Speaker of the House of Commons in 1523 and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1525. A turn of events came about when he refused to endorse King Henry VIII’s plan to divorce his first wife, Katherine of Aragón in 1527. Still, More became Lord Chancellor after Thomas Wolsey fell in 1529, becoming the first layman to hold the post.

More continued to succeed, but in the end his fall came quickly. He resigned in 1532, claiming ill health. At this time Henry VIII was breaking with Rome and More could not countenance that. His refusal to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn in June 1533 did not escape the king’s attention. In 1534 Elizabeth Barton, a nun of Kent publicly opposed Henry’s break with Rome. Thomas More was implicated in the plot but was not attainted due to protection from the Lords who refused to pass the bill until More’s name was taken off the list of those charged with complicity. In April 1534, More refused to swear to the Act of Succession, and the Oath of Supremacy, and was sent to the Tower of London on April 17. He was found guilty of treason and was beheaded on July 6, 1535.

More’s unfinished work, The History of Richard III, was found after his death and was subsequently published by his son-in-law, Rastell in 1557. The following foreword was part of this publication:

The History of Richard III (unfinished) written by Master Thomas More, then one of the under-Sheriffs of London about the year 1513 Which work hath been before this time printed in Hardyng’s Chronicle and in Hall’s Chronicle, but very much corrupt in many places sometime having less and sometime having more and altered in words and whole sentences, much varying from the copy in his own hand, by which this is printed.

Since More was only a child of seven at the time of the Battle of Bosworth it stands to reason that he must have received the information from John Morton, in whose home More has spent time as a youth. Morton had served in Edward IV’s government but always remained steadfastly for the Lancastrian cause. He would prove to be a formidable enemy to the last Plantagenet king.

There is some suggestion that Morton was himself the author of The History and that More had only set out to copy it out, never finishing the task. In the seventeenth century George Buck supported this theory stating that “Doctor Morton made the book and Master More…set it forth, amplifying it and glossing it.” This theory is supported by the level of detail presented about certain events at which Morton was known to be present, i.e., the deathbed scene of Edward IV.

Whether or not the manuscript was written by Morton, we can be almost certain that he provided the source of information for More. Given the implacable enmity that Morton bore Richard III that source must always be viewed upon as being besmirched. Thomas More had a reputation for integrity and may have believed what he had been told by his former mentor. The fact that the manuscript was left unfinished could also be an indication that More had stumbled upon facts that did not jive with the story Morton had given him.

More’s account of events basically follow the same outline as Polydore Vergil but is more richly detailed, further supporting the idea that an eye-witness had supplied More with his information.

More’s History makes the following claims:

Richard III began plotting to claim the throne long before the death of his brother, Edward             IV.   The fact that this would have meant removing not only Edward’s sons, but also Clarence and his two children only gives More the opportunity to accuse Richard of being responsible for the death of Clarence.

More is the first historian to make this accusation against Richard. Yet even in doing so he couches it in such a way as to show Richard as being evil and scheming, while still claiming that all is hearsay:

Some wise men also ween that his drift covertly conveyed lacked not in helping forth his brother Clarence to his death; which he resisted openly howbeit somewhat (as men deemed) more faintly than he that were heartily minded to his weal. And they that thus deem think that he long time in King Edward’s life forethought to be King in case that the King his brother (whose life he looked that evil diet should shorten) should happen to decease (as indeed he did) while his children were still young; and they deem that for this intent he was glad of his brother’s death the Duke of Clarence, whose life must needs have hindered him so intending whether the same Duke of Clarence had kept him true to his nephew the young King or enterprised to be King himself. But of all this point there is no certainty, and who divineth upon conjectures may as well shoot too far as too short.

Next, More has Richard plotting to prevent the new young king, Edward, from entering London with a large escort. At the time Richard was in the North and an unaware as yet of the happening down South. More cites that he has the evidence of certain people, but does not substantiate who they are – more hearsay.

More continues his narrative with the incidents leading up to the removal of the Duke of York from his mother. While the sequence of events appear to be factual it is the spin that More puts on them that is damaging to Richard. More emphasizes a motive whereby Richard is trying to get both young princes in his clutches. This is unsubstantiated evidence and it would be just as easy to spin it another way and say that Richard wanted the younger prince to keep his older brother company in the Tower while awaiting his coronation.

The infamous council chamber meeting in the Tower, which ended with the execution of Lord Hastings is another example of how More twisted actual events to point up a darker version. Again the actual events are probably set down correctly. Richard, after arriving in good spirits suddenly turned and accused Morton, Rotherham, Stanley, Hastings and the Woodvilles of plotting against him. Hastings was executed soon after, although the actual date is still in question. More’s account leads the reader to believe that Richard had fully planned out the events before the meeting and killed off Hastings quickly because he believed Hastings would oppose his plan of seizing the throne for himself. Another interpretation was put forth by V.B. Lamb in The Betrayal of Richard III. Lamb puts forth that Richard, being faced by Bishop Stillington’s revelation of the illegitimacy of Edward IV’s children, had to find out who his allies were. He would have sent Catesby to determine if Hastings could be relied upon. Catesby, discovering the scope of the plot against Richard, interrupts the council meeting, calling Richard out of the room to inform him of his findings. Richard, upon returning is, by even More’s account, deeply shocked and fighting for self-control. Lamb’s view is that this would not have been the case if Richard had already fully planned out the events of that day. Lamb further points out that the quick execution of Hastings (whether it occurred that day or a week later) is another indication of the suddenness of the plot with which Richard was faced. Richard was well known to be a stickler for all forms of justice and to have proceeded as he did indicates how deeply shaken he was.1

The point being made here is that More’s version of the council meeting events have been twisted to show Richard as being evilly manipulative, ruthless in eliminating those who stand in his way. Since John Morton was one of those involved in the plot and present at the council meeting it is most conceivable that More would have gotten his information from him. Again, given that Morton was instrumental in Richard’s downfall, not much credence should be given to his relation of the story.

There are a few blatant errors in More’s History. He places the executions of Rivers, Vaughn and Grey on the same day as Hastings thereby giving the impression that they were all part of the same plot. The actual date was not for ten days later, as can be substantiated by the date on River’s will, June 23rd.

Another error is the name given by More as the woman to whom Edward IV was pre-contracted. More states the name is Elizabeth Lucy. The subsequent finding of Titulus Regius indicates that Lady Eleanor Butler was in fact the correct name. There is no good reason why More used Elizabeth Lucy instead, unless Morton, providing the details to More, decided to muddy the waters further with a false name.

The question of the fate of the two princes is most vague in More’s account. His telling of the story is close to Vergil’s version and is based upon the confession of John Tyrrel. What is most intriguing is More’s statement concerning the supposed murder of the two princes. He states:

“whose death and final infortune hath natheless so far come in question that sPrimary Sourcesome yet remain in doubt whether they were in his (Richard’s) days destroyed or no”

More was obviously very unsure of what really happened.

The portion of More’s The History of Richard III written in his own hand-writing breaks off at the point where Morton, under captivity by the Duke of Buckingham in Wales, is successfully attempting to get the Duke to turn on Richard and back Henry Tudor. The narrative is then continued by Hardyng, who brings it up to Richard’s death. It is Hardying who gives a physical description of Richard, almost identical to Vergil’s. More himself made no mention of any physical deformities, which Morton, as his source, would undoubtedly have mentioned.

Shakespeare would have had access to More’s History and very likely relied upon it for his play. However, just by the fact alone that Morton was a primary source for Thomas More calls the whole version into question. The account would have been biased and self-serving. As one of Henry Tudor’s staunch supporters, Morton saw More’s work as a propagandist tool to discredit the former regime.


Who Knew Richard III – Part Four


Polydore Vergil


Vergil, a native of Urbino, was an Italian cleric. He was sent to England in 1501 by Pope Alexander VI as a sub-collector of Peter’s Pence. He was commissioned by Henry VII to write an “official” history of England in 1505.

The first edition of his work was completed in 1534, the second in 1546 incorporating the dates of 1509 in his history. The third edition was published in 1555,the year that Vergil died and the history of his work was extended to 1538. Four other editions were later published, Basel in 1555, Ghent 1556-57, Basel 1570 and Leyden in 1651.

Sir Henry Ellis translated Vergil’s work in 1844 for the Camden Society. The translation is taken from the MSS version of the old Royal Library in the British Museum. Ellis cites that it was written in the latter part of Henry VIII’s reign but this is inaccurate.

Hall’s and the Continuation of the Hardyng Chronicles were taken from the first edition published in 1534 whereas Ellis’ translation is taken from the second edition.

The second translation is accurate accept for small and un-important exceptions. Quotations are done for the sake of convenience and reference is made back to the first edition.

The errors of Vergil’s account of the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III are numerous.


Richard, Duke of Gloucester is not mentioned as fighting at the Battle of Barnet.

· Henry VI was put to death in the Tower of London and cites that Richard, Duke of Gloucester killed him with his sword so his brother, Edward IV, would be free from further hostility.

· Richard, Duke of Gloucester is not accused of killing his brother, George, Duke of Clarence but states that Edward IV did out of fear of the prophecy that after his reign someone with the letter “G” would rule England.

· Richard is given no credit for his outstanding leadership of the Scottish-Border campaign.


Edward IV died at the age of fifty rather than at the age of forty.


Upon hearing of the news of Edward IV’s death, Richard III began his campaign to seize the throne from his nephew, Edward V. When Richard meets Buckingham at Northampton, Vergil states it was at this time that Richard revealed his plan to take the throne. Anthony Woodville and Thomas Vaughan are mentioned as being arrested. Hastings, who originally sided with Richard, now called a council meeting in St. Paul’s Church that included friends of Edward V. Some members of the council urged that Edward V should be rescued from Richard while others urged that they wait until Richard arrived in London to explain his actions. Richard supposedly declares that he realizes any harm to his nephews would mean that it could rebound to the country and him.

The princes were conveyed to the Tower to await the coronation of Edward V. The council meeting of June does not mention that Richard appeared in a pleasant mood, left and then returned in an agitated mood. Vergil cites that Richard entered the council and stated that he was in great danger, that he has not been able to sleep, eat or drink. He continues by showing his arm is withered and that Elizabeth Woodville, used witchcraft on him. Hastings, who had supported him, responded that the queen should be punished. Richard repeats the story and Hastings’ response is the same. Richard then accuses Hastings of seeking Richard’s destruction. Richard’s men enter and Hastings was taken out and beheaded.

Shaw’s sermon, according to Vergil, denies the report that Shaw referred to the princes as bastards and has Richard present at the sermon. After Richard’s coronation, Richard traveled to Gloucester and there planned to kill his nephews. Brackenbury refuses to kill the princes and it is left to Tyrell to carry out the King’s will and murders the princes. Hall, Grafton and Shakespeare would later copy Vergil’s account of the Queen’s lament upon hearing the news that her sons were dead. Vergil cites the discord between Buckingham and Richard because Richard would not give Buckingham the Hereford lands. Buckingham retires to Brecknock informing the Bishop of Ely his intent to overthrow Richard. Ely approves of Buckingham’s intent employing Reginald Bray to act as a go-between for Buckingham and Margaret Beaufort. Before the disenchantment between Richard and Buckingham, Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort had begun to make plans to place Henry Tudor on the throne provided he marries Elizabeth of York.

Richard learned of the conspiracy and when he discovers Buckingham is the chief instigator summons him to court. Buckingham responds that he is ill. Richard leads his army towards Salisbury. Buckingham’s soldiers desert him and scatter to Brittany or Flanders. Buckingham was then beheaded.

· Vergil claims that Richard spread a rumor abroad that his wife, Anne Neville, was dying. Upon hearing of the news, she asked Richard why he was anticipating her death. It is presumed by Virgil that Richard reassures her with loving words and a few days later, she dies. Richard then focuses on his desire to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York. However, because of the counsel and her dislike for Richard, he decides to wait.

He created the account of Richard having a withered arm that proved his villainy causing his defeat at Bosworth and cites that all his men deserted him while he fought fighting alone. His statements refer to King Richard III, as spiteful practice, subtlety, sleight, malice, fraud, graceless, wicked, mischievous, frantic and mad.

Vergil is referred to as the “Father of English History”. Vergil is accused of destroying documents that contradicted his point of view and his history is the first to accuse Richard of the murder of his nephews.

His work gave the Tudors what they wanted – an account depicting crimes, faults and unpopularity that were directed to defame King Richard III. Vergil’s work is the first to develop a saga against Richard III. With his so-called History of England, the stage is set against Richard III.


Who Knew Richard III – Part Three



Dominic Mancini was born into a well-known Roman family, the son of Alexander Mancini and Ambrosina Fabii. His date of birth is unknown, but it believed to be after 1434. He was an Augustinian friar and a scholar who wrote moral and theological works in Latin verse. Before coming to England, he had served as an agent spying on the French. Mancini came to England to work as an intelligence agent and perhaps envoy in 1482, on instructions of his patron, Angelo Cato, Archbishop of Vienne. He stayed in England until July 1483. He resided in Paris, where he wrote two religious books. He is believed to have died around 1514.

He was most likely unable to speak English and had to rely on other Italians living in London for information. One of his primary sources was Dr. John Argentine, an English physician who studied in Italy and spoke fluent Italian. Argentine was also the physician of the young Edward V.

Mancini was the author of The Usurpation of Richard III, written in December 1483. This manuscript was found in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Lille, France in1936 and was published by the English scholar Charles Armstrong.

Mancini’s credibility as a source

  • He did not know the English language or customs.

  • He did not know that monarchs reside in the Tower until coronation and in the case of the Princes, the Tower was being used as a residence and not a prison.

  • He did not name his sources, except for Dr. John Argentine, who had studied in Italy and was known to have Lancastrian sympathies. He employed such catchphrases such as “men say”, “it is being said that”, etc.

Men say that in the same will he appointed as protector of his children and realm his brother Richard duke of Gloucester, who shortly after destroyed Edward’s children and then claimed for himself the throne


Here he writes of the capture of both of the young princes at Stony Stratford:

Finally, the youth,…..surrendered himself to the care of his uncle, which was inevitable, ….Of the king’s attendants, or those who had come out to meet him, nearly all were ordered home. Richard, the queen’s other son, who was quite young, and but a little before had come from London to the king, was arrested with him in the same village, and with his brother, Richard was handed over to the care of guards in the same town.

Richard, Duke of York, was not at Stony Stratford but in sanctuary in London.  He joined his brother at a later date.

Mancini was in England for only three months, leaving the country right after Richard’s coronation in July 1483.

He was not present when the events he wrote about took place. His account his based upon hearsay and incorrect statements.

…after Hastings was removed, all the attendants who had waited upon the king were debarred access to him. He and his brother were withdrawn into the inner apartments of the Tower proper, and day by day began to be seen more rarely behind the bars the windows, till at length they ceased to appear altogether. A Strasbourg doctor, the last of his attendants whose services the king enjoyed, reporter that the young king, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission to his sins by daily confession and penance, because he believed that death was facing him….I have seen many men burst forth into tears and lamentations when mention was made of him after his removal from men’s sight; and already there was a suspicion that he had been done away with. Whether, however, he has been done away with {Mancini is writing in December of 1483}, and by what manner of death, so far I have no at all discovered.

Mancini was probably never a visitor to the Tower. The Garden Tower is closer to the curtain wall than the Royal Apartments. The fact that the boys were seen in the garden meant that they were not being closely supervised at all, but were within the confines of the Tower. The “Strasbourg doctor” he refers to was Dr. John Argentine, who was not from Strasbourg but was English. He does not say where the young King was when Dr. Argentine was no longer seeing him as a patient.

Who Knew Richard III – Part Two

 The Sources – Continued

Raphael Holinshed


Raphael Holinshed was born circa 1529 to a Cheshire family. He lived in London from about 1560, where he was employed as a translator by Reginald Wolfe, who was preparing a universal history. In 1573, after Wolfe’s death, the extent of the work was shortened, and it appeared, with many illustrations, as the Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande, 2 vol. (dated 1577).

The Chronicles was compiled from many sources of varying degrees of trustworthiness. The texts of the first and second (1587) editions were refined by order of the Privy Council, with the deleted entries from the second edition being published separately in 1723. The complete, unchanged edition of 1587 was edited by Henry Ellis and given the title of Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland. This was published in six volumes (1807-08). Two selections have also appeared: Holinshed’s Chronicle as Used in Shakespeare’s Plays was edited by Allardyce and Josephine Nicoll (1927), and Shakespeare’s Holinshed was compiled and edited by Richard Hosley (1968).

Holinshed died around 1580.

Holinshed’s importance to Shakespeare lies in the fact that the playwright leaned heavily on the Chronicles for his major history plays. It would probably have been the most comphrehensive source existing for Shakespeare to use in writing not only The Tragedy of King Richard III, but also Macbeth, King Lear and Cymbeline. An example of Shakespeare borrowing more than just a plot can be seen in the following:

Holinshed’s version

The proclamation ended, another herald cried: “Behold here Henry of Lancaster Duke of Hereford, appellant, which is entered into the lists royal to do his devoir against Thomas Mowbray Duke of Norfolk, defendant, upon pain to be found false and recreant!”

(Holinshed 72)

Shakespeare’s version

Harry of Hereford, Lancaster, and Derby,

Stands here for God, his sovereign, and himself,

On pain to be found false and recreant,

To prove the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Mowbray,

A traitor to his God, his king, and him,

And dares him to set forward to the fight.

(Richard III, 1.3.104-9)

It appears that Holinshed gathered his material from Thomas More, Polydore Vergil and Hardyng. The only veering off that Holinshed did was to include the name of Dorset to the list of those who had killed Edward of Lancaster.

While Holinshed may have provided a needed source for Shakespeare, it must be concluded that as a historical source he should be discounted. His writing must be subjected to the same criticism that is applied to that of the works of More, Vergil, et al. There appears to be nothing new that can be gleaned from his work that would in anyway be construed as a reliable, unbiased piece of history.


Lamb, V.B., The Betrayal of Richard III (1991)

Encylopedia Britannica On-line (Biographies)

Shakespeare’s Sources in the Histories (http://web.uvic.ca/shakespeare/Library/SLTnoframes/history/sources.html

Who Knew Richard III – Part One

The Sources Continued

 Edward Hall

Hall was born in either 1498 or 1499. He was educated at Eton and King’s College in Cambridge studying law at Gray’s Inn. He entered politics becoming a member of Parliament. He became a staunch supporter of Henry VIII.

His book “The Union of the Noble and Illustre Famielies of Lancastre and York” was first printed by Berthelot in 1542. However, there is no evidence to support that this edition existed No copy with the date of 1502 exists or with a dedication to Henry VIII. There is a copy in the Granville Library in the British Museum and another is in the Public Library in Cambridge that contains leaves with initial blooming letter that differ in form and a rougher workmanship that is not evident in the perfect editions of 1548 and 1550. When we consider that the amount of changes that were made, it makes it feasible that the edition issued by Grafton in 1548 was the first edition.

Hall completed his work before his death in 1547 to include the twenty-fourth year of Henry VIII of 1532.

His treatment of Edward IV is a translation of Polydore Vergil’s work that include a few additions from de Comines regarding the affairs of England in France, a few details extracted from Fabyan and other obscure sources. Plagiarism was Hall’s byword and he was the master of twisting and turning facts.

He mentions that Warwick went to Spain to ask for the hand of Elizabeth, sister of the King of Castile. Elizabeth was six at the time while Edward was twenty-four. Both ages of the said parties are incorrect.

The additional evidence that the first edition by Hall was proceeded by Hardyng’s Continuation.


Who knew Richard III?

I am always impressed when I read a historian who claims to know “who Richard III was”.  Unless personal papers, i.e., diaries, letters and other communications from other contemporary sources emerge, one must look at Richard III in the context of his time.

For many this means, understanding the times – economically, socially and politically.  What this means is understanding the Fifteenth Century.  If you can’t understand the times, then you won’t understand the man.  If you can’t understand the man, then how can you judge him? 

When we look to assess Richard III, and in some eyes, to judge him, how is being looked at? In the eyes of the Fifteenth or Twenty-First Century?

The starting point for many is after his death on August 22, 1485.  After his death at the Battle of Bosworth, he lost his life, but more importantly, he lost his reputation.  The good that he did as Duke of Gloucester and the laws he put in place in his only Parliament were forgotten by many except perhaps from the good people of the north who had worked and lived along side of him for twelve years.

Most will blame Shakespeare’s play, but we must always keep in mind that this is not history, it is drama.  Blame must be put on the shoulders of his successor – Henry Tudor.  It is the unwritten law that history is always defined by the winner.

Tudor went on a campaign that lasted with his son to blacken the reputation of Richard III.  A look into the sources of the times needs to be reviewed and even when one reads their history, they must ask these questions.

Who were they? Who employed them?  What was their agenda?

Here is a brief biography of the sources – you decide.


Thomas Legge


Thomas Legge was born in Norwich in 1535. At age 17 he entered the Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and subsequently passed on to Trinity College. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1557 he became a fellow. He was made a master of Caius College in 1573.


In 1587 he was appointed vice-chancellor of the University, a position he held twice. Before he died in 1607, Legge had also become a master in Chancery and a doctor in the court of Arches.


Reference to Legge’s play, Richardus Tertius, can be found in the title of the manuscript found in the Cambridge University Library. These references can help place the time and circumstances of the production of the play. It appears that it was first produced in 1579 and billed as ‘Tragedia in tres acciones devisa’, a tragedy in three divided actios, or actes. There is also reference to a performance given in 1582, “acted in St. Johns Hall before the Earle of Essex 17 March. 1582.” However, since the list of players is the same as for the 1579 production, this date remains in question.


There is speculation that the play was written to be performed for Queen Elizabeth in 1592. This is based on a written communication from the queen’s Vice-Chamberlain, Lord Burghley. He wrote to both Cambridge and Oxford in December 1592 requesting that students write some English comedies to be presented to the queen at Christmas. The reasoning behind this was that the usual London actors could not perform due to an outbreak of the plague. However, the current Cambridge vice-chancellor, Dr. Still, replied to Lord Burghley stating that they had little experience with English plays and that the actors appeared unwilling to perform in English. The queen was not amused at this reply.


Thomas Legge, who soon after replaced Dr. Still, sensed an opportunity. In January 1593 he himself wrote to Lord Burghley stating that men had been sent to Oxford to witness a queen’s entertainment there and were now better prepared to oblige her request. Perhaps this is true, but there is no solid evidence to prove that the play was ever performed for the queen.


One thing is certain. Legge’s play appears to have been the first real history play to be written in England. This can be considered to be a turning point in English drama. Legge was the first to use the chroniclers as a source for drama, setting real historical people up on a stage.


The play proved to be very popular and undoubtedly had great influence on other writers of the time, including Marlowe, who was a Cambridge man himself. Marlowe, along with others, shows this influence in their own works and helped to further popularize the national historical drama.


According to Dr. George B. Churchill in his Richard the Third up to Shakespeare, the historical material for Legge’s play was sourced from Sir Thomas More’s biography of Richard III with Hardyng’s continuation, Grafton, Hall and/or Holinshed. Dr. Churchill gives a fine analysis of each of the three actes, giving detailed examples of where Legge depended heavily upon the chroniclers and where he varied. For example, there is no mention at all Legge’s play of any deformity; Richard’s character is not derived from that of a man bitter at the world for a misshapen body. In Shakespeare’s play, Richard is portrayed as a man who has his own agenda and who guides everyone and everything to his plan. Legge’s Richard is one who is dependent upon his councilors and it is they who direct his moves.


Even with these differences aside, Legge’s play does seem to be a major source from which Shakespeare would have derived his own drama. Richardus Tertius contains all the elements that are later to be found in The True Tragedy of Richard III. It seems evident that Shakespeare would have used Legge’s play and honed it to his own style. However, considering that Legge’s sources seem to be the same used by Shakespeare, any supposed historical veracity must be thrown out.




Churchill, George B., Ph. D., Richard the Third up to Shakespeare, Alan Sutton, Rowman & Littlefield, 1976.



Perkin Warbeck

Reprinted with kind permission by The Richard III Foundation’s publication “The Medelai Gazette.”  This talk was taken from its study day by author Ann Wroe on Perkin Warbeck.


“Researching a book” sometimes sounds like hard work. I disagree; or at least, I disagree where medieval history is concerned. There’s nothing so thrilling as settling down to a great big box of warrants, or a tattered old account book, and wondering what surprises lie in store. It’s odd how you can delude yourself that no one has ever looked in this particular box before, no matter how daft that is. And there are also countless moments when some entry in the manuscript, or even some quirk of the pen or the paper, will suddenly catapult you right into some 15th century clerk’s office, or into the presence of the king himself. I well remember, early in my Perkin research, looking at Henry VII’s privy purse expenses. He’s signing his monogram, and you can see his pen running out…but he’s not going to stop and fill it…he’s going to get the last atom of ink out….It was somehow more evocative than any portrait in words.

The character I researched for my last book, hiwever, was more elusive than most. I’m hoping I don’t need to say much about Perkin himself this afternoon; or the Pretender, as I should more properly call him. I’m sure you all know that for eight years, from 1491 to 1499, and probably for some time before that, he claimed to be Richard Duke of York, the younger of the princes in the Tower. He drew much support from various European rulers, tried three times to invade England, and eventually, on surrendering to Henry in 1497, agreed to a confession which stated that he was the son of a boatman from Tournai, in Picardy. Since he went on causing trouble, he was hanged two years later. It’s a brief, glittering, strange life, irresistible to me as a biographer, not least because opinion was for centuries divided as to whether he was the prince or not. I love a mystery, and this is one of the best.  

My whole purpose in this research, as many of you know, was to throw this story open again. It wasn‘t to prove that the pretender was the prince. I think that’s important. If I had gone into the research with my mind already made up, I might have deliberately noticed some things and ignored others, and done even more to distort a story which has already been grossly distorted by the laziness of many historians. Nonetheless, the possibility that I might find just one killer fact, the real clue to who this mysterious young man was, was probably what made me research and write.

Consider the difficulty, though. We have, on the one hand, a prince who disappears in the summer of 1483, and on the other a young man, looking like a prince, who pops up from nowhere—or, to be more accurate, from Portugal, in Ireland, in 1491. In between the disappearance and the appearance lie eight empty years. I’ve always thought those years hold the key to who he was. But we don’t know whether he  was floating around then as Richard of York, or as a substitute, or in disguise, or as Perkin Warbeck, or who he was. We don’t have a name to trace and, because he was constantly on the move, we don’t have a place to focus on, either. I often felt I was chasing a shadow across Europe. And if it was any consolation, that’s obviously how Henry VII  thought, too.

I started this research at school, rather too many years ago. And I began in the usual way, by reading the history books and the learned journals, then proceeding via the footnotes to the printed primary sources, such as the Calendars of State Papers and the Patent Rolls, just looking for any reference I could find to the Pretender or his supporters, to start to piece a picrture together. Inter-library loans could bring the State Papers right to my local library in Surbiton, and then it was just a matter of writing them out and typing them up on my father’s old German typewriter (no photocopiers in those days!). And those were the basic notes I had when I started to work on a proper biography, 30 years later.

What was on these yellowed, fading sheets, daubed all over with felt pen, and was it any use? I had a time-line for the Pretender’s movements, which I had drawn mostly from Polydore Vergil, Henry VII’s tame historian.

Contemporary historians may be very suspect in their opinions, but they’re often pretty good on where things happen, and when. I had several sightings of the Pretender, mostly drawn from ambassadors’ letters in the State Papers of Spain, Venice and Milan; I had details of his clothes and ships and horse, from the Scottish Treasurer’s accounts; I even had a few precious scraps of conversation, from the Burgundian Chronicler Molinet and from the King’s Bench documents recording his so-called “plotting” with Edward Earl of Warwick in the Tower in 1499. (This was in the Third Report of the Public Record Office, published in the 1830s.) In fact, saddest of all, I had the unspoken end of a conversation: Warwick calling through a hole, to the cell below, “How is it with you? Be of good cheer”, and the Pretender’s apparent silence in reply.

Among all those primary source notes, in those early days, the most useful for this particular story seemed to be the Calendars of State Papers. The Italian and Spanish ambassadors who were billetted in London (quite a new development in those days) wrote newsy letters home, and they’re a great source for historians, though you have to bear in mind not only the interests of the rulers who were receiving these bulletins, but the interests of Henry in what the envoys were told and what they were allowed to see. They certainly weren’t allowed to see Perkin very often, though their rulers were most eager for news of him, so that they could decide which way to jump politically (and that in itself is interesting). I also didn’t realise, until much later, that a “Calendar” means an abbreviation or a synopsis; what had been printed in the 19th century ws sometimes only a taster of what those ambassadorial reports contained. But I’ll come back to that.

By the time I’d wound up my teenage research and put it in the attic, I’d spent perhaps three or four years on this mission. And I didn’t have much to show for it. Considering that are dealing with a young man moving in the full glare of publicity through the courts of Europe, there are hardly any sightings of him at all, and only those few snatches of his conversation. We have only four or five glimpses of him in what might be called his glory days, when Margaret of York and Maximilian were actively sponsoring him. They show a young prince effortlessly parading on the international stage, dressed in gold, processing at Mass, sitting at the top table, replying with carefully tailored arrogance to Henry’s ambassadors.  Beyond that, we have two letters, a will and a proclamation. From one of these letters, and the proclamation, we can tell that his English was considerably better than Henry’s was,  lyrical and musical, and that his writing was neat, well-formed and almost as good as a clerk’s. These things show that, if he was not an English prince, an enormous amount of care had gone into the contriving of him. But I can only sigh over the number of letters for which we have indirect evidence, and which have disappeared.

So I had things he had done and said, but I didn’t yet have many clues as to who he WAS. Now I had to go really deep, and try to get to the source. I had to try and reconstruct those empty years from 1483 to 1491; I had to hope that these would lead me back to his childhood; and meanwhile I had to look absolutely everywhere for clues as to who people thought he was, and how he himself appeared, in his brief career in the world.

At least there was an obvious place to start.  Henry VII, we know, managed to extract a confession from the Pretender, supposedly the story of his life. Or rather, to be more precise, he managed to get him to sign a confession that had already been drawn up for him when he surrendered to Henry at Taunton, in October 1497. This has always been the key document in this case; Ian Arthurson’s book actually starts with it, as though it settles the argument. Well, it doesn’t settle the argument for me, not least because it was extracted in custody. Journalists can’t accept stuff like that on its face, and historians shouldn’t either. It was obvious that I had to take this document apart.

I therefore needed to get my hands on it; the real thing, if I could. So where was it? Bernard André, Henry’s poet laureate, says it was printed; the Milanese ambassador to England said it was produced in numbers of copies to be distributed everywhere. But there’s no sign of that. In fact, no original copy survives. What we have is one English version, reproduced in the London Chronicle and then recopied by Fabyan later in the 16th century, and a French version, again copied into registers that were kept in the archives of Tournai and Courtrai in modern Belgium.

There’s an interesting story about that French version. I came across it only because I kept finding, in modern Belgian articles about the Pretender, bits and pieces about him that were not in the English histories. In one article, for example, Perkin learned to play the manicordium, a stringed instrument played with a plectrum, and went to Latin school. Where on earth was that from? It was not in the English confession. But James Gairdner, in his monograph on Perkin Warbeck of 1868, mentions the existence of a French version of the confession, and so I wrote to the Courtrai archives.

What happened next is typical of the sudden surprises and kindnesses you find all the time when you do research. The archivist at Courtrai sent me a photocopy of the French confession, and with it copies of three other documents: a letter of Henry VII describing Perkin’s capture, a letter of Perkin supposedly to his mother, and a letter from Giles Daubeney, Henry’s steward, describing the capture of the Pretender’s wife in Cornwall. All these had been sent over from England at the same time, in October 1497. That letter of Daubeney’s had never been translated or even seen in England. And I had been sent it out of the blue. I hadn’t even paid for it!

Other historians haven’t bothered to look at the French version of the confession, assuming they know all they need to know, but they’re wrong. To begin with, the very differences tell us that there were two distinct versions of the Pretender’s childhood around. In one, he  wanders round the fairs of Europe; in the other he goes to grammar schol and learns music for years in Tournai. Obviously his history was not fixed. Someone was inventing it, or at least playing with it. All the Courtrai documents were also written in the same sort of French—north-eastern dialect—and with no difference between a letter from an English king and one addressed by a lost son to a boatman’s wife. Their French, and their expressions, had been standardised before they were sent over. So this was one big propaganda package that was being sent to Courtrai and Tournai, and it’s probable that the Pretender had nothing much to do with any of it. In the famous “letter to his mother”, for example, not only does he get his own name wrong, and her name wrong, and her address wrong, but the whole letter is written like a piece of business correspondence, without the least sense of courtesy or emotion due to a mother after 12 years away. In fact, the contemporary Courtrai copyist calls it a “report”. If Henry is prepared to go to the length of concocting a false letter to a mother, what else may he be prepared to do?

As for the English confession, that was still a mystery. I kept expecting to come across some mastercopy as I searched in the English archives, but I never found one. This is odd in itself, because you would think that a document so vital to Henry would have been carefully preserved in its original, and that a document that was allegedly printed and sent all round the country would occasionally turn up somewhere. It doesn’t, and this suggests to me that, far from being publicised, the confession was deliberately suppressed in England—almost as if the king was ashamed of it. And I think he was.

Henry was no fool. He may have had the Tournai details all ready for the confession as early as 1493, but he was never satisfied with them. He said he didn’t like what was probably this evidence when Charles VIII of France sent it to him. He refused two offers to have the boy’s parents sent over (from both France and Spain, which shows you how genuine that offer was—and if you look at the draft letter from Ferdinand and Isabella, which is in the Spanish archives, you can see that the secretary crossed out that thought not very long after they’d had it. It’s great to see scheming minds actually at work.). Confronting Perkin with his alleged parents would have been a great publicity coup, as both Charles VIII and the Spanish sovereigns pointed out. But Henry ignored the Warbecks, or Werbecques, for the good reason that they didn’t fit. And he kept quiet about the confession because it contained not one, but several, dubious stories. Just how dubious was only to emerge, however, when I went to Tournai.  

It was the Tournai evidence, in all its minutiae, that convinced James Gairdner in the 1860s that the confession must be true. He had a large advantage over me here, because he—or people working for him—could search through the Tournai archives. I couldn’t, because they were completely destroyed by German bombing in 1943. I knew this before I went, but I had that little flicker of hope—the same flicker that makes you think, yes, that next box will contain the key to the whole mystery!—that just a few scraps of paper might have escaped the inferno.

Alas, they hadn’t. And when I got to Tournai, having taken the very slow train that chugs eastwards from Lille, I also found the archives were shut; not because it was Tuesday (since working in the French archives, I know the evil ways of continental archivists) but  “à l’improviste”, or because the staff felt like it. Rather disconsolately, I took myself off to the public library to see if I could rustle up anything there; and yes, they had the entire set of transcriptions of the town accounts that were made by local historians in the 19th century. Thank goodness for them; where would we be without them?

Town accounts are a favourite source of mine. I did my thesis largely from the accounts of the town of Rodez, in south-west France. They usually include not only revenues and expenses but council deliberations, tax lists, lists for keeping watch on the walls, and so on. And there’s no better way of checking the status of a family than seeing how often they appear, where they live, and what they’re doing.

And the Tournai accounts showed me that some very wrong assumptions have been made on the basis of the Pretender’s confession.. True, some of the names in it are there, but their jobs and their relationships are not as the confession gives them. More to the point, the Werbecques don’t crop up anywhere. This doesn’t mean they didn’t exist; we have other records for them, in the shape of a will and in cases brought before the bishop’s court. But their absence from the consular accounts does show that they were not, as historians often like to assume, a family of any importance in the town. Jehan Werbecque, “Perkin’s” supposed father, was doing nothing in public life, not even watch duty, and almost all male householders of any repute were taking part in that. Besides, as I could tell from the watch rotas, the district where Jehan lived was decidedly the worst in town. (The worst part of town is always listed last—it’s where all the industry and effluent tend to collect, just inside or just outside the walls.) All the harder to believe, therefore, that a boy of such extraordinary elegance and presence should have come from such a background.

As it happened, I had already discovered something else about Jehan Werbecque. Gairdner had found one conviction for grievous bodily harm in Tournai, and I had found another. This discovery was another of those completely fortuitous things that make research such a joy. It was mentioned in a footnote in volume 4 of Chastelain’s History of the Dukes of Burgundy. I didn’t really have much reason to be reading Chastelain anyway; had it not been for my longing to immerse myself completely in late 15th century literature, I wouldn’t have been doing so. The footnote in Chastelain mentioned that Philip the Good in 1462 had pardoned one Jehan Werbecque of Beveren, sparing him from death. But Jehan had still been banished from the town for attacking a man with a beer mug, and had gone to Tournai therefore with a criminal cloud already over him. The original document, as Chastellain kindly told me, was still in the Brussels archive. I looked it up when I was there, and found it so sadly mouldered away since Chastellain’s day that I could read only a few words more of it. So I was extremely grateful to him that he’d bothered to give so much of it. And, though it was quite a detour from his own research, it was rather important to mine, for it proved that Jehan Werbecque was a bad lot. One criminal conviction may be carelessness; two is a career, and it convinced me of two things. First, there was no possible chance that a king, such as Edward IV, would have consorted with a family like this and left a bastard behind; and, second, there was a high likelihood that a child of this family might have been sent away to be brought up more safely somewhere else. That’s quite a lot to get out of a footnote found by chance!

So Tournai had told me a great deal—not from high documents of state, but from things like tax lists and statements of bargemen’s expenses. (And incidentally, I’ve come to the conclusion that almost the only honest document you will find is a warrant for payment or a note of an expense; everything else can be slanted and falsified, or is just high-sounding bombast, but “Pay Bloggs two-and-sixpence” probably means what it says—unless poor Bloggs never got his two-and-sixpence, and under Henry VII that happens quite a lot. ) “Follow the money” is a good motto to have. But going to Tournai hadn’t quite sorted out the question of whether my hero had had any physical connection with the town. Interestingly enough, Tournai makes nothing at all of him: no plaque, no street name, not even a passing mention in the guides. And that in itself may be significant, of course.

Tournai also showed me how important it is always to check against the source. Other historians may well have been there before, but they won’t be looking for the same things—or, worse, they may be wilfully ignoring evidence that doesn’t suit them. One discovery of mine in the National Archive was rather interesting on that score. I’ll tell the story of it quickly.

Henry showed many strange, even baffling, courtesies to the Pretender once he had him in his power. Ambassadors round the court thought he was still treating him as a prince. Did he, in fact, think this young man was the Duke of York? One document certainly suggests that, if nothing else, he was hedging his bets about him. In fact, it’s three documents, because it’s a set of expenses from Henry’s campaign in the West Country in pursuit of the Pretender, and these were kept in triplicate on pieces of paper and parchment that were not in the ordinary privy-puse expenses book. (I told you he was careful.) In each of these occurs a cash payment of £7 made to “The Duke of York”.

When I first read this, no alarm bells rang at all; it so patently couldn’t mean Perkin, who is mentioned as “Piers Osbeck” in the same accounts, that I paid it no attention. Then, some weeks later, walking down Jermyn Street, I suddenly thought: Then who on earth does Henry mean? Not his little son Henry, who of course then held the title of Duke of York; he’s not with him in the West, and besides, you don’t give £7 to a six-year-old, especially not if you are Henry VII. Little Henry was not paid cash directly for five more years. Gradually, I came to think—and still think—that Henry meant the Pretender, and that he had one name for him in public and another in private. I can’t prove it; I just sense it.  Sometimes sensors, or instinct, are the only instruments you can use in your research. And if Henry could write this, four years after saying that “everyone knew” his rival was really Perkin Warbeck, how much was the Perkin Warbeck story worth?

It was not too difficult, by looking very carefully at primary sources, to cast a lot of doubt on the official case for calling this young man “Perkin Warbeck”. It was still proving impossible, though, to say who he was. I got very excited when Cliff Davies at Wadham put me on to the testimony given by Sir Edward Brampton to Spanish investigators at Setubal, in Portugal, in April 1496. No one but Cliff had noticed this before, because it was included in the Spanish version of the Calendar of Spanish State Papers, and Bergenroth in his very fine English version of them seemed not to have come across it—or to have decided to leave it out.

Brampton in his evidence describes the life of the young Perkin Warbeck, but its not the one we know: no wandering round with merchants, no kidnapping in Ireland. Instead we have Piers, a discontented, restless, rather vain boy, a music scholar in Tournai, who suddenly on impulse runs away from his teacher, hitches a lift with Brampton to Portugal and then, on the way back, decides to have a bit of fun by playing a prince in Ireland, and finds that the people flock after him. It’s a great story; but of course it’s probably not true. We know that Brampton was a great tale-spinner, and the Setubal testimony is quite eloquent in that respect, since it’s clear that the old rogue talks on and on, and it’s plainly very hard to shut him up.

Most interesting of all, however, to me, is the proof this gives that going back to the source, back to the original language, is always worth it. It turns up treasures. One of the best moments in research is to stumble on something good which, because it’s in a foreign language, has been disregarded. It’s amazing what snippets and insights can be found in Molinet, or in Bernard André. The extraordinary claim, for example, that the Pretender was brought up in England and at the court of Edward IV lies hidden in André’s Latin, and those historians who bother to read him dismiss it as silly and fantastic; but only think what this implies about how good the Pretender’s English was, and how convincing his stories of the court. Imagine Henry VII reading such stuff in his privy chamber! For it was written precisely for him to read there. Even works of propaganda like André’s have much to tell us, if we use them with proper caution. Besides, these men are thrillingly close to what they are describing. I can’t tell you how good it is to translate some unfamiliar word out of Latin or German and find a whole picture, a whole scene, suddenly summoned up before you. 

I found several telling details, too, this way. For example, if you read the Milanese ambassador’s account of meeting the Pretender at Henry’s court in 1497 in the printed and translated Calendar of State Papers, you will see that he calls him “well-favoured”. But go to the source, and the word is “gentile”, which means “noble”; and you’ll also find that,  after this, the ambassador starts calling the Pretender the Duke of York again. Or go to the account by de Puebla, the Spanish ambassador, of meeting the Pretender after he’s been committed to the Tower in June 1498.  He describes him as “desfigurada”. Bergenroth in the State Papers translates this as “changed”. But it means disfigured; his face has been smashed, so that he doesn’t look like Richard any more. What a wealth of information can lie in a single word!

Before too long, I’d developed two golden rules of historical research. One was “Trust no one”, an the other was “Look everywhere”. This implied a lot of travel, if I was to do it properly. This young man went all over the place. I took single weeks off work to go to Paris, Lille and Belgium. I took my holidays in Scotland and Cornwall. In all those places, I saved

Time by checking before I went in the Institurte if Historical research in Senate House in london, to see what documents were actually there and to take down their catalogue numbers. This meant that the moment I got to some strange plave, I could iummediately order what Iwanted to see. But I still reeget that I didn’t have time to browse mnore. I would order up a volume I knew would be useful0—but how many others might have been? I’m still haunted by them. Thney rdeproach me.

I should also have gone to other pleaces. Lisbon, Madrid,Vienna, Innsbruck. Nuremburg, Milan and Venice all had traces of the Pretender. Here I worked by proxy. I’m lucky enough to work at The Economist as my day-job, and I made unscrupulous use of my colleagues who speak other languages—German, Spanish, Italian—to write to archives all over Europe asking for copies of documents. The response was extraordinary. The archives always sent them, and never once charged. I think the trick was to approach them in their own language. If I found new calendars of documents were coming out, I wrote to the editors. And this was how I found out about the Pretender’s son.

It’s worth digressing on this point, because it shows how random and serendipitous historical research can be. I’d been sent 100 pages of photocopies of a new calendar of Maximilian’s documents by a professor in Graz: astonishing, prodigal kindness once again, and once again without charge. It was all in German, of course. I had no idea what I would find there. But there, in one entry, was a reference to the Duke of York’s “one year old son”. I went to the footnote; the words came from a document originally in Italian, reporting a conversation between Maximilian and the papal legate in November 1497. It was in the Bibiloteca Marciana in Venice. I wrote to Venice and asked for a copy, hoping of course that the original might have more details, such as the baby’s name. It didn’t, but the find was still wonderful. It was the first solid evidence of a child, where before there had been only rumours and speculation. And it was a find right out of the blue.

Another such find came from Portugal. I knew now, thanks to those rediscovered Setubal testimonies, that the Pretender had been at the Portuguese court not for one year, as the confession said, but four years. I therefore dived into things Portuguese. There seemed to be no documents left that were directly relevant to him, but through a Portuguese friend I managed to pick up copies of the 15th-century chronicles of Rui de Pina and Garcia de Resende—unobtainable in England—and volumes of  15th-century poetry, for poetry competitions were the main entertainment at the court. And there, in the anthologies of court poetry, I found not only a poem by the Pretender’s guardian—a mournful, fatalistic little villanelle—but a poem remembering the “White Rose” at the court, and lamenting his fate at Henry’s hands.

Now, if he was already the “White Rose” in Portugal, his career as a Yorkist prince had started long before Ireland; perhaps even in 1487, when we know he left Flanders, and perhaps, of course, even in the cradle. And I understood two things clearly now: that Henry’s huge interest in Portugal between 1488 and 1491, and his complete indifference to it at any other time, was for a reason; and that the story of the “kidnapping” of an innocent Flemish boy on the quayside at Cork in 1491, and his forcing into imposture, which almost all historians still trot out as fact, was so much rubbish. Yet if any one had told me before I began that I would be able to track this young man’s footsteps through Portuguese poetry, I would never have believed them. 

So it went: one strange, intriguing little find after another. Each one added to the picture. And talking of pictures, I ought to mention the most obvious one, the famous portrait of the Pretender. I couldn’t leave this out of my research. I fact I can’t tell you how many hours I spent gazing at it, trying to make it speak to me, trying to make it tell me the truth. He’s a prince here, patently, and his face proclaims it as well as his clothes and that listening, benevolent pose. But, when all’s said, it is a pose. The gaze is distant, the eyes look away, and all is perfectly perfumed and pleated and arranged. It’s also possible that any resemblances to Edward IV, or marks of the prince—like the mark under his left eye, apparently—have been deliberately emphasised. There are things to be learned even from the rather primitive portraits of these years; think how much, for example, has been read into Richard IIIs’s nervous fiddling with the ring on his finger. But in the end I could learn very little from this.

I looked too at his handwriting. It’s very good handwriting for a prince; almost too good, perhaps betraying a clerkly rather than a royal education. At first, his signature seems a bit cramped and cautious. But by 1496 it’s flowing and confident; he’s grown into the role. I actually consulted a friend who is a graphologist to see if I could learn any more from it. She thought that despite the appearance of confidence, he was very insecure—taking several pen-strokes to make the letter “o”, for example. So that, too—even allowing for my suspicions about graphology—added a few intriguing details to the character I was trying to assemble. 

But where was he? Could I ever find him—the actual person he was? Well, I did make one discovery which seemed, to me, a possible solution to the mystery. This was the finding in the Brussels archives of a little boy, exactly the same age as Richard Duke of York, who was adopted and brought up by Margaret of York at her palace of Binche, in Hainault. To me, this little boy explains almost everything in this story, including the psychological reactions of Margaret, and Henry, and the Pretender himself.

I knew the little boy existed before I went to Brussels. I’d found a reference to him, again quite randomly, in a catalogue for an exhibition of Margaret of York’s books in Malibu, in California. (Even the New World can come in useful to unpick the mysteries of the old!) What I didn’t have was any connection between him and the Pretender. And it’s true that the connection is still too tenuous to make it certain; but the finding of it still remains, for me, one of the best and most moving moments I’ve ever experienced in an archive.

The Brussels archives are really like no others I’ve encountered. They let you use biros there, and you can eat, too, though preferably not over your papers. The document handler, who was Flemish, would not talk to the document orderer, who was French, and he used to sit sulking and smoking in the corner. Great atmosphere!

And my discovery happened out of the blue on one of those days when you seem to have got to the end of the line. I was reading through page after page of plumbing and carpentry expenses, in one continuous block of script. Margaret of York was always changing her mind in these years: putting windows in, taking walls down, remodelling rooms time after time. It was probably a sign of her deep anxiety about the prospects of the young man she had set in motion to win the throne of England. But as a seeker of that young man, I was beginning to feel that these pages and pages of roof-beams and lead piping were not the place to find him. And I was completely wrong. Because this is where I found that, in 1496, Margaret decided to set up the room under the chapel at Binche as a shrine, with a traverse screen, new latticed windows and a papal candle in a special stand; and she renamed it la chambre de Richart, ‘Richard’s room’. And this was also the room in which her adopted child had lived, years before, when Margaret had kept him at the palace.

Very seldom do archive entries cause a real shock to the heart. This name, Richard, was a foreign one in these accounts, and the two mentions of it attached to this room were its only appearance in the Binche archives. It seemed to me that it could only refer to the ‘Richard’, Margaret’s great hope, who was then at the court of Scotland, preparing to invade England ‑‑­or to his little son, also apparently called Richard, who was born that year. And surely that particular room was dedicated to him because, in times past, it had been his? Here at last seemed to be the connection I’d been looking for.

For the rest of the day, ‘Richard’s room’ dinned in my head like a bell that would not stop. As I said, it may not be the answer; he may, we must never forget, have really been the prince. But at that point, in gloomy rain-soaked Brussels in November, this seemed like the real Eureka moment all researchers dream of.

Was it? Could I actually tie this child to the son of a Tournai criminal, sent away for safety? Or to a bastard of Edward IV’s, sent over to comfort Margaret in her widowhood? As soon as I got back to England I dived into Edward IV’s warrants for issues, his payment slips, in the National Archive to see what I could find. But historical  research is never going to be as easy and neat as that. I found some intriguing movements of ships and men between England and Flanders in 1478, but I still can’t say what they mean. The mystery of Perkin Warbeck remains. And all I can realistically hope for is that I may have added some substance to the shadow.