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.

Sources:

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

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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.

 

Sources:

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Richard III Foundation – Two Educational Grants

Without a doubt, research is key to understanding the cause and effect of history. Specifically, delving into the still unknown areas of the Yorkist period will most assuredly gain us the knowledge necessary to appreciate the life and times of King Richard III.  In order to invigorate history’s view of an often maligned or misunderstood monarch and his reign, continued exploration, examination and inquiry is vital.  Each of us can contribute to that effort by supporting the two student programs offered by the Richard III Foundation, Inc.

For over 10 years the Richard III Foundation Scholarship for Medieval Studies has offered an annual grant to graduate students who provide evidence of academic excellence and financial need.  The aim of the scholarship award is to enable students with research related to the Yorkist period to continue or complete their studies. The Foundation has been pleased to have awarded scholarship funds to such worthy former scholars such as David Santiuste, author of “Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses”, Lucy Rhymer and Professor Jackson Armstrong, now both teaching at major universities; Jennifer Ledfors, now a researcher at Royal Holloway, University of London; and Carolyn Donohue, who is now teaching at the University of York.

We have seen first-hand thet new and significant areas of research that are pending.  

In the second year of their newest award, ‘The John Davey Research Grant for Medieval Studies’, named in memory of our special long-time patron, John Davey, we have focused the criteria on helping the local historian and independent scholar.  There are many avenues open for funding for academics, but few exist that can help with the cost of research being undertaken by those who are not affiliated with a university or college.  To quote committee member Peter Algar, “it is impossible for the professional academics to know absolutely everything, so recourse is sometimes taken to the local historian, who provides a valuable contribution to unlocking the secrets of the past.”  John Davey believed in this strongly, so it is entirely fitting that his grant be structured in this manner.

Foundation CEO/President, Joe Ann Ricca says “‘Loyal to the truth’ is a motto that the Foundation has steadfastly adhered to throughout its existence.  John Davey was the embodiment of that motto and by supporting both the program named in his honor and Scholarship for Medieval Studies, we will ensure that the quest for the truth will endure.”.

A core objective of the Richard III Foundation, Inc. is to correct the distorted picture of King Richard III that has come down to us through literature and popular culture. Think about the impact that your donation will make towards fulfilling that goal.

New Biography on Richard III by David Baldwin

 

I have been reading and researching the life of King Richard III for most of my life. Do I feel I know him? No, I don’t. Do I feel I understand him? His actions? His motives? If I put them in the context of his time, weigh the fact that I may not have all the information such as private conversations, letters and other documents, I can see his point of view. Do I agree with all of it? No. Yet, I …am reading a new biography on him that in the flap of it clearly states the author has answered the question of “what was Richard really like?

I am into the prologue and hope i can stay the course in reading this new biography where the comparison is that Annette Carson’s biography was very good whereas Desmond Sewards’ was not so what was needed was a more balanced biography. I beg to differ. I had thought, and still think Annette Carson’s work on him was good, but I do not think it was as “brilliant” as some people made nor do I think that Desmond Seward’s book was sooo terrible. Yes, he was not complimentary to Richard, but I learned things in his book that I had not read elsewhere. To me, learning anything new about a person is not a bad thing. But when the author’s publisher said a more balanced biography has not been written, then I beg to differ. There are many people who have produced good biographies on Richard III – some more popular than others but they all deserve a place on one’s bookshelf.

The winter of my discontent so far is dismissing people like Thomas Langton as being on Richard’s payroll and therefore would not write anything negative about him and then compare him to Mancini who the author claims his good informant was John Argentine and then concludes Mancini would not disclose falsehoods to Cato. Excuse me, he knows that because?

the final nail in the coffin on the prologue is citing a comment from the Great Chronicle of London “and thus ended this man with dishonour as he that sought it, for had he continued still protector and have suffered the children (the Princes) to have prospered according to his allegiance and fidelity, he should have been honourably lauded over all whereas now his fame is dirked and dishonoured…but God that is all merciful forgive him his misdeeds.”

Oh yes, I can see – this will be a very fair and balanced view of Richard III –

The Mystery of the Princes and The Princes Project

The Richard III Foundation, Inc. is respectfully requesting that the bones in the Tower, that are alleged to be the sons of Edward IV, be subjected to modern scientific examination and the treatment of DNA analysis.

The examination of the bones will not only bring closure to their identity, but it will also bestow them with an appropriate and lasting place in the annals of history.

King Richard III, the reigning monarch from 1483-1485, has through the writings of Sir Thomas More and William Shakespeare been vilified for over 515 years.

It is imperative that we put to rest the resolution of one ofEngland’s greatest historical mysteries. But, it is equally paramount that we provide justice for a man wrongly accused.

Sir Thomas More wrote “The History of Richard” in 1513. More was five years of age when Richard became King of England and lived in the household of John Morton, a Lancastrian sympathizer. More had no interaction with Richard and relied upon anti-Yorkist sources for his information. His publication was never published during his lifetime and contained many blank spaces making it plausible that they were filled with historical inaccuracies.

We have no knowledge if Charles II read More’s account. What we do know is that during his reign, bones were found while demolition was taking place in the Tower and were presumed to be the missing princes.

The wording of presumed and alleged has been passed down through the century. Neither word defines the bones categorically to be the princes. The study conducted in 1933 is filled with inaccuracies but has been accepted as the final chapter in this mystery. The magnitude of this issue and its implications must be elevated and given the proper attention and importance that is required.

We have no definitive validation to endorse the opinion that the sons of Edward IV were murdered at the order or hands of King Richard III or anyone else during the Fifteenth Century. We have no conclusive evidence that Edward V contracted the sweating sickness that was prominent in the summer of 1483. We have no conclusive evidence that Richard, Duke of York emerged as Perkin Warbeck or that they lived incognito inEnglandor elsewhere on the continent.

What we do know is that Charles II for whatever reason had them honorably buried in Westminster Abbey. We know that King Richard III reigned from 1483 through 1485 – a span of two years, one month and 17 days. During his tenure as King of England, he passed enlightened laws that benefited the people of his country, rich and poor alike. He has been paying the price for 515 years.

The study of 1933 conducted by Tanner and Wright is indecisive and has been challenged on far too many important points. It is unconscionable to let this important issue that involves three people, who no longer can speak to defend themselves go unchallenged any further. It is imperative that we begin by righting the wrong that has been done to their good names and honor.

King Richard III has been wrongly accused of a crime that has never been categorically authenticated to conclusively prove his guilt. King Richard III has been charged with the serious allegation of murder by two accounts.Englandhas had men who have sat on the throne ofEnglandwho have been more despicable, blood thirsty and power hungry when compared to the actions of government of King Richard III. No one is stating that King Richard III did not live in turbulent times but to single him out based on the writings of two men whose writings are so unreliable has been the greatest injustice inflicted on any human being.

The unreliable source of Sir Thomas More, who in his work gives out three separate accounts of where he perceives the bones to be and the dramatization of William Shakespeare, who used the distorted histories written under the reign of Henry VII.

We are on the threshold of a new century, and with it holds new and unforeseen promises of discovering ways by which countries can live in harmony and understand our histories and heritages. Let us finally give the bones, whoever they might be, a chance to rest in peace. Let us more importantly give King Richard III the justice that he deserves and let us finally acquit him of the wrongs that have been done to his good name and reputation for over 515 years.

The Princes in the Tower

Visitors to the Abbey are rewarded if they stroll to the east and up the stairs to the chapel of Henry VII, one of the most beautiful buildings thatEnglandhas to offer. There, along the north wall, at the east end of Queen Elizabeth’s chapel, a white coffer stands as a focal point. It’s plaque proclaims that it contains the bones of royalty:

“Below here lie interred the remains of Edward V , King of England, and of Richard, Duke of York. Their uncle, Richard, who usurped the crown, imprisoned them in theTowerofLondon, smothered them with pillows, and ordered them to be dishonorably and secretly buried. Their long desired and much sought after bones were identified by most certain indications when, after an interval of over a hundred and ninety years, found deeply buried under the rubbish of the stairs that led up into the chapel of the White Tower, on the 17th July, 1674 A.D. Charles II, most merciful prince, having compassion on their unhappy fate, performed the funeral rights of these unfortunate princes among the tombs of their ancestors, A.D. 1678, the thirtieth year of his reign”.

King Richard III, the reigning monarch from 1483-1485, has through the writings of Sir Thomas More and William Shakespeare has been vilified for over 515 years. Despite his stellar achievements in the short time that he reigned, his reputation has been clouded with the disappearance of the sons of Edward IV, commonly known as the Princes in the Tower.

More’s History of Richard III

“King Richard, after his coronation, taking his way to Gloucester to visit in his new honour the town of which he are the name of his old, devised as he rode to fulfil that thing which he before had intended. And forasmuch as his mind gave him that, his nephews living, men would not reckon that he could have right to the realm, he thought therefore without delay to rid them, as though the killing of his kinsmen could amend his cause and make him a kindly King. Whereupon he sent one John Green, whom he specially trusted, unto Sir Robert Brackenbury, constable of the Tower, with a letter and credence also that the same Sir Robert should in any wise put the children to death. This John Green did his errand unto Brackenbury, kneeling before Our Lady in the Tower, who plainly answered that he would never put them to death, to die therefore; with which answer John Green, returning, recounted the same to Kin Richard atWarwick, yet in his way.

Wherewith he took such displeasure and thought that the same night he said unto a secret page of his. ‘Ah, whom shall a man trust? Those that I have brought up myself, those that I had weaned would most surely serve me, even those fail me and at my commandment will do nothing for me.

Sir, quoth his page,‘there lieth one on your pallet without, that I dare well say, to do your Grace pleasure, the thing were right hard that he would refuse’, meaning by this Sir James Tyrell, which was a man of right goodly personage and for nature’s gifts worthy to have served a much better prince, if he had well served God and by grace obtained as much truth and good will as he had strength and wit.

The man had a high heart and sore longed upward, not rising yet so fast as he had hoped, being hindered and kept under by the means of Sir Richard Ratcliffe and Sir William Catesby, which longing for no more partners of the prince’s favour, and namely not for him whose pride they wist would bear no peer, kept him by secret drifts out of all secret trust. Which thing this page well had marked and known. Wherefore, this occasion offered, of very special friendship he took his time to put him forward and by such wise do him good that all the enemies he had, except the devil, could never have done him so much hurt.

For upon this page’s words King Richard arose (for this communication had he sitting at the draught (privy), a convenient carpet for such a counsel) and came out into the pallet chamber, on which he found in bed Sir James and Sir Thomas Tyrell, of person like and brethren of blood, but nothing of kin in conditions. Then said the King merrily to them: ‘What, Sirs, be ye in bed so soon!’ and calling up Sir James, broke to him secretly his mind in this mischievous matter; in which he found him nothing strange. Wherefore, on the morrow, he sent him to Brackenbury with a letter, by which he was commanded to deliver Sir James all the keys of the Tower for one night, to the end he might there accomplish the King’s pleasure in such thing as he had given him commandment. After which letter delivered and the keys received, Sir James appointed the night next ensuing to destroy them, devising before and preparing the means.

The prince, as soon as the Protector left that name and took himself as King, had it showed unto him that he should not reign, but his uncle should have the crown. At which word the prince, sore abashed, began to sigh and said; ‘Alas, I would my uncle would let me have my life yet, though I lose my kingdom.’ Then he told him the tale used him with good words and put him in the best comfort he could. But forthwith was the prince and his brother both shut up: and all others removed from them, only one called Black Will or William Slaughter except, set to serve them and see them sure. After which time the prince never tied his points, nor aught wraught of himself, but with that young babe his brother lingered in thought and heaviness till this traitorous death delivered them of that wretchedness.

For Sir James Tyrell devised that they should be murdered in their beds. To the execution whereof, he appointedMilesForest, one of the four that kept them, a fellow fleshed in murder beforetime. To him he joined one John Dighton, his own horsekeeper, a big broad, square, strong knave. Then, all the others being removed from them, this Miles Forest and John Dighton, about midnight (the silly (innocent) children lying in their beds) came into the chamber and suddenly lapped them up among the clothes, so bewrapped them and entangled them, keeping down by force the feather bed and pillows hard unto their mouths, that within a while, smothered and stifled, their breath failing, they gave up to God their innocent souls into the joys of heaven, leaving to the tormentors their bodies dead in the bed.

After that the wretches perceived, first by the struggling with the pains of death, and after lying still, to be thoroughly dead: they laid their bodies naked out upon the bed, and fetched Sir James to see them. Which, upon the sight of them, caused those murderers to bury them at the stair foot, meetly deep in the ground, under a great heap of stones.

Then rode Sir James in great haste to King Richard, and showed him all the manner of the murder, who give him great thanks and, as some say, there made him a knight. But he allowed not, as I have heard, the burying in so vile a corner, saying he would have them buried in a better place, because they were a King’s sons. Lo the honourable courage of a King!

Whereupon they say that a priest of Sir Robert Brackenbury took the bodies again, and secretly entered them in such a place, as by the occasion of his death, which only knew it, could never since come to light. Very truth is it and well known, that at such times Sir James Tyrell was in the Tower, for treason committed against the most famous prince King Henry the Seventh, both Dighton and he were examined, and confessed the murder in manner above written, but whither the bodies were removed they could nothing tell.

And thus have I learned of them that much knew and little cause to lie, were these two noble princes, these innocent tender children, born of most royal blood, brought up in great wealth, likely long to live to reign and rule in the realm, by traitorous tyranny taken, deprived of their estate, shortly shut up in prison, and privily slain and murdered their bodies cast God knows where by the cruel ambition of their unnatural uncle and his dispiteous tormentors.

More’s creditability as a source

Thomas More was born in 1478 and was 5 years old when Richard became King of England. At the age of 14, he was sent to live in the household of John Morton, who had strong Lancastrian sympathies. During the reign of Edward IV, Morton had been created Bishop of Ely. In 1483, Richard III had him arrested and while in the custody of Buckingham, he was considered one of the major plotters in the downfall of Richard III. Morton fled toFrancereturning toEnglandafter Richard’s defeat at Bosworth. In 1486, Henry VII made him Archbishop of Canterbury and later became his Chancellor.

More’s History of King Richard III was written in or about the year of 1513. More had no first-hand experience with the affairs of state during Richard’s reign and relied on anti-Ricardian sources for his information. More’s History was never finished and contains blank spaces that were probably filled in at a later date.

Richard Grafton published More’s work in 1543 as a continuation of Hardyng’s Chronicle and in 1548 as part of Hall’s Chronicle. In 1557, William Rastell, More’s nephew, published the work. Rastell states when the work was composed and provided the title of the publication now known as The History of Richard III. He later fled to the Low Countries and had in his possession a Latin version that was published in 1565 in More’s Opera.

In 1596, Sir John Harington, godson of Queen Elizabeth, was the first to declare in print that Morton might be the author of the Latin version. His history is not taken seriously is filled with too many mistakes.

Despite his three denials that the bodies remained at the foot of any stairs, Sir Thomas More begins the mischief of the bones in Westminster Abbey. Denials notwithstanding, Sir Thomas More’s little ‘merry tale’ has now become a bit of history, although it cannot live up to that name. His opening description of Edward IV for his tale is the most pathetic bit of historical research ever pawned off on an unsuspecting public, and his efforts never get any better. He cannot get the names of the principles, Shaa, Buckingham or Hastings correct, but he can name the murderers in great detail: John Green, Miles Forest, John Dighton and, best of all, William ‘Black Will’ Slaughter. This is vintage More, destroying a man’s reputation with false facts, spurious authority and invented events.

Sir Thomas More, clearly states that the bodies are not under any stairs; their grave site is lost to history. Unfortunately, people remember only half of what they read, and so More’s tale is carried forward and elaborated upon. The spurious tales are endless. Jean Molinet, who died in 1507, thought that the princes had been poisoned while their father, Edward IV, still lived. In 1647, this story seemed to be confirmed. A man named Johnson quoted a man named Webb who said that two sets of human bones had been found in a walled-up room in the Tower. These bones were thought to be those of the princes. S. B. Chrimes, a noted historian, gave some credence to the story in 1963 because, he thought, it confirmed Molinet’s words. Fortunately these bones disappeared, lost before they occupied a competing urn inWestminster.

Sir George Buck, writing about 1615, noted that some bones were found in a high and desolate turret in the Tower, and that these bones were thought to be those of the princes. Buck points out that many thought the bones were those of an ape kept in the Tower. Allison Weir, in Princes in the Tower, adds another facet to ape lore. She mentions that the Johnson/Webb team claim that some bones were found in a tunnel, not a turret, and that these were thought to be the bones of the princes. Some protested that they were bones of an ape, but, in any case, the bones disappeared, savingWestminster from a simian invasion.

John Rastel, in 1529, pondering upon why the bones of the princes had not been found in 1485 when Tudor might have looked for them, invented yet another yarn. His version is that the princes were trapped in a trunk and then put aboard a ship for burial at sea. This was not an act by Brackenbury’s priest, but by a friend of Richard III’s. Apparently no children’s bones recovered from the sea looked royal, andWestminsterescaped again.

If the princes were murdered in the Garden Apartments, as More says, it would take a lot less sweat to load the bodies in a boat. More could have presented us with a picture of Will Slaughter skulking through the night mists from wharf to sea; perhaps he just didn’t think of it. As is, he has the bodies carried across the yard, put under the stairs after digging down ten feet, then dug up again and carted off to some unknown place. A good night’s work, compared to using a next door wharf.

Bones can show up at any time. The ‘Tower’ has been around since Roman times, and children buried often over the years. It was not always a sinister place, not until Henry VIII, and was tended by families. In 1977 bones were discovered in the yard, but modern techniques placed them in the Iron Age, and that ruined any tales about a prince. Over the years other caches have been found in crypts and in the moat when it was drained. Apparently none of these looked royal.

Who is it that decides what bones go toWestminster, and which do not. In the case of the 1674 bones, we’re in the uncomfortable position of not knowing. Some unknown, looking at a pile of bones on a rubbish heap and half remembering More, made a bad guess and set the mind of future generations. This decision was in defiance of the written words of More, Shake-speare, Molinet, Buck and dozens of others. It was enough, though, to put the bones inWestminster.

It is quite possible that the bones in the Abbey are not even the bones dug up in 1674. After their discovery, the bones lay in a rubbish heap for some time before they were recovered by sifting. It was only in 1478 that Charles II ordered the bones sealed in Wren’s coffer. During the intervening four years, custody is not established. They may have been inWestminster, or they may have been in the custody of Sir Thomas Chichely. During this time some bones were apparently distributed as souvenirs or gifts and some, given to theAshmoleanMuseumatOxford, never recovered. When the urn was opened in 1933 investigators were greeted by a collection of human and animal bones, along with some rusty nails. If the 1478 experts could not tell animal from human, nor iron from finger nails, how did they know royal from common? No modern court would admit such evidence so carelessly controlled, so obviously contaminated.

By 1933, public pressure had mounted to the point that the Dean and Visitor, George V, felt it worth while to dispel doubts. They ordered an examination which gained them an opinion – not well founded, as we shall see, that identity was established. Mind set carried the day, for their was precious little evidence to use. Mind set is a powerful force. We need look no further than the Piltdown Man hoax of the same period to see it in play. The artificially combined jaw and skull were accepted as first man, British at that, by a wide assortment of experts. According to John Shreve this was the ‘Indiana Jones’ decade of paleontologists, and Arthur Keith was delighted to put Piltdown Man into the human evolution chain that led to “Basic White”. Eventually science caught up with hoax, but not before many had embraced the idea, including some at theBritishMuseum. More, of course, also perpetuated a hoax of sorts, but none would be more surprised than he to see his fiction on display. He did try, very hard, to prevent a digging frenzy so that his imaginary bones could lie in peace.

The Reign of Charles II

In July of 1674, workmen were rebuilding the stairs to the royal chapel in theWhiteTower. They discovered a wooden chest containing bones that was supposedly buried 10 feet deep within or below the stairs. The bones were thrown aside with other debris. 

John Knight, Principal Surgeon to Charles II, wrote the following account:

“A 1674, in digging down a pair of stone staires leading from the Kings Lodgings to the chappel in the white tower ther were found bones of two striplings in (as it seemed) a wooden chest upon which the presumptions that they were the bones of this king and his brother Rich: D. of York, were by the command of K.Charles the 2nd put into a marble urn and deposited amongst the R family; Family in H: 7th Chappel in Westminster at my importunity.”

The second account, published in 1677, gives Knights as its authority but a little fuller:

“In order to the rebuilding of the several Offices in the Tower, and to clear the White Tower from all contiguous buildings, digging down the stairs which led from the King’s Lodgings, to the chappel in the said Towe, about ten foot in the ground were found the Bones of two striplings in (as it seemed) a wooden chest, upon which the survey which found proportionable to the ages of those two Brothers viz, about thirteen and eleven years. The skul of the one being entire, the other broken, as were indeed many of the other Bones, also the Chest, by the violence of the labourers, who cast the rubbish and them away together, wherefore they were caused to sift the rubbish, and by that means preserved all the bones. The circumstances being often discoursed with Sir Thomas Chichley, Master of the Ordinance, by whose industry the new buildings were then in carrying on, and by whom this matter was reported to the King”.

John Gibbon, Bluemantle Herald, dated 1674, gives this account:

“July 17 Anno 1674 in diggin some foundacons in ye Tower, were discovered ye boides of Edw 5 and his brother murdered 143, I my selfe handled ye Bones Especially ye Kings Skull. Ye other wch was lesser was broken in ye digging.” Johann Gybbon, Blewmantle

If Charles II was given the impression that these bones were those of the princes, he was ill advised. More’s account states that the bodies were moved to another place but never states that they were buried under the staircase or any other location.

In 1483, the princes were residing in theGardenTower, now known as theBloodyTower. It is unexplainable that if they were indeed murdered at this location, then why would their bodies have been brought to theWhiteTowerfor burial when Traitor’s Gate and access to the River Thames was closer.

The digging through Kentish ragstone with limestone fromCaenthrough or near stairs make this a formidable job. The job to dig a hole ten feet deep by one man, possibly two, in one night is certainly a Herculean task. What sort of equipment was used to dig the hole and where did they put the materials while the operation was taking place. What of Brackenbury’s priest who had them reburied – what energy did he have to have them exhumed and reburied?

There were over 600 people residing in the Tower, and with the commotion of digging through stone, no records indicate anyone questioning the noise in the dead of night.

The bones were supposedly reburied because Richard III had pangs of guilt and wanted them buried in a more consecrated place. What location in the Tower is more consecrated than another? The only consecrated location is the Chapel of St. John.

The Study of 1933 

On 6 July in 1933, under public pressure and under the orders of George V, the urn containing the reputed bones of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York were exhumed.

An examination of the bones was conducted in six days and their findings published by Mr. Lawrence E. Tanner, who had no medical background, and Professor William Wright, Dean of the LondonHospitalMedicalCollegeand President of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Irelandin Archaelogia, Volume LXXXIV. All of their findings have been challenged in one form or another.

Professor Wright was himself convinced by the bone condition that the skeletons were those of children who could not be as old as the princes were in August, the heights he deduced from isolated bones were 4ft9″ and 4ft6″, which corresponded to the average of slightly older children when the last medical records on this were made (1913). It might, however, be taken into consideration that their father, Edward IV, was a conspicuously tall man 6ft4″ tall appeared from his skeleton when his coffin was opened.

According to Wright, the older child had a serious infection or disease of the lower jaw, which he suggests is consistent with the condition of Edward V. Although Edward was attended by Dr. Argentine, there is no evidence that he had such an affliction. Indeed, More purports to quote a speech by Elizabeth Woodville in which she describes the younger prince as “sore diseased with sicknes.”

Wright also noted a “blood stain” on the skull of the older child. He considers this indicative of death by suffocation, as described by More.

Burial Date

The analysts had no method of dating bone age. They did work backward; believing that the bones were those of Edward V and his brother, and that the bones were thus of a ten and thirteen year old, they could guess at how long the bones had been buried.

Age of Individuals

The skeletons were of pre-puberty, small and slender individuals with incomplete bone fusion and tooth eruption.

Sex of Individuals

The analysts had no way of determining the sex of the individuals.

Bone Structure Similarities

The analysts detected a similarity in bone structure between the two skeletons and assumed that they were related. However, there was no method to determine if the bones belonged to only two individuals, to say nothing about the animal bones and the rusty nails.

Cause of Death

There was no method for determining cause of death. One member thought that a blood stain he detected on one skeleton might indicate suffocation. Modern tests could probably detect if it is blood, but this would prove nothing about the manner of death.

In identifying the skeletons as belonging to Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York, the investigating team made a leap of faith of Olympic proportions. There is considerable unease about their results and, of course, about their lack of technology that would have helped them. Lacking much, and pressured by mind set, the team made the choices expected, not unlike the researchers working with Piltdown Man.

The Study of 1955

In 1955, Dr. W.M. Krogman, a Professor of Physical Anthropology at the Graduate School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Arthur Lewis, an orthodontist, Dr. Richard Lyne-Perkis and Professor Bertram S. Kraus, of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Arizona. Dr. Lyne-Pirkis and Professor Bertram were asked to examine the report that was written 30 years before by Professor Wright and Dr. Northcroft. They were not permitted to view the bones but were able to study the photographs.

The reviews were consulted with author Paul Murray Kendall, who in 1955 wrote the definitive biography on Richard III. The following is a summary of their findings as published by Kendallin Richard The Third:

Dr. Krogman summarizes his conclusions regarding the evidence as follows: “The ages as given are, in my opinion, a little too precisely stated. The dental evidence for age is, I think, the soundest. The evidence of age from the bones is limited because of the absence of most of the centers of ossification of the long bones. All things considered, the total age range of all the material is such that both children could have met their death as historically stated (i.e., in August of 1483).

“The so-called staining of the facial bones, attributable to the suffusion of suffocation, is not borne out by experience. Unless there were rupturing of vessels, the suffusion would be limited to facial tissue and would not register itself upon the bones.”

On the basis of the dental evidence, Dr. Arthur Lewis gave his opinion that the elder child might be anywhere from eleven to thirteen years of age but that he most probably appeared to be about eleven and a half, according to the description of the dentition set forth in the article, the terminology of which was not altogether clear.

Professor Bertram Kraus writes, in part: “…the conclusion that the two skeletons were those of the male sex was not substantiated (indeed it would be difficult to establish sex on pre-pubertal skeletons), and the terminology with regard to the dentition is somewhat questionable.

“Two points lead me to the conclusion that the individual (the elder child) is not over nine years of age. First, assuming that there is correspondence between skeletal age and chronological age, the status of eruption of the permanent dentition would place the individual at nine years of age and definitely under twelve. Secondly, it is stated that there are no signs of epiphyseal union at the proximal end of the humerus. Complete union at this point occurs at the age of eighteen and if the union has not occurred there is no accurate way of assessing age by the degree of incompleteness of the union. I notice that the apex of the odontoid process of the axis was not fused, which …’makes it impossible to say with confidence that it belonged to a child who had not yet attained the age of thirteen.’ This, unfortunately, is not a correct statement. Fusion of the apex to the odontoid process takes place between four and six years of age. This would merely indicate that the child is under four years of age.”

Dr. Lyne-Perkis, of Godalming, Surrey, who kindly discussed with me the anatomical evidence relating to the elder skeleton, likewise declared that the inference drawn from the state of the odontoid process of the axis was incorrect; and like Dr. Krogman, he was of the opinion that the so-called stain upon the facial bones of the skeleton was not a bloodstain resulting from the suffusion of suffocation.

Osteomylitis or chronic inflammation of the bone, in the jaw of the elder child: “It’s a very slow, chronic disease; in those days there was no means of curing it so it just went on for years until either the body was able to defeat the infection and leave itself with a disorganized and rather odd-looking bone, in this case the jaw, or of course if the defenses of the body weren’t good enough, it finished you off and you died.”

“In Professor Wright’s day particular attention was directed only to when these centres of ossification first appeared, and the time of epiphysis joined on to the main shaft. They never bothered about the changes in the bones, and it wasn’t until a man called Professor Wingate Todd ofWestern ReserveUniversityinCleveland,Ohio, got the idea of going about this in a scientific way, that any fresh light was thrown on how to date bones.”

In 1926 Prof. Wingate Todd “began his great pioneer work on how bones develop and grow old…So he and his associates started examining about a thousand babies from the year age nothing until they were twenty. They chose them from a good cross-section of American society, so that there would not be too much variation in their health and so on, so he could get a uniform result, and at regular intervals, every three months when they were babies, every six months until they were about thirteen or fourteen, and then every year until they were about eighteen or nineteen, he had them measured as to their height, and to their weight; a note was made of any disease they’d had during the course of the previous period when they’d not been seen, and they were X-rayed; in fact, every joint was X-rayed very, very carefully … and then, before he could really publish his work, he died in 1938. But his successors carried on his work…”

“There is a great deal of difference between the apparent age of the bone as seen on the X-ray plate and the real age,” and “even in the homogeneous group of children … selected from the better class of parents, there was a big range of variation in the maturity of the bones.”

“Now we have to distinguish between chronological age and skeletal age, or maturity. Chronological age is the actual age that the child is; the skeletal age, or maturity, is the apparent age that the bones show. In other words, if a child develops very fast, its bones will appear to be the bones of a child older than its actual age. If it’s slow in developing, then its bones will have the appearance of a younger child than it actually is. And he was able to show that there was a big difference in perfectly normal children as to the actual maturity of the bones or the apparent age of the child. And this is an endeavor to show what I’m saying. These are children who were four years old, these are children who were six years old, these are children who were eight years old. And yet they are exactly the same. The maturity of them all is that of a six year old boy…So it at once disposes of any attempt at accurately assessing the age of a skeleton from the appearance of the bones. All you can do is say that this skeleton has an apparent age of eight years, ten years, or twelve years, but it could easily be two years older or two years younger. Well that I think deals a rather strong blow against Professor Wright’s coming down so definitely about the ages of the children, or of the bones in the Tower.”

“The times at which ossification centres appear are now only used to really indicate how much vitamin D the child has been taking in its diet; no attention is paid to them as regards dating the age of the child, they merely indicate its state of health. So if we applied modern standards to these old bones we are going to be out, apart from the big swing of uncertainty, by about a year to a year and a half from a poor diet , and in the case of the elder child, probably by a further year or a year and a half, which means that if we accept Professor Wright’s estimation of the apparent age of Edward…at between twelve and thirteen, then he would really be between fourteen and sixteen.”

“It is quite impossible to arrive at the age of a child from the time the teeth erupted, because there was such enormous variations even in normal children. So that shattered at one blow the long held belief that you could date bones from either the time when the teeth came out, or when epiphyses like this joined onto the main shaft here in the femur and in the tibia…”

“There is no method of dating bones, over a matter of several hundreds of years, to a greater accuracy than plus or minus about a hundred years, so quite obviously, if we used radio-carbon dating… we are only going to get an answer which would say 1370 to 1570…and, incidentally, it would destroy most of the bones, for you need quite a large quantity of bones to get enough radio-carbon out…” (techniques have improved).

Professor Charles Ross, another author and historian, consulted Dr. Juliet Rogers, a specialist in the study of ancient bones, Dr. J.H. Musgrave, anatomist, and Professor E.W. Bradford, professor of dental surgery. Their comments, printed in Ross’ Richard III, are as follows:

Dr. Juliet Rogers … expresses reservations on the identification with the princes: she points out (a) that the sex of the bones cannot be determined from the existing remains, and (b) that ‘the only certain evidence here is that they are pre-1674 … They might equally well have been less than a hundred years old or date from a much more remote period of the past, for the area has been the scene of vigorous occupation since a very early period of time, and finding of skeletal remains at a depth of 10 feet could just as well be consistent with a very much greater age. After all, we are digging up Romano-British skeletons at lesser depths at this moment.”

Dr. J.H. Musgrave … reports that Professor Wright’s ‘assessment of the age of Edward V from the state of development of his axis or second cervical vertebra alone is very convincing indeed’. He adds two points: (a) that Professor Wright’s comments on the stain on Edward’s facial bones are not conclusive: ‘It may well have been a blood stain but one couldn’t tell for certain without the aid of modern biochemical analysis; (b) ‘The skeletal – as opposed to dental – remains of Richard duke of York are perhaps less informative. But the dental evidence is strong.’

Professor E.W. Bradford, on evidence from molars and canines from the older skull, concluded ‘that with one-third of the crown (of the third molar) formed’ this ‘would put the child at more than 11 years…if one assumes the child is about average then the best guess would be 12 years old’. Of the younger skull, on the basis of the eruption of the permanent incisors, that the child was ‘8 years old plus or minus 2 years, i.e., somewhere between 6 and 10.’ He adds that other evidence would add ‘1-1 years to the above figures, i.e., the child would be between 7 and 11.’ Finally he says that not ‘very much credence can be attached to evidence of cosanguinity’ because ‘tooth development seems to be on a time-scale of its own somewhat independent of the overall development of the individual.’

Other experts consulted have given a variety of opinions. One did express an opinion on the sex of the individuals based upon tooth and skeletal evidence. None could determine the cause of death. Some have thought that there was a relationship in the two skeletons. Almost all disagreed about the presence or meaning of a blood stain. It should be remembered that all of the above experts were working with only a written report and photographs.

Their report states:

There is no evidence to prove that the skeletons were those of two boys. It is difficult to determine the sex of children before the age of 13; it is possible that the skeletons were that of 2 girls or a boy and girl.

The bones and teeth of the elder child suggest that he was less than 12 years old and most probably between the ages of 9 and 11.

The stain on the skull of the elder child was not a blood strain resulting from death by suffocation.

We cannot say how long the bones had been buried, and these bones in question could have been buried before the reign of Richard III.

The Royal ? Bones in Westminster Abbey

Today there is a far greater array of forensic tools at our disposal. A new examination of the bones would provide a definite link, if one exists, between royalty and the bones. With a new study on the bones, the following can be determined:

Paleontologists could assemble and measure the bones and determine if all belong to one of two individuals. Tasks such as x-ray, photography and chemical analysis could be done with advanced technologies.

The stain could be determined to be blood or environmental.

DNA technology could be used to determine ancestry.

Cause of death, to a limited extent, might be determined.

Age of the individuals at death could be set within a broad band. Various tables now available of how people develop could be used.

The sex of the skeletons could be determined.

The bones could be dated to at least the century of burial.

Cause of death, to a limited extent, might be determined.

Certainly a new look is well worth the effort if it can lift the cloud of doubt from the good name of King Richard III.