Monday, October 22, 2007

Elizabeth Woodville, Non-Bearer of Bad Tidings?

If you've read any Ricardian novel worthy of its genre, you've come across the following scene: in April 1483, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and Anne, his childhood sweetheart, blissfully married, are enjoying a carefree moment in their beloved Yorkshire when a messenger rides up, bringing ill tidings: Edward IV is dead. As Richard absorbs this devastating news, the narrator, if he's at all reliable, will inform us sternly that the messenger was from William Hastings and not from Elizabeth Woodville. The latter, we'll be told, failed to tell Richard herself either (a) because of her mean-spirited character and/or (b) because of a Nasty Woodville plot to keep Richard in the dark about his brother's death for as long as possible. The latter gives rise to visions of the following scenario:

August 1483. Richard is frolicking in the moors with Anne when a messenger shuffles up.

Richard: Have you news, man?

Messenger: Oh, I suppose so. Your brother the king is dead.

Richard: No! NO! Anne, we must get to London as soon as possible to save the country from the evil Woodvilles!

Messenger: Don't bother. He died back in April. His son is already crowned and there's not a thing you can do about it. Us Woodvilles are in charge. (Cackles gleefully for a few minutes, then abruptly stops) Oh, but there is one thing you can do.

Richard (miserably): What?

Messenger: The Queen Mum will let you keep all of your castles, but she wants you to rename them. Got that? So from now, this will be known as Middlewood. Sheriff Hutton will be known as Sheriff Bessie.

Richard: NOOOOOO! (Runs off into moors and disappears forever, thereby depriving future generations of perfectly good subjects to blog about).

But seriously, is there truth to this story that Elizabeth Woodville and her family deliberately failed to let Richard know of his brother's death? I haven't found a contemporary source for it. The Croyland Chronicler, who most historians agree was a person highly placed at court, reports the controversy over the size of the escort the new king and his relations were to have, notes that Richard wrote cordial, reassuring letters to the queen after he learned of Edward's death, and states that Richard traveled to York to publicly mourn his brother. In all of this, he doesn't indicate who told Richard of his brother's death, but he doesn't suggest that anyone had been derelict in giving Gloucester the news or that it had come from an unexpected quarter. Mancini, whose account is by no means favorable to the Woodvilles, reports that there were conflicting opinions among the king's councilors as to what role Gloucester was to play in the minority government, and he writes that Hastings reported these deliberations to Richard and urged him to come to London quickly. As with Croyland, however, nothing in Mancini's account gives the impression that there had been any delay in notifying Richard of his brother's death or any impropriety in the way he was notified.

Based on these sources, the logical conclusion is that whether or not Elizabeth Woodville personally sent Richard the news (and it's not at all clear to me why she, as opposed to someone from the king's household like William Hastings, the king's chamberlain, would have been expected to do so), Richard learned of his brother's death via conventional means and within a reasonable time. Indeed, in their chronology of events in The Coronation of Richard III: The Extant Documents, Anne F. Sutton and P. W. Hammond--both associated with the Richard III Society--indicate, based on Mancinci, Croyland, and other contemporary sources, that Richard in Yorkshire probably received the news of Edward IV's death at about the same time--April 14--that the future Edward V and his household, which of course included Elizabeth's brother Anthony Woodville, received the news in Wales.

None of this would be of much importance in the grand scheme of things, perhaps, except that the unfounded notion that Elizabeth & Co. tried to conceal the king's death from Richard has made it into nonfiction as well as fiction, giving it a certain respectability and staying power. Elizabeth Jenkins in The Princes in the Tower twice states that no one told Richard of the king's death until Hastings broke the news, and Paul Murray Kendall, in whose eyes Elizabeth Woodville combines all of the worst qualifies of Imelda Marcos, Cruella de Vil, and Britney Spears, also writes that no official word ever came from Westminster to Richard. Bertram Fields in his book Royal Blood likewise accuses the queen and her kin of delay, and a quick surf on the Internet produces several Ricardian sites that make similar allegations. Especially with regard to the latter, it's disheartening to note how some--by no means all or even most--of those dedicated to reassessing Richard's reputation should be so cavalier about besmirching those of his contemporaries.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Anne Beauchamp's Gold Tablet

Recently I picked up a collection of essays titled Much Heaving and Shoving: Late-Medieval Gentry and Their Concerns, Essays for Colin Richmond, edited by Margaret Aston and Rosemary Horrox. It contains a good deal of interest in relation to Richard III, and I found one article, "The Smethon Letter, St Penket and the Tablet of Gold" by Tony Pollard, to be of particular interest.

In the article, Pollard quotes a letter by William Smethon, a chaplain in the service of Richard Clervaux, a landowner near Middleham. The letter, which Pollard dates between February and the summer of 1478, was found behind a grant of free warren from Edward IV on February 26, 1478, that had been framed and kept at Croft Hall. Smethon not only mentions the death of George, the Duke of Clarence ("dead in a vat for hys bathying") but also refers to Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick, Richard III's mother-in-law. Having informed Clervaux that the lord of Gloucester (i.e., Richard III) had told him that the free warren matter was making "good spede," Smethon adds that the countess has made a great table of gold of St. Pen, Our Lady, and the Holy Trinity, "with which it is seid my lord is not plesed withahll." He adds, "And yit my lady shall be at rob' ho' this seson."

This letter is fascinating for several reasons. For one, as Pollard points out, it seems to confirm that Anne Beauchamp was indeed residing at Middleham in Richard III's household at the time, as opposed to some other residence. For another, it suggests that Anne enjoyed a certain freedom of movement and action while at Middleham, contradicting Rous's claim that Richard III shut her up for life. It also indicates that Anne, though she had been stripped of her lands by her sons-in-law, had enough spending money to commission this gold tablet.

What was this tablet? Pollard suggests that it might be none other than the Middleham Jewel, a gold tablet that does indeed depict Our Lady and the Trinity. As for "St. Pen," Pollard notes that the Middleham Jewel frames the Nativity scene on its back with 15 saints, one of whom he suggests may be St. Penket, "an obscure whirling, or ecstatic dancing, saint."

So what was Gloucester not pleased about? Had the Countess of Warwick been overspending her allowance in having this tablet made? Or, as Pollard suggests, had she become a devotee of the cult of St. Penket, thereby incurring the disapproval of her more religiously orthodox son-in-law?

What was this mysterious "rob' ho'"? Sadly, its meaning is obscure, but Pollard suggests that it might refer to a building on the Middleham High Moor known as the Rubbing House, in which St. Penket followers might have held dances.

As is often the case with Richard III, this letter raises many more questions than it answers. But they're interesting questions, and I'll be searching out Colin Richmond's The Penket Papers to read more for myself about this obscure saint.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Happy Belated Birthday to Richard III, Loyal Brother to Edward IV

Born on October 2, 1452.

Speaking of birthdays, the act enrolled in the 1484 Parliament outlining Richard III's claim to the crown, Titulus Regius, having set out the supposed illegitmacy of Edward IV's sons, goes on to list Richard III's qualifications to hold the throne. Interestingly, it contains a couple of subtle allusions to earlier rumors, spread by the Earl of Warwick and his associates previously and briefly resurrected by Richard III (or his supporters) when he seized the throne in 1483, that Edward IV himself was illegitimate. Richard is described as the "undoubted" son of Richard, Duke of York, and (unlike that sneaky Edward IV, born in Rouen), it's noted that Richard was "born within this land."

Over this we cofidre, howe that Ye be the undoubted Son and Heire of Richard late Duke of Yorke, verray enheritour to the feid Crowne and Dignite Roiall, and as in right Kyng of Englond, by wey of Enheritaunce; and that at ths tyme, the premiffes duely confidered, there is noon other perfoune lyvyng but Ye only, that by Right may clayme the faid Coroune and Dignite Royall, by way of Enheritaunce, and howe that Ye be born withyn this Lande; by reafon wherof, as we deme in oure myndes, Ye be more naturally enclyned to the profperite and comen wele of the fame; and all the thre Eftatis of the Lande have, and may have, more certayn knowlage of youre Byrth and Filiation abovefeid. Wee confidre alfo, the greate Wytte, Prudence, Juftice, Princely Courage, and the memorable and laudable Acts in diverfe Batalls, whiche as we by experience knowe Ye heretofore have done, for the falvacion and defence of this fame Reame; and alfo the greate nobleffe and excellence of your Byrth and Blode, as of hym that is defcended of the thre mooft Royall houfes in Criftendom, that is to fay, England, Fraunce, and Hifpanic.

Strangely, Richard III is widely admired for his loyalty to his brother, though after Edward IV's death, Richard III proclaimed his brother's children illegitimate, summarily executed his closest friend, his in-laws, and his eldest son's chamberlain, and (at the very least) imprisoned his sons. Titulus Regius, indeed, devotes considerable space to outlining Edward IV's supposed failures as a king, which, you won't be surprised to hear, were all caused by divine displeasure with his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville:

Which premiffes being true, as in veray trouth they been true, it appearreth and foloweth evidently, that the faid King Edward duryng his lif, and the feid Elizabeth, lived together finfully and dampnably in adultery, againft the Lawe of God and of his Church; and therfore noo marivaile that the Souverain Lord and the head of this Land, being of fuch ungoldy difpoficion, and provokyng the ire and indinacion of oure Lord God, fuch haynous mifchieffs and inconvenients, as is above remembred, were ufed and comitted in the Reame amongs the Subjects.

The "haynous mifchieffs and inconvenients, as is above remembred" are spelled out thusly:

Furft, we confidre how that heretofore in tyme paffed, this Lande many years ftode in great profperite, honoure and tranquillite; which was caufed, forfomoch as the Kings than reignyng, ufed and followed the advice and counfaill of certaine Lords Spuelx and Temporelx, and othre perfonnes of approved fadneffe, prudence, policie and experience, dreding God, and havying tendre zele and affection to indifferent miniftration of Juftice, and to the comon and politique wele of the Land; than oure Lord God was dred, luffed and honoured; than within the Land was peas and tranquillite, and among Neghbours concorde and charite; than the malice of outward Enemyes was myghtily refifted and repreffed, and the Land honorably defended with many grete and glorious victories; than the entrecourfe of Merchandizes was largely ufed and exercifed: by which things above remembred, the Land was greatly enriched, foo that as wele the Merchants and Artificers, as other poure people, laborying for their livyng in diverfe occupations, had competent gayne, to the fuftentation of thaym and their houfeholds, livyng without miferable and intollerable povertie. But afterward, whan that fuch as had the rule and governaunce of this Land, delityng in adulation and flattery, and lede by fenfuality and concupifcence, folowed the counfaill of perfonnes, infolent, vicious, and of inordinate avarice, defpifyng the coungaill of good, vertuoufe and prudent perfonnes, fuch as above be remembred; the profperite of this Land daily decreafed, foo that felicite was turned into miferie, and profperite into adverfite, and the ordre of polecye, and of the Lawe of God and Man, confounded; whereby it is likely this Reame to falle into extreme miferie and defolation, which God defende, without due provifion of couvenable remedie bee had in this behalfe in all goodly haft.

Ah, the good old days of Henry VI, where peas and tranquility reigned throughout the land, except for those pesky battles that kept spoiling everyone's fun. Richard III is also conveniently omitting to mention that the last years of Edward IV's reign, far from being a time of misery and desolation, were marked by domestic peace. But Richard is just getting warmed up:

Over this, amonges other things, more fpecially wee confider, howe that, the tyme of the Reigne of Kyng Edward the IIIIth , late deceffed, after the ungracious pretenfed Marriage, as all England hath caufe foo to fay, made betwixt the faid King Edward, and Elizabeth, fometyme Wife to Sir John Grey Knight, late nameing herfelf and many years heretofore Quene of Englond, the ordre of all poletique Rule was perverted, the Lawes of God and of Gods Church, and alfo the Lawes of Nature and of Englond, and alfo the laudable Cuftomes and Liberties of the fame, wherein every Englifhman in Inheritor, broken, fubverted and contempned, againft all reafon and juftice, foo that this Land was ruled by felfewill and pleafure, feare and drede, all manner of Equite and Lawes layd apart and defpifed, whereof enfued many inconvenients and mifchiefs, as Murdres, Extorfions and Oppreffions, namely of poore and impotent people, foo that no Man was fure of his Lif, Land ne Lyvelode, ne of his Wif, Doughter ne Servaunt, every good Maiden and Woman ftanding in drede to be ravifhed and defouled. And befides this, what Difcords, inwarde Battailles, etfufion of Chriftian Mens Blode, and namely, by the deftruction of the Blode of this Londe, was had and comitted within the fame, it is evident and notarie thourough all this Reame, unto the great forowe and hevyneffe of all true Englifhmen.

That's Edward IV for you: mass murderer of poor people, serial rapist of good women, and (having been born in France) not even a true Englishman.

As the saying goes, if you want loyalty, get yourself a dog.