27/12/2011

RICHARD III : USURPER OR RIGHTFUL KING? GUESTPOST BY BARBARA GASKELL DENVIL

My quest in search for Richard III goes on thanks to another fortuitous meeting online. I was reading about a novel set in the years of the War of the Roses, "Satin Cinnabar" and it sounded so interesting that I immediately added it to my TBR list  and tried to get in contact with its author, Barbara Gaskell Denvil. She kindly accepted to be my guest here on FLY HIGH and to share with us the results of her research on Richard III and the events of the War of the Roses. Here's her article. Read and enjoy.

USURPER OR RIGHTFUL KING? That question could apply to many of history’s monarchs. After all, primogeniture was not, as is often supposed, always or exclusively the road to the throne. Indeed, sometimes who inherited the crown could simply depend on who had tempted who into bed, what lies and trickery were used, and who then found out about it.

Researching the life and times of a historical figure as intriguing as England’s King Richard III, is not too difficult to start off with. The hard work has been done for us. Historians and Ricardians have been delving the archives since before I was born. However, a surprising number of mysteries remain, largely due to the heavy hand of Henry VII who set out to eliminate all traces of the truth concerning his predecessor. Richard’s character has been buried beneath an ominous heap of accusations and slanders. Even actually proving him the villain would now be hard work, since the villainous reputation which survives is too inhuman to believe. Tudor propaganda always tended towards theatrical exaggeration. As such, I find it amazing that much of the world is still inclined to believe it.


After a decade of researching both the man and his times, I have become increasingly absorbed by the gloriously bedevilled intricacies of late medieval life, and my continuing research has become a passion. Indeed I have recently published my novel SATIN CINNABAR by BARBARA GASKELL DENVIL  set in London 1485, which starts on the battlefield shortly after King Richard’s death. The book follows the first unpopular breaths of the new Tudor dynasty, but my story is principally fiction. The politics, the backgrounds, the whole flavour of the times is accurate, but the plot is adventure, crime, mystery and romance. SATIN CINNABAR is published online for download to Kindle, ipad, Barnes & Noble and all other e.book formats. My second medieval novel will be published next year.

I had no bias either way regarding Richard III when I began researching. It was the study itself which quickly determined the truth for me. This was a man who respected religion and dreamed of serving God. A man who held loyalty higher than other virtues, and who lived according to those standards. His behaviour towards his brother, King Edward IV proved this over and over again throughout his life. There is no record of his philandering once married, and he was unusually attentive to his wife. Whether or not they married for love or expediency (an argument popular between Ricardians and their opponents) there is documented evidence that they spent far more time together, both in private and during formal duties, than other monarchs, or the nobility of the time, were apt to do. Once again the words are respect and loyalty. Richard also proved his duty of care to the extended members of his family and took pains to protect the Plantaganet bloodline. Even when ordering punishment, Richard invariably pardoned wives, overturned attainders and forgave those who had fought against him. Presumably the man also had faults. However, it is important to remember that the acquisition of wealth, land and supporters was the duty of any lord at that time, and to neglect this duty would have been considered utterly irresponsible. Richard was born into a powerful family and he acquired more, but within his province in the north his reputation for honesty and the proper apportioning of justice was paramount.
Yet we are then asked to believe that quite suddenly on his brother’s death, this careful man of stable and mature responsibility turned almost overnight into a demon of ruthless ambition, ready to slaughter anyone who stood in his way. The accusations begin with Richard’s supposed usurpation of the throne, calling his brother’s marriage bigamous, relegating his nephews to bastardy and therefore excluding them from inheriting the throne, and finally stealing the crown for himself. This, of course, is the Tudor tale. King Henry VII had a very good reason for trying to defame his predecessor, but that is another long story.

Let us begin with medieval marriages. English law was quite different in those days and a calling of the banns followed by a legally binding and fully witnessed ceremony was not obligatory. In fact, a simple agreement between a man and a woman to wed, followed by the normal act of cohabitation, was sufficient to constitute a legal marriage contract. No witness was required although many couples insured the recognition of their agreement by having one or two, and sometimes a handy priest made the best witness. It was not until the mid 18th century that such a casual form of marriage was outlawed and regulatory legislation was brought in.

Elizabeth Woodville 
Hand-fasting – as the private wedding arrangement described above was often called – could be easily abused and there were many cases of women taking their erstwhile partners to court for having abandoned them after the love-making was accomplished, the husband later denying that any arrangement of marriage ever took place. Certainly many folk, especially the nobility, preferred something more public, more festive, and more religiously sanctioned. The king in particular was well advised to conduct his marriage ceremony in public, calling the banns with the whole country as witness to the authenticity of his honesty and rights. But King Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville in 1464 was entirely clandestine, and of the hand-fasting variety. It is generally rumoured to have originally been just a ruse to get the lady into bed. The king did not even announce his new marital state publicly for several months afterwards, and during the period of secrecy his behaviour in some respects showed quite clearly that he had not taken the arrangement seriously.

Having entered into one clandestine marriage with the probable intention of little more than seduction in mind, it is certainly possible that this had happened before. But whether or not Edward chose to confess any prior private wedding, if any in fact took place, it would still have been unavoidably valid. So, after Edward’s death when Richard III announced his brother’s pre-contract, thus claiming that his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was bigamous and the children of that union illegitimate, the revelation was assuredly not unique. It had been happening amongst less important citizens for years. (The pre-contract, by the way, refers to a previous marriage, and not simply to an engagement or promise to marry as has sometimes been suggested. The wording is clear.)

Whether or not any proof existed at that time, we cannot now be sure. But a great meeting of politicians, nobility and clergy was called to discuss the situation, and it is more than possible that proof (later lost or destroyed by Henry VII) was presented at that time. Edward’s precontract (to the Lady Eleanor Butler) being still valid at the time of his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, his later bigamy was certainly recognised. Parliament branded the children of the bigamous marriage bastards, and both houses of parliament offered the crown to Richard as the next heir apparent. Titulus Regius was created, (later all but one copy was destroyed by Henry Tudor) thereby officially recognising Richard’s legal entitlement to the crown, and there appear to have been no public objections.

Knowing something of how politics and business was conducted in those days, it seems to me most unlikely that this situation could have occurred without actual absolute proof of some kind being presented first. The Lady Eleanor Butler being deceased by then, we cannot now be sure. But this is hardly the sort of momentous decision to take lightly and the people of that time were certainly not dupes or idiots. I find it particularly interesting that the Lady Elizabeth Woodville, the ousted queen whose children had all been relegated to bastardy, made no demur herself. She could have raised no end of objections. She could have appealed to an ecclesiastical court. She could have shouted injustice to the rooftops. She did not. She kept quiet and made no disavowal of the facts. Nor did any of her now powerful family, even her brother who was, by then, a bishop. Certainly they secretly plotted and schemed against the new regime, but made no public outcry and attempted no legal inquiry. This, to me, is as close as possible to proof that the documentation against the legality of her marriage existed in plain fact, and as queen she had probably privately known about it for years.

This is a vast subject, and the probabilities go deep. Far more could be presented on the subject, but these are the salient facts. They stand in simple contrast to the public assumption that Richard III was a usurper. He was not, since he was (rightly or wrongly) officially offered the throne on an orderly and legal basis. One authentic copy of Titulus Regius still exists and this presents the simple truth. Richard III was virtually ‘elected’ – as far as such a thing was possible in those days – all notable levels of society having officially asked him to be king.

Shakespeare is a hero of mine and was undoubtedly a genius, but had he known that his theatrical presentation of the evil King Richard would continue to convince the public of its historical accuracy for the next 500 years, I imagine he would have laughed uproariously. His time lines were hopelessly wrong, his facts manipulated for dramatic effect, and poetic license was put to excellent value. What is more he lived under a Tudor regime. Let us finally accept that this presentation of the wildly wicked sociopath was great theatre, but never truth.

On the other hand, what glorious scope medieval marriages offered, and what dreadful license for abuse and intrigue. For hundreds of years men were openly gifted the opportunity to seduce all the virtuous ladies of their desire, and then run – denying that any agreement had ever taken place. No doubt the opportunity for false accusations by females was also taken up but there is no surviving record of that. So rather than the endless vilification of King Richard III, I wonder why there has been so little outcry against King Edward IV’s behaviour? He might also have been accused of usurping the throne (depending on whether you supported the rights of York or Lancaster during the Wars of the Roses), and like his grandson Henry VIII, he proved himself a notorious womaniser, an irresponsible monarch at least as far as his marital affairs were concerned, and who, it was evidently suggested at the time, was capable of rape as well as trickery and seduction. He was certainly a greedy over-indulgent character himself, and was enormously indulgent towards his Woodville in-laws, encouraging their own greed and showering them with wealth and titles which should surely have gone to more worthy proponents. Edward’s specific virtues as a man are somewhat harder to pin down, although in his younger years he was a great military general and that endeared him to many, but his irresponsibility towards his marriage vows, conducting at least one, almost certainly two, and possibly even more clandestine marriages, left the inheritance of the throne in desperate confusion. Indeed, there is some indication that Henry VIII’s later obsession with providing a legitimate male heir by a lady of unassailable virtue, was actually inspired by the disastrous mistakes of his grandfather.

But, inspite of many military and political problems, Edward IV ruled over England during a period of prosperity and growth. Thus he got away with – well, not murder precisely – but a good deal else. Above all he was lucky, since after his death his reputation was not then subject to the ravages of Henry VII’s propaganda machine.

BARBARA GASKELL DENVIL, the author of FAIR WEATHER  (Available Amazon Kindle and smashwords.com at $2.99) and SATIN CINNABAR  (also $2.99, generally available online for Amazon and all other devices) has been a writer all her life. Born in Gloucestershire, England, she soon moved to London and in  addition to working as a literary reviewer and critic for BOOKS & BOOKMEN, quickly built up a career publishing numerous short stories and articles.
She then spent many hot and colourful years sailing the Mediterranean on a yacht and living in various different countries throughout the region.
When her partner died, she moved to rural Australia where she still lives amongst the parrots and wallabies, writing full time before contemplating a possible return to England.
Her first finished novel, FAIR WEATHER, is an intense and atmospheric fantasy set in England in the 1200s. The storyline is based on considerable historical content, but the plot is sheer fantasy.
This has been published to considerable success online – now followed by her second book – SATIN CINNABAR, which commences on the battlefield at Bosworth and covers the fist few difficult months of the emerging Tudor dynasty.  Barbara’s love of late medieval history and many years of research have enabled her to bring the period vividly to life. No fantasy this time, the story is an adventure including all the mystery and romance for which she is becoming well known. 

20 comments:

David Pilling said...

Explain Richard's hideous and utterly illegal murder of Lord Hastings, then. He had the man dragged out of the council chamber and brutally slaughtered.

Debra Brown said...

My stand is neutral; I just want to know the known facts. But who wanted the boys killed? Why was Richard called their Lord Protector? Why were they not better protected? Why were they even taken from their mother if they were nobody?

Barbara Gaskell Denvil said...

Hello David and Debra - Neither of these questions permits a simple answer but I will do my best. Please forgive me for being rather long winded - I hope it's not too boring.
First Debra - the eldest 'prince' (not taken from his mother as he had not lived with her for many years) was taken to the royal apartments in the Tower as a matter of proper tradition to await his coronation. At that time - and for some centuries following - ALL future monarchs spent at least the night before their crowning in the Tower where special chambers of great luxury were prepared. The Tower of London was - quite simply - a royal palace. The future king's younger brother then joined him there as a matter of decency and choice.
From there - and security would have been considerable for all important persons - after some months when they were served royally and seen constantly - they finally disappeared. We do not know what happened to them. No accusation of murder was brought. We have absolutely NO idea (let alone proof) of what then happened. Rumour later ran riot - including those claiming that the boys lived on and were safely shipped either to Northern England or abroad (probably to their aunt the Duchess of Burgundy) - but we just do not know. Honestly and truly - we do not know.
By the way, Richard was made Lord Protector of the whole land, and of the princes, by order of their father's (the late King Edward IV) last will and testament.
As for Hastings, we know even less for sure. The chroniclers of the time simply wrote that Hastings was discovered in a plot of treason and was therefore executed. No more than that.
As Lord Protector, Richard had the legal right to order the summary execution of anyone caught in treacherous conspiracies. This was NOT murder. This was legal according to the law of the land at that time. As Hasting's arrest took place during an important meeting of Council, it is almost positive that the other council members concurred with the judgement. Certainly they did not object. Perhaps proof against Hastings was produced at the time. We do not know and such proof certainly no longer exists. Was it fair and just? We can only guess - but it WAS legal.
However, no protest was made at the time, no public outcry and no complaint by Hasting's friends or family. Indeed, several other men were also arrested in accordance with the same accusations of treason. These were all later pardoned. Hastings, as the ring leader, was made the example.
The wildly dramatic description of Richard's treatment of Hastings is NOT corroborated by the legal accounts or chroniclers of the time. It is an account existing ONLY in Thomas More's far later 'biography' of Richard III witten many, many years later in accoradance with Tudor propoganda. This wildy emotive biograhy reads more like a modern tale of teenage vampires - even sillier than some. (And Thomas More was certainly not present at the time).
So whether there was really a good reason for Hasting's execution, we can no longer prove - or even be sure. But he was NOT dragged out and brutally slaughtered. He was found guilty of treason during council, and was legally (if a little hurriedly) executed according to law.
I hope I haven't been too boring here. Please do ask if I haven't made anything clear.

Debra Brown said...

Thanks for your reply. And I am neutral, but questions remain. It seems strange that there is no record of where the boys went, and especially since two boy's skeletons were found under some stairs in the Tower in I think about 1930. That doesn't mean Richard killed them, but it seems to mean that someone did.

Just curiosity- I am not as well read on the subject as you are, certainly.

Barbara Gaskell Denvil said...

Hi Debra - It's nice to chat with someone who is interested.
The bones found under an ancient staircase in the Tower were dug up in the late 1600s, and were examined several times, most recently in the 1930s. They are not full skeletons and were originally chucked on a rubbish dump and got mixed with animal bones. No one can verify their proper ages, nor whether these were male or female. Nor is there the slightest indication of date. Many people think they must date back to Roman times and were buried before The Tower was even built. One skull shows significant signs of degenerative bone disease, which neither of these two princes suffered from. It would have been exceddingly noticeavble, but they were known as very fit and healthy young boys.
These random bones have caused a great deal of supposition but they seem MOST unlikely to have anything to do with Edward IV's sons.
Yes, it is extremely sad that we have no record of what happened but so many documents of that time were later purposefully destroyed by the Tudors - and also by the passage of time.
If you're interested in the possible fate of the princes, please use the link below:
http://www.richardiii-nsw.org.au/?p=6487. -
and let me know what you think.
Good luck, Barbara

Debra Brown said...

Thanks for the comment and link. I am glad to hear the other side of the story. It is only in recent years that I have had time to look into the history that I love so much, and there are thousands of years of it to study. As in our personal lives, we must look at both sides of a coin in history- no matter whose face is on it.

Barbara Gaskell Denvil said...

Debra - I love your rational attitude. There is no proof of Richard's innocence - but also no proof whatsoever of his guilt in anything at all. Indeed, the small amount of factual evidence in existance tends to point towards Richard being a dutiful man greatly interested in loyalty and justice. And we KNOW that Henry Tudor later covered up the truth and painted the evil picture without foundation. That CAN be proved. But we are left with a fascinating enigma.
I love this era of history and have studied it extensively - hence my writing - not specifically about Richard but about that age. And there'll be more books to follow.

Susan Higginbotham said...

It's simply not true that the only account of Hastings' murder comes from Thomas More. Take a look at Dominic Mancini's contemporary account, which was written during Richard III's reign: "Thereupon the soldiers, who had been stationed there by their lord, rushed in with the duke of Buckingham, and cut down Hastings on the false pretext of treason . . . Thus fell Hastings, killed not by those enemies he had always feared, but by a friend whom he had never doubted."

The Crowland Chronicler, also writing long before More, describes Hastings' execution as being "without justice or judgment."

Nor did Richard as protector have the right to summarily execute Hastings without trial. Even by the standards of the day, Hastings should have been formally indicted and tried. As J. G. Bellamy wrote in "The Law of Treason in England in the Later Middle Ages," "In 1483 there does not seem to have been any legal process at all, proper or improper, before the execution of William Lord Hastings, and there seems to have been very little before the deaths of Earl Rivers, Sir Richard Grey, Sir Thomas Vaughan and Sir Richard Hawte. That examples like these were so rare is to the credit of the English governmental system of the later middle ages and the essentially moderate law of treason which was a vital part of it."

alfie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
alfie said...

@Maria. I am really grateful for all the knowledge I am reciving through this fandom . The more I learn of Richard III and english history, the more I chear for the film project. And now just as much for sake of the King, as for the sake of Richard Armitage ;-)

@B.G.Denvil. Thank you for a really interesting post. I am a newbie in Richard III and english history (AND not english), and I found your post understandable(for a newbie), facinating and not the least boring ;-)
Really interesting part about the marriages.

Barbara Gaskell Denvil said...

Thanks very much Alfie. Best of luck to you.
Dear Susan, may I point out that Mancini hardly counts as an authoritative commentator. As a non English speaker his accounts, from whatever sources gleaned, tend to be erratic. For a start, we know Hastings was not “cut down” on the spot, and declaring a ‘false’ pretext of treason still admits that treason was, in fact, the accusation. Mancini also writes that previously Hastings, Rotherham and Morton (a principal known opponent of Richard) had been foregathering in each other’s homes – with a clear intimation that some sort of conspiracy was being hatched.
But Mancini’s accounts are frequently somewhat contradictory. He was certainly not privy to council meetings and there’s no room here to analyse his motives and ‘master’.
We also know that the Crowland Chronicle’s later assertions are wildly prejudiced. But even that very short summary does not include the rather silly later assertions of Thomas More.
Several others were arrested at the same time both in and out of the council chamber, including some lesser known individuals, proving that a wide spread conspiracy was at least suspected. This was no private vendetta against Hastings.
I dispute the denial of the Protector’s right of summary execution of anyone discovered in treason. At that time Richard’s position, ratified by council, stood him in place of the monarch and as such I believe he had every legal right to order the execution of a traitor. Of course what I do not know – and nor does anyone – is what proof of treason was presented to the council that day. Crowland’s “Without justice or judgement” is highly speculative. Judgement (with or without justice) was clearly given since this all took place in public and amongst the highest powers in the land, all of whom had the capability of protesting. This was no secret act of murder. It was an execution done – albeit hurriedly – very much in the open. Richard had already written regarding the uncovering of a plot against him, and afterwards a public proclamation was given announcing Hastings's execution and citing a plan to assassinate the Protector. Legality was certainly accepted at the time.
The haste of the execution may have been unwise. Or it may have been necessary as an example, bringing an incisive halt to an existing widespread danger. We just do not know.

Debra Brown said...

While I have you on the line, ;) why did the Duke of Buckingham turn against Richard?

Barbara Gaskell Denvil said...

Dear Debra, I'd love to oblige with a clear concise answer but once again I'm afraid we are in 'muddle country' !! No one knows the actual explanation for Buckingham's rather sudden betrayal. Richard himself appeared amazed and deeply hurt. He wrote with passion concerning the treachery of someone he had considered a friend and loyal supporter. (Richard took the concept and practise of loyalty very seriously). But Buckingham's character is highly suspect as far as we can tell. He had royal blood himself (and probably a better claim to the throne than the eventual Henry VII, the first Tudor king) and had been placed in close contact with John Morton who was a bitter and passionate opponent of Richard III. It has been supposed that John Morton 'seduced' Buckingham into revolt, playing up to his greed, conceit and ambition. But we are left with one simple fact. Frankly - speculation can be fun - but no one knows.
This is one of the reasons why people still feel so strongly about Richard III - either for or against - even after more than 500 years. There remain huge gaps in our knowledge and the mysteries are tantalisingly - well - mysterious!

Debra Brown said...

Thanks for all the info!

Mo said...

I love hearing the stories of England's past. I just wish modern governments would learn from past mistakes. Interesting story on radio 4 this mmorning about the life of Elizabeth of York. Will be seeking a book on her story after the hearing how incredible she was.

David said...

'SATIN CINNABAR by BARBARA GASKELL DENVIL set in London 1483, which starts on the battlefield shortly after King Richard’s death.' I hope the date of 1483 is a typo, as Richard came to the Throne in 1483 and was killed in 1485.

David said...

Other than Richard, the Duke of Buckingham had the next best legal claim to the Throne and may have supported Richard as a stepping stone. Likewise his support for Henry Tudor may have been for the similar reason, to eliminate another rival. One thing is for sure and that is Henry Tudor had no legal right to the Throne as he was barred twice on the grounds of Bastardry and could only bolster his very weak claim by marrying Edward V's sister, Elizabeth.

IngeD3 said...

Barbara, thank you so much for a very interesting article about Richard III. His story is mesmerising and the fact that so many facts remain unknown makes it the perfect subject for fiction.
I'm personally also intrigued by Richard's wife, Anne Neville. Her short life revolved around loyalty and duty and as she was a woman, there is even less information about who she actually was.
Thanks again for sharing your knowledge with us!

Barbara Gaskell Denvil said...

Thanks so much to everyone for their input. Sorry about the typo - 1485 and 1483 get written so often they can sometimes seem to swap places!!! Buckingham's claim to the throne was excellent and I agree with you David, though there was also Lincoln. Tudor's claim was non-existant as you say, but apart from the fabricated and exaggerated tales of his own family background, he claimed by right of conquest. His marriage was extremely important and brought some him public acceptance, but personally he attempted to downgrade his need for his wife's position and delayed his marriage until his throne felt secure without her.
I'm just delighted that people still find the subject of interest.
Good reading to everyone, and a happy 2012

Anonymous said...

Wonderful discussion!
As a source, Mancini was not English - and continental European interests never made reliable sources for English history. No doubt the same was true of English documentation of European events. There were always interests to be served in creating myths and disinformation. There is simply too little known in a 14th C civil war to ever be certain of "truth". Perhaps much benefit of doubt accrues to Richard Plantagenet, who lived by "loyaultie me lie" to his brother, and to his commitment as the lord of the north. Nevertheless, it is always fascinating to return to the subject of Richard III and discuss the pros and cons.
fitzg