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
’s King Richard England 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
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. London
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.
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
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 England 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
, she soon moved to Gloucestershire, England 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. London
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
where she still lives amongst the parrots and wallabies, writing full time before contemplating a possible return to Australia . England
Her first finished novel, FAIR WEATHER, is an intense and atmospheric fantasy set in
in the 1200s. The storyline is based on considerable historical content, but the plot is sheer fantasy. England
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.