Hot Pies!

Posted: August 17, 2015 in Uncategorised

Forget cupcakes! Macaroons? So five minutes ago! What’s hot right now is pies…

Sometimes it can be difficult working out just what’s important when writing fiction about the Nevills. I’m hoping these handy piecharts will be of some use.








Don’t forget to check out Susan Higginbotham’s Superior History Pies here.

This post was inspired by a question asked by a facebook friend: How do I manage to research the 15th century, and the Nevills in particular, from the other side of the world?

Twenty years ago (or thereabouts) when I first started using the internet, I was delighted to discover this site. It’s called The Labyrinth, and it’s an absolute trove of material – even more now than it was then. I was finishing my linguistics degree with two units of early English and finding the Paston Letters online (among other things)  had me dancing with joy.  I didn’t even come close to imagining then what a rich vein of research gold the internet would become. References in secondary sources I’d have despaired of finding twenty years ago are just a search away – sometimes quick and sometimes not so quick! The Coventry Leet Book? It’s there! The Fight at Clyst? Here it is! Letters & Papers Illustrative of the Reign of Henry VI? At your fingertips! And just about every 15th century chronicle you can think of; Rolls of Parliament; collections of sumptuary laws, royal household accounts and – of course! – Paston Letters by the thousand. Google it! If you don’t find it on the first try, don’t give up. (But maybe after three missed meals and hungry children/cats/dogs milling around your feet, you probably should.)

I can’t always easily access material in local records offices – which can be more than a little frustrating – but some can be very helpful and generous. Googling is always worth a punt. There are times when I’ve thought “I won’t be able to find this, surely!” and – lo! – I have found it. I’ve still needed to buy hard copies from time to time – Gregory’s Chronicle (though I did find that online after I bought the book); Benet’s Chronicle (in Latin, but I can usually get the gist); and (irony of ironies) volumes 3 & 4 of Gairdner’s edition of the Paston Letters – available as ebooks but it’s very difficult to match the citations – sometimes paper is better than bits.

Being a member of my local state reference library is enormously helpful when it comes to accessing journal articles for free, as well as ODNB articles. (And my thanks to Dorothea Preis for her help and advice in this.) I reckon I’ve saved hundreds of dollars this way – more money to spend on books!

So, if you have an internet connection, there’s no excuse! No need to choose just one or two authors of secondary texts as the basis for your understanding of history. It’s sometimes difficult to choose if you have a limited book budget (as most of us do) and you can end up inadvertently choosing a writer with a particularly strong bias, or who cherrypicks their facts to fit a predetermined conclusion. How can you possibly know this if you haven’t gone back to the primary sources? Even the very finest historians make errors, or interpret things one way when there’s a perfectly viable (and logical) alternative. (One (undated) letter, three historians – three perfectly plausible dates, all determined from the context and clues in the letter itself. They can’t all be right, and maybe they’re all wrong. The letter was obviously written on a particular date, we just don’t know (for certain) when that was. If one of the dates makes sense, go with it. if you change your mind (as I did) then change it. If you think there’s a fourth date that makes even better sense, go with that! I guess if there’s one lesson I’ve learned from my earlier fairly typical shallow research of the keen-but-busy-with-other-things history lover and the deeper research I’m doing now, it’s that keeping an open mind is hugely important. Being wrong is a step along the road to being right – but only for those who are prepared to lift their foot and actually take that step.)

I’ve also benefited (and benefited others) from a sharing of sources, links, articles &c. Other writers and researchers can be enormously generous. I’d beware, though, of those who demand sources from you and habitually refuse to share their own. When a request for a source results in silence and a temporary disappearance, you can be pretty sure they don’t have a source to share. There’s a surprising number of people who read or hear something, take it as an article of faith and never challenge it. While I am pretty much always happy to share my sources, I am now at the point where I’m a little more hesitant to share with people who won’t (or can’t) reciprocate. (Anyone who caught the rather peculiar spate of trolling on my last post should be able to work out why I’ve come to this point. Nasty is nasty, however the trolls try and justify their behaviour. And any troll who expects a blogger to put the kettle on and break out the Timtams is delusional.)


No Timtams for trolls!

So, in summary: there’s lots of stuff online (lots of stuff, lots and lots and lots of stuff) from primary sources to journal articles. All of it can be accessed, some more easily than others, and it’s all valuable stuff to read. If you have a particularly strong bias, some of that stuff will challenge it. Go with it, I say! Allow yourself to be challenged. If you’re right, you’ll stay right. If you’re wrong, you might learn something new and be one step closer to being right. Being right is great, but sometimes it’s a bit of a journey to get there. Being wrong isn’t the end of the world, unless the thing you’re wrong about is the thing your world is built on. Then you might be in a bit of bother!

Oh, and one last point about wikipedia. It can be quite useful as a jumping off point, or a quick reminder of the names of someone’s children or when a king was born, crowned or died, but only after that’s all been corroborated by other sources. I use the wikipedia entry on Ralph Nevill, for instance, to jog my memory when it comes to the names and titles of his children. I don’t use the earl of Salisbury’s entry to jog my memory when it comes to the order his children were born in – that seems to be something of a mystery to everyone.


First, to clarify, for the purposes of this discussion the correct standpoint isn’t a mindset; it isn’t the simple conclusion that the precontract didn’t, in fact, take place. The correct standpoint is the point in time when the precontract was ‘revealed’, ie in the early months of Richard III’s reign. That’s the first time we hear of it and it’s from that standpoint it should be examined. We’ve been rather peppered in the last few weeks with claims that because a marriage between Edward IV and Eleanor Butler could have taken place under particular conditions that constitutes proof it did take place. There are also claims that because there are three points of resemblance between Eleanor Butler and Elizabeth Wydeville, this constitute further proof a marriage took place. Eleanor Butler and Elizabeth Wydeville were both a) older than Edward; b) widows; and c) had, at some point, petitioned Edward for the return of misappropriated lands.

So, firstly, just for the moment assuming that the following scenario equates to ‘legally binding marriage’ (and that, in itself, is debatable)…

Edward: Oh, Eleanor, you are so hot! I can’t wait to get you into bed! We could do it now, there’s no-one around.
Eleanor: But I’m a good girl! ‘Twould be a sin if we were to lie together without benefit of marriage. I would be spoiled! And no man would look at me through respectful eyes, ever again. Say you’ll marry me and I’m yours!
Edward: Ok, sure, whatever you want, baby
[sexual activity follows and – bingo! – Edward and Eleanor are legally and irrevocably married.]

Just saying that’s a correct interpretation of the law: no witnesses, no ceremony, just “I’ll marry you”; ‘Ok” and a roll in the hay and two people are legally married. Here are the two really big problems with that.

1. It might have happened, doesn’t mean it did happen. All kinds of things might have happened. Richard III might have let himself into the Tower and smothered his nephews with his own hands. Anyone trying to use this as ‘proof’ he did let himself into the Tower and smother his nephews with his own hands would, quite rightly, meet with some argument. Coming up with a scenario that seems to answer the major problems with the precontract story, ie the lack of witnesses and the twenty years of silence on the matter, doesn’t constitute any kind of proof. And, clearly, that’s what it’s designed to do. Because proof of the precontract is crucial to the whole ‘Richard was innocent’ stance. Doubts about the precontract lead to doubts about the legality of Richard’s kingship which lead to the realisation that, yes, he might have been a usurper. And that Richard, though he might be perfectly acceptable to a lot of us, simply isn’t acceptable to that small core of ‘Ricardians’ who base their views of Richard on the first novel they read about his life. (Why the historical Richard isn’t good enough for these people baffles me. He clearly isn’t, or they wouldn’t spend quite so much time and energy trying to turn him into something he wasn’t. He deserves better than that, like whatever the ‘reality’ of his life and reign being studied, warts and all, rather than suppressed and replaced by someone he himself would simply not recognise.)

But back to the precontract story…

2. The points of similarity between Elizabeth Wydeville and Eleanor Butler are also used as ‘proof’ it took place. If there was independent evidence of the precontract, those points of similarity might serve as further evidence. On their own, they mean nothing – and that’s simply because there’s a twenty year silence on the matter between the time the marriage is said to have taken place and the time it was ‘revealed’. Looking at it from the correct standpoint, Eleanor Butler may have been chosen as Edward’s ‘first wife’ simply because of those similarities. A pattern can be established after the fact. A suitable candidate can be found because she fits an already known set of criteria. While I totally accept that it is possible Edward IV contracted an irregular marriage with someone before he married Elizabeth Wydeville (though I do think it unlikely), I also totally accept it is entirely possible Eleanor Butler’s name came up because a) she was dead; and b) she was a widow, older than Edward and had once personally appealed to him for the return of her lands – all of which we already know relates to Elizabeth Wydeville. Looking at it from the correct standpoint, she was the perfect choice.

And lastly, just a passing thought, if typing academic qualifications in ALL CAPS is supposed to silence all questions, then – surely! – it must equally apply to all academics, including PROFESSOR Pollard, PROFESSOR Hicks and DOCTOR David Starkey. Or, more correctly, it really shouldn’t apply to any of them – respect for historians and academics is always a good starting point but crying ‘Questioning is Forbidden!’ when one’s favourite historian’s work or words are challenged while feeling entirely free to personally denigrate those whose work and words one doesn’t accept as gospel is both hypocritical and intellectually dishonest.

Henry VI’s 1455 parliament dealt with a number of issues, including passing what has become known as the Parliamentary Pardon exonerating the Duke of York and his allies for the conflict at St Albans in May that year; attempting (as usual) to deal with the financial difficulties faced by the soldiers of the Calais garrison; the appointment of the Duke of York for a second term as protector and defender while the King was ill* and the Bonville/Courtenay feud was in full swing; and the presentation of a petition by the commons for a round of resumptions to be enacted. This last led to a string of petitions for exemptions from the Act, by individuals and institutions.

Some were for potentially large sums, such as the Duke of Buckingham and the Earl of Warwick (‘and Anne his wiff’), who both required exemptions for moneys either not yet received (in Buk’s case) or yet to be expended (in Warwick’s case) for payment of the Calais garrison. Others were much smaller amounts, per diem payments of 6d, annuities of £20, clothing allowances, retirement positions for members of the King’s household and, in one case, two windmills in Calais. I’ve chosen just a few that I found interesting.


The king’s father, the commons said, had kept a more economically sustainable household than did Henry VI. It was one of the things, they claimed, that ’caused all othir londes to have this your said lond in as worshipfull renomme, and as grete drede, as any other lond cristenned’. Henry was ‘indebted in such outragious sommez’ that it was difficult to find a way to repay his creditors. If he were to curb his spending, the whole of Christendom would tremble in fear at the very thought of England. A round of resumptions, the returning of grants and gifts made by the king, would be good for four reasons: 1. ‘…for the conservacion and supportacion of your seid estate…’ – the King’s household would be in far better financial shape generally; 2. ‘…for your owne suerte, honour and wele…’ – the King’s own financial situation would be eased; 3. ‘…to the universall wele, ease, rest and suerty of this land, the which ye owe to preferre afore the favour of eny person, or eny place, or othir thyng erthley’ – the wellbeing of the kingdom was far more important than pleasing individuals within it; 4. ‘…to thentent that your said enemyes, from whose knowelege the penure of your said houshold … and also the agrugyng thereof of youre seid people had is not hidde, whereof without doute they take a grete courage and boldeness ayenst youre said lond, mowe falle from the seid corage into rebuke and have your said lond and people in such drede as here tofore in the dais of you and your progenitours they have hadde…’ – England’s financial woes, and particularly her King’s, were well known and her enemies took heart from that, rein in the spending and people would stop complaining and England’s enemies would fear her again.

The commons had only four exemptions to put forward – on behalf of the Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Speaker of the House, John Wenlock, who had loaned the King just over £1,000. They also petitioned for an exemption for the duke of York, for any sums expended in his capacity as Protector and Defender. I haven’t totted up the total amount implied by the exemptions, mainly because I haven’t added up or multiplied pounds, shillings and pence since the late 60s and don’t intend to resume the practice now. Not that it would give us a clear picture of the real total, as some of the exemptions are not fully costed.

The lords started off the exemption-fest in good form with this:

Provided alsoo that this peticion or act of resumpcion or adnullacion extende not nore be prejudicisl to eny duke, markes, erle or viscount of this realme, nor to the heires of eny of theym, of eny graunt or grauntes made to theym or eny of theym by us, of or for their astate, creacion or receccion [promotion] into the estate of duke, merkes, erle or viscount, ne to their preemynence, place or setez in the high court of parlement or else where.’

So, really, it was pretty much doomed from the start.

The Abbot and Prior of the Church of St Peter at Westminster were granted an exemption for yearly observances kept ‘the last day but oon of August, the aniversarye of the full noble prince of blissid memorie our fader, Kyng Harry the Vth…to distrybute the daye of his aniversarye yerly for ever £20 in almesse and eight tapers brennynge dayly at the highe masse and evesong in the same church…to fynde 24 torches brennyng in the same church the evyn and daye of the said aniversary yerly…and 24 poure men to bere and hold the same torches than brennyng in the same church, eche of hem takyng the said even and day in almes 10d; and to fynde three priest monks dayly to say three masses perpetually for the soule of our fader late kynge…’ Several charterhouses and convents got to keep ‘a tunne of wyne graunted of our almesse’. The College of Fotheringhay was exempt from returning 40 acres of wood and their produce in the forest of Rockingham ‘so alwey that we, the quene, oure heires and successours, be prayde fore in the seid college for ever’. The College of St Nicholas, Cambridge, got to enjoy ‘the undrewood and rowers [dead wood] in a woode called Sapley…for theire perpetuell fuell…’.  The College of our Lady of Eton held onto ‘certayn waters and fysshyng in the ryver of Thamese’. Also exempt was a grant to the Abbot of Abingdond f ’20 bukkes and doous to be had in certayne places by wey of eschaunge, in recompense for the tithe venison in the forest of Wyndesore and the parkes within the same…the which tithes the predecessours of the said abbot and convent had of the graunt of oure noble progenitour…Henry I’. The Priory of St John of Pontefract had suffered greatly and was exempted ‘alsoo by the consideracion of the grete and importable [intolerable] expenses and chargez, which the same proiur and convent have susteyned and dayly susteyn, in kepynge of hospitalitee and in bylding of theire posessions notwithstondyng the grete dimunition of the yerly value of theire londes and tenementes adjoyning to the waters of Calder and Ayre, in the counte of York, by the inundacions and effluentes [flooding] of the same waters’. Also recovering from catastrophe, though of a different kind, were the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral who were granted an exemption ‘of any libertees and fraunchises by us to theym geven or graunted, which we have graunted unto theym for divers consideracions or inconveniences [misdeeds] done by our shirrefs and othir our officers in arestynbge and mystretyng the ministres of the seid church in their habites and executyng divine services there, where thorough the seid church hath ben polute and stonde in inofficiat [unusable] somme fourteen dayes to gedir’

Most of the individuals seeking exemption were of the king’s household. Most of the grants were small, paid in retirement in recognition of good service. Sir Thomas Stanley (‘oure chamberlayne’) received an exemption for ‘eny severall grownde, herbage pasture or wastes within oure forest of Macclesfield, which he hath taken for savyng of oure dere in the same forest, yildyng therfor £5 by yere; and whiche, if it were not kepte from the depasturyng [grazing] of cattel and bestes, shulde be destruction of our dere and also anyentisemennt [ruin] of oure game there’. Thomas Staunton (‘huissher of our chambre’) was allowed to keep ‘the office of arbalastry [crossbowman] within oure toure of London…[at a wage of] 12d a day’. Likewise, William Say (‘yoman of the coroune’) remained ‘warenner of the warenne of oure castelle at Dovorre’; Thomas Barton (‘sergeaunt of our panetrie’) continued with the job of ‘the kepyng of oure parc, called the newe parc, of Shene in the counte of Surrey with the wages of 2d a day…with seven acres of mede, liggyng in the medes beside the brigge of Chartsey, in the counte of Middlesex, for the sustenacion of oure dere within oure seid parc in wynter tyme’, and ‘of a graunte made by us unto hym by the same name of 2d by day…for to fynd sufficient reparacion in pales and hegges of our seid parc’. Bartholomew Halley (‘uissher of oure chambre’) kept ‘the office of joynour within our toure [of London]’ at a wage of 12d a day. John Barnham (‘late maister cooke for oure mouthe…whiche is blynde by Goddes visitation’) was given an annuity of 100s 4d. Robert Passemer and 20 other named (‘sergauntez at armes’) were exempt from a grant of ‘clothyng to them or any of them graunted be cause of the seid office’ though the King did seem willing to economise here, at least. ‘So alwey that after the decease of eny of the seid sergauntez at armes noo persone be admitted into his place, to the tyme that it shall come to the nombre of such sergauntz used in the daies of oure fadre of noble memoire…and that nombre to be kept and noo gretter’.

Merchants were exempted grants of bales of wool to ship and sell in payment of debts. John Skelton’s annuity of £40 was exempted ‘in recompense of 1,000 marks paied for his finaunce [ransom] to oure enemyes of Fraunce’. Richard Whetehill (‘merchaunt’) was granted an exemption for ‘two wynde milles within oure toune of Caleys, with a soile or voide grounde called the mille hille, as it lieth nygh to the seid two milles towardes the south…so alwey that if the seid Richard die within the term of the seid yeres [not mentioned in the petition but, presumably, in the original letter patent] that then his heires or executters have the seid milles, soile or voide grounde…unto the tyme that they be cotent of such sommes of money as by the seid Richard shall be expended upon the bildyng [maintenance] of the same and £40 above’.

By the time these petitions were heard, York was no longer Protector and had probably absented himself from parliament. As the curbing of the royal household’s spending was crucial to getting England’s economy back on track, the seemingly endless list of exemptions must have been something of a heartbreaker. Twice York had been Protector and both times he’d dealt with serious disruption and unrest. He was not, however, to be allowed to see his (modest) program of reform to come to fruition.

Henry VI may not have been a particularly sound financial manager, but he had a good heart when it came to rewarding those who gave him good service, and it’s very hard to begrudge ‘our minstralles’ their annuities of 100s each.

*It has often been assumed, on fairly scant evidence, that the king’s indisposition was a renewal of the severe mental illness that totally incapacitated him in 1453/4. However, it is more likely the illness was purely physical. (For a fuller exploration of this, see JR Lander, Henry VI and the Duke of York’s Second Protectorate 1455-1456, Bulletinof the John Rylands Librrary, 1966, 43 (1), 46-69.

One of the things that’s often puzzled me is the claim that Henry VII did away with loads and loads of documents from the reign of Richard III. You come across stuff like ‘it’s documented fact that documents were destroyed…’ without anyone ever actually linking to either the document or the fact. The one document that was disappeared, the disappearance of which is documented fact, is Titulus Regius. We know all copies were destroyed (except the odd one that survived) because we know there was an order for it to be destroyed. Even if one of those hidden/forgotten/mislaid copies hadn’t emerged we’d know the document once existed because it’s destruction is mandated. And there was good reason for it to be destroyed, at least from Henry VII’s point of view. TR rendered his Queen illegitimate. Removing that libel, destroying all copies of a document that promulgated that libel would, under those circumstances, be at the top of any sensible King’s to do list.

So why does the (known and documented) disappearance of Document A (Titulus Regius) lead people to the belief that Documents B through Z were also destroyed? People will claim all kinds of things happened that we have no record of. When asked for a source, we are told ‘Oh, the documentary evidence of that was destroyed by Henry VII’, which might seem convenient and helpful but is, in effect, a waste of breath. There’s only one way of deducing the one time existence of a document we no longer have, and that’s through finding traces of its ghost. Like TR. It’s ghost is right there in the order for all copies of it to be destroyed. As a counter-example, the (supposed) record of Hastings’ trial, which we are repeatedly assured once existed but now does not, has left no ghost. Another set of documents that have disappeared, most likely deliberately destroyed, is the record of Henry VI’s Readeption parliament. We know one took place. We know such things were meticulously recorded. We even know a tiny bit about it. (Who was and wasn’t attainted, for example. Who was and wasn’t restored to their titles, for another example.) So, by the existence of its ghost(s), we know there was once a record of that parliament. Given the events of 1471, we can assume that record was destroyed.

Sometimes we are told that there ‘must have been’ some obscure and complicated reason for destroying TR, beyond the libel against the Queen. (Occam’s razor really is the way to go with this one.) It’s often something to do with the disappeared (most likely deceased) Princes. Some conspiracy to do with Henry VII’s claim to or hold on the throne often comes up, rather than the much more sensible, and likely, explanation: No King who wants his Queen to like him is going to allow a document that declares her illegitimate to be allowed to float around the kingdom. What Richard III didn’t consider libellous became so in the reign of Henry VII. The destruction of TR, from this perspective, is completely understandable. Just as the destruction of the record of the Readeption parliament, from Edward IV’s perspective, is completely understandable.

The leap from ‘TR was destroyed’ to ‘that must mean loads of other documents were destroyed’ is huge and unsustainable. Unless and until we find the ghosts of (say) the record of Hastings’ trial, we have to work from a point where no such trial took place. We know so very little about the events of that day but nowhere (so far) have we found even the tiniest, most obscure reference to a trial. We can’t possibly claim a trial took place using the destruction of TR as proof. ‘Well, TR was destroyed, so the record of Hastings’ trial must have been as well’ ignores one important point:

We knew TR existed before anyone ever clapped eyes on it because we know there was an order for its destruction.

So, until we find some ghostly trace of the documents Henry VII is said to have disappeared, or until we find a source that talks about the destruction of documents other than TR, we can’t sensibly conclude Henry VII ordered the wholesale destruction of documents, however embarrassing they might have been to him or however useful they might be in exonerating Richard III.

Things you find…

Posted: June 5, 2015 in Uncategorised

…when you’re looking for other things.

After advice from a Real Historian, I did some digging into the history of the Nevills for the first couple of chapters of the book. In the course of that digging, I came across a chap called Alexander Nevill who was Archbishop of York for a time, got swept up into Richard II’s inner circle and was one of the ‘evil councillors’ opposed (and later dealt with) by the Lords Appellant. So you can imagine my excitement when I came across a Copy of a Libel Against Archbishop Neville, temp Richard II… in an old book while… yes! while I was looking for something else.

Archbishop Nevill wasn’t much liked, it seems, even before he joined the ranks of Richard II’s ‘evil councillors’. From what I’d been able to find out, he was lazy, incompetent, greedy… (“What?” I hear you cry. “A Nevill who was lazy, incompetent and greedy? Surely not!”) … and this document sets it all out rather neatly.

The introduction to this document says “It appears from an original parliamentary petition that two copies of this libel were affixed on the pillar of the Chapter House of Westminster, where the Lords and Commons were assembled in parliament, and a third on the door of Saint Paul’s Cathedral.” Whoever wrote it didn’t like the Archbishop. They really, really didn’t like him!


I set it out here below, in full, with little amendment except orthographic.

The Comunes of Ingelond, wherfor blame ye the Kyng & his Counseil of the unhappe and disese and myschief of this Reamue of Ingelond, that is not a longe on the Kyng, for there is no lond in this world that hath a more rightfull, worthier, a more gentil Kyng than ye have of King Richard; the worthiest prince sone that ever was seye, for was there never Kyng more willy to done worship and ese to the Reaume than he is; and that was sene in Scotland.

But there is an other Kyng in your Lond that is Alisaundre Nero [Nevill] bishop of yorkshire; he distroieth that lond be north & for his vengeaunce of him al the lond shal be distruyed, for godde wote; & the lordes witen wel, & the commons wyten wel, that there nas never siche a tirraunt in holy chirche, no among the commons of this cuntree, for he oppresseth more the cuntree & dothe more extorcione & distruccione & disese to the cuntree than the Kyng & al the Lordes of Ingelond; & that ye wyten wel; bot the Kyng not that of a worde, & if he wist he wold be als evel appayde therewith as the lest man of this lond, & noman wold be wors payde than he, for trewley he destruyeth more the cuntree falsly & extorcionsly than the Kyng, that he tasked the lond ilka your prise, if there dye ony mon in his cuntree, he will have thousand pound or an hundred pound or elles half his good for provyng of his testament, if they be a riche priest or parson or vicar in that cuntree, were he as good a man as Thomas of Canterbery he shal be somound and apper, & he shal be suspended or prived or be condemnpned in the value of his benefyce, or a gret some of gold, and other exterciones without nombre; godde and you and the world wot it wel, that he shuld be a prelate of holy chirche, he is a [??], a thef, a Traytour, bothe to godde & to his Kyng, he maketh to his Kyng as he wer a saynt, but al the world wot it wel, the fayrer he speketh the falsser he is, Kyng Richard man, & no nothern man, that holte of Kyng Alisaundre; for thei dor not sey, were Kyng Alisaundre wel examynd of his extorciones & his mayntenancez and his tyrranttrie that he hath take falsly ageyne the Kynges lawes, he shuld leve for ever the Kyng [??] li. Alas that a tirraunt of holy chirche shal lese al the lond, and the Kyng wot not thereof; ne no man dor tellen it to him.

Alexander Nevill was dealt with by the Merciless Parliament, deprived of his archdiocese, appointed (by a friendly Pope) to the see of St Andrews in Scotland but preferred to live out his life in exile in Burgundy.

Source: Archaelogica: or Miscellaneous Tracts relating to Antiaquity, vol XVI, Society of Antiquaries of London, 1812, p80-83, available online through Google Books.

Walrus tusk crozier:


Posted: February 21, 2015 in Uncategorised

…every facebook conversation on the Princes in the Tower… Ever![1]

As soon as I see the words ‘princes’ and ‘Tower’ in the same status, I draw in a deep breath, close my eyes and count to ten. This is the only preparation I can make for the upcoming twists of logic, the constant shifts in argument, the barrage of I believe and I read it somewhere but I can’t remember where and statements of opinion as if they were hard fact. Opinion is fine, we all have them. I can say ‘In my opinion, Edward V was a nice lad’ and, unless anyone has documentary evidence that proves otherwise, my opinion is as good as anyone else’s. What doesn’t work is if I say ‘In my opinion, the battle of St Albans was fought in Cumberland’. If you want to state something as fact, state it is fact. If you’ve made a mistake, someone will likely point you to another fact that contradicts, or reinterprets, your fact. But stating something as fact, having someone point you to another fact that contradicts, or reinterprets, it and wailing, ‘It’s my OPINION!’ isn’t going to win you any prizes. So, immediately, we have two sets of people in the conversation, those who rely on opinion and mistake it for fact; and those who are willing to state things as fact (and accept when they have it wrong). Which is a pretty big culture clash, right there, before we go any further.

The twists in logic – “If Richard had the boys murdered, why didn’t he display their bodies?” somehow morphs into “The boys died of natural causes and he didn’t display their bodies because he was afraid people would accuse him of murdering them”; and – “If Richard had the boys murdered, all the hundreds of people in the Tower would know and tell someone. He had them smuggled to Burgundy” morphs into “Well, the reason the hundreds of people in the Tower didn’t know Richard had them smuggled to Burgundy was because he did it in the middle of the night when no-one was around and swore them to secrecy anyway”. Does. My. Head. In.

What I really think is going on is this: Now, as in the 15th century, we have an inbuilt revulsion of the killing of children. Had the princes been, say, 18 and 22, we might not have that same feeling. Maybe we’d still think it was wrong to murder them – as it was wrong to murder the adult, deposed, Richard II and the adult, deposed, Edward II – but we might be able to process it a little more rationally. This natural revulsion leads to a couple of things. Firstly, for a lot of people it puts Richard in the ‘no redemption’ basket. For others, his innocence just has to be proved. (The small group of callous souls who say ‘If he murdered them, good on him! They were snivelling little brats and would have grown up to be fat man-whores like their father” are outside the scope of this discussion. They – really – should be outside the scope of any discussion.) The sensible discussion takes place in the middle ground, people who share that natural revulsion for child-murder yet somehow manage to discuss history in a calm and rational way. There’s a lot of that around the facebook history community, which is why it’s such a great place to be. Conversely, it’s why it’s such an uncomfortable place to be if you’re an extremist. There’s nothing an extremist likes less than being locked in a room with a bunch of rationalists.

QUICK DISCLAIMER: If history worked on what people would like to have happened, as opposed to what did happen, I’d rather like Richard not to have murdered the princes. I’d rather like that legendary lost document to turn up, the one that Explains Everything, so we can all go, “Oh, so that’s what happened to them? How sad/stupid/bizarre/horrible/wonderful!” But a pretty much lifelong soft spot for the York brothers[2] isn’t going to influence anything they did or didn’t do. They did it (or didn’t) and that’s that. So, if the legendary document that Explains Everything does turn up and proves, unequivocally, that Richard did order the murder of the princes, I’d have to be equally prepared to accept that. Coz this is how history works.

What this post isn’t is an attempt to prove Richard III did away with his nephews. What it is is an expression of my utter bewilderment that so many people who claim to love and admire and support Richard are so very prepared to implicate him in worse and worse acts, to dig him a deeper and deeper hole, all in the name of proclaiming his innocence[3].

I’ve never much liked it when people suck others into an Unreality Bubble, convince them of the truth of something, discourage them from finding out for themselves and lull them into a false sense that they can go out and Promulgate the Word. Facebook is littered with the bodies. “The Princes were sent to Burgundy for their own safety!” is stated with such confidence it’s almost a pity to challenge it. But… the follow up questions – what happened to them after that? why the complete silence? and why did they never return to try and reclaim their father’s throne? – are never answered. Often there’s no attempt (beyond the occasional cry of ‘Perkin!’) to answer them. I suspect this is because one of the strongest supporters and promulgators of the ‘Burgundy’ option doesn’t even attempt to answer it herself. She waves an airy hand and says “That need not concern us”. But it does concern us and has to concern us. To simply shift the location of the disappearance in order to put Richard in the clear explains nothing. What it leads to are some pretty dark speculations: the princes were murdered in Burgundy, they were hidden away so deeply they never again saw the light of day, and – my particular favourite, from someone who seemed to truly believe this would vindicate Richard III – they were brainwashed and reprogrammed into believing they were someone else… two someone elses. (I’m not even going to touch the current ‘They lived on as several different people, in secret, well into the reign of Henry VIII”. I’m really, really not!) This is just one example of how people are hung out to dry, with no facts to back them up, by unscrupulous revisionists who fail, entirely, to give their readers something to actually be going on with. Faith can move mountains, but it doesn’t arm you well for a facebook history discussion.

Here’s another favourite: The princes died of natural causes. This isn’t outside the bounds of possibility. When asked: Why were the bodies not displayed? Why was there no funeral? Why wasn’t their mother told they were dead? We get answers like: “If Richard had displayed their bodies he’d have been accused of their murder!” Which ratchets up the cowardly and callous-ranking of ‘Good King Richard’ to a point where I’m surprised there aren’t thousands of brains leaving thousands of heads in protest. But here’s the thing: Had the princes died of natural causes, and had their bodies been displayed – with no signs of violence – Dr Argentine would have been on hand to tell people the story of their final illness and death. Dr Argentine wasn’t, so far as I’m aware, a particular partisan of Richard’s. While I’m sure there’d have been some grumbling, Dr Argentine’s words would have carried a lot of weight. Only he wasn’t around when they disappeared/died (which in itself is a tad worrying). And, oddly, when someone says “Richard murdered the princes” the question often shot straight back is “Why didn’t he display their bodies to prove they were dead?” That one’s straight out of the ‘we will use Argument A to strengthen our claims and we will use Argument A to weaken yours’. Clearly, there are many in the world who didn’t grow up in the kind of argumentative (but loving), disputative (but supportive), debating (but laughing) household I did. I wouldn’t have got away with that kind of Logic Twisting when I was five!

So, we have ‘Richard wasn’t stupid – if he murdered the boys, he’d have displayed their bodies to prove they were dead’ in the very same discussion as ‘Richard was in a difficult position, if the boys died of natural causes and he displayed their bodies, he’d have been accused of murdering them’. To which the only sensible response is huh?

Then there’s the ‘I read it somewhere’ argument, which is, I think, supposed to silence all questions. And ‘This isn’t a course in history, it’s facebook, you nasty know-it-all bullies!’ when someone asks ‘Where did you read it?” The question is asked so that other people can read it, too. Because that’s what a lot of us do – we read. We don’t just listen to someone’s stunted arguments and repeat them. We don’t venture out into the facebook jungle, armed only with second (or third, or fourth, or fifth…) hand revisionist arguments, having never read anything else (certainly not the ‘mainstream’ or ‘traditionalist’ view) only to get our arses kicked. I don’t blame them. They think they have all they need, after all, they’re repeating the arguments that convinced them. I blame the revisionists themselves, who write badly researched books then send their minions out to Proclaim the Word. And those minions get minced. So come out from behind your human shields, engage in the conversation, don’t flounce from forums when someone challenges you, don’t make a case for something unless you’re prepared to back it up in person. Please, stop sending out the cannon fodder. It might make people think you’re not a very nice person. Or a very brave one. Or even one who’s sure of their facts.

There are groups on facebook that could be good, vibrant, exciting places to discuss history, the Wars of the Roses and Richard III. Sadly, some of them never quite reach that potential and, even more sadly perhaps, there are others that started out that way but have now become closely guarded silos of pure revisionist thought. Where no actual history is ever discussed. And where anyone – anyone! – who dares to say ‘I’m not sure we can say that with any confidence. We kind of have to explore that possibility as much as any other’ is called a troll and a bully and hounded out. And, because a self-created belief exists that arguments, nasty comments, personal remarks and attacks are only ever made when trolls and bullies wander in to ‘stir up trouble’ it means a select few in those groups get to say whatever they like to whoever they like with absolute impunity. Because… and this is important… they wouldn’t be saying mean and nasty things to someone who wasn’t a troll. And ‘I’m only ever hostile to trolls. I’m hostile to you, ergo you are a troll’ sets up this vicious little feedback loop to the point where there are no checks (self or other) on what these people say or how they say it. And, in groups with a thick little climate of fear, that can lead to people who have been personally attacked, abused and insulted actually apologising for taking these words ‘the wrong way’.

I guess, to sum up my Summarising… Read stuff; read stuff that doesn’t support your own views as well as stuff that does; don’t listen to anyone spouting their pet ‘theories’[4] then march off confidently to repeat them elsewhere; remember (as I do all the time) there’s always someone out there who knows more than you, who’s read more than you; if a ‘fact’ or a fact is important enough for you to remember it, try and remember where you read it coz, someday, someone might ask you about it; listen to what others are saying, you don’t have to agree with them but listening can help you test your own ideas as well as argue sensibly against theirs; and don’t blame those who’ve squashed you like a bug because you’ve repeated unsubstantiated wishful thinking speculation as if it was fact – blame the people who fed you that ‘fact’.

[1] Except those in groups that simply will not tolerate any kind of dissent on the matter. In those groups the conversation goes something like this: >Richard was entirely innocent!< > I’m not sure we can say that with any confidence. We kind of have to explore that possibility as much as any other.< >No, we don’t! He’s innocent!< >Yeah, he smuggled them to Burgundy!< >Margaret Beaufort dunnit!< >Toss the troll out!< >THREAD CLOSED!<

[2] Though nothing like as soft as the spot I have for the Nevills.

[3] Here’s a beauty I came across last night. First, ‘I don’t believe Richard murdered the princes’. Then, a little way down the thread, ‘Maybe they were ill and that’s why he sent the doctor away’. Gob. Smacked. Deliberately withholding medical care from sick children isn’t, apparently, in any way similar to ‘murder’ – ergo! it proves Richard’s ‘innocence’. No, I can’t get my head around that, either.

[4] They’re not. They’re not even hypotheses. They might be speculation or wild guesses or reasoned interpretation or wishful thinking but the one thing they’re not is a theory.

Breakfast and a Well Fitting Pair of Levis

A godawful noise woke Dakota. It sounded like a peacock being devoured by a threshing machine and it was far closer to her ear than was good for her brain. On a small table next to the bed was a black box and from it manifested the ghostly form of a series of numbers: 644. Not quite the Neighbour of the Beast, but in the same street. She knew what it was and this brought a sinking feeling to her belly that came close to overwhelming the peacock-shrieking in her ears. She struck the clock with her fist, which did nothing to quell its torment. With a click of her tongue, she swung her legs around, took hold of the clock and gave a sharp tug, hurling it across the room. This had the effect of disconnecting it from its tether and – bliss! – silencing it.

Dakota hated alarm clocks. Even more than that, she hated the implication of alarm clocks. They put her squarely in the twentieth, possibly the twenty-first, century. She hated them both. Her trips here had been brief, the last one a mercy mission to buy some blue gatorade in a desperate attempt to cheer up a depressed archbishop. She stood up and padded over to the window, leaving the gently snoring Bastard of Fauconberg to gently snore.

She pulled back the curtain and looked down at the glare of the city, the stream of vehicles on the dirty road, busy even at… She frowned. 644 the clock had said. Calling to mind the calm and sensible round face of a proper clock, she translated the numbers into actual time. Nearly quarter to seven. She’d have to think about breakfast soon, waking Thomas, seeing if the Countess had thought to leave them suitable clothes, venturing out and down the stairs.

There’d be more black boxes to contend with. The twentieth, or possibly twenty first, century was awash with them. They shrieked and clacked and pinged with alarming regularity. And the people – they moved so fast and were so loud it hurt Dakota’s frontal lobes just to think about them. Acres of exposed skin, painted faces, slicked back hair… They were always trying to sell each other things. She shuddered to think of Thomas let loose in this world. He was going to love it!

Still, it would give her the opportunity to introduce him to a good anti-perspirant.

Over breakfast – eggs, bacon, tomato, sausage – she tried to explain. Thomas looked at her through sleepy eyes, shovelling food into his mouth, trying not to crush the dainty teacup in his meaty hand. He was dressed in a pair of sturdy trousers that did quite amazing things to his already amazing arse, and a plain white shirt. Dakota had found the wicker basket in the bathroom, packed with all manner of clothes, a substantial wad of money buried among them. No note, she thought bitterly. A note might have been useful. Being summonsed into the Countess’s presence, having the mission explained and being actually asked if she’d like to undertake it, that would have been most useful of all.

She looked at Thomas, now leaning back in his chair, the stubby end of a sausage in his fingers. This he popped into his mouth. Dakota picked up her napkin and handed it to him across the table, watching as he wiped his greasy hands and face.

“We’re somewhere in the twentieth century,” she said, “possibly the twenty first. You have to listen to me, Tom! This is important. People are going to try and feed you potatoes. They brought them from the Americkys and came up with all kinds of ways to cook them, but mostly you’ll be offered them boil and mashed, or fried. Choose the fried. And then there’s chocolate. It’s brown, it tastes really good but it’s horribly dangerous! One bite and you fall in love with the very next person you see. That’s why people close their eyes when they eat it. And they’ve change the rules of chess…”

“You want to give me some clue what you’re talking about, Dakota?” Thomas said.

She sighed. “Try and take everything in your stride. And, well… just try not to panic.”

Thomas gave her a most reproving look. He was right, of course. He’d never panicked in his life and there was nothing in the space/time continuum that couldn’t be enclosed within his confident stride.

“What was that about chess?” he said.

“I don’t know! It’s just one of the things people say to visitors from the 15th century. I think I must have read it somewhere.”

At the next table, a young woman was holding forth on what seemed to be her favourite subject.

“He was such a good king!” she said. “He cared about the common people. He invented bail and trial by jury.”

“No he didn’t, Becky.” The speaker was a young man sitting opposite the earnest woman, a look of amused patience on his face. “You’ve known about him for – what? – three weeks. And you got all this from some dubious facebook group…”

“It’s all true!” Beck leaned forward over the table, her hands clasped on its sticky surface. “Everything else is Tudor Propaganda!”

Dakota knew who she was talking about. There was a conversation like this in every hostelry in every time stream in history. Well, at least since the early 1500s. Any second now, Becky was going to say, “And he didn’t murder the…”

“And he didn’t murder the Princes!” Becky said. “That’s just lies! They were smuggled to Burgundy for their own safety. On his orders!”

“Well,” the young man said. “That idea opens a whole new kettle of worms, doesn’t it?”

Dakota could have told them exactly what happened to the Princes. Smuggled, yes. For their own safety, certainly. On his orders, most definitely not. It was their father, in the weeks before his sudden and unfortunate death, who sent for Dakota. To this day, she still didn’t know how he knew but his suspicions weighed heavily on him.

“I don’t want to think it’s true,” he said. “But I know you have… ways and means. If you could just find out, you know, see how things are once I’m gone. And, well, just do what you can, really. I can’t ask more than that.” He gave her a wan, tired smile. “I just can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to brothers. Oh, I have no proof, of course. Or no proof that would stand up in a court of law, even one gently directed by a gracious monarch. And if it’s not true, if it isn’t going to have happened… you might find a way to let me know, you know…”

Then he dismissed her, calling for his secretary to bring his will so he could scratch out the name Richard duke of Gloucester in the codicil and write Anthony Wydeville in its place. Now, of course, knowing all she knew and suspecting more, Dakota could have eased at least some of his concerns. King Richard had viewed the Princes’ empty quarters with a mixture of bafflement and relief. Ask no questions, Sire, Dakota whispered to him. And don’t send to Italy for entertainers.

Dakota hoped she’d have to wait years before carrying out the King’s orders. His sudden and unfortunate death, just weeks later, sent her into a deep depression and sparked into life a profound sense of foreboding in the pit of her belly.

The day the likelihoodometer represented the chances of the Princes surviving till their next birthdays as a series of zeroes, with the ghost of a .1 somewhere beyond the capacity of the gauge to measure, she let herself into the coach house where the Countess of Richmond kept her time machine. A series of short journeys forward helped her triangulate the time between the end of speculation about young Ned’s coronation and the start of the rumours of his death. At what she judged to be more or less the optimum moment, she slipped into the Tower of London and, after a series of events that would take their own Christmas Special to be properly told, brought out two shivering young boys, bundled them into the time machine and set off for 16th century Venice. (“We want to be there at the very beginning!” young Ned said, eager eyes shining. “If I can’t be King, then this is the thing I most want to be!”)


She blinked her eyes, resisted the urge to shake her head, and turned her attention back to Thomas and the remains of her breakfast.

“King Richard has a society dedicated to researching his life,” she said.

“You’re kidding me! The little shit who lopped my head off?”

“You’re head’s not off, Tom. You’re a living, breathing… large as life and twice as ugly. And a little bit of gratitude wouldn’t go astray!”

“I’m only alive in one sense. In other sense, I’m already dead. In a third sense, my head’s still on that block, the axe…” He shuddered. “And it’ll be that way till you decide I haven’t shown you enough gratitude. Then it’ll all be over in the blink of an eye. Just out of interest, how close was that blade to the back of my neck before you worked out how to rescue me?”

“It doesn’t matter, Tom. You’re safe now. Which you would have been all along if you hadn’t taken it into your head to invade London with a bunch of louts from Kent. Why is it always Kent? Every would be rebel’s first thought… I’d best get myself to Kent and pick up a few hundred louts. And when has it ever worked?”

“Tradition.” Thomas smiled. “You can’t just fly in the face of tradition.”

“It must have something to do with why we’re here.”

“Why are we here?”

“You didn’t pick up that I have no idea? And even less idea why she made sure you were with me.”

She swept her gaze around the room and saw nothing particularly remarkable. Families – small ones, tiny ones, no more than two or three children – gathered around tables eating breakfast. Here and there, a well dressed couple. Several tables for one, men in suits, women in suits, newspapers and books propped up against salt and pepper pots, plastic devices buzzing and chiming.

“I’m always with you,” Thomas said. “Well, as much as possible. When you aren’t pining for the bloody Prince of Wales.”

“I don’t pine, Thomas. I make rather a point of it.” She finished the last mouthful of tea and stood up. “And now I suppose we’d better find out why we’re here.”

There was a letter waiting for her at reception, handed to her by a smiling woman. Dakota moved away from the desk and broke the seal. Inside, written in a fine secretarial hand was an address and a very brief message. Bye magicke marques. Underneath was an address. Dakota folded the note and shoved it into a pocket. The Countess was being more than usually cryptic. Ahead of her, just about to step through the door and out into the blare and stink of the twentieth, or possibly twenty-first, century, the Bastard of Fauconberg was looking exceptionally fine in his Levis.


I am delighted to announce that History Press will be publishing a book on the Nevills, scheduled for release October 2016.

The Nevills of Middleham (by KL Clark) will follow the family’s journey through the Wars of the Roses but is more than simply a retelling of the story from their point of view. Drawing on primary sources, The Nevills will explore relationships within the family and the the family’s relationships with others, their involvement in the unfolding history of their time and the impact they had – collectively and individually – on 15th century England.

I know all this, because I shall be writing it! I shall keep you all updated with news and more information as things develop. I am both excited by this and (healthily) terrified.

(That doesn’t mean I shall be laying aside the work I’ve already done on the first of my Nevill novels, but it does mean my aim of finishing it by the end of 2014 may have to be revisited.)

A eureka moment lost?

Posted: October 2, 2014 in Uncategorised

There’s been an interesting development in the history community (or what could loosely be called ‘the history community’, only it isn’t always much of a community and some of it isn’t much about history) I’ve been watching with interest. It all started with this blog post. I’m sure many of you have seen it. It has to do with the Lincoln Roll and a pretty speculative interpretation as to its meaning. There’s some shaky Latin translation and a fairly wild leap to a conclusion, but it wouldn’t be the first time – by far – that such a leap has been made. As a starting point for discussion, it’s certainly done its job! And that’s the interesting bit, the discussion – the response to that discussion and the response to that response.

Just to clarify – the ‘eureka moment’ doesn’t refer to anything in the blog post, or the Lincoln Roll, for that matter. It refers to the series of little lights that should be going on – right now – in several heads; it refers to a blinding realisation that this is how it should be done. But, so far, there’s little sign the lights have been seen and, if there’s been any kind of realisation, ‘blinding’ is something of an overstatement. Here’s what happened: Someone blogged about the Lincoln Roll, did some shaky Latin translation and leapt to a fairly wild conclusion. This has been discussed in the history community, and on its fringes. Various people have posted comments on the blog and (and here’s the important bit) a lot of those comments have been approved. So, rather than shutting down the debate, ignoring the challenges or badmouthing the challengers, the blogger has not only conceded he may have got something wrong (in at least one discussion), but given space on his blog to several voices of dissent and disagreement.

Just to give a quick counter-example. In a recent book. John Ashdown-Hill misinterpreted the arms of Edmund and Jasper Tudor as being the ‘Beaufort arms’ rather than, as they surely were, differenced royal arms. Their half-brother was the King of England and, right there in the relevant Parliamentary Rolls, there’s a bit that refers to their entitlement to bear the royal arms. It isn’t spelled out in those exact words, but it’s pretty clear from the context – and from the very fact that, from that time on, they did bear the royal arms – this is what’s being referred to. Now, various people have pointed out this error and backed it up from the sources. The similarity between the Beaufort arms and those of the Tudor brothers has been (patiently) explained on the basis that all three are based on the royal arms – that no direct hereditary connection between the Beauforts and the Tudors is needed to explain anything. Rather than welcoming the debate, rather than conceding that Ashdown-Hill might have got this wrong, those who stand by this passed-on misunderstanding, have retreated behind the barricades, responded on rather personal terms and (for reasons that are still shrouded in mystery) decided that anyone who holds to a view contrary to theirs must be Egyptian.

Maybe I expect too much of people, maybe I assume there’s more insight out there in the world than there actually is. Maybe my hope the little lights would go on, or the blinding flash of realisation would manifest itself, is evidence of an over-optimistic nature. But that’s exactly what I hoped. That a whole bunch of people would now be saying “Hey! We disagree with this guy, we’ve set out our reasons for disagreeing… and he’s not shutting us down, or calling us names, or responding with personal insults! Maybe that’s the way we should be doing this, too!”

But my hopes have been utterly dashed after seeing this blog post. I suppose it’s just another example of a double-standard that refuses to disappear – that the people who demand fair treatment, are themselves given fair treatment, are just not the ones to offer it to others.