Archive for May, 2014

One of the things I keep coming across is a claim that Richard III made English the ‘official language’ of England. Or that he was the first king to have official records – Acts of Parliament and the like – written in English. He wasn’t. The Rolls of Parliament, the Close Rolls and the Proceedings of Privy Council were written in English throughout the Wars of the Roses. There’s still the odd bit of French and, of course, Latin in the Parliamentary Rolls, but English is, by far, the predominant language.

I’m not sure where this story comes from. I believe (and I could be wrong – please correct me if I am) that Richard III was the first king to give his coronation oath in English, but this is a far cry from officially affording English status as a ‘national’ or ‘official’ language.

English (or Middle English as we now call it) was, for a time, drowned out by Norman French and might well have succumbed to it altogether. But English is unusual in this regard – mostly, a newly introduced dominant language will wipe out existing languages, especially if it spreads to all areas of life, and extra especially when the newly dominant group keeps itself separate and has a firm hand on power. This has certainly happened in the Americas, Australia and parts of Africa in the fairly recent past. The Roman Empire was particularly good at this. What was different in England is the swiftly organised marriages between Normans and Saxon nobility. Within a couple of generations, English was the language of choice for the children of mixed heritage, even as they maintained French for all the ‘important’ things in life.

This is, briefly, how it happens. Essentially, children (particularly adolescents) are at the forefront of societal language choices. Parents and grandparents will change their own language use to suit their children and grandchildren. If the kids are speaking Language A (and their linguistic background is Language B), then the grown ups will use Language A when speaking with them. This is a seriously widespread phenomenon. In the case of most threatened, or dominated, languages, this can cause language death very quickly – within a single generation. In the case of English, it was its salvation. It was hugely altered, lexically and grammatically, but English nonetheless. I’ve seen it suggested, quite seriously, that Saxon mothers and nurses were ‘secretly’ teaching their children English, and that’s why it survived. That doesn’t explain the massive changes in the language nor, in fact, its survival. An intellectual knowledge of a language, learning it in school or secretly from a caregiver, doesn’t turn it into a fully used and fully useful language. Under these circumstances, the learners only have one place to use the language – in class or with the caregiver. You could have a thousand people doing this and it won’t make a scrap of difference to the fate of the language – what matters is interaction with other speakers. Lots of interaction. It’s like the difference between learning Spanish in school and going to live in Santiago for a year.

Children want to speak with other children. They also want to speak with adults, but the important thing is being able to talk to other kids. It’s why the children of migrants often, very quickly, pick up the language of their new home, and why knowledge of their first language is lost. They have a whole bunch of new kids to talk to, and Mum and Dad (whatever their feelings about their kids maintaining their first language) will make the switch with them, in order to be able to talk to them. So, these Anglo-Norman children needed, more than anything, to find a way to interact with Saxon children. And that way was English. The greater the distance, historically and culturally, between England and Normandy, the more people in positions of power, wealth and authority identified as ‘English’ and not ‘Norman’ – the more English became entrenched.

French held on, in official circles, for some considerable time but, by the time Henry VI was on the throne, it was very much a second language for those who spoke it at all. Add to that the wars between France and England, and French was pretty much doomed. Richard III might have learned French as a child, but his language of choice was English. As it was for his brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents.

So, no, Richard III did not make English the official language of England.

In response to a post very helpfully entitled ‘The delusions of the Cairo-dwellers”

What I’m not going to do is stoop to the blogger’s level with cheap insults. What I am going to do is apply logic to some quite baffling ‘arguments’. Because, here in the real world, logic is not only at home but gets up and answers the doorbell. We have to be careful, though – shine any kind of light in the swamps of Illogicity and there’s scurrying and hurrying and snapping at ankles.

1. If Margaret of Burgundy lied about the identity of Perkin Warbeck, then the King of France must have been lying about Richard III murdering the Princes.

Firstly, to suggest that Person A might have lied about something doesn’t mean that everyone else is a liar. This is something about individual human beings the inhabitants of Illogicity might not have grasped – we’re not all exactly the same. Margaret of Burgundy may have deliberately lied about the identity of Perkin Warbeck, or she may have allowed herself to be convinced she actually believed he was her nephew – in her letters, she certainly sounds convinced. We just don’t know. But let’s say she did lie about it… that doesn’t prevent anyone else who was alive at the time telling the truth. One in all in just doesn’t apply here.

While we’re on the subject of possible lies told by the duchess of Burgundy… Here’s a puzzle that requires huge twists of logic, great strands macramed into some kind of demonic Pot Hanger of Illogic… If Perkin really was the duke of York, he puts his uncle Richard (by name) right in the frame for the murder of his brother. In a letter, Perkin clearly states that, on Richard’s orders, a ‘lord’ came to the Tower, murdered Edward and was going to murder young Richard, only he took pity on him and smuggled him away to Flanders. This is an eye witness to these events. And he names the killer. I’ve seen this written off as a ‘forgery’ or (somehow) yet more ‘Tudor Propaganda’ (presumably sent back through time in the countess of Richmond’s time machine). It’s either a true recollection of the event, or it’s a lie. If it’s a lie, then Margaret of Burgundy was involved in concocting it, or allowed it to be concocted without a whisper of protest. If it’s the truth, then it’s the truth, and Margaret of Burgundy knew it to be the truth.

And then there’s the King of France thing. I don’t know many people who’ve (seriously) said, “The King of France said Richard murdered the Princes, and that’s all the proof I need!”. What’s usually said is something like, “The King of France mentions it, which is evidence the rumours Richard did away with the princes was extant in his lifetime”. Two quite different things, really. But it’s always easier to argue against what’s not being said than against what is…

2. Elizabeth Wydeville ‘retired’ to Bermondsey Abbey because Henry VII was punishing her for something.

We don’t exactly know why Elizabeth Wydeville retired to Bermondsey. She didn’t make a note in her diary. Here’s a blog post from Susan Higginbotham discussing it. There’s no real need to leap to any conclusions about her being ‘put away’ by Henry Tudor. Unless, of course, that feeds right into a particular view of Henry Tudor. Which, quite rightly, the inhabitants of the swamps of Illogicity argue quite strenuously against in the case of Richard III. Saying this kind of thing gets your name added to the list of ‘Tydderite Trolls’ but it’s worth saying anyway: If you want your historical hero to be treated fairly and not ‘maligned’, then you might want to lay off ‘maligning’ other people from history. Go read The Water Babies, particularly the bits involving Mrs Bedonebyasyouwould.

3. Everyone says Richard III was a usurper but no-one says Henry VII was.

There are a lot of people who believe Richard III was a usurper who also believe Henry Tudor was. However, there is one slight difference between the way Richard III came to the throne and the way Henry VII did, and that’s all about conquest. It might not have been cricket, he might not have had the most spectacularly sound claim in history, but he deposed the reigning king in open battle. Richard III didn’t. That’s why we have to look at these things differently, and not try and compare apples and oranges. Which is pretty classic argument deflection

3. All the proof needed of Edward IV’s secret marriage to Eleanor Butler is his secret marriage to Elizabeth Wydeville.

It’s rather tedious to hear, time after time, how ‘romantic’ it was that Edward IV made a secret marriage with Elizabeth Wydeville. It wasn’t ‘romantic’. It was monumentally dumb. Kings just don’t get to go around marrying whoever they like, not even great strapping lads like Edward. It was good for him – there’s every indication it was an extremely happy marriage, but stirred up a spot of bother. Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is ‘Edward IV made one secret marriage, so clearly this was just the last in a long line of secret marriages’. Or, in any case, two. But we know about the marriage to Elizabeth Wydeville. We know it from events of their lives, not from something that was brought up after Edward IV’s death. And certainly not from something that was brought up after they were both dead. This is why there is doubt – serious doubt – about whether the pre contract story, the ‘Edward secretly married Eleanor Butler before he secretly married Elizabeth Wydeville’ story, can be taken at face value. Because there’s nothing – nothing – concrete to say it took place at all. And the two people most directly involved were dead, they could neither refute nor confirm the story. In this case, the act of parliament on its own just isn’t enough. Henry VII says in an act of parliament Richard III ‘shed infants’ blood’ – is that enough to declare him guilty without other evidence to corroborate it? If you said  no, then you’d be right!

4. Thomas More, the Princes, ten foot holes, bones in urns &c &c &c.

No-one takes Thomas More at face value. He was quite possibly writing some kind of satire. To waste time disputing and refuting his every word is a pointless exercise. The bones in the Tower exist. They were examined quite thoroughly using the technology available at the time. The conclusion reached was that they were more likely to be the bones of the Princes in the Tower than anyone else. That may, or may not, be proved correct should they ever be subjected to further testing. As to ‘why weren’t they thrown into the Thames?’… Because bodies thrown into the Thames have a habit of floating to the surface. And that would have been seriously embarrassing. I’d say the very last means of disposal anyone who might have murdered the princes would have considered was ‘hey, let’s chuck them in the Thames!’

5. Owen Tudor and Katherine de Valois weren’t secretly married because there’s those who say maybe Edward IV and Eleanor Butler weren’t.

Owen Tudor was secretly married to Katherine de Valois. There’s an act of parliament that mentions it. And her sons were alive at the time. So was her secret husband. So, lots of people to scratch their heads and say ‘huh? wha?’ if it wasn’t true. When the act of parliament that talked about Edward IV’s supposed secret marriage to Eleanor Butler was written, both of the principals were dead. And a third party benefited hugely from the revelation. So it’s difficult for many people to take that act of parliament as the final word. Especially as there’s no other evidence whatsoever to back it up. None of the people named (or in Ms Butler’s case, not named) were around to refute it. And the one person who maybe could (and that’s a big maybe) was hauled out of a council meeting and summarily beheaded.

6. If Eleanor Butler didn’t get her lands from Edward IV, how did she get them?

We don’t know how Elizabeth Butler acquired the lands in question. That’s all we can say. ‘We don’t know how Eleanor Butler acquired the lands in question… so they must have been given to her by Edward IV!… to keep her quiet about their secret marriage!’ is a leap of….? Yes, that’s right! It’s an enormous leap of logic.

7. People always say Richard III ‘murdered’ some people who were executed. No-on says that about other kings!

If Edward IV, Henry VII or Richard III hauled anyone out of a council meeting, without trial, for summary execution over a handy log, that would definitely qualify as murder. Only one of the three did this. Had Edward IV, Henry VII or Richard III arrested the incoming king’s chief advisors and supporters, sent them far away, then (possibly with some kind of show trial) had them executed, that would probably qualify as murder. Several other people were executed during the reign of Richard III. I’d reckon they all had trials, so that doesn’t qualify as ‘murder’. Four men were executed prior to his taking the throne, and none of those deaths was entirely aboveboard. The earl of Warwick was responsible for the unlawful executions (‘murder’) of at least four men during his rebellions. This isn’t a positive reflection on him. Henry II orchestrated the death (‘murder’) of Thomas a Becket. This isn’t a positive reflection on him. Neither are the deaths of Hastings, Rivers, Vaughn and Grey a positive reflection on Richard III. And there’s not much can be done about that without visiting even further injustice on these four men. Lawful execution is lawful execution, whoever’s on the throne. Murder is murder, whoever’s (almost) on the throne.

8. Once the Princes were declared illegitimate, their threat to Richard III vanished. And, anyway, why didn’t Richard do away with young Warwick?

Declaring the princes illegitimate didn’t (and couldn’t) remove them as a threat to Richard III, or any subsequent king. That’s just a fact of life. Does that mean he did away when them? Well, we don’t know what happened to them, but it’s fairly clear to many rational and openminded beings they were dead before August 1485. The young earl of Warwick was affected by his father’s attainder. No-one was likely to seriously back him against Richard because (and I’m seriously surprised so many people have missed this) the very people who might have supported him (the remnants of his grandfather’s affinity) were busy supporting Richard III. Yes, the attainder could have been reversed, just as the ‘illegitimacy’ of Edward IV’s children was. But that would have required whoever wanted it reversed to be in a position to reverse it… and Richard was the only one in that position and, presumably, he didn’t want to reverse it. But the whole argument itself… “You say Person A killed Persons B & C. But he didn’t kill person D, did he? Ergo he didn’t kill B or C, either! Coz, if he’d killed B & C, he’d have gone on to kill D, as well!” I’ll just give you a minute to extricate yourself from the swamp…….

Had the princes survived to adulthood, they would have continued to be a threat to Richard. Now let’s just cycle back to the first para of the post, for a moment. “Perkin Warbeck was the real Duke of York!” (subtext, yes, but arguably it’s there). And what did Perkin Warbeck do? So why might he not have done exactly the same to Uncle Richard, had he survived? And been smuggled to Burgundy &c &c &c? So, yes, by the evidence of that argument alone (whether Perkin was Perkin or Perkin was not), the princes would have continued to be a threat, illegitimate or not.

9. No-one’s allowed to say Richard III was planning to marry his niece but us!

I’m not sure there are many actual, serious historians who believe Richard III was planning to marry his niece. There are several novelists who’ve riffed on this. The latest would appear to be a devoted Ricardian (though the niece in question isn’t Elizabeth but Cecily). So, I guess the question is: why is it not ok for anyone to suggest Richard was planning to marry his niece, but it’s perfectly fine for a Ricardian to write a novel with very premise? Not that I’m expecting any kind of serious answer to that – novelists can write what they like, and I don’t believe this particular novelist is attempting to say any of this actually happened. But you know the weirdest thing about the whole Richard/Elizabeth of York thing? It was started by a proto-Ricardian! Yes, George Buck, who claimed to have seen a genuine letter, written by the genuine princess, which he may well have misinterpreted, was a forerunner of today’s murreyandblue bloggers! So, there you have it. An early Ricardian says “Richard was planning to marry his niece”; a current Ricardian writes a novel in which Richard has a torrid affair with his niece… But woe betide anyone who dares to say Richard was planning to marry his niece!

It’s at this point the swamps of Illogicity tie themselves in knots and disappear up their own S-bends.

(And if you have to explain your insult with an asterisk, maybe it’s time to rethink the insult.)