Looking at the precontract story from the correct standpoint

Posted: July 9, 2015 in Uncategorised

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.

  1. Iris says:

    If the foundations of Richard’s Titulus Regius had been entirely ludicrous, Henry Tudor would not have bothered to order its destruction without reading to relegitimise the girl his Parliament urged him to marry. Mary Tudor did not to these lengths herself. I may be wrong, but I always found truth hurts and tends to be subject of censorship, as is the case with comments on blogs that do not even need fire for convenient removal…

    I do agree that a sound opinion is a sound opinion and stupid, random, unsubstantiated speculations sold as Gospel’s truth to the layman are such whatever the status of the person uttering them, and I refer in particular to Michael Hicks and David Starkey.

    • anevillfeast says:

      Hi, Iris. Thanks for the reminder that there’s still a lot of work to do before Richard III is allowed to be who he was, and not squished and squeezed into a more ‘pleasing’ shape. I didn’t really need one, but I appreciate your time and effort. And I couldn’t have illustrated my final point any better than you did with your last sentence. Thank you for that!

  2. Donna G. says:

    Good post, Karen, and the voice of common sense in an area sadly lacking it. I get the impression that some people have been inspired by a fictional character and have then projected that onto the real historical figure, with the whole sorry deluded mess fuelled by wishes and fantasy to fulfil some sort of emotional need. It’s just not honest and not very grown up. It’s what has made me a very disillusioned soon to be former member of the RIII Society.

    • anevillfeast says:

      Thanks, Donna. I understand just how you feel.

    • Ishita says:

      A balanced post.
      But I have seen this tendency among some people to heap this accusation on Ricardians over and over that novels influence their judgement. I find that part a little hard to swallow.
      Other than that digression, I liked it.

      • anevillfeast says:

        Hi Ishita. I understand why you’d find it hard to swallow such an observation as I’ve made, as it doesn’t involve making ‘jokes’ about stabbing respected writers with knives or launching bitter and personal attacks against any specific, named people – both of which I know you’re more comfortable with yourself. I’m still curious, though, as to what it is about the historical Richard that makes some people want to wipe him from existence. Why is the historical Richard so deeply hated that he must be fanatically eradicated in favour of a more palatable romantic hero? I ask you because I’m pretty sure you’re in the perfect position to explain it.

    • Matt W says:

      The romanticized version you just presented is without foundation. Sadly people’s emotional need to intensely dislike someone who died in 1485 and to oddly question the psychological health of those who have chosen to study him and find him in a favorable light is rather remarkable.

      • anevillfeast says:

        I thoroughly agree, Matt! I don’t know what it is about the historical Richard that’s so distasteful to those who want to view him ‘romantically’ that makes them quite so determined to do away with him altogether. Viewing him in an objective light (I take it that’s what you meant by ‘favourable’) is far more sound than turning him into some kind of romantic hero. Let him be who he was!

  3. kbinldo says:

    What a lot of people continually overlook is that only an ecclesiastical court could determine the validity (or lack thereof) of any marriage, & just because there were clergymen in RIchard’s Council (& later Parliament) doesn’t mean that such a court had been formed. And it wasn’t. So you could have all the proof in the world that there was some sort of marriage between Edward IV & Eleanor Talbot & it wouldn’t have meant a hill of beans outside of canon law.

    The real issue is why Richard felt he had to go to such lengths, because I doubt any of this would have come up had Edward been 17 instead of 12. They even trotted out Warwick’s old chestnut that Edward IV was not the son of Richard of York before coming up with a secret marriage.

    I still give everyone involved the benefit of the doubt & come down on the side that those involved in removing Edward & replacing him with Richard did so with good intentions because of some threat, perceived or real, to the country. The “precontract” just doesn’t sound like something anyone plotting for years to become King would have come up with.

    There, I’ve pissed off both the “evil Richard” AND “Saint Richard” camps in just a few paragraphs. But quite frankly, if you have to work this hard to “prove” something is true, it probably isn’t. 🙂

    • anevillfeast says:

      Hi kbinido. I think Richard felt he needed to depose his nephews, certainly. My current view is that whatever happened at Stony Stratford (real, imagined (mis)reported, genuine or spurious), Richard’s arrest of Rivers and his subsequent possibly-not-terribly-legal execution were a point of no return. There was unlikely to be any way back from arresting and executing the King’s uncle. Despite attempts to argue to the contrary, this was way outside any powers Richard would have been granted as Protector, and Edward V was likely to have viewed it as treason. The great shame of it all is the unfulfilled potential of Edward V’s kingship, with both Gloucester and Rivers to guide, advise and support him until he came of age.

      • Matt W says:

        A nice ideal except the reality was that Protectors met an untimely end once the King came of age. When you look at the fevered rate at which the Woodvilles sought and acquired once the secret marriage had been held, the “untealized potential under the guidance of Rivers and Gloucester was impossible.

      • anevillfeast says:

        The previous two Protectors did not meet an untimely end once the King came of age. I can recommend some good reading on the events of the first half of the 15th century if that would help clear up this particular misconception. Richard sought the protectorship, by the way, just as his father had. Neither of them was forced into it at (metaphorical) gun point. But that may not be something that’s widely understood by those with a rather narrow reading repertoire. Maybe developing a more ‘favourable’ (to use your word) or ‘objective’ (to use mine) view of the Wydevilles would help you out, as well.

  4. Matt W says:

    Can you tell me what proof exists that Elizabeth Woodville agreed to let her daughter marry Henry Tudor?

    It is a romanticized version of history indeed that suggests that Henry Tudor married Elizabeth of York to “save England from that bad Richard III

    All we have is a report of his pledge. It should be viewed in its true light as an opponent who was attempting to legitimize himself.

    The view that the two mothers got together and made a marriage pact and that noble Henry pledged he would. I can almost hear the dramatic music in the background.

    Such a romantic notion – and not the true Henry or Margaret Beaufort.

    • anevillfeast says:

      Hi Matt. Thank you for explaining the romanticised view of Henry VII. I wasn’t even aware there was one! It’s great to see there’s someone on his side, even if turning Henry Tudor into a romantic hero who rides to England and Elizabeth of York’s rescue is no more historically sound that Richard the romantic hero. I’m a little reassured by your last statement, though. I guess Henry Tudor’s supporters can be a little more balanced than Richard III’s. Now all we have to do is get some of the less responsive ‘Ricardians’ to apply the same kind of thinking to their guy!
      (I think you can stop trolling now, as enjoyable as your little visit has been.)

      • ladybug says:

        I too am curious at what this romanticized version of Henry VII is. Usually he is trashed, and has all sorts of accusations and slander thrown at him. Now, if you mean Richard III, then why yes, there is a romanticized version of him where he can do no wrong and everyone else if evil and plotting while Richard is the single man of honor.

      • anevillfeast says:

        That’s generally what I’ve found as well, ladybug. I’ve never come across a romantic version of Henry VII before. It’s always struck me as rather odd that in order to bolster a mistaken view of Richard as shiny and perfect, everyone else has to be (as you say) trashed. It’s like the whole of history is modelled on the classic western – lots of black hats, one solitary white hat and nothing in between.

      • Matt W says:

        Richard sought the protectorship? Can you direct me to a source for that? I’ve never read that.

      • anevillfeast says:

        Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you might be well read on the subject of Richard III. Ok, let’s see, you could try googling some of the chronicles. Or get hold of a copy of a book about him by a recognised historian – that will have lots of footnotes and references in it for you to follow. Your local library should be able to help with that. Maybe you could spend your time reading about him rather than trolling.

      • Matt W says:

        So there is no proof to the claim that Woodville and Beaufort agreed that Elizabeth and Henry Tudor should marry. I find it odd that is so accepted by so many while the Butler pre contract is discounted by the same people. One is viewed as fact the other that it is a made up story.

      • anevillfeast says:

        They married. Unless you’re suggesting they married without parental approval, like Edward IV and his brothers, then logic would suggest their surviving parents know about it. You really should think things through a bit better before you to a-trolling.

      • Matt W says:

        I’m sorry – since you were the expert I thought you could direct me.

        Again – what proof?

      • anevillfeast says:

        Gosh, I didn’t realise anyone thought of me as an expert! Flattering, but untrue.

      • Matt W says:

        And this goes to the subject of your post. The “correct” notion of the pre contract.

        No proof there was an arrangement by their mothers previously, and you cannot provide a source for Richard seeking the protectorship.

        More proof for a Butler pre contract – TR, which Henry was so threatened by he ordered all copies destroyed. You ignore that yet come up with the “correct” notion – unsupported.

        There is no need for the condescending statements by the way. I’m trying to see what you have to back up your statements.

      • anevillfeast says:

        I don’t recall making any claims about the correct ‘notion’ of the precontract. In fact, I was pretty clear that’s not what I was talking about. I’m not sure there’s much point in debating with someone who isn’t even clear on what point they’re arguing against. I suppose if you’re not used to debate, that kind of thing can trip you up.
        However… From your comment, you extrapolate a threat to Henry Tudor that caused him to destroy TR. You have nothing to back this up except the fact he destroyed TR. So, I shall apply the method you advocate and demonstrate to my own statements.

  5. Matt W says:

    I see now. You only want to hear from those that support your ideas. And you have some psychological need to continually mock Ricardians. Perhaps you could explain why that threatens you so? Or the statement “much work needs to be done to let the historically accurate Richard exist”. A noble vow on your part but this need of yours is amazing. Certainly all the historians you cite ate presenting their views on the subject.

    • Matt W says:

      Last chance : proof that Richard sought the protectorship.

      I’ll accept your point about TR.

    • anevillfeast says:

      The very fact you’ve been able to post numerous comments disproves your first point. I’ve certainly shown you a great deal more patience and courtesy than the average Ricardian gets in some of the ‘Ricardian’ groups on facebook. (Have you spotted the inverted commas yet?) They are, after all, the experts on only wanting to hear from those who agree with them.
      You’ve misquoted me again, as well, which seems to be something of a habit you’ve developed. I would never call someone who actually lived ‘historically accurate’, that would be a very odd thing to say. I used the word ‘historical’ to differentiate from the fictional Richard, who seems to be a particular favourite of ‘Ricardians’.

      • Matt W says:

        Your 11:43 comment yesterday says “Richard sought the Protectorship”

        I have asked you what source you have for that. I quoted you directly.

        It’s difficult to debate someone who doesn’t know what they have previously stated, but that’s typical for someone new to debate or unable to produce said evidence

      • anevillfeast says:

        No, you’re finding it difficult to debate with me because you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. I’m not, as you might have noticed, bothering to debate at all. If you’d come here in good faith, it would be a different story.

      • Matt W says:

        Haven’t misquoted you at all. That is a good debate tactic, to accuse someone of misquoting while debating live but doesn’t work so well on a blog when it is typed.

      • anevillfeast says:

        You misquoted me twice. Go back and take a look. And I didn’t accuse you at all, I just pointed out that you’d misquoted me.

      • Matt W says:

        Since you cannot produce evidence for your declaration yesterday that “Richard sought out the protectorship just as his father had” (not to mention even Professor Hicks tells us this was a settlement between Richard of York and the parliament when York tried to take over from Henry VI) one is forced to conclude that is a belief of yours.

        And in the main, all of your beliefs are stated as ‘facts’. Now, you are entitled to your beliefs yet you mock those with differing views & accuse them of misquoting or some other fallacy.

        Very telling. Goodbye. Nice chatting with you.

      • anevillfeast says:

        ‘when York tried to take over from Henry VI’ in 1454… And that, my friend, just about sums up the level of your knowledge, And if that’s the best you can do, I guess a tactical withdrawal at this point just about leaves you with some illusion of dignity. it’s been an absolute delight talking with you. I do hope your friends can do something to soothe your wounded pride.

  6. Matt W says:

    LOL! Hilarious. My “wounded pride”. Dont take yourself so seriously

    You have made my day with that comment!

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