Archive for the ‘Richard, Duke of Gloucester/Richard III’ Category

“I’m starting to wish they’d left him where he was.” A comment on a Richard III related facebook page. Not one I agree with entirely, but I see the point being made. If he was still where he was originally buried – in the ruins of Greyfriars Priory under a social services carpark in Leicester – there’s whole bunches of arguments we wouldn’t now be having. But to wish this monumental discovery unmade would be to lose a good deal more than just the tension in the air. There are things we now know about Richard III (with more, surely, to come) that were impossible before his remains were found. So, they were found and now they have to be dealt with. Reburied. And that’s just the latest in a line of displeasure that began within a week of the press conference announcing his identity.

The Leicester University team were criticised; the Leicester and not York (or Westminster or wherever) burial decision was criticised; and now there’s angst and turmoil over the tomb. And for a couple of months now, I’ve just been staring open-mouthed, muttering “Why can’t we all just be glad he was found? Why add all this drama?”

Reacting and responding to some of this displeasure has taken me on something of a journey. It began with disbelief – how could anyone be so ungrateful to the team that found Richard? to the cathedral that’s going to be his burial place?; then frustration and (I’ll admit) a bit of snark; and now I’m in a slightly calmer place, two profound moments of insight and understanding later.

Firstly, the sheer disconnect between ‘Ricardians’ and the ‘rest of the world’ (profound insight #1). I’ve said before that Ricardians come in a bewildering variety of flavours, so I should make it clear here that I’m referring to white-hot-with-passion Ricardians, who bristle with indignation, even hostility, when someone questions the received belief that Richard could do no wrong. This is a minority group, but very vocal. One or two of them can lead the agenda in a given forum, shortshrift given to anyone who doesn’t fall in behind them. I’ve met a few and find them very difficult to have rational conversations with. Their voices are so loud that they drown out those of us who want the discussion to be a little less strident (and that is, by far, the majority of us). They react swiftly, and sharply, to any perceived criticism of Richard and they are often ‘distraught’ or ‘astounded’ by the things others say or do. They feel that they’re in danger of losing ‘their’ Richard, that other people – who probably hate him, or at the very least, don’t love him – are getting their hands on him. And it hurts (profound insight #2).

There are calm and rational voices in this discussion belonging to people who believe that Leicester cathedral’s decision should be changed, that the words they’ve chosen are unfortunate and that it’s all gone horribly wrong. But these voices are being drowned out. With abusive emails being sent to the Dean of York this  is the view many people now have of Ricardians as a whole. And it’s an entirely incorrect view. No-one does the group they represent any favours by acting in an irrational, or criminal, manner. Lack of self-awareness in this causes a good deal of harm. If someone says “That’s the wrong way to behave, it makes people think poorly of us as a whole” then that’s probably a sad, but unavoidable, fact. Harm has been done by the strident and the unhinged. The rational among us now have to work double time to mitigate this harm. Firstly, by making it very clear that we are rational.

My profound moments of insight are hardly new or exclusive to me. There’s probably some lovely sociology or psychology jargon that covers them in a neat and scholarly way, but as I don’t know what that jargon is, all I can do is press on on my own.

I’ll take them out of order. While one occurred after the other, it’s the second that has priority.

Profound Moment of Insight #2 – When you share something you love with the rest of the world, you give a little of it away.

And that allows the rest of the world to see it through their own eyes. They might have picked up your interest in whatever it is, but they haven’t been infected by your passion. An episode from my childhood might be a good illustration of this. When I was about 10, I found a bower bird nest.

I kept it a secret for a long time, then one day I showed my mother. She wasn’t quite as impressed as I was but that was ok. Then, without consulting me at all! she took a group of other people down to see it and it was all spoiled. What had been my glorious wonderful secret thing belonged to other people. I was incapable of expressing my feelings to myself, let alone my mother, and she thought I was being awfully silly. But the magic had gone! People who just didn’t understand had seen the nest! And how could they understand? They weren’t me! They didn’t stumble on it and stop in their tracks, breathing in the wonder of it.

That’s how I think it is for some Ricardians at the moment. Richard III is theirs. He belongs to them. And while the dig in Leicester was going on, the excitement of it masked the looming reality: the rest of the world was soon to be made aware of Richard, and they weren’t going to magically, miraculously, come to see him the way Ricardians do. In fact, some might even have some harsh things to say! But the harsh things can be dealt with. After all, Ricardians of various flavours have been countering the harsh for a long time now. I think what’s worse is that people who didn’t care much about Richard not that long ago, now have some practical things to say. Not only has Richard been taken away by the rest of the word, he’s been taken away by people who now have to do something about him and they just don’t care! Not in the right way, anyway.

Richard III never did belong exclusively to Ricardians but now the illusion that he did is gone. There are other voices out there now that can’t just be ignored. People want to discuss him and they can’t be silenced. “But they didn’t care about him not that long ago!”. And I understand this, I really do. But it was the Richard III Society that put up the money for the dig and the research, two members in particular who got the whole thing going and kept it going. For this the names of Philippa Langley and John Ashdown-Hill should go down in Ricardian annals for all time. They worked hard, sometimes against stiff odds. And they achieved what they set out to. The Society as a whole did. And this is where it gets tricky, because it was the Richard III Society that gave Richard to the rest of the world. We can’t even pretend he’s exclusively ours anymore. We shared him with the world and gave a bit of him away.

Profound Moment of Insight #1 – When people with a passion and representatives of the rest of the world set out at opposite ends of a long road, there’s little chance they’ll manage to meet in the middle

Any group of people with a deep and burning passion for someone or some thing is a puzzle to the rest of the world. The deep and burning passion people have lived with their passion for some time (though a few manage to be burningly passionate after reading a single novel, but that’s another story.) When the rest of the world is made aware of the object of that burning passion, fire and love and belief don’t immediately manifest themselves in their hearts. The rest of the world rather likes to make up its own mind. Having done that, some of them may join the deep and burning passion group. Others won’t, their interest will be heightened but they won’t necessarily buy into anything. That’s the way of things.

There are three ways of convincing members of the rest of the world to join that group. One is by presenting the ‘facts’ as the group sees them (or as individuals within the group see them), encouraging them to look at other ‘facts’ as the group might not see them, and allowing minds to be made up, objectively and dispassionately. The second way is to just present the ‘facts’ as the group sees them, a kind of take or leave it approach. And the third is far more insidious and dangerous. There is a history related forum (probably not the only one) on the internet that, checked off against a ‘cult-like features’ list, comes dangerously close to cult-like. This is a factory for producing ‘people who think like us’ and weeding out ‘people who don’t’ (or ‘haters’). The first method is the one I favour. I get uncomfortable when someone tries method 2 on me and cults make me fight back. With a vengeance. The rest of the world hasn’t been given time to make up its mind. It’s being beset, from all sides, by already established views of Richard. “Keep up!” they’re told, and it’s not easy. We’ve had time to process it all, get used to it, follow the dig, shed a tear at the press conference, get our hopes up about what it all means. The rest of the world hasn’t. They woke up one morning to a bewilderment of information (and misinformation) about Richard and Ricardians and I’m not surprised they’re confused and bemused. So we should tread a little more gently and softly.

I’m sure the Chapter of Leicester Cathedral didn’t mean to be unkind or patronising with they spoke of Richard representing both the ‘honourable and dishonourable’. To me, they come across as more puzzled than patronising. Nor do I believe the phrase ‘modest dignity’ found in their design brief for Richard’s monument to be any kind of ‘slap in the face’. They have practicalities to consider, and they have to take into account that the jury is still out on just where Richard sits on that honourable/dishonourable continuum. Even the Ricardian jury is out. There a range of views within Ricardian circles, ranging from ‘he could do no wrong’ to ‘I think he might have done a little bit wrong’. So if we’re not united on our stance (and why should we be?), how on earth can we expect the rest of the world to be?

So, we have at one end of the road some very vocal, devoted and passionate Ricardians who want a tomb along the lines of the original design.

Which is quite lovely. If that can be achieved without causing impediment in the cathedral itself, it’s a ready-made solution. The decision seemed to have been made, but as I wasn’t part of the discussions and haven’t seen any kind of minute or document to show that – unequivocally – the decision was made and fully accepted by the cathedral, it’s hard to know quite why it was unmade (if it was unmade). I do understand the disappointment. That tomb would have been pretty cool.

Whatever the history of this, we’re at a different place now. The tomb, as is, has been declared too large and too obtrusive. Whether that’s the case or not, again I don’t know for certain. I’ve never been to Leicester cathedral. All I can do is listen to those who have.

The place we’re at now is the design brief from the cathedral that states very clearly that what they’re looking at is a ledger stone. Or  ‘a slab’ as it’s rather disparagingly referred to from time to time. “They want to throw him under a slab!” Well, no, they don’t. They’re already auditioning choirs for a funeral that’s more than a year away, so ‘throwing’ Richard under anything isn’t in any way a realistic foreshadowing of what is to come.

Here’s the ‘slab’ they ‘threw’ Henry VI under:


And Henry VIII, Charles I and ‘an infant child of Queen Anne’:

I’m not saying ‘what’s good for one (or three) kings is good for all kings’ but maybe let’s not see this as any kind of calculated insult. The intensely passionate Ricardians are starting from their end of the road with ‘He’s our king. We love him and we demand something that reflects our love and his greatness as a king!”. (Fair enough.) And, at the other end, the rest of the world, represented by Leicester cathedral are saying, “But there are practicalities to think of! Rules and regulations! And he wasn’t, by any means, the perfect man or the perfect king you believe him to be. Look, we’ll do our best but we can’t handle a 7′ tomb.”

These two paths are doomed to not meet in the middle.

There might be something that can be done to persuade the Chapter to change their minds. It won’t be done by getting ‘distraught’ and seeing them as the enemy. It won’t be done by newspaper polls. It might be done by quiet, calm and rational argument, which I’m sure is being tried behind the scenes. But maybe the decision is made and can’t be changed. If that’s the case, then the money raised by the Society should be used to make the best, most respectful and beautiful ledger stone a king of England ever had. Maybe then we can get back to what’s really important – a man who everyone thought was lost forever has been found. Setting aside differences with university, cathedral and the rest of the world would let us get back to that. It’s something we should be marvelling at, not nitpicking.

1. Clear him of all the crimes laid at his door by Shakespeare, More &c.

Despite the fact that common sense tell us this is impossible, it pops up every now and then, a wan hope, the most wishful of wishful thinking. A good many of the crimes of Shakespeare’s Richard are patent nonsense. Putting those aside, the accusations that this discovery* won’t solve are: 1. did Richard usurp his nephew’s throne? 2. did Richard order the deaths of his nephews? 3. did Richard poison his queen? 4. was Richard planning to marry Elizabeth of York? Nor will it absolve him of the deaths of four men, executed (so far as there’s any evidence) without trial. Assuming the remains are Richard’s, they will tell us nothing about his personality or his personal history. They will certainly tell us nothing about his guilt or innocence.

2. Prove Shakespeare, More &c right.

Tudor Propaganda, we’re told, was the source of the ‘Crookback’ myth. If they were right about that (‘they’ weren’t, there’s a world of difference between kyphosis and scoliosis) then surely the world will leap on this and claim that the TPM** must be right about everything else!

Firstly, as I keep being reminded in other contexts, stories get distorted over time. Clearly, if the skeleton with the curved spine is Richard, then those stories had some basis. More may have been writing satire. If he was, his work isn’t the only satire in history that’s been mistaken for the genuine article. That’s also a possibility with Shakespeare’s Richard III. So, the King with the curved spine becomes a stand in for Robert Cecil who did have some kind of spinal ‘deformity’. And, in the medieval world, physical ‘deformity’ was often equated with evil. That’s not the way we see things now, or I seriously hope it’s not! So, even if the TPM is proved ‘right’ about Richard’s physical imperfection, a connection between that and ‘evil’ isn’t proved.

3. Embarrass the ‘traditionalists’ into changing their views.

Historians who have written that, on the balance of probability, Richard was more likely to have ordered the deaths of the Princes than not (or than anyone else) aren’t going to feel any embarrassment at that. And I wonder why anyone thinks they should. They have researched and read, and interpreted what information is available, and come to a conclusion. Just as the revisionists have. What will change minds (traditionalist or revisionist) is a reappraisal of current sources or a new source. There’s no need for ‘traditionalist’ historians to be embarrassed, so long as their work is sound and can stand up to questioning and challenge. There’s no need for ‘revisionist’ historians to be embarrassed, so long as the same conditions apply.

4. Turn Richard into the world most popular romantic hero.

Like any disparate, loosely connected group of people who share an interest, those of us interested in history live at least part of our lives in a bubble. We are all caught up in the excitement of the discovery, our google alerts keep us supplied with articles, blogs &c about the discovery, we discuss it among ourselves (ad nauseam). The rest of the world (by and large) doesn’t really care. History groups on facebook are awash with discussion about the Leicester dig and the upcoming press conference. My own personal page is a desert by comparison. No-one in my family cares. None of my non-history friends care. There’s no requirement that they should and no expectation that they’ll all rush out and buy Sunne in Splendour in order to join the Ricardian party.

5. Shame Queen Elizabeth II for her illegitimate ancestry.

This is one of the weirder ones. In discussions of where and how Richard should be buried, the idea that the Queen is personally blocking a state funeral to keep attention away from a crackpot theory about the ‘real’ father of Edward IV leaves me baffled. If there’s no funeral, state or otherwise, it’ll be because the person found in Greyfriars has already had a funeral. I hope he is quietly reburied at Leicester Cathedral with no great fuss. Richard’s life ended in great indignity. I hope some of that is restored to him via a quiet, respectful burial. I didn’t personally know Richard and he certainly never knew me. Had I been alive in his time, he’d never have heard of me. I don’t own him, (moderate) Ricardian or not.

6. Clear up the mystery of what happened to the Princes.

Unless an explanation is etched into the bones, we’re no closer now to solving that particular mystery than we were before. I worry that there are some expecting some kind of miracle; for the world to wake up on the morning of the announcement, knowing all that befell during Richard’s reign.

7. Vindicate every revisionist argument. Ever.

There are members of the Richard III Society and staunch Ricardians who should be praised and lauded for the work they’ve done to find the remains in Greyfriars Church. Hard work, research and lobbying all played their part in getting the dig up and running. The archaeologists at Leicester University deserve praise as well. If this was a just world, those Ricardians who worked so hard would be rewarded, not just with finding the remains but by being utterly vindicated in their view of Richard. Sadly, this isn’t a just world. There remains, still, the possibility that some document or other will be unearthed that puts Richard firmly in the frame. (I think we must allow for this possibility in order to maintain our intellectual honesty.) And that would bring a double irony to this story. Richard’s genetic identity (should it prove conclusive) relies on the dna of a young woman whose father Richard executed. If any evidence of his culpability in the deaths of the princes ever turns up, the location of his physical remains will have relied on a dedicated group of people who believed, wholeheartedly, in his innocence. This second irony is one I hope we’ll never have to face, but wishful thinking and history don’t go together. History was what it was.

Now for some things the discovery of Richard’s remains is going to do

1. Bring some kind of closure for a lot of people

When archaeologists are looking at sites of ancient habitation, there are three things they look for in determining whether it’s a human site or pre-human: evidence of bodily adornment; evidence of trade; evidence of deliberate and respectful disposal of the dead. We need to know where the people we love, admire and respect are buried. We need memorials to them, places where their remains lie (or are scattered). It’s why some people are buried in secret locations – to stop others, for good or ill, coming to their grave sites. It’s why the families of missing persons find some relief (but renewed grief) when their bodies are found. It’s why it’s so sad that (among others) we don’t know where Queen Anne Nevill or her uncle. George Archbishop of York, or her father, the earl of Warwick, and his brother, John, are buried. It’s why Warwick and Edward IV both relocated the remains of their fathers and brothers. It’s why we go to funerals; why we have urns on our mantlepieces; why we hire stonemasons to carve headstones; why we build, if we have the means, elaborate tombs; why we must know where the people we love have ended up. It’s such a deep seated part of our humanness. I can’t go to Bisham Priory to pay my respects to the Nevills. Once Richard is reburied (most probably in Leicester Cathedral) I can, if I wish, visit his grave.

2. Get people interested in Richard III, the Wars of the Roses and history

I don’t think they’ll be coming in their hordes, knocking down the doors of the Richard III Society in their rush to join, but the press coverage will surely have sparked some interest. Whether they think Richard a hero or a villain, all are welcome!

3. Put a face to the name

That’s something so many people are looking forward to. We have the NPG portrait, which shows us a fairly unspectacular man, neither of saintly nor villainous visage. The facial reconstruction of the skull will give us a three dimensional view of him. I won’t get to see the Channel 4 documentary (like so many other interested parties), or not unless it’s uploaded to something like youtube, so I’ll be relying on the kindness of strangers. If a reconstructed Richard resembles his portrait, it’ll give us slightly renewed confidence in other portraits from the time.

4. Bring some balance to the discussion

A lot of people come to their interest in history, a particular time or person in history, through reading historical fiction. This is well attested to and particularly applicable to Ricardians. I have no issue with this, it’s how things started for me. What I’m really looking forward to seeing are contributions from people whose interest in history, the Wars of the Roses and Richard III has come from the press coverage, blogs and social media discussion about the dig. These will be people with no (or few) preconceptions, who haven’t bought into this or that author’s view of Richard. They will come with a clean slate. It’s not, for me, a matter of grabbing their hearts and minds before the ‘traditionalists’ do, it’s about making a welcome and giving time and space for them to come to their own view of the man. Three years ago, when my interest in history became more active, I was looking forward to a new synthesis about Richard. We had the thesis – Evil Villain Richard – that had prevailed for centuries; and the relatively new antithesis – Saintly Pious Richard. The most exciting development is yet to come – the new synthesis. It’s a conversation I’m really looking forward to being part of.

* I am presuming, for the sake of this discussion, that the announcement this evening (tomorrow morning for many of you) will confirm the remains as Richard’s.

** The Tudor Propaganda Machine. Yes, propaganda certainly existed at the time but the ‘Tudors’ didn’t invent it. Richard duke of York was using it against Somerset and Margaret of Anjou in the 1450s. Edward IV used it after he became king. Warwick used it, any chance he got. Richard III used it when he became king. And Henry VII certainly did. It wasn’t unique and it wasn’t new. I’m afraid I’ve got to the point where, if I see or hear these words, I want to scream. Anything, it seems, can be written off as ‘Tudor Propaganda’. Some of it isn’t. Related to  #2 above, knowing that the ‘crookback’ myth wasn’t made up by propagandists (distorted and exaggerated, yes, but not made up) might lead us to a reappraisal of some other things that have been labelled ‘Tudor Propaganda’. What that will lead to, as it usually does, is a great deal of difficulty sorting out the myth from the not-myth, and we may be faced with some unpalatable conclusions.

Here’s Susan Higganbotham’s Leicester Dig Countdown, if you’re looking for some (welcome) light relief.

When I was about fourteen, I read Rosemary Hawley-Jarman’s We Speak No Treason and was swept away into a most wonderful world. The three unnamed narrators of the book presented a different side of a man I was just getting to know at a very impressionable age: Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III. I loved this book! I still have it on my shelf, the original hardback I bought after I wore out the copy in our local library. It’s still a wonderful book, but I see problems now that I didn’t when I was fourteen. The dialogue is a little Forsoothly, and some of the history is a little dodgy, but the device used – the three original characters narrating Richard’s story – still makes it a classic of historical fiction. That book very nearly turned me into an uncompromising, starry-eyed, love-him-till-I-die Ricardian.

What saved me was, oddly enough, another Hawley-Jarman book, The King’s Grey Mare, in which I (and I think I’ve mentioned this before) first met, in the literary flesh, Richard Nevill, earl of Warwick. Though it could be thought that I’ve come close at times, I’ve never quite become an uncompromising, starry-eyed, love-him-till-I-die Warwick fangirl. Ok, yes, I’m a fangirl, but I know the man’s (glaring) faults and I am happy to tell anyone who asks about the things that made him a Bad Man as well as those that suggested he might, from time to time, be a Good Man. What’s more important than any of these is that he was a most fascinating man!

I also read Daughter of Time, which gave me all the ammunition I needed to defend Richard. Bad Henry Tudor! He did in those little princes, coz it just makes more sense that way! Except, all these years later, with a grown up head on my shoulders and a far better understanding of the Wars of the Roses and the fifteenth century in general, I can’t have quite the same level of certainty.

But this post isn’t about Richard’s guilt or innocence, or Henry VII’s guilt or innocence. I was first a member of the Richard III Society back in the 1990s. Distance – a feeling of isolation – and some personal issues that had nothing to do with history, Richard or his Society, led me to a failure to renew my membership one year, and so it lasted until very recently. I rejoined (a different branch) last year and, though my dues are late (!), I will be renewing my membership in the next day or so. Despite my Nevill leanings, I was given a warm welcome by my branch. One member, and facebook friend, has very much become a Real Life friend. The Society has the opportunity to further scholarship on Richard’s reign and times. It ought to be an organisation that’s taken seriously Out There. I know the aims of the Society are to overturn the myths (often referred to as Tudor Propaganda) and rehabilitate Richard as king and as man. There’s a difference between that and denying vociferously that the man ever did any wrong in his entire life. There are explanations and excuses by the thousand, as well as outright denials. This is where many members of the Richard III Society and I part company, philosophically speaking.

At fourteen, I might have been enthralled by the portrait of a young man, deeply loyal to his family, deeply faithful to the woman he loved and married (and kind to the young girl who was once his mistress), strong in war, soft in love… But the older I get, the less that satisfies me. He was a man who married his wife at least in part for her property, who connived in the financial ruin of his mother-in-law in the process, who took his nephew’s throne (whatever the pretext, and however valid this pretext was), who ordered the executions of several men without trial, whose loyalty to Edward IV didn’t survive his death, who faced rumour, rebellion and invasion during his short reign… a man I want to get to know better, and not through biassed sources (one way or the other). I’d also love to discuss all this without feeling that I’m stepping outside received dogma. I was likened to an atheist not that long ago, someone who comes into a church and announces loudly that God is Dead. Apart from the disturbing image of an interest and support of Richard III as a religion, I don’t know enough to announce anything except: I don’t know.

I don’t know if Edward IV’s relationship with Eleanor Butler included a marriage, or precontract; I don’t know if this was enough to have his children declared illegitimate; I don’t know what happened to the boys. I’m reliably informed that, one night, a barge came up the Thames and the boys were taken aboard and sent to safety in Flanders. Without anyone knowing except those involved, and without any of them telling anyone else about it. Ever. And without either of the boys resurfacing in adulthood. (Perkin Warbeck, in my considered opinion, wasn’t the young Richard Duke of York. And, even if he was, he said that his brother had been murdered on Richard’s orders. This is not good news in light of Richard’s reputation. I’ve never understood how anyone can reconcile these two things: wanting Perkin to be young York, yet dismissing his own words regarding the fate of his brother.) I don’t know if they were spirited away to Flanders. On balance of evidence, it would seem not, and those who favour this theory have no evidence of it. I’m equally reliably informed, on an equal lack of evidence, that sir James Tyrell slipped into their quarters one night and smothered them both with a pillow, after which they were buried in the Tower, under a staircase. I don’t know if that happened, either.

I do know that William Hastings, Anthony Wydeville, Richard Grey and Thomas Vaughan were executed without trial. I do know that the young princes disappeared on Richard’s watch. I do know that he colluded with his brothers and his wife to have his mother-in-law financially ruined and declared dead. I also know he was a good soldier, that he and his queen seemed to have a good marriage, that he took care of his illegitimate children and loved his only legitimate child, that he had the makings of a pretty good king. And I want to know more.

So, I wonder, why isn’t that enough? Why isn’t wanting to know more, wherever it takes me and whatever conclusions I come to, enough?

The find in Leicester, the human remains that might well be Richard, has captured the public’s imagination far more than anyone would have thought it might. There are petitions circulating demanding ‘he’ be buried in York Minster. There are calls for a state funeral. The Bishop of Leicester, and the city’s mayor, have stated their case for ‘him’ remaining there, reburied at the cathedral. All this before we know for sure (or even a little bit) if the remains are Richard’s or not. We (those of us interested in Richard, the fifteenth century and the Wars of the Roses) have a marvellous opportunity to explore it all further and discuss it with a larger audience. The debate is, I fear, going to become cemented into two warring sides – those who think Richard could do no wrong and those who believe him guilty of serial murder. Those of us caught in the middle might just end up being squashed. And this is the reason I’m not just going to shut up and go away. Moderate, rational discussion that doesn’t come from a fixed and motionless point of either Guilt! or Innocence! is more important than ever. If anyone wants to join me in the middle ground, there will be a welcome, a cup of tea and just maybe a timtam or two.


Death of Edward IV. He is succeeded by his 12 year old son, Edward V, who is soon to be declared illegitimate and replaced by his uncle, Richard III.


Death of Edward Prince of Wales, only child of Richard III and his queen, Anne Nevill. His date of birth is uncertain, but he was no more than 11.


In a ceremony at Reading Abbey, escorted by the earl of Warwick and duke of Clarence,Elizabeth Wydeville is formally recognised as Edward IV’s wife. There follows a week of festivities.


Edward IV, his brother Gloucester, brother-in-law Anthony Wydeville earl Rivers and William lord Hastings set sail for (a brief) exile in Holland.


Battle of Bosworth. King Richard III is killed.


Coronation of Richard III of England and his queen, Anne Nevill.


Edward IV is crowned king of England. His brother George is made duke of Clarence, his brother Richard duke of Gloucester. Viscount Bourchier (married to Edward’s aunt Isabel) is made earl of Essex. William Hastings, William Herbert, Robert Ogle and Humphrey Stafford of Southwick are all made barons.

No, I hadn’t forgotten. I was on the road for 10 hours yesterday, then slept for nearly 12.

Birthday greetings to Richard, Duke of Gloucester and king of England. Born 2 October 1452, cruelly slain 22 August 1485. Richard was survived by at least 2 illegitimate children: John of Gloucester and Katherine.

The anniversary of the execution of William Catesby would seem to be a good enough time as any to review this rather odd book. I’m glad I have it in my collection for the appendices alone, which include modernised versions of various letters and documents as well as Catesby’s will, but as a useful and informative text it falls down spectacularly.

The author, Peter Hancock, is not an historian by profession but (like a great many of us) has undertaken a good deal of research over the years and is clearly identified as a ‘Ricardian’. Now, if I was faced with the stark choice of choosing which category I belonged to – Ricardian or non-Ricardian – I’d put myself in the former group, but we are not all of a feather, which makes life interesting. On the continuum ‘Skeptical <–> Immovable’, I suspect that we are at opposite ends.

This book seems to be driven, at least in part, by a need to explain and justify that most inexplicable act – the summary execution of William Hastings. It just doesn’t fit in with the view of those at the Immovable end of the continuum. There can be no denying that it occurred, nor that it was ordered (if not orchestrated) by Richard III, but how convenient would it be to find that the real instigator was someone else? That’s just what Hancock has managed to do, and he has taken the line of least resistance and blamed that utterly blameworthy individual, the rather shadowy and perhaps morally challenged William Catesby.

First of all, I have to say that this is, superficially at least, a well researched and well written book. The deeper one goes, however, the more it seems that the material has been very carefully collected and massaged to support the author’s theory.

He bases his speculation on four things: the Eleanor Butler pre-contract; the connections between the Catesbys and the Talbots; Catesby’s rapid acquisition, after the execution, of Hastings’ property and lands; and his equally rapid rise in the court of Richard III. Into this Hancock weaves a purported deal between Catesby and Thomas Stanley, involving the sparing of Richard’s Bosworth hostage, lord George Strange (son of Stanley and Richard’s cousin Alianor Nevill) as well as an explanation for Catesby’s eventual execution, despite the agreement. It all turns into quite a vast conspiracy including, at the very end, Henry Tudor. While I think a deal between Stanley and Catesby isn’t beyond the realms of possibility (and there is a passage in Catesby’s will that would seem to point to one), the construction of this web of intrigue and conspiracy weighs rather heavily and is an unnecessarily complex and unwieldy explanation for the inexplicable. I didn’t know the reason for Hastings’ execution when I finished this book any more than I had before I began it. It doesn’t work for me anymore than the received view that Hastings was plotting with the Wydevilles.

I don’t want to go into detail about Hancock’s ‘findings’ except to say that the whole construction rests on a very speculative and shaky foundation – the existence of documentary proof of the pre-contract which is not only in Catesby’s possession but is something that both Hastings and Henry Tudor are aware exists.

William Catesby has enough to answer for, I think, and serves in this book as a convenient scapegoat for what can only be described as an unjust act. I doubt there are many who’d leap to his defence, so I find that it’s down to me to do so. He was an opportunist with few scruples; he rose high and fast in the service of Richard III and he wasn’t above doing a deal with a man with even fewer scruples than he had himself. He certainly didn’t hesitate to grab as much of Hastings’ property as he could get his hands on, but to suggest that he deliberately set out to destroy the man and, incidentally, set the wheels in motion for the duke of Gloucester’s seizure of the throne, is a step too far. Richard III, as duke and king, made decisions both wise and (appallingly) unwise. Catesby might have been behind him (almost) every step of the way, but to use him to exonerate Richard on shaky and cobbled together evidence is disingenuous and, in its way, as heinous as the ‘Tudor propaganda’ so many of us have been trying to counter over the years.

Immovable Ricardians will love this book, I think. More skeptical ones, like me, need a bit more than speculation, imagination and a convenient scapegoat.