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28. Jun, 2017

In case anyone reading this is a member of the Richard III Society, you may have been as interested as I was to read an article in the March 2017 edition of the Bulletin where a contributor, Isabella Nanni, seemed to have discovered a new source for Richard and Anne’s marriage. In her words, they were ‘described as man and wife by autumn 1472’.

I had myself done a lot of work on estimating their marriage date, which was published in a 6,000-word article in the issue of December 2016, and I was under the impression that I had weighed up all known sources. They included (1) the Crowland Chronicle, which recorded the well-known dispute between Gloucester and Clarence during the Michaelmas term of Parliament (October-November 1472), after which Clarence hid Anne away and Richard found her in the guise of a cook-maid and placed her in sanctuary. And (2) the earliest known reference to them as ‘the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester’ which is reported in the Rolls of Parliament covering the sessions that ran between 6 October 1472 and 8 April 1473, although unfortunately the actual petition containing these words isn’t individually dated (PROME, ‘Edward IV: October 1472’, Roll 1, Item 24).

Consequently the most likely date indicated for their marriage seemed to be some time between Anne’s withdrawal into sanctuary (post-October 1472) and the subsequent reference in the Parliament Rolls to their married state. Other considerations narrowed the date down, but these were the outside parameters. In the expectation that an exciting new source had been found describing them as ‘man and wife by autumn 1472’, I contacted Isabella Nanni, only to be disappointed. There is no new source.

In fact I understand from her that she is actually referring to the same Rolls of Parliament as mentioned above (although I’m afraid they cannot be claimed to have been written by the autumn of 1472, when Parliament had not yet sat). And her reason for dismissal of the account in the Crowland Chronicle is that she does not accept the chronicle’s contents. I think these factors are relevant when considering her alternative view of Richard and Anne’s date of marriage.

14. Apr, 2017

I hate unfinished business, and some recent correspondence with my friend A J Hibbard has reminded me of two articles from a series of four I started in 2015 and never finished. I had decided that too many Ricardian dates had been taken for granted without adequate proof, so I began by investigating the following four:

  *  The marriage of Richard and Anne Neville                                                                           *  The birth of Edward of Middleham                                                                                       *  The death of Edward of Middleham                                                                                      *  The marriage of Anne Neville and the Lancastrian Prince of Wales

I mentioned my research to Marie Barnfield and she offered some very helpful insights, so rather than merely acknowledging her assistance I suggested she should join me as co-author. Marie’s involvement has not worked out as I had hoped, but at least we eventually got the first two of these articles into print in the Ricardian Bulletin in 2016 (September and December issues).

I’ll return later to Anne and the Prince of Wales. Today being Good Friday, I want to discuss the death of Edward of Middleham, whose short life was the subject of one of my illustrated talks at the 2016 Middleham Festival. The circumstances of his death, funerary arrangements and tomb are another matter. Here I am just summarizing the question of the date, for which I’m pleased to say my advice was taken by English Heritage to commemorate it at Easter, rather than 9 April, in the plans to fly their flag at half-mast at Middleham Castle. In due course I’ll follow this up with a longer piece on this website under ‘Ricardian Topics’, citing more detailed evidence.

I will mention three references here which should be carefully compared. The first is the well known entry in the Crowland Chronicle which states that he died in April 1484, ‘on a day not far off King Edward’s anniversary’. The mention of ‘anniversary’ has led to the assumption, by even the most well-read Ricardian scholars, that Edward died exactly a year – to the day! – after his godfather Edward IV died on 9 April 1483. Not only is this NOT what the chronicler wrote; it represents only one of various possible anniversaries.

Second, a much more specific date is given by the Warwickshire priest John Rous. This chronicler’s political credibility is highly suspect, having praised Richard III during his reign and attacked him after his defeat; but in plain recitals of facts and dates his record can prove useful. Rous wrote that young Edward died ‘at Easter-time’ (tempore Paschali). Easter Day in 1484 fell on 18 April.

Compare this with my third reference: the recorded fact that it was not until Tuesday 27 April that Richard left for the North after receiving the terrible news while he was at Nottingham Castle. In my longer article I will deal with possible reasons which might have caused delay, but the distance from Middleham to Nottingham is not one of them: this could have been traversed within a day’s ride. Indeed there is nothing to explain the gap of more than a fortnight from the commonly assumed date of Edward’s death on 9 April until Richard is known to have left Nottingham on 27 April.

It is particularly poignant to remember this sad anniversary, with his parents driven almost mad with grief, when Easter in 2017 falls on dates so close to little Edward’s death.

15. May, 2016

I've been reminded by Arthur Kincaid that although Sir George Buck was outspoken in his denunciation of Thomas More and John Morton, Cornwallis did not clearly specify who he meant by 'the Chronicler' whose negative picture of Richard he challenged in his dedication to The Encomium of Richard III. Although Cornwalllis avoids naming More anywhere in the encomium, it is my belief (based on internal evidence) that the 'life' of Richard III he had 'lately read' was the Thomas More publication, and on page 15 he denounces the author's 'malicious credulity' in embracing the partisan writings of a supporter of the house of Lancaster. Cornwallis certainly made no bones about his view of John Morton, who he says 'corrupted' the Duke of Buckingham. But his avoidance of naming any authors means I can't categorically say that his denunciation referred to More and Morton. 

31. Jan, 2016

On the matter of sources that are usually cited for the origin of Richard III’s blackened reputation, it occurs to me that I’ve done quite a lot of reading lately around Thomas More’s influential Richard III, which means I have been delving more deeply into the analyses published in the Appendix to my book Richard III: The Maligned King.

Many scholars of 16th-century literature subscribe to the view that More was writing satirical drama to pillory his exemplum of 'The Tyrant', personified (regrettably) by Richard III in his unfinished book. Dr Arthur Kincaid led the vanguard in 1972 with his assessment that its dramatic structure is paramount to its proper appreciation, which was accepted by R.S. Sylvester in the 1976 Yale edition of Richard III which I think is still considered the gold standard (see page xvi). Other analyses have been content to follow Kincaid’s lead, e.g. a paper dated 1982 by Elizabeth S. Donno in Renaissance Quarterly. Alison Hanham continued in the same vein in Richard III and his Early Historians (1975), although Hanham fell into a common error by categorizing More as an historian. As early as 1963 Sylvester’s commentary in Vol. 2 of the Yale ‘Complete Works of Thomas More’ had made it clear that already the literary world rejected it as constituting what we (or historiographers) would call history, and indeed the title ‘History’ of Richard III was almost certainly attached to it posthumously. In support of Kincaid et al. are the contemporary reports that More was fascinated by the theatre, had already tried his hand at writing plays, and was known to leap up on to the stage during performances and interpolate an off-the-cuff role for himself.

Thomas More had spent a number of his young years in the household of Cardinal John Morton, under the cardinal’s tutelage, and in the early 1600s the idea that Cardinal John Morton authored More's book was current among members of the antiquary movement. They knew of a certain tract hostile to Richard III written by Morton which was in the library of More's son-in-law – some had read it, others knew of its contents, so there clearly were close similarities between the two works. Since then, scholarly assessments of More's English and Latin have decided against Morton’s authorship (which wasn't very likely anyway, especially when you consider that Morton died in 1500). 

Nevertheless, knowledgeable 17th-century antiquaries like Sir George Buck and Sir William Cornwallis were so vehement and outspoken about the authorship of More's book by Morton that I believe they should not be ignored. My proposition is as follows ... (1) That More DID have access to Morton's tract, and (2) that its contents DID prompt More's embarking on his Richard III project, to the extent that that's where he got his entire premise of Richard as tyrannous, hypocritical, murderous, etc. Thomas More was thus fully equipped with the ready-made central villain for his polemic against tyranny, fleshed out with Morton’s anecdotal reports of his various crimes. I then propose that (3) working from this basis, More added all the embellishments that transformed it into a piece of dramatic craftsmanship – the condemnatory language, the dialogue, the moments of high theatre like the confrontation with Hastings – until he had something that satisfied his muse. In other words Morton loaded the gun and More discharged it with results that Morton could only have dreamed of.

At this point a number of questions arise. Undoubtedly the several extant versions (in English and Latin) are brilliantly conceived and executed. So why did More set his bravura piece aside and never seek to publish it? He couldn’t wait to see Utopia in print, yet he never even finished his Richard III – and, significantly, never mentioned a word of it in all the copious writings of his that are known to us. As you might expect, I have a proposition for this, too: (4) eventually, I submit, he started questioning the veracity of the information provided by Cardinal Morton’s tract. This was a private project to which he returned on and off over the span of several years, and he had probably written many thousands of words of his drama before he thought to speak of it to anyone. If he initially found some of it rested on shaky ground, this would not have bothered him: More was entirely happy with the rhetorical practice of arguing persuasively both for AND against a proposition, and in this period of time ‘historical truth’ was not a matter of great concern. My suggestion is that there came a time, however, when he simply couldn’t suppress the nagging suspicion that the basis of his Richard III story as told by Morton was unreliable. This was not merely a matter of questioning the accuracy of the events in his story, it was much more important than that: if what I suggest is the case, Thomas More’s belief in the mentor of his youth would have been shaken. Nothing less than this, I believe, would have disillusioned him deeply enough to have stopped him in his tracks.

14. Jan, 2016

In the space of a few days cancer has taken two amazing English talents aged only in their sixties. The news about David Bowie was only just sinking in when we heard today of Alan Rickman's death. I encountered him first in roles like Colonel Brandon (Sense and Sensibility, see photo) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves), having kicked myself for missing him in Liaisons Dangereuses. In the early 1990s, while working on my biography of Jeff Beck, I did a lot of research for a planned biography of Alan Rickman - he had trained at RADA, as had my husband, Paul Carson. I was pipped at the post by a gossipy effort by Maureen Paton which I thought did him less than justice. His versatility was enormous, and I treasure a signed photograph he gave me. An unforgettable talent.