St Andrew’s Church, Wingfield and the Tombs of the de la Poles


St Andrew’s Church, Wingfield, Suffolk.  Mausoleum of the de la Poles.  

You know when the great Sir Nikolaus Pevsner was ‘impressed’ with a church then it must indeed be rather special (1).   And St Andrew’s with its soaring clerestories, nave roof with  arched braces resting on figures of winged angels,  charming ‘Decorated’ window tracery of flower petals  and the rood loft reached by two stairways does not disappoint.   Combine all that with some of the finest 15th century medieval monuments in England and it takes some beating.

Founded by Sir John Wingfield d.1361 improvements to the church was carried out by  both his son in law Michael de la Pole First Earl of Suffolk d.1389 and in his turn by his son, Michael de la Pole, Second Earl of Suffolk d.1415.  The improvements made by the second Earl are described by Pevsner as the ‘real glory‘ of the church  and the monuments of the Earl and Katherine Stafford his wife lie today between the chancel and the chapel which he built.

Sir John Wingfield c. 1307- d. 1361.  

Sir John’s monument lies in the north side of the chancel.  Held in high esteem by Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales known as the Black Prince,  who in 1356 appointed him Chief Administrator of the Prince of Wales and in  October 1359  Master of the Household and Prince’s Councillor.   The Black Prince would later pay £57 13 4d for his funeral (2).  He left much of his wealth for the rebuilding of St. Andrew’s Church as well as the foundation of a chantry college and to make Wingfield a collegiate church.  These wishes his widow, Eleanor/Alianore, would help to arrange.   Sir John’s monument is much worn now but the etchings by Charles A Stothard in the early 19th century have captured what it once would have looked like.  


Sir John Wingfield’s effigy Wingfield Church.  Etching by Charles A Stothard.


Although not buried at Wingfield,  Sir Michael de la Pole’s story should be touched upon to better understand the link of the de la Poles to Wingfield.  Sir Michael  was the eldest son of Sir William de la Pole d. 1366, a financier, successful wool merchant and entrepreneur  from Kingston upon Hull. In 1361, the year of her father’s death, the 30 year old Sir Michael  married Sir John Wingfield’s 13 year old daughter and heiress, Katherine (b.c1349 d.1385).    Her father’s death shortly before the marriage brought a ‘dowry of substantial estates‘ (3).  Sir Michael also had links with Edward ‘the Black Prince’ and it may be that it was the Black Prince’s patronage helped with the Wingfield marriage.   Sir Michael had come a long way.  As historian Anthony Emery points out,  the de la Poles story is a classic example of how a rapid rise in social advancement was possible from a wool merchant to an earldom in two generations to even a heir presumptive four generations later.   In 1362 following his father in law’s death and under the terms of his will, Sir Michael and his young wife would establish the  college of priests at Wingfield  and rebuild much of the church  ‘sumptuoso’.  After a busy career with some ups and some downs,  and which I do not have space to go into here,  Sir Michael  was convicted of treason by the Merciless Parliament in 1388.  Being a favourite of Richard II had made him a scapegoat for the king’s enemies.   Escaping to France he was out of reach of those who wanted him dead but  was to die shortly after in Paris on the 5 September 1389.  He would be brought home to England to be buried alongside his wife, who had died around the onset of his downfall in 1385, in the Carthusian Priory, Kingston upon Hull.   


It is Michael de la Pole,  second Earl of Suffolk,  who lies at rest in Wingfield Church along with his wife, Katherine Stafford, for after his father’s death he regained possession of the entailed land of his family which had only been confiscated during Sir Michael Snr’s lifetime.  Thus he was able to return home to Wingfield.  He completed his father’s unfinished building works including the enlargening and beautifying of Wingfield Church.  He and his wife made their home at Wingfield, building Wingfield castle and gaining a licence to crenellate in 1384.   He lived out a respectable life, managing to avoid the many pitfalls of the times that had resulted in  his father’s fall  and earned the accolade of being a ‘knight of excellent and most gracious name.  By his studied respectability he sucessfully removed from his family’s reputation the taint of scandal that had hitherto hung about it (4).   Sir Michael would travel to France to serve Henry V in 1415 taking with him a force of 40 men at arms and 120 mounted archers.  Sadly on the 17th September he succumbed to dysentery at the  siege of Harfleur.  He had requested in his will to be buried at Wingfield in the church that he had added to and enhanced.  This requested was carried out and to this day he rests there with his wife Katherine Stafford.  


Michael de la Pole and his wife Katherine Stafford.  Effigy in St Andrew’s church, Wingfield.  


Michael de la Pole, 2nd Earl of Suffolk and Katherine Stafford.  An etching by C A Stothard.


Also resting here with a wonderful tomb, the gem of Wingfield,   are John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk b.1442 d.1492 and his wife Elizabeth Plantagenet, sister to Edward IV and Richard III.  John was Michael de la Pole’s grandson.  His father William de la Pole’s story can be found elsewhere.  It is tragic and it would appear that John de la Pole perhaps learning from his father’s fate and with some degree of luck avoided the dangerous events of 1485 which culminated in the final and total ruin of his wife’s family as well as the rebellion led by his son John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln which resulted in Lincoln’s death at Stoke Field in 1487.  As Michael Hicks wrote ‘He was a loyal member of the Yorkist house and shared in several of its victories that were far from predetermined for success. Luck, rather than studied calculation, explains his escape from the consequences of any major defeats and disasters. He avoided supporting causes that were lost, quickly acquiescing in the successions of Richard III and Henry VII’ (5).   The face on the effigy, perhaps based on a death mask has been described as careworn.  No doubt, no doubt…. although dying in 1492 he was spared the violent deaths of his other sons Richard and Edmund.


John de la Pole, second Duke of Suffolk and his wife Elizabeth Plantagenet. Alabaster effigies Wingfield Church


Elizabeth Plantagenet – sister to kings.  Dying in 1503 and depicted here in her widow’s ‘barbe’.


John de la Pole, second Duke of Suffolk.  Alabaster effigy Wingfield Church.


The merry little lion at the feet of John de la Pole gazes around at him in perpetuity..  Photo Simon Knott @ Flickr

At the end of the day the de la Poles that chose Wingfield as their burial place were more fortunate  than the other family members who opted for the Carthusian Priory of Kingston upon Hull.  For their remains were lost when the priory was dissolved 1539 and later demolished.   The bones mentioned by Leyland in his Itiniary ‘dyverse trowehes of Leade with bones in a Volte under the high Altare ther….. ‘ were probably the remains of the de la Poles that were discovered sadly only to be lost forever.  

 1. The Buildings of England : SUFFOLK p.490. 2nd Edition revised by Enid Radcliffe.

2.  Wingfield Family Society Online Website

3.  Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales VoI II.  p.160.  Anthony Emery. 

4.   Pole, Michael de la, 2nd Earl of Suffolk. 1367-1415.  Simon Walker.  Oxford Dictionary of    National Biography.

5. Pole, John de la, Second Duke of Suffolk (1442-1492).  Michael Hicks.  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 17 September 2015.

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Effigies of Ralph Neville 2nd Earl of Westmorland d.1491 and one of his wives.  Branchepeth Church, Durham.  These effigies, which were wooden, are now lost to us having since been destroyed by a disastrous fire in 1998.  Made in very dark oak it was difficult to get good photos of them thus we are indebted to Charles Stothard for this wonderful etching.  Photo British Museum.

Having seen a copy of Monumental Effigies on sale for £750 I quickly grasped it would be forever beyond my reach.   But wait! I found a very nice facsimile copy at an affordable price and very pleased am I….

The artist whose work this books covers ,Charles Alfred Stothard (1786-1821),  was a remarkably gifted antiquarian draughtsman.  Born in London, his father was an artist , Thomas Stothard R.A., and following in his footsteps Charles who as a child developed a ‘genius’ for drawing,  begun his career as a painter, his first work being The Death of Richard II at Pomfret Castle.  Charles based his depiction of Richard on his effigy in Westminster Abbey.  Was it then that first the idea took root to make etchings of the medieval effigies throughout England  to give other historical artists detailed and accurate descriptions of medieval costumes, armour and jewellery etc.,?   Whatever triggered the idea, in 1811 the first part of Monumental Effigies was published with others to follow periodically.  After his death his widow, Anna, re-issued the plates as a full volume in 1832.  

Sometimes the life of a 19th century engraver of medieval monuments was far from easy.  But our Stothard was nothing more than resolute and once he had made his mind up, his mind up he had made! When confronted with difficulties in gaining a good vantage point for his drawing of Aveline Countess of Lancaster   whose monument in Westminster Abbey had been cut off from all daylight by a ‘lofty‘ and ornate 18th century cenotaph to Lord Ligonier (me: why, why why?),  our intrepid artist was undeterred. ‘ Never daunted by any difficulties which offered themselves to an antiquarian  pursuit, Mr Stothard  furnished his pockets with wax candles,  clay and a percussion tube (a German invention for producing fire).   Thus prepared he watched his opportunity,  scaled the monument of Lord Ligonier,  lit and fixed his candles and in the situation above described, smothered with dust,  actually completed the drawing of the beautiful monument which embellishes  his series of Effigies,  without the knowledge of any of the attendants  in the abbey’ (1).    


The resultant  etching of Aveline de Forz, Countess of Lancaster.  Westminster Abbey. 

Tragedy was to strike in 1821 when on a working trip to St Andrew’s Church, Bere Ferrers,  Devon, while tracing a picture of a face from a stained glassed window, Charles fell from a ladder and was fatally injured.   He was, poignantly,  buried in the churchyard of St Andrews and a brass plaque dedicated to his memory can be found inside the church.   His intrepid widow would look after much of his work and on her death in 1883 she bequeathed his etchings to the British Museum.  Here below is just a small selection:


Ralph Neville Earl of Westmorland and his two wives.  Staindrop Church Durham.  Ralph Neville by his wife Joan Beaufort,  was the father of Cicely Neville, mother of two kings – Edward IV and Richard III.  


Two children of Edward III : William of Windsor and Blanche of the Tower.  Westminster Abbey.


 Some of the engravings would also show details of headdresses, or jewellery in closer detail often hand coloured.   This is a close up of Blanche’s headdress.


Edward Prince of Wales d.1376.   Known as The Black Prince.  Canterbury Cathedral.


Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales ‘the Black Prince’.  Canterbury Cathedral. Photo Royal Collection.


Detail of the sword of Edward of Woodstock, known as the Black Prince.  From his effigy in Canterbury Cathedral.  From the original engraving @ British Museum


Henry IV and his Queen, Joan of Navarre.  Canterbury Cathedral.  Photo @ British Museum Collection.


Close up of Joan of Navarre’s exquisitely drawn crown.  When Charles Stothard created his engraving the effigies often had traces of their enamel work and paint still on them


Aveline’s de Forz’s husband, Edmund ‘Crouchback’, Earl of Lancaster.  Westminster Abbey.


Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.  Monument in St Mary’s Church, Warwick.  Father in law to ‘Warwick the Kingmaker’.


Robert, 2nd Baron Hungerford.  Salisbury Cathedral d.1459.  Fought in the Hundred Years War.


William Fitzalan Earl of Arundel  d.1487 and his wife Joan Neville.  Joan was sister to Richard Neville ‘The Kingmaker’.  Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel Castle.  Photo British Museum.

IMG_8154Unknown warrior.   Identified elsewhere as Sir John Wingfield.  Wingfield Church, Suffolk.


Etching of a brass.  Miles Stapleton and his wife.  Ingham Church Norfolk.


John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk d.1491 and his wife Elizabeth Plantagenet.   Elizabeth was sister to Edward IV and Richard III. Wingfield Church, Suffolk.


Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford d.1221.  Effigy in St Mary’s Church, Hatfield Broad Oak. One of the barons who forced King John in signing the Magna Carta.


Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk and his wife Catherine.  Wingfield Church, Suffolk. The Earl died during the seige of Harfleur 1415


John of Eltham,  Earl of Cornwall d.1336.    Son to Edward II.  Westminster Abbey…

All these and many, many more copies of his etchings are to be found in this beautiful book.    It’s sad that Charles Stothard died in a cruel accident before he had completed all his work but 142 are to be found in this book.  So his achievement was outstanding.   No doubt he would be pleasantly surprised that nearly 200 years after the publication of Monumental Effigies in 1832 his etchings are still pored over and enjoyed by lovers and scholars of all things medieval.  Thank you and Bravo Mr Stothard.


Charles Alfred Stothard born 5 July 1786 died 28 May 1821.


Memorial brass plaque in St Andrew’s Church, Bere Ferrers, Devon.

  1. The Monumental Effigies of Great Britain p.20.  C A Stothard.  Introduction by A J Kemp F.S.A. 1832. Publisher Ken Trotman.  

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Does anyone else like me get irritated by misidentified portraits of historical characters?  Is it that difficult to get correct? It’s quite sloppy to be honest as just a quick glance at them tells you something ain’t quite right here!  It’s particularly common around  16th century portraiture when in actual fact that type of art reached its zenith with wonderful artists like Holbein the Younger.

One of the most irksome for me, and from an earlier period,  is the portrait that is frequently used to depict Richard Neville 16th Earl of Warwick, known as The Kingmaker.  Lets take a look..

This is a prime example of a wrongly, really wrongly identified portrait.  I don’t know who it is  but this is definitely NOT Richard Neville,  16th Earl of Warwick known as the ‘Kingmaker’.

I ask you, does this resemble someone who fought in the Wars of the Roses and was dead by 1471?  Give Me Strength! There is no known contemporary portraits of Richard Neville other than the drawings of him in the Rous Roll and  a weeper on his father-in-law’s tomb, Richard Beauchamp,  13th Earl of Warwick, St Mary’s Warwick,  said to depict him.  None of these depict him with a beard which was not fashionable in the 15th century.  Nor did he wear anything like the costume in the offending portrait.  Warwick would not  have been seen dead in those late 16th knickerbockers.   However still this portrait is used regularly and captioned with his name. Please make it stop! groan.  And kudos to those that get it right.


Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known as the Kingmaker.  Drawing by Rous – who would have actually known him by sight.  Not a knickerbocker – or beard –  in sight…

Misidentified portraiture is not just limited to paintings.  It can also occur in stained glass.  Take a look at the wonderful early 16th century stained glass windows in St Mary’s Church, Fairford, Gloucestershire.   In these windows are figures of the Tudor Royal family.  These include Henry VII, his wife Elizabeth of York and his mother Margaret Beaufort. All these figures closely resemble their paintings and busts .There is one included of a chubby child identified as Henry VIII as a toddler.      


Drawing of a cherub like Henry VIII as a child.  Ah..what’s not to like. Holbein.
Jesus in the temple henry Vlll.png

Chancel, north chapel, Lady Chapel, North window, Fairford Church.  Jesus as a small boy in the temple modelled on a young angelic Henry VIII.    A good likeness between the sketch and the glass – all ok here.

However there is also a figure of an elderly churchman.  This has been identified by an ‘expert’ as being that of Cardinal Wosley.  This is despite the fact that when these windows were made c.1500,  Wolsey, being born in 1473 would have been  young man and not the older man portrayed.    A closer look combined with a bit of research and it can be seen ‘Wosley’ is in fact Cardinal Morton portrayed as the elderly man he would have been when the windows were made.  Morton was held in high regard  with the Tudors, particularly Margaret Beaufort and Henry Tudor for whom he had tirelessly laboured/plotted to enable Henry’s usurpation of Richard III’s throne.   I base my conclusion on comparing the face in the window to the wooden boss of Morton in Bere Regius church, Dorset.

See for yourself and decide…image

Stain glass portrait in Fairford Church identified as Cardinal Wolsey.  I believe the churchman looking benignly down on the Tudor family is actually Cardinal Morton whose plotting helped get Henry VII to the throne.  

FullSizeRender 3.jpg

 Carved wooden boss of Morton in Bere Regius Church.  

Moving on to the Tudor Queens…teeth gritted…

The portrait below of Queen Katherine Parr is, at this very moment as you read this, being erroneously identified regularly in books and online article/searches as Lady Jane Grey or even Mary Tudor.


Katherine Parr, attributed to Master John, circa 1545.  Regularly misidentified as Lady Jane Grey. © National Portrait Gallery, London 

Casting aside the obvious and glaring fact that this is a lady who is considerably more older than Lady Jane Grey who was dead at 17,  but don’t let common sense get in the way of choosing illustrations for one’s book/article.    A bit of research would uncover, for comparison,  another portrait of Katherine Parr where its clear to see they are one and the same lady.   


Katherine Parr.  Unknown Artist.  National Portrait Gallery

Quite recently, thank goodness, another long held  misidentification of a Tudor queen has been rectified – this time Anne of Cleves.  A minature by Hans Holbein has  long been identified as Queen Catherine Howard despite being in the Queen’s Collection, and thus you would think some investigation going into who it is supposed to represent.  It has now  been identified by art historian Franny Moyle as actually Anne of Cleves which if you compare the minature to the well known portrait of Anne is quite apparent.  Yes the minIature is of a slightly older version of Anne in English dress but still the similarities cannot be denied.  As Franny Moyles says ‘The sitter’s heavy eyelids and thick eyebrows bear distinct similarities to Holbein’s 1539 portrait of Anne. They’re the same woman.  She has this soporific expression in both paintings’ .  To read this interesting article click  here. 


Portrait of Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein.  


The Miniature long described as being a portrait of Catherine Howard but now reidentified as being a slightly older Anne of Cleves.

The sitter in this portrait below has also been named as being Queen Catherine Howard.  Now it has been renamed an unknown lady possibly from the Cromwell family.  


Portrait of an unknown lady, possibly from the Cromwell Family frequently misidentified as Catherine Howard.  Artist Hans Holbein.  Toledo Museum of Art.

The sad fact is that probably no portraits existed or have survived due to the fact Catherine was queen for such a short time it’s doubtful she had time to sit for any portraits.   It’s more than likely Henry VIII found portraits of his deceased/beheaded queens hanging around to remind him a tad irksome,  combined with Catherine having suffered the same fate as Anne Boleyn,  anyone owning a portrait of her may have thought it prudent to destroy it.  Why do not biographers and the like just admit to there are, as far as we know, no known portraits of Catherine.  You may as well insert a photo of Minnie Mouse….

Speaking of Anne Boleyn.  Here is the crème de la crème of misidentified portraits.  Among Holbein’s beautiful drawings of members of Henry’s court there is one, to be fair, labelled  Anna Bollein Queen  However, just a quick perusal and a comparison to his beautiful portrait of Queen Jane Seymour and you will see that this is one and the same lady.  


Hans Holbein’s portrait of Queen Jane Seymour.  Note the weak chin..


Hans Holbein drawing said to be of Queen Anne Boleyn but clearly the same sitter as the lady in the portrait of Queen Jane Seymour.   Check out the eyes, small mouth, weak and slightly double chin. The double chin is accentuated by  both the ribbon that is tying her cap to her head and that the sitter is  looking down.

It is said that Sir John Cheke, the gentleman who years later identified the drawing as being of Anne,  also wrongly identified other portraits.  Not only did Sir John Cheke get it wrong so did ‘expert’ on everything Tudor, David Starkey, and John Rowlands who wrote a joint article An Old Tradition Reasserted: Holbein’s Portrait of Queen Anne Boleyn.  According to Starkey the double chin in the drawing is a ‘goitre’ ..  yes me neither.  Perhaps he is convinced by a Nicolas Sanders, who wrote in 1586, fifty years after Anne’s death, that Anne had a ‘sallow complexion as if troubled by jaundice’ as well as ‘projecting tooth under the upper lip…six fingers..and a large wen under her chin and therefore to hide its ugliness she wore a high dress covering her throat'(1).  

Lastly there are many portraits of Anne Boleyn most of them copies of a copy of a copy of a lost original.  This one below is perhaps the one that comes to mind, I think, for most people when they think of a portrait of Anne.

668,Anne Boleyn,by Unknown artist
Unknown artist
Portrait said to be of Anne Boleyn by an unknown artist.  National Portrait Gallery, London.

Yet wait!  Although I am less certain that I am of the portraits I have named about as being misidentified I always wonder if this portrait is not of Anne but of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary.  Compare to the portrait of her with her second husband Henry Brandon.  Was the ‘B’ on the portrait said to be of Anne representing ‘Boleyn” actually “B” for Brandon?

Mary Brandon nee Tudor with her husband Charles Brandon.  Could Mary actually be the sitter for the portrait of Anne?  

Anyway that is my take on it.  You may agree or disagree with me but I do hope that it does lead to some taking an extra careful look at historic portraits in future and not taking ‘experts’ words for it.  Because there really is no point to using a misidentified portrait in place of the actual real thing or even because a portrait of a certain person does not actually exist.  

1) Anne Boleyn regains her head. Art History News.  John Rowlands



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I was recently reading an excellent article in the Ricardian discussing Henry Tudor’s enthusiasm, or lack of it, for his marriage to Elizabeth of York by David Johnson entitled Ardent Suitor or Reluctant Groom?  It’s pretty much an eye opener and is in two parts – part 1 Ardent Suitor covers the positives, if you can call them that  – that is to try to understand why Henry, who in Rennes Cathedral on Christmas Day 1483 had vowed to marry Elizabeth of York,  seemingly developed a serious case of cold feet in 1485 after his success at Bosworth.  This seems a major volte-face from a man who was reported by Vergil as being ‘pinched by the very stomach’ when rumours had reached him that Richard III was ‘amynded’,  having been recently widowed,  to  marry Elizabeth himself.  Love was not of course the issue to Henry at the time, Elizabeth was but a stepping stone to cement his usurpation of the throne and to gain the loyalty of dissatisfied Yorkists that had joined him in Brittany.   The rumour, as it turned out, was false.  Richard was negotiating a double foreign marriage for himself and for Elizabeth to members of the Portuguese royal family.  However it is a helpful indication of Henry’s mindset at that time that  he or someone close to him suggested a Plan B – that was if a Plantagenet bride was not available, he would marry a daughter of William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke.    To add to his angst some time later came the collapse of the ‘Beaufort/Woodville alliance’ after Elizabeth Woodville’s rapprochement with Richard and her older daughters attending Richard’s court.  Henry’s carefully laid plans were in tatters.  Was it at this point he was changing his mind about marrying Elizabeth should he be successful in taking the throne?  David Johnson points out a change in strategy and  instead of ‘emphasising the political necessity of marriage with Elizabeth of York, as he had in 1483, Henry according to the Burgundian chronicler Jean Molinet was urged by the Earl of Oxford, and from England, by the Lord Stanley to use the title of king’  which he did henceforth, beginning his letters with the customary royal salutation ‘By the King.  Right trusty and well beloved, we greet you well’ and signing off his letters as HR (Henricus Rex).  David Johnson points out that  Rosemary Horrox has noted that ‘None of Henry’s predecessors who seized the throne by force made such an early and explicit declaration of their sovereignity (1).   

This ‘bold’ change in strategy  ‘conveniently dispensed with Elizabeth of York and instead promoted his royal title as heir of Lancaster(2)’. Richard’s response was swift and a proclamation was issued in December 1484 condemning Henry and his brass necked gall.  Describing Henry’s ‘ambitious and insatiable covetousness …. encroacheth upon him the name and title of Royal estate of this Realm of England, whereunto he hat no manner interest, right or colour…’ 

What Elizabeth Snr or Elizabeth Jnr made of all this is unfortunately lost to us.    Perhaps Elizabeth Woodville,  who was about to dump Margaret Beaufort basically, and cast her lot in with Richard, felt some foreboding?   On the other hand perhaps she felt confident all would be well.  Indeed she did send word to her son, Thomas Grey,  Marquis of Dorset,  who was with  with Tudor at that time, to come home  and he would be treated well.    Maybe, ever pragmatic,  she had concluded it was better to be in tune with the King at the moment and not a mere faux king over in Brittany.  However this reneging on her deal with Margaret Beaufort would cast a long shadow over her future.

Part two: Reluctant Groom covers the period commencing from the beginning of Henry’s reign after  the decisive day of Bosworth.  Henry won, much to everyone’s surprise, including probably his own.  The battle was decided by treachery and the betrayal of the Stanleys. Much has been written about Bosworth and I won’t go into it here.  After the battle the ugly subject of Henry keeping to his word and marrying Elizabeth of York reared its head.  Initially, according to Bacon, Henry, perhaps carried away by the  euphoria  of having survived Richard III’s attempts at  knocking his block off at Bosworth,  ‘renewed his promise’ to take Elizabeth for his wife.  David Johnson describes how October came, and instead of the double coronation the dissenting Yorkists were expecting and hoping for  ‘Henry attended his Coronation as a bachelor king conspicuously devoid of a queen consort.    He was crowned God’s anointed in a ceremony that made no reference to Elizabeth of York or his promised marriage.   While many believed the matrimonial union of Lancaster and York provided whatever appeared to be missing in the kings title,  Henry’s coronation effectively repudiated any such claim. He was determined to establish his title in its own right irrespective of the proposed union with Elizabeth.  This did not of course accord with his earlier pronouncements or the wishes of many of his adherents’.  Not a man easily abashed,  on the 7 November, Henry in an address to  his first Parliament failed to mention any marriage to Elizabeth and instead asserted his Lancastrian right of inheritance which had been upheld in battle by verdict of the Almighty (3).  As far as Henry was concerned he was king and he was going to do what he wanted to do including, in an act described as transparent chicanery,  predate his reign to the 21 August, the day before Bosworth –  thus anyone fighting for Richard III at Bosworth would now be traitors (4).   Even Crowland Chronicler,  that old misery guts who had been rather hostile to the late and rightful king,   thought this unwise and that the remedy lay in the long promised marriage with Elizabeth of York.  

However on Saturday 10 December 1485 the commons of the realm of England put their foot down. Feeling safety in number Speaker Thomas Lovell came swiftly to the point reminding Henry that Parliament ‘had decreed and enacted’ his royal title in the expectation that he should take to himself that illustrous Lady Elizabeth,  daughter of King Edward IV as his wife and consort’.    As Lovell completed his address ‘the lords spiritual and temporal  being in the same Parliament,  rising from their seats and standing before the king sitting on the royal throne, bowing their heads voiced the same request’.  Henry’s bachelor days were over.  He had no choice other than to accede to his Parliament.  However Henry was not going to roll over completely at this stage and take this lying down.  Absolutely not.  What did he do?  The couple had already acquired a dispensation of marriage from the Roman Curia as far back as March 1484.  In one last desperate roll of the dice Henry inexplicably applied for a second dispensation.   Was he hoping that an impediment might rise in the nick of time permitting a legitimate escape from the marital committement he had given to Parliament? Alas, for Henry, this second one was also granted and moreover repeating the terms of the first one.  Henry’s last hope was dashed.  Henry and Elizabeth were married on 18th January 1486.  

What was behind Henry’s clear attempts to wriggle out of marrying Elizabeth will never be known.  Perhaps it was not a dislike of the idea of marrying Elizabeth who could hardly have been repugnant to him but more down to the fact that Henry knew that in overturning  Titulus Regius, the act that legitimised his bride,  a whole and nasty can of worms would be opened.  For not only would Elizabeth be legitimised but so would her missing brothers.   No doubt the very thought of it  caused many a sleepless night to Henry.   Annoyingly it was suggested that Bishop Stillington be cross examined further on the act.  This was the last thing Henry wanted and he remained adamant that he had ‘pardoned him and therefore didn’t want any more to put it to him’.   After the passage of over 500 years you can still hear the grinding of Henry’s teeth!  Clearly the last thing Henry wanted was Titulus Regius being scrutinised and resurrecting the new Queen’s bastardy, Richard III’s legitimacy and Henry’s tenuous hold on power.  David Johnson sums things up very succinctly:  ‘Despite Polydor Virgil’s nostalgic panegyric recalling a marriage made in heaven,  it is clear that the dynastic union of Lancaster and York owed more to the intervention of Parliament then the intervention of the Almighty. The ardent suitor truly become the reluctant groom’.  




Elizabeth Woodville/Wydeville.  Royal Window Canterbury Cathedral.

And so the nest of vipers spawned from the madness that was the Wars of the Roses, and that Elizabeth Woodville herself was a part of, chewed her up, regurgitated her and spat her out…poof!  It would hardly be surprising if neither Henry or his mother would have forgiven Elizabeth after she reneged on her deal with them and put all her eggs into Richard’s basket.   The time between Henry taking the throne and marrying her daughter must have been a worrying period for her although of course we are not privy to all the minutiae that was going on behind the scenes.  Indeed she may even have not been able to communicate with her daughter who was living in the custody –  ooooops – care of Margaret Beaufort at her London home,  Coldharbour,  since she had been taken there, with her young cousin, Warwick, after Bosworth (Warwick was later moved to the Tower where he would live out his sad life).     If Elizabeth Woodville breathed a sigh of relief when at last her daughter was married and crowned, it was to prove short lived.  On 12 February 1487 Elizabeth Woodville was sent,  for what would be the remainder of her life, to live in  Bermondsey Abbey and her son Thomas Grey arrested and not to be released until after the Battle of Stoke.   This is despite the fact that Elizabeth had only just taken out a 40 year lease on  Cheyneygates, Westminster Abbey.   Shortly after a council meeting at Sheen on the Ist May 1487, important decisions were made including on ‘thadvise of the lords and other nobles of our counsaill’  that Henry have  Elizabeth’s jointure lands transferred to  her daughter, the new queen consort  It is surely no mere coincidence that these events coincided with the Lambert Simnel  rebellion nicely bubbling away in the background at that time,  so that it is reasonable to deduce that  Elizabeth and Thomas were implicated in that plot.  For those that question why Elizabeth Woodville would get involved in a rebellion that would have turfed her daughter off the throne it’s well to remember that the quashing of Titulus Regius had legitimised both her missing sons, arguably the eldest one being once again the legal king.     There are intriguingly clues that suggest that Edward V was all the while living incognito under the name of John Evans  at Thomas Grey’s manor at Coldridge, Devon.  Had Elizabeth and Grey actually managed to hoodwink Henry?  Did she die knowing that at least one of her sons had survived and was living in safe obscurity in a backwater in Devon?   However, casting that aside, it would appear Elizabeth’s involvement in the rebellion was the last straw for her son-in-law and no doubt he breathed a sigh of relief as his mother in law was trundled off to Bermondsey.  Finally Elizabeth’s scheming chickens had come home to roost.   For Elizabeth it was not to be as it was for other aristocratic ladies who opted to retire to religious houses such  the Abbey of the Minoresses of St Clare without Aldgate known as the Minories. These ladies had all sustained devastating losses  and,  oh the irony, had been dealt a harsh hand by Elizabeth’s husband Edward IV but shared a camaraderie that would have strengthened and sustained them.  Elizabeth on the other hand,  although her apartments at the abbey would have been very comfortable,  was left to live in what can only described as,  if not penury,  definitely straitened circumstances.   Her funeral as we know was frugal and even her coffin was made of wood without the usual lead liner so that when Edward’s tomb was explored in the 18th century all that remained of the ex queen was a skull and a small pile of bones.

IMG_7664 Portrait of Edward V,  Coldridge Church, Devon.  Clues in the church suggest that John Evans buried in the church, may have been Edward V incognito.



Elizabeth’s wooden effigy that would have been placed regally dressed and crowned upon her coffin.  Very possibly modelled from Elizabeth’s desk mask.

So Elizabeth found herself finally Queen.  I wonder if she ever remembered her uncle, King Richard III and Queen Anne, his kind wife who had swapped outfits with her one Christmas not so long ago?   What were her feelings when it became abundantly clear that Henry was trying his best to abandon their nuptials?    However whatever the reasons were for  her delayed marriage there are clear signs in their privy purse accounts that affection, if not romantic love,  did grow between the couple.  We can also deduce from Elizabeth’s accounts she was kind, generous and  loved by the commons.  She did not make much of a wave but was successful in that she fulfilled her duties as a king’s wife to provide heirs.  


Henry VII and his children in mourning for Elizabeth of York.  An idealised presentation of Henry, his children, Margaret and Mary  sitting in front of the fire while a young Henry jnr weeps into his mother’s empty bed.  From the Vaux Passional,  a 15th century manuscript.



Henry VII on his deathbed – Wriothesley’s Heraldic Collection Vol I Book of Funerals

Henry died in 21 April 1509,  pleading that if it would ‘please God to send him life they should find him a very changed man (6). Too late!  According to Holinshed Chronicle

“….he was so wasted with his long malady that nature could no longer  sustain his life and so he departed out of this world the two and 20th of April’.

No one, except his mother,  appeared much saddened by his death but joyful they had a new, young, vibrant and handsome king.  What’s not to like! Yes well…. the least said about Henry Jnr the better and another story altogether.

For those who might like to read David Johnson’s articles here are  link 1.

and link 2.

1. Henry Tudor’s letters p.156. Horrox.

2. Tudor Dynasty p.139 Griffiths and Thomas

3. Henry VII: November 1485. Presentation of the Speaker: Parliament Rolls of Medieval England ed Chris-Given Wilson et al (Woodbridge 2005).

4. The Reign of Henry VII p.59 R L Storey

5. The Winter King p.339 Thomas Penn

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Stained glass portrait of Cicely.  Formerly in Canterbury Cathedral now in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow.

Cicely Plantagenet (b.1469 d.1507) daughter and niece to kings, and a prime example of a medieval noblewoman who endured and in this case survived the turmoil of the Wars of the Roses.    Oh how that fickle wheel of fortune spun for Cicely – like a human yoyo – up, down, up again and then a levelling off as she married for the third time .  It’s no wonder Sir Thomas More would describe her as Not so fortunate as fair although this may be over egging the pudding a bit as she seems to have fared much better than some other aristocratic ladies from those times as two of her marriages appear to have been happy plus she didn’t die in penury.   After her third marriage she left England to live on the Isle of Wight, dying on the 24 August 1507.    This last marriage is said to have made Henry Tudor, her brother-in-law,  very, very annoyed.  But more on  that later.

Cicely’s early life was one of  privilege most of her contemporaries would only ever have dreamed of.  She lived the majority of her younger years with her siblings in Greenwich Palace,  a favourite home for her mother, Elizabeth Wydeville,  and which seems to have been used as a royal nursery for the brood of children she had borne Edward IV.  Indeed it was while living at Greenwich on the 23 May 1482, Cicely’s 14 year old sister Mary died.  This was the second death of a royal child in a matter of months at  Greenwich for just six months earlier her even younger sister-in-law.  the 8 year old Anne Mowbray, had died on 9th November 1481.   Other times were spent at Westminster Palace when both parents were staying there.  


A print by an unknown artist now in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich depicting the Palace c 1487.


The Old Palace of Westminster.  Westminster Abbey and Cheyneygates can be seen at the top of the picture.  


Cicely’s father Edward IV  motto, ‘confort et lyesse’, 1442-1483 Society of Antiquaries of London

Tragedy, and disaster,  struck in April 1483 when her father died rather unexpectedly at Westminster.   This led to a flurry of feverish activity from her mother and her Wydeville relations in a mad and unseemly scramble to get hold of the person of her brother Edward, now Edward V and living in Ludlow on the Welsh Marches.  This was to  enable them to get control of the kingdom before her uncle, Richard Duke of Gloucester took his rightful place as Lord Protector.   When these plans went swiftly awry,  the 14 year old Cicely and  her siblings led by their mother rushed off to sanctuary in Cheyneygates, the Abbots House, Westminster Abbey where they would spend the next ten months.  The Abbey and Cheyneygates was literally just across the road from the palace and, according to Sir Thomas More in an attempt by the soon to be ex-queen to take as much treasure and goods as possible with her, a hole was made in the wall of the Abbey.


A  view of the ancient passage way leading to Abbot’s Court and Cheyneygates.  The family would have reached Cheyneygates via this passageway and trod these very flagstones..

What went through the minds of Cicely we can only speculate.  But it must have been disconcerting at the very least,  this immediate and drastic change in lifestyle,  and no doubt she would have picked up on her mother’s mood, who was said by Sir Thomas More to have been found by Bishop Rotherham sitting  alone, low down on the rushes, all desolate and dismayed’  – hardly  a reassuring sight for her children.


Jerico Parlour and Cheyneygates c1910.   Jerico Parlour has hardly altered but the Abbots House known as Cheyneygates, to the right,  where the Cicely and her family stayed has much changed over the centuries.   Cheyneygates also suffered from bomb damage during the Blitz.   Illustration by Herbert Railton.  


Cicely’s mother Elizabeth Wydeville, in her glory days before it all went pear shaped.  This is the earliest known version of the many copies of a now lost original portrait of Elizabeth which was possibly from a likeness of her taken when she was alive.  The Royal Collection

The long months in sanctuary must have seemed quite dour even though the great hall, known as College Hall,  had a minstrel gallery – they probably were not in the mood for music.   Although undoubtedly the Abbots house would have been sumptuous,  lack of space would have proven to be a problem for the royal, soon to be ex- royal,  party.  Was Cicely resilient and did she look forward to the day when she could leave that place and hopefully continue her former lifestyle?  Or did she fear they were all going to die?  Did the siblings bicker?  Surely they must have picked up on the mood of their mother which could not have been inspiring if Sir Thomas More’s description of her is accurate.  However Cicely’s mother’s state of mind must have reached an all time low on the morning of the 6th July 1483 when the loud clamouring of bells told them that Richard and his wife,  Anne,  were being crowned just yards away in the abbey.  


Old, atmospheric photo of the Archway in Abbots’s Court leading out and into the cloisters as well as the exit to the outside world.    Cicely and her family would have gone through this ancient archway which has remained unchanged throughout the centuries to enter and leave Cheyneygates.,

Finally the day arrived when her mother, now known as Dame Grey,  reached agreement with Richard, now King Richard III, and she and her sisters emerged into what must have been a much changed world.  On the first day of Marche the first yere of my Reigne (1484) Richard had sworn an oath on holy relics that he would do no harm to  her daughters, and seek good marriages for them with gentlemen and this is exactly what he was to do for  both Cicely and Elizabeth.

Memorandum that I Richard by the grace of God King of England and of Fraunce and Lord of Irland in the presens of you my Lordes spirituelle and temporelle and you Maire and Aldermen of my  Cite of London promitte  and swere verbo Regio and upon these holy evengelies of God by me personelly touched that if the doughters of Dam Elizabeth Gray late calling herself Queen of England that is to wit Elizabeth Cecille Anne Kateryn and Briggette wolle come unto me out of the Saintwarie of Westminster and be guyded  Ruled and demeaned after me then I shalle see that they shalbe in suertie of their lyffes and also not suffre any manner hurt by any manner persone or persones to theim or any of theim in their bodies and persones to be done by wey of Ravisshement or defouling contrarie their willes nor theim or any of theim emprisone within the Toure of London or any other prisone..

I’ll stop here just to say that I do feel that these promises were rather unnecessary and overdramatic as Richard most certainly did not have a reputation for cruelty,  ravishing or allowing ravishment of young ladies and throwing them  into the Tower.  There was more – 

but that I shalle put theim in honest places of good name and fame.  And that I shalle do marie suche of theim as now bene mariable to gentilmen borne …… when they come to lawfulle age of marriage if they lyff and suche gentilmen as shalle happe to marie  with theim I shall straitly charge from tyme to tyme loyingly and to love and entreat them as thir wiffes and my kynneswomen As they wolle advoid and eschue my displeasure.

This rapprochement between Richard and Elizabeth Wydville would be viewed by the Tudor party as a reneging on the earlier deal made between Elizabeth and Margaret Beaufort –  that Elizabeth of York would marry Henry Tudor – and would later come back to bite Elizabeth on the bum casting a long shadow on her relationship with her son-in-law.  Vergil would accuse Elizabeth Wydeville of ‘forgetting her faith and promise given to Margaret, Henry’s mother‘ (1).  Her involvement in the Lambert Simnel rebellion was the last straw and Elizabeth was sent into ‘retirement’ in Bermondsey Abbey in 1487.  On this occasion Margaret Beaufort would not be casting oil on troubled water as shall be seen she was to do  later on the occasion of Cicely’s third and final marriage.

True to his word sometime in 1484 Richard arranged what was now, considering Cicely’s loss of status. a suitable marriage between Cicely (who had once been intended to marry the future king of Scotland) and Ralph Scrope of Masham, 3rd son of Thomas Scrope, 5th Lord Scrope of Masham d.1475 and brother of Thomas Lord Scrope of Upsall.   This bridegroom would be erronously described by Vergil as an obscure man of no importance and even worse as a man’s son of the land far underneath her degree by Sir Thomas More.     Later in 1485  Richard would begin negotiations for a marriage between Elizabeth and Manuel, duke of Beja, a member of the Portuguese Royal family.  However as it is said man makes plans and the Gods laugh for before this marriage could be brought about Richard had been betrayed and met his death at Bosworth.  

After her emergence from sanctuary the whereabouts of Lady Grey remain a complete mystery.  There is some reason to believe that she headed to Gipping Hall, Suffolk, home to Sir James Tyrell.  There is a story that has come down in the Tyrell family that her two sons stayed with  her at Gipping for a short time and although where the younger sisters were living is a mystery it is known the two older sisters, Elizabeth and Cicely,  were welcomed at the court of the new king.  The Christmas of 1484 was a particular joyful time.   Queen Anne,  must have formed a friendship with Cicely’s sister Elizabeth, because it was noted, rather tetchily by the misery that was the Croyland Chronicler, that vain exchanges of dresses were made between the Queen and Elizabeth.  This was vain, vain, vain and outrageous and the old Chronicler, whoever he was could not have been more mortified. 


The wheel of fortune had spun once more and  Cicely had  found herself married to Ralph Scrope.   This marriage has on the whole been ignored entirely by most historians for some reason or other despite the fact that  Polydore Vergil  reported the fact in his history of the reign of Richard III.  Vergil noted  that when rumours of Cicely’s marriage, as well as Richard was ‘amynded’ to marry  Cicely’s older sister Elizabeth , having been recently widowed reached Henry Tudor he was well and truly miffed and pinched by the very stomach.      Possibly  Henry had thought of Cicely as a possibly bride if Elizabeth were to become unobtainable in the future should his hopes of usurping Richard’s throne  be realised.   After all was this not the crux of the matter, to appease those Yorkists that had joined him in Brittany, that he should marry one of the daughters of the dead Edward IV?  However he had a Plan B (or should that be Plan C?) if neither of the two sisters were available in that he would then marry  a daughter of William Herbert,  earl of Pembroke, the man who had once been his guardian and who had been executed by Warwick in 1469.    We do not know if the Scrope marriage  was happy or indifferent or even if the couple lived together, Cicely being only about 15,  although it would not have been unusual if they had.    Whatever it was it would prove to be short lived.  In 1485 Richard fell at Bosworth, betrayed by the Stanleys and in 1486 Cicely’s marriage to Ralph was dissolved.   Nothing is known of what Cicely and Ralph thought about the dissolution of their marriage.  It is cetainly beyond sad if they had become fond of each other.  

Second marriage.

Cicely’s marriage to John,  First Viscount Welles (d.1499) took place before December 1487 when she was addressed as Countesse de Wellys by the Heralds.  Lord Welles was of course a half brother to Henry Tudor’s mother Margaret Beaufort, they both sharing the same mother Margaret Beauchamp of Belso.   This of course made him an uncle to Henry Tudor – thus Cicely was Henry’s aunt by marriage as well as Margaret Beaufort’s sister-in-law.  To add to the confusion she was also Henry’s sister-in-law.   This is just one of the many tangled family links that occurred so regularly at that time.  This second marriage, casting aside the possibility of there being a sadness on Cicely’s part over her dissolved first marriage,  was an extremely good match for her.    John had proven his loyalty to his nephew and was probably one of the small number of people the wary Tudor could absolutely trust.   The  marriage would have been a win win situation for Henry as now both the eldest daughters of Edward IV were safely married off, one to himself and the other to the ever loyal Welles.  What’s not to like?!   Although the marriage was a political one there are indications from John’s mention of his wife in his will that,  thanks to a stroke of serendipity,  love had grown between the couple. They  would have two daughters, Elizabeth and Anne, both of whom sadly died young.  

John died in London, probably in the Welles’ town house, on the 9 February 1498.  In his will he left the place of his burial to the discretion of the kynge, the quene, my lady, his moder, and my lady, my wife.  Furthermore all his castelles, manors, landes and tenements were left to his dere beloved wife Cecill.  John was laid to rest in the Lady Chapel, Westminster Abbey.  When this was demolished to make room for Henry’s new Lady Chapel doubtless John’s remains would have been transferred to another suitable place as were Cecily’s young sister-in-law, Anne Mowbray’s.    Where that was is now lost to us.  


In 1502 Cicely married for a third time and without royal permission.  Henry went ballistic and Cicely and her new husband were banished from court.   The bridegroom was Thomas Kyme of Friskney, Lincolnshire, a mere esquire.   Jones and Underwood, in their book The King’s Mother describe how ‘ it was a disparaging match that had pre-empted Henry’s rights to the remarriage and thus insulted and angered the king. Cicely was banished from court and Henry took action to  occupy the entire Welles estate. Here Margaret intervened. She was very fond of Cecily who during a visit by John Lord Welles in the 1490s was remembered as sitting at Margarets board under the same canopy of estate. She now sheltered Cecily and Kyme at Colleyweston and attempted to negotiate a compromise that would retain at least some of the estates for Cecily and her new husband.   Lady Margaret’s accounts record a rush of activity between 1502 and 1503 with her servants riding to inspect the evidences of some of the manors concerned and agreements being drawn up between Margaret and Cecily.  1503 a settlement was achieved.  Certain of the Lincolnshire manners were to be surrounded by Cecily to the king. The remainder of the estates would be held by Cicely for life….. Finally Thomas Kyme was to be discharged from all actions or fines resulting from his occupation of the Welles estate.  In what the authors call a remarkable juggling act Margaret ‘had managed to appease the king,  safeguard the rights of the Welles coheirs and protect Cicely who avoided the fine for marrying without royal license and had a parcel of the property secured for her own use.

Cicely was now free to enjoy what was left of her life.  She and Thomas left England and lived on the Isle of Wight.  Cicely died 24 August 1507 aged 38, her funeral expenses paid for by Margaret Beaufort.   There is some uncertainty of whether  she died on the Isle of Wight or at Hatfield,  Hertfordshire and a question mark too of whether she was buried at Quarr Abbey, Isle of Wight or at Kings Langley, Hertfordshire.  Quarr Abbey, named from the quarry to the east of it,  was destroyed in 1536 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries brought about by her nephew, Henry VIII.  However the ruins of the old Abbey lie close to the modern Quarr Abbey and are now looked after.  How nice it would be to think that Cicely still lies there at rest, undisturbed not far from the place where she and her last husband lived out their lives in peace and tranquility.  



Ruins of the ancient Quarr Abbey, Isle of Wight.  Possible burial place of Cicely Plantagenet.  Photos

  1. Polydore Vergil’s History p.210.  Ed. H Ellis.
  2. Harleian MS 433 Vol 3 p.190
  3.  Cecily Plantagenet’s Ist Marriage Douglas Richardson
  4. History of King Richard III p.133 Richard III The Great Debate,.  Ed.Paul Kendall
  5. Polydore Vergil’s History p.215  ed.H Ellis.

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Brass of William Catesby,  Ashby St Ledgers Church.   Commissioned by William’s son in 1507.  Date of death 20th August is incorrect, predating Bosworth,  perhaps in an attempt to cover up his inglorious end.  Note the damage across the neck.  Photo Aidan McRae Thomas Flkir

As no doubt can be seen from the title of this post I have really not made my mind up about Catesby and the true essence of the man he was.  The best and fullest account of his life is that written by Professor J A Roskell –  William Catesby, Councillor to Richard III.

Mostly remembered for getting a mention in the infamous and nasty  little ditty –

‘The catt, the Ratt and Lovell owyn dogge, Rulyn  all England undyr an hogge’ 

which was found fastened to the door of St Paul’s 14th July 1484 (1).  It might be assumed from this that Catesby, along with Ratcliffe and Lovell had an enormous amount of input into how things were being run during Richard’s reign – but is this true or was it just the spiteful pen of a man who had recently been dismissed from his job to be replaced by  Lovell?  The rebellious William Collingbourne, author of the verse,  was later to be hung, drawn and quartered for treason.  He is said to have uttered, just as his entrails were being removed from his body ‘Oh lord yet more trouble’.    I seriously doubt someone who had been choked to within an inch of their life and in the course of being disembowelled would be able to say something quite so lucid and it just goes to show how you have to be very cautious with some of these quotes.  Perhaps it was meant as a 15th century joke? But  I digress, again, and back to our man Catesby.   Certainly it would seem that Catesby was indeed an influential member of Richard III’s Council for the Croyland Chronicler mentioned that he and Ratcliffe’s opinions were those that  the king hardly ever did offer any opposition to.  However it should be borne in mind that whoever the Chronicler was at the time, he tended to take a dim view of Richard, can always be expected to take a negative view of proceedings and was wont  to over egging the pudding.  

Catesby was born c.1446 and died 25 August 1485.  He was the son of Sir William Catesby Snr d.1478,  a man with strong Lancastrian leanings and Philippa Bishopston d.1476.   Sir William has been described as  a former retainer in the Household of Henry VI whose real sympathies had remained Lancastrian (2).  Catesby Snr became a trusted retainer of  William Lord Hastings , close friend to Edward IV,   who would  later become a powerful patron to Catesby Jnr who had entered the legal profession.    Sir William led an interesting life in his own right which is covered elsewhere.   In 147I our Catesby Jnr married Margaret Zouche,  daughter of William Lord Zouche of Harringworth –  an excellent match for him.  When his mother in law, Elizabeth St John,  was widowed she married John Lord Scrope of Bolton.  Through his natural aptitude and  these  ‘ties of kinship,  the very bedrock of 15th century society,  Catesby acquired numerous offices, stewardships and estates, to support his rising quasi-aristocratic status. He also began to acquire land and property through his own astute legal transactions (3). However I have to beg to differ here as it’s clear  not all his transactions were legal, because in his will made immediately prior to his execution his conscience pricked him and he requested that his wife ‘restore all londes that I have wrongfully purchasid’.  I will return to this later.

However Catesby,  during his golden years, as well as having Hastings as a patron, became ever successful, attracting the right sort of clients such as  Elizabeth,  Lady Latimer daughter and co-heir of Richard Beauchamp,  Earl  of Warwick and  the Duke of Buckingham as well as acting as a legal advisor to the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Catesby was clearly on a roll as they say.

When Edward IV died somewhat prematurely in 1483 a deadly struggle ensued between the Wydevilles and Richard, Duke of Gloucester as to who should have control of the heir to the throne, the 13 year old Edward V.   Catesby’s reputation had come to the attention of Gloucester,  who in May 1483 appointed him Chancellor of the Earldom of March and Justice of the Peace for Northamptonshire.   Catesby had now absolutely arrived!  Ever ambitious Catesby saw even more opportunities of advancement and wealth if he threw in his lot with Gloucester  entirely.  His old allegiance with Lord Hastings was cast aside when it is said,  he was asked to sound Hastings out regarding his feelings on Gloucester taking the throne in place of the young Edward V.  Now whilst  Hastings had no misgivings on removing the Wydeville family from power, he could not overcome his old loyalty to his friend, the deceased Edward IV.  For him this was a step too far and one he was not prepared to take it would seem.    Catesby reported this back.  Daniel Williams who seems a little hostile to the Duke of Gloucester, wrote in his article  The Hastily Drawn Up Will of William Catesby, Esquire,  25th August 1485 :  ‘What actually happened will always remain conjecture but according to More  who appears to be relying upon first-hand information,  Catesby sees the opportunity of betraying his master and indeed other members of the young king’s council to the Protector and his faction. The devious complexity of what Catesby reported or did not report, made him a conscious catalyst in the subsequent course leading to the summary execution of Lord Hastings.

Thomas More, definitely anti the Duke of Gloucester,  wrote,  ‘ It was the dissimulation of this one man that stirred up that whole plague of evils which followed. If Hastings had not trusted him so completely then Stanley and other nobles of their faction would have withdrawn at the first suspicion of deceit and with their departure they would have overthrown the secret and wicked plans of the Protector. But Hastings put too much trust in Catesby’s fidelity.

I will be returning to More’s witterings later…


  The White Tower, Tower of London.  It was here in the Council Chamber on the upper floor of the White Tower that the meeting of the Council took place on Friday 13th June 1483 where Hastings was accused of treason, arrested and promptly beheaded.

Whether More’s perception of the situation is correct or not,  it certainly transpired that Catesby would be very richly rewarded after his former patron’s death.  Posts that had once been Hastings now went to Catesby including Chamberlain of the Exchequer, Steward of the holdings of the Duchy of Lancaster in Northamptonshire, Chamberlain of Receipts,  Constable of Rockingham Castle and Master Forester of the Forest of Rockingham,  Steward of the Manors of Rockingham, Brigstock and Cliffe,   Chancellor of the Exchequer as well as a member of the Royal Council.   This is by no means an exhaustive list all of the posts and lands that were bestowed upon Catesby.  Peter A Hancock has devoted an appendix in his book Richard and the Murder in the Tower on this subject should anyone wish to delve more deeper.     Catesby continued his inexorable rise, rise and more rise.  Gathering up more estates, lands, manors, lordships in his wake, covering Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, and Warwickshire some  estates falling into his hands through dodgy conveyancing as well as the exertion of strong coercive pressure (4).

All was going according to plan when even more rewards would fall into his hands with the doomed Duke of Buckingham revolt, during which Catesby, not surprisingly remained loyal to the former Duke of Gloucester,  now Richard III.  Was it during this time he perhaps incurred the displeasure or resentment of the Stanleys?  For on the 17th December 1483 we have Lord Stanley, ‘who by good luck rather than good management had survived the crisis of the summer’,  paying a lifetime annuity of five marks to Catesby  ‘for his goodwill and council past and to come’ (5).   Did Stanley perhaps object to being beholden to Catesby?  Or did Catesby,  erroneously as it turned out, think that he had forged some sort of allegiance between himself and Lord Stanley for was not Stanley uncle by marriage to Catesby’s wife,  her mother Elizabeth St John, having shared the same mother, Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso,  with Margaret Beaufort.     These not insignificant familial links meant that Henry Tudor, who was of course Stanley’s step-son, was alslo cousin to Catesby’s wife – please keep up at the back dear reader.    It’s also interesting that Catesby’s mother-in-law, Elizabeth St John,  Lady Scrope,  was a friend to none other than Elizabeth Wydeville and had been with the queen during her stay in sanctuary at Westminster in 1470 when the young Edward V was born, standing godmother to the child at his christening (6).  Roskell points out  this tangled web of family ties could have proved providential to Catesby once Tudor took the throne if he had not been such a strong supporter of Richard III (7). 


Margaret Beaufort – Catesby’s aunt by marriage.   Catesby’s wife’s mother, Elizabeth St John  and Margaret Beaufort shared the same mother,  Margaret Beaufort of Bletso.   These familial links failed to save Catesby at the end of the day.  St John’s College University of Cambridge.


There is also a further intriguing familial link – that to no other than Eleanor Butler, née Talbot.  As we know Eleanor was the catalyst for the demise of the Plantagenets for Edward IV  had married her in a secret ceremony thus invalidating his later marriage to Elizabeth Wydeville and bastardising their children.  Eleanor’s father, the famed John Talbot Earl of Shrewsbury,  had a younger sister, Alice.  Alice married Sir Thomas Barre of Burford. They had a daughter Joan/Jane who married Sir Kynard de la Bere.  After she was widowed,  Joan would marry the widowed Sir William Catesby Snr, thus becoming our Catesby’s stepmother.  How much interaction Joan had with her younger cousin, Eleanor, we will never know, although their homes were but a short distance from each other.  We do know that Joan’s husband, Sir William Catesby Snr,  had  certainly acted for Eleanor in a legal capacity having served as a witness to several documents pertaining to Eleanor including deeds of gift and had previously acted extensively on behalf of John Talbot  who was of course Eleanor’s father and Joan’s uncle (8).  This begs the question did Eleanor or other members of the Talbot family turn to one or both of the Catesbys for advice on her legal position regarding the pre contract of marriage?  With hindsight it’s clear that Eleanor, for reasons lost to us now, wished and agreed that her marriage to Edward continued to be kept,  as it was already, secret.    Did Catesby, ever the obedient lawyer, keep this secret including documentation, before revealing it to Richard in the aftermath of Edward’s death?  Might he also have made Richard aware of the fact that Hastings, Edward’s boon companion, had also been a party to this secret.  In doing so did he cover his own back but stab Hastings in his?


We do know that while much of More’s The History of Richard III is absurd,  fed to him by his patron John Morton,  Roskill believes some of it relating to minor characters and not Richard could perhaps be closer to reality.  So what does More have to say about Catesby in connection to the downfall and  death of Hastings  –

‘And of truth,  The Protector and the Duke of Buckingham made very good semblance unto the Lord Hastings and kept him much in company.  And undoubtedly the Protector  loved him well and loath was to have lost him,  saving for fear lest his  life should have quelled their purpose. For which cause he moved Catesby to test,  with some words cast out afar off,  whether he could think it possible to win the Lord Hastings  unto their party. But Catesby whether he essayed (assayed) him or essayed  him not,  reported unto them that he found him so steadfast and heard him speak so terrible words that he durst no further proceed. And of truth,  the Lord Chamberlain of very trust showed unto Catesby the mistrust  that others began to have in the matter.  And therefore Catesby,  fearing lest their warnings might with the Lord Hastings diminish his credit  – where unto only all the matter leaned –  procured the Protector hastily to be rid of him. And much the rather,  for that he trusted by his death to obtain much of the rule that the Lord Hastings bore in his country,  the only desire whereof was the enticement that induced him to be partner and one special contriver of all this horrible treason’

We have already touched upon the extent of gains made by Catesby on the death of his patron so that part of More’s tale can be vouched for as accurate.


We are lucky that Catesby’s will is extant and it tells us much.  Made on the 25th August 1485, with execution imminent, it had dawned on him that Stanley and his son Lord Strange, were not going to use their influence to get him a pardon.  The precise reasons why Catesby had been hoping for this are now lost to us.  Let’s look at what he said in the will:

‘My lordis Stanley, Strange, and all that blod, help and pray for my soule for ye have not for my body as I trusted in you…’

And there we have it I trusted in you.  It is these words that begs the question why or what had been said for Catesby to have placed his trust in the Stanleys?  What had Catesby actually done, if anything,  that led him to believe that the Stanleys would save him?  Further to this why would he have mentioned Lord Strange who was held prisoner prior to the commencement of the battle of Bosworth in an attempt to bring his father to heel and to bring his forces in to fight for the king?   Richard had left instructions Strange was to be executed if Stanley betrayed him, which he did, and yet Strange was very much alive and well after the battle despite his father’s treachery.     Did Catesby actually fight at Bosworth or was he left behind in the camp to perhaps oversee the execution of Strange?  Did he in fact save Strange and hope that this, along with familial ties,  would save him in turn?  Had he even been in contact with the Stanleys prior to Bosworth in an attempt to cover his back should the battle not go Richard’s way?  In the end ultimately, of course,  it was to no avail and he was executed for treason, made possible by Tudor predating his reign from the day before Bosworth.   I’ve often wondered if Henry Tudor, who was a canny man, baulked at putting any faith in a man who was so capable of turning his coat so readily.     Had he indeed been privy to the secret pre contract of marriage made between Eleanor and Edward IV which would have made Tudor’s future wife, Elizabeth of York illegitimate?  Dangerous knowledge indeed.   And how could Tudor have been sure that Catesby would not turn yet again in the future and reveal the secret to Yorkists who still might rally  and attempt to boot him off his newly gained throne?   Did Tudor take the view that once a man had turned his coat he could do so again.  Therefore Catesby had to go. 

Certainly his will leaves signs that he was a loving husband addressing Margaret as my dere and welbelovid wiff to whom I have ever be trewe of my body, putting my sole trust in heir… although the added and I hertly cry you mercy if I have delid uncurtesly with you ..  sounds a bit ominous.    He went on to ask her not to remarry and ever pray you to leve sole and all the dayes of your liff to do for my soule.  This the loyal Margaret did.  

The requests that :  Item that my lady of Bukingham have C li to help heir children and that she will se my lordes dettes paid and his will executed … sounds prima facie generous.  However here he was simply carrying out the instructions given to him by Richard III after Buckingham’s execution.   Richard Aware of the hardships of innocent creditors of the Duke of Buckingham had commissioned Sir William Husee, William Catesby and a few others to administer certain of the duke’s forfeited lands in order to pay his debts’ ( 9).    Am I being cynical here but I do wonder if my lady of Bukingham would have ever received the monies that were due to her had Catesby not been facing both imminent death and his Maker.  However, as mentioned above, he left specific instructions for land  to be restored that he had wrongfully purchased and money still owed for land he had purchased legally to be paid up as well as his sadeler Hartlyngton  to be paid so he couldn’t have been all bad.   But peruse any set of 15th century wills such as the Logge Register and it becomes apparent that all 15th century folk were at great pains to ensure that their debts would be paid on their deaths for the well bearing of their soul.  However the number of people mentioned in Catesby’s will that had their lands taken from them in unscrupulous deals, even in a time known for its avarice is quite extraordinary.  I wonder if Margaret was unaware of husband’s dishonesty?  Newly widowed she certainly would have had her work cut out to rectify these wrongs and return the lands and must have been overwhelmed by the task left to her by her husband although help from the Bishops of Worcester, Winchester and London was requested.    How Catesby must have fretted in those last few hours.   

His concern for his wife and children comes to the fore:  I doute not the King wilbe good and gracious Lord to them for he is callid a full gracious prince and I never offende hyme by my good and free will, for God I take to my juge I have ever lovid hym.

Lastly a few more words for Margaret : And I pray you in every place se clerenese in my soule and pray fast and I shall for you and Jhesu have mercy upon my soule Amen.

Here is the will in full:

Thys ys the Wille of William Catesby esquyer made the XXV day of August the first yere of King Henry the VIIth tobo executed by my dere and Welbelovid wiff to whom I have ever be trewe of my body putting my sole trust in herr for the executione thereof for the welthe of my soule the which I am undowted she will execute: as for my body, whan she may, [it is] tobe buried in the churche of Saynt legger in Aisby [Ashby St Ledgers, Northamptonshire] and to do suche memorialles for me as I have appoynted by for. And to restore all londes that I have wrongfully purchasid and to pay the residue of suche lond as I have boughte truly and to deviene yt among herr childrene and myne as she thinkithe good after herr discrecione. I doute not the King wilbe good and gracious Lord to them, for he is callid a full gracious prince. And I never offended hym by my good and Free Will; for god I take to my juge I have ever lovid hym.  Item: that the executours of Nicholas Cowley have the lond agayn in Evertoft withoute they have their  Item: in like wise Revell his lond in Bukby. Item: in like wise that the coopartioners have their part in Rodynhalle in Suff. [sic] if we have right thereto or els tobe restored to them that had yt befor.  Item: in like wise the londes in Brownstone if the parte have right that hadd yt befor. And the londes besides Kembaltone bye disposid for my soule and Evertons and so of all other londes that the parte hathe right Iue.  Item: that all my Fader dettes and bequestes be executed and paid as to the hous of Catesby and other.  Item: that my lady of Bukingham have to help herr children and that she will se my lordes dettes paid and his will executed. And In especialle in suche lond as shold be amortesid to the hous of Plasshe. Item: my Lady of Shaftisbury XL marke.  Item: that John Spenser have his LX li withe the olde money that I owe. Item: that Thomas Andrews have his XX Li.  And that all other bequestes in my other will be executed as my especialle trust is in you masteres Magarete And I hertly cry you mercy if I have delid uncurtesly withe you. And ever prey you leve sole and all the dayes of your liff to do for my soule.  And ther as I have, be executour I besech you se the Willes executed. And pray lorde bishop Wynchester,  my lord bishop of Worcetour,  my lord bishop of London to help you to execute this my will and they will do sume what for me. And that Richard Frebody may have his XX li. agayne and Badby X li. or the londes at Evertons and ye the X li. And I pray you in every place se cleiernese in my soule and pray fast and I shall for you and Jhesue have mercy uponne my soule Amen.

My lordis Stanley, Strange and all that blod help and pray for my soule for ye have not for my body as I trusted in you. And if my issue reioyce (sic) my londes I pray you lete maister Johnne Elton have the best benefice. And my lord lovell come to grace than that ye shew to hym that he pray for me. And uncle Johanne remembrer my soule as ye have done my body; and better. And I pray you se the Sadeler Hartlyngtone be paid in all other places.

Catesby’s  will can be found in full in  several books including The Logge Register of PCC Wills 1479 to 1486  and Excerpta Historica: Or,  Illustrations  of English History; Ed Samuel Bentley.

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Brass rubbing of the Catesby monument.  Ashby St Ledger Church.  

Why did Catesby have to die and so swiftly?  Men of higher rank than him who had been immensely loyal to the House of York were either pardoned or in the case of John Howard, Duke of Norfolk’s son,  Thomas Earl of Surrey,  were imprisoned for a while, released  and would go on to serve the Tudors.  No doubt Catesby would have done the same given the opportunity.  However he had to die and I believe he had to die because he simply knew too much.

Later Catesby’s body would be returned to his faithful Margaret and family.  To this day they lie together, with other family members  in Ashby St Ledgers Church. 


Ashby St Ledgers Church, Northamptonshire.  

  1. The Great Chronicle of London p.236.  Ed A H Thomas and I D Thornley (1938).
  2. The Hastily Drawn up  Will of William Catesby Esquire 1485 By Daniel Williams
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. William Catesby, Councillor to Richard III  J S  Roskell Professor of Medieval History Nottingham.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Richard III and the Murder in the Tower p.39. Peter A Hancock.   See also Eleanor the Secret Queen p.140 John Ashdown-Hill.
  9.  Richard III p.310. Paul Murrey Kendall.  See also British Library Harleian manuscript 433, Vol.1.

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With many thanks to Annette Carson – author of The Maligned King, and the new translation of Mancini,  Domenico Mancini, de occupatione regni Anglie –  for this excellent and informative article.  It may be read in full either here or on Annette’s own blog –THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STONY STRATFORD

With an interest in Richard III since the 1950s, I was a regular reader of non-fiction books about him for half a century before it occurred to me to write my own. The serious biographical surveys (leaving aside the shoals of ‘Princes in the Tower whodunnits’, which I avoided) cast him almost without exception as a villain. Of 20th-century authors I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of dissenters: Kendall, Lamb, Williamson, Potter – among whom Paul Murray Kendall was the only substantial biographer. After enduring an onslaught of Hicks at the end of the century (“FROM MODEL OF NOBILITY TO MURDERER AND MONSTER”), I thought as we entered the noughties it was time to present a thoroughgoing case for the other side of the story.

         Though not actually a biography, at 130,000 words my book Richard III: The Maligned King (The History Press, 2008) was the first substantial revisionist appraisal of Richard III’s reign for a generation, and Ricardians have embraced it. With 12,000 sold to date, and countless borrowings from libraries, I now see many of its contents repeated by people who haven’t even read it. 


In The Maligned King, as in all my books, I guided readers to consult the original sources from which historians draw their information … and which they like to keep close to their chests as if ordinary mortals can’t be trusted to digest them. I set out the most important ones in an appendix to that book, complete with my personal appraisals so that no reader could be in doubt as to the degree of confidence I placed in each one, and why. Most importantly, I made it crystal clear that the only sources I felt carried any credibility to be relied on were those written relatively contemporaneously. By which I mean, broadly, written before Henry VII came to the throne and ushered in his Tudor outlook on history. In this way I differed radically from most writers about Richard III, even the magisterial Kendall whose work, regrettably, embraced Thomas More and various of his contemporaries and imitators.

         Even so, the key narrative sources that have made it into my category here – principally Domenico Mancini and the Crowland Chronicle – are both written with their thumb heavily on the scales. Obviously if we discard all such sources we’ll be throwing out the baby with the bathwater; but if we do our research carefully we can often distinguish between items that can be corroborated or others that must be rejected. It is my constant endeavour to let readers know how I arrive at my conclusions (as witness this preamble) and I hope my assertions can usually be seen as deduced from recorded facts. This is why I am making it clear that this is an opinion piece: the facts I present are taken from accounts that I believe to be more credible than not, even though those accounts may be embedded within written sources that are in other ways questionable. Having extracted what I judge to be generally believable descriptions of events – descriptions that differ only in matters of detail – I have drawn conclusions from them that are purely my own. N.B. I have departed from the practice of providing footnotes because I am here working with written sources that are well known and easily identifiable.

         Out of all the surviving narrative sources about Richard III, the most important coverage of the events following Edward IV’s death up to Richard III’s coronation is provided in a manuscript written by Domenico Mancini, a Franco-Italian cleric who was visiting London at the time, April–July 1483. France had broken a long-standing treaty with England at the end of 1482 and Mancini was evidently gathering information for the French court. Then King Edward IV suddenly died and he stayed on to note the extraordinary aftermath. With the typical attitudes of a century ago, the original editor of this document in the 1930s, C.A.J. Armstrong, bestowed on it a title misrendered from the Latin: The Usurpation of Richard III. I vowed to drag our understanding of this vital document into the 21st century and have now published my own new translation, together with appraisal and historical analysis: Domenico Mancini, de occupatione regni Anglie (Imprimis, 2021). Not only is the translation less biased towards the Victorian school of thought, but it also reflects more accurately where and how Mancini labours under misapprehensions about England. Until you know clearly from the new translation what Mancini’s thought-processes were, you can’t really understand how he evaluated Richard’s actions.

         Although there are swathes in Mancini that are sheer gossip, especially in his historical scene-setting, often there are useful facts to be found once you strip away the moralizing and editorializing. There are also nuggets of reporting that point to a well-informed source, and this applies particularly to the revelations he includes about Edward V. This source is generally acknowledged to have been Dr John Argentine from Edward V’s household, the only informant Mancini actually names. On the basis that Mancini’s account of the events at Northampton and Stony Stratford owes its origins to Argentine who was, apparently, with the king at the time, it is one of those sections of his document that I think we can really believe … making allowances for a few errors that are fairly easy to spot.

         Throughout my researches and my five Ricardian books, my spotlight has been trained on Richard the man, whether as Duke of Gloucester or as Richard III. This has led me to try to analyse his authority, offices and powers through his own eyes and from the point of view of his own epoch, rather than through the rear-view mirror of later centuries and commentators. His era was a time when swingeing powers could be concentrated in a single person, and during the course of Richard’s lifetime his brother, Edward IV, appointed him Warden of the West Marches, Lord High Constable of England, Lord Great Chamberlain of England, Lord High Admiral of England, and since 1480 had relied on him as Lieutenant-General of England’s land forces in his Scottish wars. Had it come to new hostilities against France (as he threatened), Edward would have had wars on two fronts which he could never have managed alone. Richard was his seasoned general and the one man Edward entrusted with overall military command. My work has convinced me that Richard dealt with developing situations as a military strategist. He was an active soldier, and when a soldier perceives danger or the threat of danger, his first thoughts are to act to secure his position. I believe the incident we’re examining exemplifies this.

         It is not my goal to judge how well Richard discharged his many responsibilities. Nor is it to twitch aside a curtain to reveal a ‘verray parfit gentil knight’ whose decisions and actions were impeccable. Richard made mistakes politically, and no doubt militarily too. What we can record of him as a military leader is that the final tribute of his brother King Edward, in his Parliament of 1483, was to reward him publicly and express in him his utmost confidence. This is on record in the Rolls of Parliament.

         Domenico Mancini was well aware of Richard’s exemplary reputation, and put into words Edward’s implicit trust in him: ‘Such was his renown in warfare that whenever anything difficult and dangerous had to be done on behalf of the realm it would be entrusted to his judgement and his leadership.’ However, Mancini was writing a report aimed not just at recounting current events, but recounting them while appealing to French ears and eyes. And since Louis XI had decided to breach the treaty by which he had been expensively buying-off the threat of invasion by his old adversary Edward IV, it was necessary for Mancini to reflect the revivified anti-English mood in France. A modern appreciation of Mancini’s writing must therefore recognize the evident bias that pervades his report. Not to mention his poor geography and inadequate grasp of how England was governed. But let’s not go there.

         In the Introduction to my new edition I have drawn attention to all this and a range of other factors, important to me, on which historians in general have not felt it necessary to comment. In particular, whether through laziness or complacency, it has been an article of faith to accept C.A.J. Armstrong’s observations when comparing Mancini with later writers (e.g. Thomas More and the Tudor chroniclers), citing the occurrence of certain commonalities as evidence that what More and his followers wrote must have been accurate. This is to place the 16th-century cart outrageously before the 15th-century horse, a myth which I hope my new edition now resoundingly explodes. There seems to me no doubt whatsoever that Mancini’s partisan observations rippled through the busy literary circles of the era and were echoed by later writers who assiduously mined all such sources for information.

         One of the few aspects of Mancini on which some historians felt it worth expending effort was the attempt to trace his sources. Dr John Argentine was early identified by Armstrong and has a useful entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB). However, the temptation to delve more deeply into the text was usually stymied by fear of emerging tainted with pro-Ricardian conclusions, thus inviting the dreaded ‘academic ridicule’. It was, for example, deemed entirely sensible to identify Richard and his circle as the source of evil propaganda against his own family, the house of York (expatiated on at length by A.J. Pollard). But to identify anyone else, even this hostile French correspondent, as propagandizing against the English ruling house had to be discounted. Mancini was, according to Armstrong, a ‘detached observer’. Hence many of Armstrong’s historical notes go into contortions about matters which ought to be perfectly straightforward. And this is why we must set aside most of Armstrong’s comments about the events we are about to explore, which occurred on Tuesday and Wednesday, 29–30 April 1483, at Northampton and Stony Stratford.


The aftermath of Edward IV’s death

This is a tale of rapidly-moving developments in the aftermath of 9 April 1483, the generally accepted date of Edward IV’s unexpected death at the early age of 40, when his son and heir, Edward V, was summoned to London to begin his reign. These events were, I believe, mainly told to Mancini by Dr John Argentine, Edward V’s physician. Not only is he the sole informant that Mancini names in his text as a source, but he proves to be convincingly well informed. We may certainly deduce that the new young king was accompanied by his physician on his week-long journey relocating himself and his household from his previous residence in Ludlow, along with a large number of attendants to care for his physical and spiritual well-being. With healthcare being an obvious precaution, especially at a time of high child mortality, I do not see that the presence of Argentine provides any hint as to Edward V’s having a poor state of health. This is a subject I have covered exhaustively in The Maligned King, and I will linger here only to say that Mancini would have been an extremely remiss provider of information to the circles around the French court if he had failed to discover from Argentine that the new King of England was, as has been suggested in the past, a sick little boy.

         Mancini’s descriptions of what transpired on their journey sound very much as if derived from a first-hand observer, right down to actual conversations, and since Mancini was clearly not an eyewitness himself, it seems to me apparent that Argentine provided them – although in hindsight after the elapse of some weeks. It is known that the doctor had spent time in Italy, and their common language must have made for fluency of communication. Further, given due allowance for Argentine’s understandable bias in favour of the regime that employed him, he seems to provide an entirely coherent narrative. In offering the following analysis, therefore, I am working on the assumption that he was not only Mancini’s source, but a credible one.

         In terms of Edward V’s transfer to London, we learn that Richard Duke of Gloucester and Harry Duke of Buckingham made advance arrangements to meet the king’s party as they, too, made their way from their respective estates to the capital. Buckingham had played very little part in Edward IV’s government, apparently due to his poor relationship with the late king. Mancini explains this by saying he had been forced at a young age, against his desires and best interests, to marry one of the queen’s sisters: there was a yawning disparity between the rank of the royal duke and that of his commoner wife, and of course she brought with her no rich estates or inheritance. This is not the place to delve into the historical stories reported by Mancini to set the scene in his early chapters, but when we come to Argentine’s report of Buckingham’s encounter with Edward V, it is noticeable that the duke displays a heated reaction at the mention of the queen’s name.

         Richard of Gloucester was Edward IV’s last surviving brother, uncle to Edward V, and the senior royal duke of the realm and adult heir to the crown. Given that Buckingham had much to gain by associating himself with Richard, and would have known how to reach him right away by messenger, it seems evident that it was Buckingham who invited himself into the picture. This would be after Richard had already written to Ludlow generously suggesting a meeting en route so that the new king’s party and his ducal party could enter London together in a much-needed display of unity. I am confident that Richard would have made this suggestion to Earl Rivers, not the other way around, as will become clear later when we consider that Rivers’s relatives in London were at the time busy demoting Richard in his absence.

         I speak advisedly of a generous offer of much-needed unity. I have for a long time assumed that students of the late 15th century must be aware that the interregnum between the death of Edward IV and the formal accession of his child-heir was in itself an equivocal and potentially hazardous situation. Curiously, I see little of this reflected in books on the period, which tend to be rather misty-eyed about how the government and nobility clasped this 12-year-old son of York to their collective bosom. Perhaps we should spend a moment considering England’s position in the world.

         A key aspect of this situation too often overlooked is that by the time Edward IV died he had managed to place England at odds with most of the countries that surrounded her: the French, the Scots, his difficult neighbours in Brittany, and even his erstwhile friends in the Low Countries. It was a bad time for an inexperienced child to succeed to the throne.

         There is another consideration which traditional historians often discount, and that is the unpopularity in certain quarters of queen Elizabeth Woodville’s family. Some recent writers have been at pains to claim that the recorded dismay at the time of Edward’s unsuitable marriage soon evaporated once the queen showed herself worthy of her new rank and her numerous relatives became entrenched. It is true that the negative narrative about the Woodville clan that pervades Mancini’s early chapters, overblown though it is, finds the historical mésalliance with Elizabeth little more than a rich vein of gossip, typical of an age that disesteemed women. His actual censure concentrates more on the odium that he claims surrounded her Woodville relatives at court: their scheming, their grasping venality, their moral laxity, and their increasing hold over the king. This thread reciting the common discredit in which they were held persists throughout Mancini’s reporting, past and present. It may indeed stem from a heavily prejudiced source, but it cannot be dismissed when we find that the Crowland Chronicle (I cite the Pronay and Cox edition in this article) includes a report identical to Mancini’s to the effect that it was openly said by some that the uncles and brothers on the mother’s side ought not to dominate the young king in his minority. Though this view may principally reflect ‘the Westminster village’, nevertheless opinions of people at Westminster shaped the loyalties of their wider dependants. There is enough concordance between the writers on this point for it to be taken seriously, especially when they are not throwaway remarks: in both cases there is a considerable amount of context for them.

         At this time the influence of the Woodvilles on the heir to the throne was impregnable: it had been encouraged by Edward IV throughout his son’s upbringing thanks to their ten-year control of the Prince of Wales at his establishment at Ludlow. Presumably the king saw himself as invincible, imagining a time in the future tutoring his son in the ways of government when he ceased being a child at the prescribed age of 14. Unfortunately Edward IV departed this life too early, leaving the 12-year-old child well-educated but without experience in the ways of ruling the realm. This problem was compounded because the Woodvilles had been generally passed over by Edward IV for national office. How much could the young Edward V learn from them of government, military command, state finances, international relations and diplomacy? Some historians point to previous child-kings (e.g. Richard II, Henry VI) assuming personal rule at a tender age; but it should be remembered that those boys, young though they were, had by then spent some years on the throne of England while learning royal statesmanship whether by means of guidance, observation or sheer osmosis. Edward V enjoyed no such prior apprenticeship. So it was vital for the good of the realm that the right adults be appointed who had sufficient knowledge to introduce him to the responsibilities of governance … whilst effecting a transition smooth enough not to expose England to internal unrest or external peril.

         Given his own preferences, any new king would surely choose to be surrounded by familiar faces. And why should Edward, cocooned with his own council and household at Ludlow, be aware that his mother’s family had any negative reputation? The boy’s decided opinion of their worth is quoted by Mancini via Argentine, possibly close to verbatim, in his riposte when urged that they must be replaced by new advisers now that he was king: ‘He had those courtiers that his father had furnished for him,’ he said, ‘and respecting his father’s foresight he believed those assigned to him were good and faithful: for himself, he had seen nothing of evil in them, and wished to have them unless they should be proven evil. As for the governance of the realm, such care little concerned his former courtiers as he had great confidence in the nobles and the queen.’

         This was hardly reassuring. Involving his mother in the governance of the realm revealed a concept of the future which was alarmingly alien to England (an attempt on the part of Henry VI’s queen Margaret of Anjou had been rebuffed in favour of a protectorate in 1454). The boy may not have spoken those exact words, but clearly he mentioned the queen in this context because Argentine remembered the Duke of Buckingham’s intemperate reaction to his argument. as mentioned above, which set the duke off into a rant about governance not being women’s business.

         The death of Edward IV had therefore left the realm exposed internationally, and consigned to the hands of an inexperienced lad who was by no means everyone’s ideal successor. Being unexpected, the king’s demise was also unprepared-for. All he apparently managed was to add some codicils to a will so out-of-date that it left his finances in a highly questionable state, to the extent that his new executors, which did not include the queen, had to take special measures including sale of assets. To this must be added the exiguous circumstances in which he left the state treasury, as demonstrated by surviving Financial Memoranda of the Reign of Edward V [ed. Rosemary Horrox]. And whatever Edward IV’s codicils provided, which Mancini says was a protectorate, the King’s Council readily took it upon themselves to debate and reject those provisions.

         Perhaps it needs to be noted that by convention it was on the shoulders of the existing King’s Council, men who had been appointed by the king and had sworn the councillors’ oath, that such matters of interim governance fell in a situation like this. In 1483 there were some 50 of Edward IV’s councillors, but only a select few seem to have been taking decisions at Westminster in April. By precedent established in 1422 and twice in the 1450s, when the king was a minor, or otherwise incapable of ruling personally, the King’s Council had put to Parliament, and Parliament had approved, their advice for a protectorate to be established. A protectorate was a uniquely English power-sharing measure which had worked very efficiently three times in living memory. Briefly summarized, the Lord Protector’s role was the defence of the realm; the Council’s role was to administer the government; and the personal care of the king (and, if a minor, his education) was assigned to a separately appointed group. Only by official appointment could any person(s) legitimately control or supersede the powers of a king; which is why such cases had been expeditiously put to Parliament, debated, and the terms agreed and ratified. Had a protectorate been agreed in April 1483 with the king’s uncle as Protector, in accordance with the precedents of 1422, 1454 and 1455, the roles involved were already well established and could have smoothly taken effect pending Parliament’s ratification. That Parliament would have favoured a protectorate is indicated in that, a few weeks later (probably by early June) the Council commissioned the Chancellor to prepare a policy statement for Edward V’s first Parliament which still survives in draft: it provided for a protectorate that would continue after his coronation. The entire statement is reproduced as an Appendix in my book Richard Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England (Imprimis, 2015).


The Woodville-dominated Council in April demonstrated significantly poor judgement by rejecting such a universally recognized arrangement, and specifically denying Richard the office of Lord Protector. Indeed, they not only denied him that office, which automatically chimed with his existing national military offices, but they deliberately usurped his powers of national military oversight by arranging for the queen’s brother, Edward Woodville and her son, Thomas Grey to clear out the state treasury, raise a fleet of 20 vessels, and provision it with 3,000 men plus equipment, ostensibly to counter-attack French piracy in the English Channel. (Richard was actually the only figure of national standing who knew, from his part in continued international negotiations, that the Woodville fleet was the worst and most profligate means of dealing with endemic piracy in the Channel, at a time when even the Calais garrison was woefully undermanned.)

         In terms of governance the group of councillors then present at Westminster opted for an immediate coronation accompanied by some kind of arrangement in which they clearly saw themselves playing the major parts – described by Mancini as ‘government by many persons’ (administratio per plures) – for which there was no workable precedent. By conjuring up this vague phrase they resisted the official delegation of any part of the king’s responsibility for ruling the realm to any named, qualified and appointed personnel. This meant that the 12-year-old king was free to rule in his own right.

         To ratify such an unprecedented situation, with personal rule by this minor king, Parliament needed to assemble and give its imprimatur, in which arena the Woodville faction would probably have been outnumbered. Whatever regime Parliament might have approved, there was scant likelihood that any individuals it appointed to counsel and work with the king would have been those who were presently making such ill-judged decisions. This is evidently why these decision-makers set a date for the coronation but set no date for any Parliament. They were gambling on bringing about a fait accompli in the immediate future: relying on a combination of past support for the prevailing regime, together with Edward V’s concurrence in their plans to entrench themselves as the king’s preferred circle.

         Looking at the timetable of Council meetings in April, in which Crowland accords with Mancini, we are informed that their meetings to discuss Edward V’s minority reign took place subsequent to Edward IV’s funeral (which ended at Windsor on 18 April). There is no hint that the Council met earlier. But indications show that from the moment the late king died the queen’s family made it their business to arrange the immediate coronation of his son while the boy was still reliant on the network they had surrounded him with in Ludlow as Prince of Wales, and which they were getting ready to replicate in London. This is clear from a letter written by Edward V from Ludlow on 16 April, to which we shall return later, in which Edward announced that he was proceeding in haste to London to be crowned. Edward IV is taken to have died on 9 April, and the messenger bringing the news had arrived on 14 April after four or five days on the road. This news, and these instructions, were probably penned right after the king’s death.

         Mancini and Crowland recount the proceedings that took place in council following Edward IV’s funeral, when the Woodvilles’ actions met with some considerable dissent. If Mancini reported accurately (which is, admittedly, open to question), those who argued against a protectorate lied about dangers experienced in the past when protectors were appointed who allegedly refused to relinquish their office (never happened!). The Crowland author, whose sympathies were wont to rest with the widowed queen, wrote that the Council ‘keenly desired that this prince should succeed his father in all his glory’. Yet elsewhere in his account (as quoted above, and echoed by Mancini) he reports opposition in council to allowing the queen’s relatives to continue exerting control over him. As for Richard, we learn from Mancini/Argentine, quoting the gist of his spoken words, that he shared the same view that young Edward’s maternal relatives must be separated from him: they had been a corrupting influence on Edward IV and should be prevented from playing the same game with the son.

         The Crowland Chronicle reports that Edward IV’s confidant, chamberlain and councillor William, Baron Hastings, who was vigorously pursuing a feud with the Woodvilles, was so resistant to their encroachment that he threatened fellow councillors that he would resort to his captaincy of England’s sole standing army, that of the Calais pale, if a limit were not placed on the armed force which they were raising to escort the new king from Ludlow. A limit on the King of England’s escort! A cap of maximum 2,000 men was duly agreed, in order to extinguish ‘every spark of murmuring and unrest’ (murmuris et turbationis scintillam, in Latin, which could equally well be translated as ‘protest and disorder’). So already this was by no means a smooth transition, even with a Council packed with supporters of the regime that had governed for most of Edward IV’s reign.

         It is also worth considering the exhortation that was sent out by the Council to the Mercers’ Company and other civic dignitaries and livery companies of the capital, advising them that the Mayor of London had been charged to command the companies and constables ‘to see the peace be kept every to their power, and not to provoke, do or cause any debate or strife’ and to assist the authorities ‘against all and every such person intending or breaking the King’s peace’, for which purpose everyone was ‘to be ready in harness if need should so require’. And Edward V’s letter of 16 April from Ludlow, mentioned above, addressed to the Mayor of Bishop’s Lynn (modern King’s Lynn), similarly desired the Mayor to keep the peace: ‘to see that our peace be surely kept and good governance had within the town of Lynn’, and for the civic authority to be exercised notwithstanding any person of any degree whatsoever.

         These concerns, conventional though they may be thought, were not necessarily merely formulaic. There were times in the affairs of state when unrest could be predictable, and this was one such. It leads us back to  the same question: to what extent the accession of this underage child – and a Woodville-dominated child at that – was welcomed. We may wonder what exactly his minders were thinking when they envisioned surrounding him with an immoderate number of horse for his traverse through a succession of English counties. Hence my observation that Richard’s gesture of public harmony, uniting their retinues as they entered London, was a generous one. As the realm’s foremost military commander there was no better man to have at one’s side in case of trouble.

         Before proceeding to recount Edward V’s onward journey, I should like to refer again to his letter to Lynn (doubtless composed for him), which stated his intention to be crowned but mentioned nothing of any Parliament. The letter announced that God had ordained him to ‘succeed and inherit my said lord and father in the pre-eminence and dignity royal of the crowns of England and France’ … and ‘so to govern rule and protect this our realm of England as shall be to His pleasure and our honour’ … and ‘to be at our city of London in all convenient haste by God’s grace to be crowned at Westminster’.

         Marie Barnfield has recently been re-examining this text and her reading of its language invites the conclusion that even at this early date, two days after learning that his father had died, his letter set out precisely that policy which was to be promulgated by the Woodville-dominated King’s Council when it later met in London, i.e. for him to be crowned in haste and to rule immediately in avoidance of any protectorate. Moreover, by writing in his own name, using his own signet, she sees Edward V taking personal ownership of the Woodville aims expressed as what was divinely wanted of him, i.e. to take up the reins of government himself. The intended effect of this letter, she suggests, was to give the appearance of legitimacy to their position, characterizing their intended control of the government as the king’s personal rule.

The reporting of events in Mancini’s Chapter Four 

In the process of retelling the events of late April 1483 we must first address a few editorial errors that are easy to dismiss as pure Mancini. They start with the opening sentences of Chapter Four, the chapter within which the events of our story are neatly encapsulated. Here Mancini attempts to set the scene by imagining how the two royal dukes – Richard of Gloucester and Harry of Buckingham – cooked up a conspiracy after getting together on the road and comparing grudges as they made their way to the prearranged rendezvous. Owing to Mancini’s erroneous idea that the Duke of Gloucester came from Gloucester, he offers this conspiracy scenario based on his assumption that the two dukes met because they were both travelling from the West. Actually Richard’s itinerary from York joined the Great North Road, so any such meeting was impossible. This did not prevent later chroniclers of the Tudor era adopting Mancini’s conspiracy theory.

         This is of a piece with another of Mancini’s conspiracy theories, also adopted by chroniclers, in which Baron Hastings sent secret letters and messengers to Duke Richard giving him potentially treasonous instructions to waylay and snatch the new king before he reached London … which (lo and behold) turn out to presage exactly the actions that Mancini’s narrative then describes. How he supposedly came by the content of those secret, potentially treasonous letters our author does not vouchsafe to his readers. It seems that he (or his informant) constructed this story on the basis that Hastings communicated with Richard soon after the late king’s death, which he probably did, alerting Richard to his personal alarm at the actions of the Woodvilles and the size of their army destined to come from Wales. There is a hint of confirmation in the Crowland Chronicle that Hastings sent such a communication, in that it says he was content with the escort of maximum 2,000 men prescribed by the Council ‘for he was confident enough, so it seemed, that the dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham … would bring with them no less a number’. But it’s a tenuous clue, without corroboration, and rather than any conspiracy on Richard’s part it says much more about how Hastings was squaring up to his adversaries in London in the aftermath of Edward IV’s death. Having lost his former patron, it would certainly suit him to invoke Richard’s name as if they had reached some kind of personal accord.

         Regrettably, taken with the story of the imagined contents of Hastings’s supposed letter, the idea of a preplanned revenge conspiracy, rendering Richard’s actions towards Edward V malevolent and unworthy, has been baked into the views of traditional historians … on the sole basis of Mancini’s allegation and Crowland’s tenuous hint. That it has been disseminated so widely is principally thanks to Thomas More’s genius in sniffing out Mancini’s story of the ‘conspirator Hastings’ as a promising plot device, and making it a key feature of his idiosyncratic satirical drama about Richard III. Let us set aside such fictions and proceed with our narrative.

         Mancini says the rendezvous for the three retinues to meet was at a location ‘near the twelfth milestone from the city [of London]’. This is another of his geographical aberrations. He is assuming the location was St Alban’s, one of the two great historic junctions of Watling Street, the Roman road that ran roughly north-south to London. He has confused this with the other great junction at Weedon Bec near their actual rendezvous of Northampton, some 50 miles farther north than St Alban’s but still within easy reach of the capital. Fortunately we have the English writer of the Crowland Chronicle to thank for knowing the correct place-names. Nevertheless, we have no reason to suppose the Crowland author had better intelligence on the episode than Argentine, since (a) he was not present, and (b) some considerable time had passed before the late autumn of 1485 when he wrote it down. The great advantage of supplementing our knowledge by reference to the Crowland Chronicle is that it supplies some important material, especially geographical material, which Mancini overlooks. But it is Argentine’s overall account that rings true when the two are occasionally in (minor) conflict.

         In the absence of contrary information historians assume that Edward V’s uncle, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, was at Ludlow with his nephew when news arrived on 14 April that Edward IV had died on 9 April. For ten years under Edward IV’s ordinances he had held the personal appointment of governor of the Prince of Wales, surrounding the child with favoured appointees. Scarcely eight weeks previously the late king had revised and updated these ordinances which can be seen transcribed in full in another of the appendices to my book Richard Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England. Familiarity with this book will aid understanding and supply sources for several of the points raised here. In the aforementioned ordinances the Prince of Wales was to remain under the control of Rivers’s governance for a further year and a half until he reached his age of majority at 14. At the same time – very conveniently as it turned out – these revised ordinances gave Rivers new personal authority to move the prince from place to place; and (according to Rivers) letters patent also authorized him to raise troops in the March of Wales. Since both these actions were immediately called for in response to the late king’s death, it was Rivers’s responsibility to take charge of arrangements. Had he not been present, there would have been consternation and delay caused by establishing the necessary official authorities to take such actions.

         Within the ensuing ten days they were able to raise and equip the king’s escort of 2,000 men, while completing all the arrangements to pack up and make roadworthy the entire Ludlow contingent: a royal relocation which doubtless involved several hundred men and women of the household including clergy, servants, cooks, attendants and artisans, numerous animals and their grooms, farriers and keepers, and untold amounts of furniture, clothing and other personal baggage. There was a small delay when it became apparent they could not reach their destination by St George’s Day, 23 April, when it was necessary for the new sovereign to observe the saint’s day and the ceremonies of the Order of the Garter that accompanied it. Apparently they left on the 24th, the same date that Richard of Gloucester, accompanied by a suitable retinue of gentlemen in mourning, probably left York.

Meanwhile at Westminster . . .


Questions of who knew what and when are germane to this narrative, so we must pause a moment to review the parallel activities at Westminster. If we look at the dates of Edward IV’s funeral observances, which began on 16 April and ended at Windsor on the 18th, and compare the five days it took for the news of his death to reach Ludlow on 14 April, it may be seen how little opportunity had been allowed for magnates from more distant parts of the realm to be present (the same lack of opportunity would be applied when announcing the coronation date). Edward’s obsequies were attended by leading citizens of London, by members of the king’s household, and by magnates ‘from neighbouring estates’ as Mancini describes those who attended the ensuing Council meetings. There were significant absences of senior nobility who resided at a distance, including Earl Rivers and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, not to mention the new king himself who was not present in council. We know nothing of how Richard came to be notified personally of his brother’s death.

         There was no shortage of clergy at the funeral, since they had been preparing to attend a convocation on the 18th. In the process of confirming its postponement due to the king’s death, a bidding prayer was composed in which the only royal persons mentioned by name were Edward V and the queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Richard’s name was already erased from the picture.

         According to Mancini, when the late king’s will was read it envisaged a protectorate during his son’s minority, naming Richard as Lord Protector of the Realm. Mancini’s account is fraught with difficulty in this connection because our Italian visitor failed to understand what a Protector was, and assumed that he was some kind of head of government. C.A.J. Armstrong had an equally vague concept of the Protector’s role; he not only failed to notice Mancini’s error but compounded it. But although we have to be careful of Mancini’s terminology because of his ignorance, there is no doubting the title of Protector (protectorem) that he uses when citing Edward’s will. The reason I believe Mancini reported Edward’s wish for a protectorate correctly is very simple: he refers to it in relation to Richard several times in his text, and never once denies its veracity or validity. Anyone familiar with his style of narration will know he is always quick to repudiate any statement that he decides to view as false.

         Too many commentators have wrongly asserted, following Mancini, that a Protector had responsibility for the person of the king himself. And too many have assumed, thanks to the allegations of Richard’s detractors, that Edward should not have trusted him ‘to protect his son’. The truth of the matter needs to be fully understood, and is explained in my book on the subject and in the Introduction to my new edition of Mancini. In summary a protectorate was a collaborative administration invoked when the king was unable to undertake personal rule, e.g. during a child’s minority. In a protectorate the king’s person was placed in the care of a group of guardians and educators during his minority, while the governance of the realm lay in the hands of the King’s Council under Parliament. The role of the Protector was spelt out explicitly by Parliament as primarily concerned with the security of the kingdom; his full title was Protector and Defender of the Church and Realm in England and Principal Councillor of the King. As the nation’s foremost military commander Richard was the obvious person to fulfil the security responsibilities; and with his mastery of administration, justice and international affairs he was well qualified to be a senior adviser during the inexperienced young king’s minority.

         Moreover, the office of Protector under a minor king had by precedent (and in living memory) been held by his royal uncles: John, Duke of Bedford and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. The continuing King’s Council, who were presently at Westminster taking these decisions, knew this perfectly well; and knew that Richard, Duke of York, the father of Richard and Edward IV, had twice been appointed Protector when Henry VI was deemed incapable to rule as an adult. That Edward should choose to bequeath this office to Richard was entirely in accordance with precedent and with his bestowal on him of that portfolio of national offices already mentioned.

         It is a matter of some significance that Edward IV’s provisions for a protectorate were designed to ensure a reasonable distribution of powers between Richard in the Lord Protector’s role, which would keep him occupied with defence of the realm internally and internationally, and the queen’s Woodville family whom Edward would have envisaged Parliament appointing to the continued guardianship of the boy-king’s person, thus fulfilling their desire for ongoing influence over him. The late king would have realized that the ambitions of his wife’s family needed satisfying, and to deny them a slice of power would only store up trouble. In any case the boy would qualify to assume personal rule in a year and a half, when he turned 14. It was a tried and tested power-sharing system that had worked well in the past, under provisions stipulated by Parliament; and in the real world of 1483 it was one the late king could scarcely have bettered for his son in the circumstances.

         The controversy at Westminster obviously began immediately after Edward’s funeral (if not before) when the Crowland Chronicle tells us that the widowed queen Elizabeth Woodville presided over a meeting of the King’s Council. Let’s imagine it took place on Saturday 19 April. As we have observed, in addition to clergy there were on hand and available to meet in council a number of Londoners, members of the late king’s household, and magnates ‘from neighbouring estates’: by no means representative of the Great Council which the situation surely called for, or even a Privy Council formed of senior councillors. This meeting’s members are not recorded, but from Mancini we learn that Edward IV’s closest courtiers had been those who shared his debauched lifestyle: Elizabeth’s two sons by her first marriage (Thomas and Richard Grey) and one of her brothers (Edward Woodville), plus the chamberlain of his household, William Hastings. His last known activity was recreational: he went fishing with friends, quite likely including the aforementioned characters. They all play a leading part in Mancini’s report of what follows, and their influence on outcomes must be taken into account.

         Mancini states that the decision which won the day was that ‘government should be exercised by many persons, among whom the duke would not be excluded but … would be numbered the foremost’. This simply meant that Richard would receive lip-service within the group that was already conducting this exercise – ‘would be given honour’ in Mancini’s words – while the ‘kingly authority’ would be ‘safeguarded’ (‘kept in safety’ – in tuto locaretur). Since there was no suggestion of anyone being appointed with interim powers to deputize for any element of that ‘kingly authority’, the obvious conclusion is that this authority would be vested wholly in the person of the 12-year-old Edward V as soon as he was crowned.

         The words quoted above are Mancini’s summation, but he leaves much detail missing. Unfortunately I cannot go into an analysis of Mancini here, and anyway you will find it dealt with in detail in my new edition. Suffice it to say that Mancini was familiar with the regency system that was the norm for a minority in every European government, and which indeed had been instituted in France after Louis XI’s death by the time Mancini returned there and wrote his retrospective report in December 1483. He had no idea what a protectorate was, and clearly thought that a Protector would have been head of the English government. His remarks should also be viewed in the context of the subsequent months during which he saw Richard accede to the crown without (by his lights) legal justification.

         Moreover, the Woodvilles’ actions described by Mancini, which appear to be born of apprehension, should be seen in another context … the context of a story Mancini has built up beforehand, telling us that (1) through their jealousy they had connived at Edward IV’s execution of his brother George (Duke of Clarence); that (2) they had incurred Richard’s hatred for this; and (3) they were consequently frightened of reprisals if he gained too much power. The careful reader will wish to examine Mancini’s entire analysis of this political situation and consider what truths can be unravelled from it.

         So far as we are able to ascertain from historical records, and despite Mancini’s back-story, there is every indication that relations between Richard and the Woodvilles until now had been entirely amicable. I will not digress so far as to pursue this question here, as it is already covered in my new edition of Mancini, plus I’m planning to explore the issue in a separate article. I will say that the details supplied by Mancini’s informant(s) in this episode reek of antipathy to Richard on the part of certain sources who claimed there was a major rift between him and his in-laws. With his home life and energies concentrated in the North, it is hard to imagine what Richard might have done to cause it. Mancini conveys quite a lot about negative attitudes to Richard in council, and there is a ring of authenticity to what seems to be a verbatim quotation of the words he attributes to the queen’s eldest son, Thomas Grey: ‘We are so important that even without the king’s uncle we can make and enforce these decisions.’

         We do not know when or if the Council contacted Richard with news of their deliberations. Indeed, why would they? Apparently by some means he did hear of Edward IV’s wish for a protectorate, and learnt there was opposition to it: for he wrote to the Council, as reported by Mancini, expressing his loyalty unto death towards the late king’s heirs and requesting that, ‘when they made arrangements for governing the country they should take due account of that dignity to which he was entitled by law and by his brother’s decrees.’ This letter had a great effect on hearers who, ‘having previously favoured the duke in their hearts from their belief in his integrity,’ now openly supported his right to be Protector. But it was of course far too late. Despite protests of several members that the Council should not take such radical steps before Richard arrived, the majority had already decided against a protectorate. Having fixed a date for the coronation (which we know was 4 May), they sent a message to Ludlow advising the young king that he should arrive in London three days beforehand, i.e. on 1 May.

         By any calculations, if Mancini is correct, the Council had made their decision within a couple of post-funeral meetings. That message must have been penned by about 20 April if it was to reach Ludlow in time to be effective, although in fact all parties would have been aware by now that Edward V had been notified of his father’s death and would already be making preparations to leave. The only trace of correspondence that has survived is the record of that much earlier letter (16 April) from Edward V to Lynn saying that he’d received the news of his father’s death on 14 April. It does not say who he received it from. The only clue we have is the report in Crowland that it was ‘the benevolent queen’ who corresponded with her son at Ludlow.

         If we go by Marie Barnfield’s reading of the wording of Edward V’s letter – in which his stated intention is to repair to ‘our city of London in all convenient haste … to be crowned at Westminster’ – the policy decision for him to be crowned and to exercise personal rule must actually have been taken by the Woodvilles in London right after Edward IV died.

         Again one is led to reflect whether this haste derived from doubts as to his universal acceptance, given these precipitate moves to consolidate power, perhaps even before meetings of the Council took place. It was not only decisions that were rushed through in April by these self-appointed ‘many people’ without waiting for the arrival of the king in person, but also a string of executive actions were taken too, despite their determination that he should rule in his own right. In The Coronation of Richard III, the authors conclude that Council meetings must have taken place even before Edward IV’s funeral, although Mancini specifies that they met afterwards. Just to remind ourselves, in addition to levying taxes (not all of them legal), they cleaned out the small amount of funds that remained in the state treasury at the Tower, and usurped Richard’s military authority by appointing the queen’s brother, Edward Woodville, to assemble and command a fleet of vessels and her son, Thomas Grey, to provide soldiers and equipment to man them. The fleet had already set to sea by the time King Edward V was even due in London on 1 May.

         With the boy-king’s coronation scheduled to be enacted at the shortest possible notice, and almost immediately he arrived, it is worth noting that this would require him to be conducted upon arrival straight to the Tower of London, from where the king must by tradition make his procession through the streets to Westminster Abbey for the crowning and anointing. Being installed at the Tower, with Thomas Grey in control as Deputy Constable, meant that he was easily kept separate from unwanted influences. Then, without specified adults appointed to guide or deputize for him, his coronation would give him carte blanche to rule as a child while consulting with whichever councillors and ministers appealed to him. The calling of Parliament could probably be put off for a few months, even though it meant living on credit and accumulating ever-mounting debts. [When Richard arrived he was forced to subsidize Edward V out of his own pocket.] Meanwhile the intervening period would have been sufficient for the boy’s family to consolidate their positions and establish themselves as a virtually impermeable circle around him. In the past, arrangements such as this had created resentment on the part of those who saw themselves excluded, creating dissention as factions vied forcefully to influence a malleable king. A parallel situation, within living memory, had led to the deposition of Henry VI.

On the road with Edward V, Richard of Gloucester and Harry of Buckingham


From Mancini’s report, presumably supplied by Dr John Argentine, we learn that as the king approached the way to Northampton (‘when he had drawn near’) he and his party ‘forgathered at a certain location, there to await his uncle’. They stayed there until they knew Richard had almost reached the place of their rendezvous (Northampton). As may be seen from the sketch-plan below, the obvious place for Rivers to halt and muster the king’s escort while checking to see if Richard had arrived was at Weedon (officially ‘Weedon Bec’), about 6–7 miles west of Northampton. This historic junction with Watling Street was for a long time known as ‘Weedon on the Street’.

But in fact,’ says Argentine (who was presumably with them): ‘as his uncle neared that place the young king gave orders for just about all his company, which consisted of a large number of companions brought from Wales, to move onward to other places closer to London.’ The reason given for this was ‘so that the appointed location [Northampton] might be better suited to receiving his uncle’. ‘Better suited’ sounds as if it might mean ‘had more accommodation’, although that isn’t what  is actually said by Argentine/Mancini. Nor is this explanation likely to be the result of Argentine’s first-hand knowledge: it’s doubtful that he recce’d Northampton personally. So although this is the official story, it is not something that our informant knew to be the case.

The reason this story is doubtful is that Northampton was not a small town, it was an important urban centre, the next key staging post after London and St Alban’s on the Great North Road, with its own castle, abbey, and town walls. Mancini describes it as ‘a particularly well fortified town’, and John Speed’s map of 1610 (below) shows its town walls still standing 125 years later. In former years Northampton had hosted Parliaments. I have been unable to ascertain where Richard might have lodged, or appointed as lodgings for the king, but it might have been at The Tower, a major residence that originally formed part of the defensive walls, and which was now in the possession of the Chauncy family. It is seen marked ‘T’ on Speed’s map, lying within the south-east quadrant of the town walls adjacent to Derngate.

         In terms of accommodation for the king his visit would not, of course, have entailed finding space at Northampton for the whole of his army – the main body of foot-soldiers would have gone nowhere near the town, they would have made shift for themselves, as armies always did, camping in outlying areas. Only the king and his immediate company would have required quarters within the town walls of Northampton. It had been Richard’s invitation to meet with his new sovereign and to pay homage in person, so it was his duty as a subject to make everything in order. Doubtless he would himself have come ready to greet his nephew bearing costly gifts, personally chosen to please the boy and console him, when they exchanged commiserations on the death of his father, Richard’s brother.

         As for accommodations, Richard would certainly have arranged the best available, having sent his harbingers ahead to ensure all was ready for the king’s household as well as for his own party and Buckingham’s. An equal consideration was to send word as early as possible to Northampton’s mayor and civic leaders, alerting them to make ready for the royal visit and arrange a suitable reception and evening meal. This would be doubly significanct because the family seat of the Woodvilles was a mere ten miles away, so Northampton was the household’s local town. This, I believe, is why Argentine, not a local man himself, nevertheless noted the fact that the king moved on and failed to stop: it would have been the talk of the neighbourhood.

         A suggestion has been made (by whom I don’t know) that a problem of some sort arose because the king’s arrival at Northampton clashed with market day. The Northamptonshire Archives and Heritage Service has confirmed to me that the earliest record of markets held in Northampton is in a 16th-century charter indicating that the town’s market days were Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Whether this reflected the existing position or an altered arrangement is not entirely clear, but these were very much the traditional days for English markets. Since the king was due to arrive on Tuesday 29 April and leave early (probably at dawn) on Wednesday the 30th, there would have been little disruption even with Wednesday as a market day.

         I’m sure I don’t have to remind readers to abandon our 21st-century viewpoint when contemplating a 15th-century king. The king’s grace was ultimately the source of favour and patronage to you, your family, your community. If your local representatives were presented with a perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be favoured with the king’s presence, they did not cavil over days of the week. They would be expected to mount a full-scale civic welcome, at the same time using the opportunity to advantage, perhaps handing in petitions or seeking permission to press their case personally. This was especially pertinent when there was a new regime which might well be unaware or unheedful of promises made to you by the old regime. The good burghers of Northampton would have been well gratified by the substantial advantages of welcoming the King of England to their town, and appropriate rearrangements were part of the expected procedure


Returning to Richard’s progress from York to Northampton, by 26 April he had arrived at Nottingham. Possibly new messages reached him there, although we cannot know how much information on matters at Westminster they contained.

         Did he know by then that his brother’s wish to observe England’s precedents for governance by protectorate had been overturned? That despite his father’s ordinances and will, the boy Edward V was, in essence, to cease being a minor at the age of 12, taking on his shoulders the full weight of government and defence of the realm?

         Did Richard also know that his own military authority as commander of England’s forces by land and sea had been usurped by the upstarts Edward Woodville and Thomas Grey?

         At some point on his journey south Richard would have started to hear of these developments, even if only cursorily and intermittently. He had written letters urging the rightness of his brother’s plans for the realm. Had wiser heads prevailed? Imagine him reaching Northampton in this dubious frame of mind, while preparing to salute his nephew as kinsman and loyal subject.

         Now imagine Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, arriving with the astonishing news that the king’s party had suddenly decided to move on 17 miles farther down Watling Street to Stony Stratford, alleging that the king had bypassed the town to suit his uncle. Ostensibly it was for Richard’s greater convenience, but in reality it was an obvious affront to his dignity. Why should Edward V (or rather Rivers, who was responsible for moving him) deem it fitting to make this last-minute cancellation? Why turn his back on the major, well-fortified town of Northampton, while relocating the king to some oddly outlying village to the south? With Richard being a military man, I cannot help thinking such questions would have been running through his mind. And all this on top of the supreme discourtesy of ignoring their agreed plans which he (and in due course Buckingham, who arrived some hours later) had faithfully adhered to.

         Obviously it was Rivers’s task to explain this decision to Richard as diplomatically as possible. His best course was simply to ride across from Weedon while the king’s party headed south without him. At this point we must leave Rivers on his way to meet Richard in Northampton, while we follow Mancini’s narrative of the king’s southward progress.

         Here are two observations from Argentine about the king and his escort’s movements. First, as we’ve heard, ‘the young king gave orders for just about all his company … to move onward to other places closer to London.’ Evidently they passed Towcester and made for Stony Stratford. All I have discovered about Towcester is that very little is known of it in the Middle Ages. Anyway, Stony Stratford was their destination because it was on Richard’s direct route to the capital from Northampton. A route, as can be seen from my sketch-plan, that went right past the Woodville village and manor of Grafton. This meant that when he departed from Northampton to catch up with the king, he would be passing through Woodville territory.



Next, Argentine says the king himself waited together with a few men from his household. So his Welsh escort were sent onward while Edward with some of his household waited … somewhere, but evidently not with them. Mancini’s Latin is not very specific, although it doesn’t describe either place as a town. We can rest assured that the army made camp at the Watling Street junction of Stony Stratford, because by the time the Crowland author recounted the story it was Stony Stratford that was remembered as the centre of these activities. However, the tradition fostered there today that the king and his household-men stayed at a Stony Stratford inn is clearly a cock and bull story, ironically worthy of the town that claims to have originated the genre.

         Maybe some of his middle-ranking attendants made shift for themselves crammed into an inn in a small village, and maybe this was retained as a folk memory because they were part of a royal train. But when it came to the king and his courtiers, there was a much more suitable place, the seat of the Woodville family itself, just five miles up the road. I contend that they stayed at the Woodville manor at Grafton (later called Grafton Regis) or, as it was called at the time, Grafton Woodville. All of the party were mounted, of course, so it was a diversion of only an hour or so. Meanwhile the slow-moving main army and entourage, encamped at Stony Stratford, would enjoy a head start getting to the capital (and the coronation) when they set off next morning at first light.

         As we know, for the king to rendezvous at Northampton as planned would have entailed going through the formalities of exchanging courtesies – not only with Gloucester and Buckingham, but also other local notables and dignitaries. Since a meal and overnight stay were necessary anyway, it is hard to imagine what circumstance could have been so disruptive as to force such a visit to be cancelled, frustrating the expectations of all who planned to receive their king. So the question is why did the town not suit the king and his advisers, when a small village did? I believe the answer is that the king’s destination was never Stony Stratford: they had always intended for Edward V to spend the night at Grafton. Accommodations for a king and his retinue in the 15th century could scarcely be cobbled together at a day’s notice or less, a fact that would not be lost on Richard of Gloucester. I am sure their arrangements were in place well ahead, because they had another rendezvous in mind, as will become apparent.

Meetings at Northampton

It is time now to return to where we left Earl Rivers, riding from Weedon to Northampton to meet Richard with explanations after sending the king’s contingent southward. Both Mancini and Crowland describe how Rivers and Richard took their evening meal together in the town. Argentine specifies that Richard received Rivers benignly: ‘And having spent most of the night feasting, they both retired to sleep’. By ‘both’ (ambo) he means that at supper the only persons of note were Richard and Rivers. No Buckingham, and no Richard Grey. Buckingham appears in his account only the next day … and Grey much later.

         Once more I am inclined to believe Argentine’s words are more accurate than those of the Crowland author, whose report of the incident is laced with hand-wringing in hindsight at its lamentable outcome: ‘morning came, and a particularly wretched one as it afterwards appeared’. His account insists (which Argentine’s does not) that Richard greeted Rivers’s party ‘with a particularly cheerful and merry face’ (jocundo nimis atque hilari vultu) and ‘they passed the whole time in very pleasant conversation’ (gratiosis valde colloquiis) –  note the intensifiers nimis and valde, which mean ‘excessively’ or ‘exceedingly’: laying it on with a trowel, as we might say. But of course the Crowland author’s account has had 400 years to embed itself in the minds of historians. Since he was not present, and since he was wrong about who actually was, I am inclined to treat these assertions as a rhetorical device to emphasize the contrast with Richard’s subsequent actions, of which he was keen to condemn the consequences. Argentine contents himself with the factual remark ‘spent the night feasting’ – I’m sure he is right, and the town had prepared a special banquet for Edward V’s visit. Whether the conversation was ‘exceedingly pleasant’, as Crowland says, I leave it to others to conclude.

         Let us visualize Richard having established himself in Northampton in maybe late afternoon on 29 April, his mind in some turmoil. We may suppose that he had been receiving news at irregular intervals while he travelled, some of it perhaps contradictory. Much of it was certainly disquieting. Probably he had found fresh messages awaiting his arrival at Northampton. After all the formal greetings and courtesies, he was expecting some polite but tricky exchanges with men of the king’s Ludlow Council who, annoyingly, knew much more than he did right now about decisions being made at Westminster – decisions that would determine his future role in the realm and his very relationship with the king. How would they handle themselves, he would be wondering, and how honest would they be?

         Then instead of the royal retinue making a regal entry into the town amid crowds and rejoicing, it is Anthony, Earl Rivers who is ushered into Richard’s presence. He bears the news that the king has cancelled the rendezvous in Northampton and is overnighting elsewhere … for no very convincing reason. Let there be no doubt that this constitutes a major snub, on dubious grounds, which Rivers has to explain away. He also needs to inform Richard that the royal party has arranged to depart for London first thing in the morning. So if Duke Richard wants to pay his respects to the king and combine their retinues as intended, he has to rise before dawn and make a 15-mile ride.

         Did Rivers explain the haste for the coronation in five days? Did he mention that there was not to be a protectorate during the boy-king’s minority? Since Edward IV had died Anthony Woodville was now the head of the entire Woodville clan but he was not a man who had previously had to shoulder stern responsibilities. There had always been a superior commander, a man whose orders he followed. In terms of national office he had lost the captaincy of Calais under Edward IV, and been passed over in favour of a 17-year-old Richard when the office of High Constable of England should have devolved on him at his father’s death. Of late he had held titular positions, e.g. Deputy Constable of the Tower of London, scarcely a source of power when his main responsibilities lay with the Prince of Wales in Ludlow. Perhaps it is because he was usually behind the scenes that Rivers is often assumed not to have been so enterprising as other members of his family. However, he was the only Woodville member of the King’s Council, a position which in addition to his influence over the prince gave him every opportunity to participate in decision-making at the centre. He had also shown remarkable perspicacity the previous month in handing over his office at the Tower to his nephew, Thomas Grey, who since Edward IV’s death had taken conspicuous advantage of its access to the state treasure and other useful amenities.

         I see Rivers as a planner rather than a man of action; and it is not hard for me to imagine that, confronted with the penetrating gaze of Duke Richard, Rivers might not have found it easy to deliver unpleasant truths. He must have rehearsed what he wanted to say, but did he try to manipulate the story, dissemble or distance himself from having up-to-date knowledge? Did he try to offer a sanitized version, putting off the evil moment, perhaps hoping that Bishop Alcock (president of the Ludlow Council) would find ways to soften the message when Richard had caught up with the king? If so, it was a serious mistake.

         A key factor, as I see it, is what else Richard learnt and from whom. Even if I have not correctly imagined Rivers’s method of approaching matters, there can be little doubt that Richard would have viewed what he told him with displeasure coupled with rising suspicion. He evidently mastered himself well, as befitted a royal duke even in the face of discourtesy, and conducted himself with magnanimity as they took their meal. Right up to when he and Rivers ‘retired to sleep’ we are given no suggestion of ill-feeling between them. It was only next morning that a change occurred in Richard’s attitude, reported by both Mancini and Crowland – and I would argue that the missing ingredient is Buckingham. In the words of the Crowland Chronicle, ‘eventually Buckingham arrived and it was late, so they went off to their various lodgings’. Richard had been expecting him all day; so, even if Buckingham’s arrival was well after others had retired, and despite the lateness of the hour, Richard would have waited up until he came. They had much to discuss, including the king’s sudden change of itinerary, but most important of all were the arrangements being decided at Westminster for the governance of the realm.

         As we know, news must have been arriving piecemeal and intermittently, so Richard could not be certain he had the latest information on events in the capital. Earl Rivers would have given him whatever version of the facts suited his purposes. So Richard would have reined in his reactions in anticipation of hearing what his royal cousin had to say, and it may be assumed that he thoroughly probed the extent of Buckingham’s knowledge.

         As a reminder of how news was conveyed in 1483, in normal circumstances everything travelled at the maximum speed of a horse. It took Edward V’s retinue a week to move from Ludlow to London, while moving in haste. Accommodations en route had to be painstakingly arranged in advance: you couldn’t leave to chance anything relating to the king and his security. Normal communications via messenger equally travelled at the speed of a horse. We know it took four or five days before the Prince of Wales in Ludlow heard of his father’s death at Westminster. And information received in the morning might well be overtaken by different information received in the evening. People of consequence knew this and factored it into their communication networks.

         There being few other means of advising themselves what went on in the distant world behind the general run of routine announcements, people of consequence employed agents and informants. People always needed money and were cheap to hire. However, just as today’s tabloids claim to print what their readers clamour for, so it was with agents and informants: in many cases Richard would need to distil the objective truth from within an amount of assumption and partisan opinion. Those commonly presumed messages from Hastings (whether or not they ever existed) would have been an example of communications viewed with scepticism: a self-serving version of the facts from someone whose history was well known to him, rather than news from a trusted or respected source. As an experienced army commander, Richard of Gloucester had antennae in respect of communications that were probably much keener than those of the average man. In war he relied on trained men to deliver despatches speedily and accurately. In peace-time his close links with the king meant he was constantly updated with news from government circles. But on his journey from York to Northampton he would know that (a) he was a moving target, and (b) any message that had just reached him via X could easily be superseded by another from Y in a few hours’ time. In either case, war or peace, a leader of men would not leap to judgements and decisions until he was in full possession of all available facts. This is the basis for my deduction that on his arrival in Northampton, despite a series of barely tolerable affronts, he held himself in check until his sum total of information could be confirmed (or otherwise) by his fellow royal duke, Harry of Buckingham.

         Buckingham’s news came with considerable advantages. He had been on bad terms with Edward IV and was not a member of his Council. Owing to that exclusion, and having his principal estates in the West, he was seldom at the heart of government in person. If we take Mancini at his word, Buckingham’s disdain for his wife’s family would also have kept him distanced from their counsels, and all the more needful of intelligence. Thus he had particular reason to maintain a constant army of agents around Westminster, otherwise he could never have kept abreast of what was happening. As soon as Edward IV died he would have been sending messengers feverishly back and forth; for now was his chance to find out how he could gain advantage from developments that could present new opportunities. Richard did not need telling why Buckingham was so keen to make contact, but perhaps he was refreshingly open about his ambitions. At any rate, from their ensuing close collaboration it seems Richard felt some immediate trust and kinship with him. In summary, Richard’s maxim would have been that whatever he knew from his own informants, a wise man compares information with others who have different allegiances. Having talked with Buckingham, he could no longer have any doubts of the full extent of what the Woodville-dominated King’s Council had been hastening to do in his absence.

         In this article I have had space only to summarize their decisions and actions in brief. Learned papers have been written about the international situation in the last year or so of Edward IV’s life, when the king’s military ambitions far outstripped his resources, and when the Woodvilles must have known (had they bothered to check) how ill-provided England was to embark on an adventure such as their 20-vessel fleet against Louis XI’s foremost military commander. And this at a time when the late king had been reduced to taking out loans against those very crown jewels with which his son was about to be invested.

         By my assessment, Richard was a man who had become confident in his primacy in offices of state, in peace and in war, throughout his adult life to this moment. For the same period he had also administered and dispensed the crown’s justice, and laid his life on the line to partner his brother against threats to the security of the realm. I believe Richard was affronted by the bold assumption of power by the queen’s family, and more than this, he was incensed at what it augured for the future governance of England. We have the Crowland Chronicle to thank for a much-quoted comment that his legal acuity was so great that it caused even persons of great learning in the law to marvel. It was now time for Richard to set his legal brain to work. By the morning of 30 April the entire complexion of things had changed.

Lord High Constable of England

There was a particular office to which Richard had been appointed for life and which he had held for over 13 years; and moreover it was an appointment that only the king could reverse. He was Lord High Constable of England, one of the Great Officers of State, and the ultimate fountainhead of law and order. At this moment in time there was an interregnum: a 12-year-old king, journeying on public roads, uncrowned, and with no parliamentary oversight to determine the proper governance of England under his minority reign (nor sign of any Parliament in sight). The one thing known for sure, according to Mancini, was that the interim Council at Westminster had rejected a protectorate in line with their stated intention to preserve the king’s autonomy. Hence they had ensured a situation of personal rule by a child who was still 50 miles distant. Their idea of ‘government by many persons’ had yet to be ratified; leaving them with no powers of enacting any decrees or appointments during the days of his absence that could be carried forward without his personal assent. Richard realized that they had fallen victim to the law of unintended consequences.

         Under England’s unwritten constitution the king was paramount and above the control of any individual. In the past, as we know, it had sometimes been necessary to institute arrangements for when he was unequipped to rule in his own right; but such arrangements for governance could not be made off the cuff. With a child as young as 12, a smooth and amicable transition to a protectorate would have been normal and everyone would have understood its framework. The Council’s rejection of this well established system, combined with its failure to convene an imminent Parliament to authorize a replacement, meant that not only was Richard deprived of any official role but so, too, was everyone else. The ordinances that covered the Prince of Wales’s establishment had conferred powers on Anthony Woodville and Richard Grey, but these had fallen away when Edward V became king in his own right; so the queen’s family no longer enjoyed the control they had exerted over him at Ludlow. He would need to appoint and swear in his new King’s Council when he embarked upon his personal rule, but meanwhile … the kingly prerogative of Edward V lay slumbering on the road somewhere near Northampton.

         To show just how tenuous was his family’s hold on power in these crucial days, I need only refer to the opening words of Mancini’s next chapter: the queen and Thomas Grey tried to raise an army to regain hold of Edward V, but ‘all men’s hearts were not only irresolute but deeply inimical to themselves’. Indeed, some of those they approached said openly that they preferred to see the king with his uncle Gloucester. For this reason, says Mancini, the queen and her family fled into sanctuary. I would also refer back to the instructions given by the Mayor of London, mentioned earlier in this article, commanding the livery companies and constables to keep the peace and to don harness ‘if need should so require’. The need was not so theoretical as at first it might appear.

         Though the Council at Westminster could hold their discussions and make their interim policy decisions, nevertheless authority on the ground that morning to control any incipient danger, unrest or military disarray during the king’s progress lay with the man on the spot, England’s High Constable. His office gave him sweeping oversight in the context of the behaviour of armed arrays, including the right to control, discipline and maintain order. His powers also included the right to try cases and decide their outcome in his own court, the Court of Chivalry. And his authority was well known to all who bore arms.

         Without adequate knowledge it is impossible to be certain how Richard framed his actions over the course of a developing situation. In the absence of considered analysis it has been usual to look back at a single tableau representing the outcome of known events: “On 30 April Richard took Rivers, Grey and Vaughan into custody and assumed charge of the king’s onward journey to London”. But in what prevailing circumstances did each of these developments take place?

         Mancini tells us that in the morning, in Northampton, Richard gave orders to take hold of Rivers and his companions ‘and placed them in keeping in that town’, where they were held under guard. Then, ‘accompanied by the Duke of Buckingham, he spurred onward to reach the young monarch, while at the same time his men set watch on the roads’.

         We could start by looking at the seizure of Rivers. The earl had used authority under pre-existing letters patent (which have not yet been traced, but which were presumably linked to his role as governor of the Prince of Wales) to raise 2,000 men from the Welsh Marches for an escort of which he was in command. He had used his authority as governor of the prince to take charge of the king’s relocation from Ludlow to London. Yet the Council in London had removed the right of any unappointed individual to exert control over the king or his movements. Rivers was not the king’s governor, and moreover he had abandoned his command of the king’s escort by sending them onward while he personally spent the night some 15 miles distant in Northampton. Two thousand Welsh men-at-arms were of little use without the commander whose orders they were expected to follow, and if Richard had also discovered that the king was actually somewhere else, accompanied by only ‘a few men from his household’, then that Welsh escort was of no use at all. What capacity did 12-year-old Edward have to raise a successful defence if attacked? There remained plenty of Lancastrian adherents in the realm, as events would later reveal, for whom the removal of the boy would be an enormous coup. It doesn’t seem very surprising that Rivers was peremptorily relieved of his military command and held pending developments.

         But Richard then discovered much more. While hastening to meet up with the king he had set men to watch the roads. Knowing that he must traverse 15 miles of territory around the seat of the Woodvilles, a family whose actions had so recently taught him to be mistrustful, it was prudent to send scouts and skirmishers ahead. He was now leading his own retinue plus that of Buckingham, each of which would have comprised several hundred including numbers of armed retainers brought for protection on the road. They were heading to meet a 2,000-strong Welsh army, so the numbers involved were not insignificant. Fortunately these were numbers that Richard had long experience of commanding, and as Constable the task of maintaining order between arrays came naturally to him. It was a job that needed a firm hand.

         Mentioning Buckingham and maintaining order leads me to add something that Mancini signals early on and confirms later in Chapter Four, with what sounds like a verbatim report by Dr Argentine – who, though not actually present, was in a good position to piece together the highlights of the exchanges that took place. I am referring to Buckingham’s overtly aggressive attitude in the interview that took place between himself, Richard and Edward V upon reaching the king, when Buckingham ordered Edward to forget any ideas that his mother the queen had any part to play in ruling the country: this, he declared, was purely the business of men of noble lineage. Such insolence to the king’s face suggests that Buckingham, much more than Richard himself, had come spoiling for a fight. It could have signalled Buckingham’s long-term ambition to place every obstruction in the way of Edward V’s accession to the throne – a situation for Richard to keep a watchful eye on. Another factor in the equation was that numbers of Buckingham’s men, like the king’s escort, came from parts of Wales. With men from Wales and the Marches adhering to different and competing allegiances, there were doubtless those among them who nursed old scores waiting to be settled.

         Of Richard’s concerns as Constable as he set off that morning, these are just a few that spring readily to mind. But keenest of all, I believe, was something reported by his outriders who had scouted the route ahead.

Enter Sir Richard Grey

This is where Sir Richard Grey comes in, the queen’s younger son by her first husband. To set the scene, I need to remind readers that I have been comparing reports in Mancini and in the Crowland Chronicle, the latter written two years after these events. I am generally much more confident of Mancini thanks to the immediacy of his source Dr Argentine, who as Edward V’s physician was probably with the king’s entourage during this episode. Both are sympathetic to the Woodville cause, but when they differ in detail I advise following Mancini/Argentine whose account has Richard detaining Rivers in Northampton before setting out. We can safely discount Crowland’s rather odd story that Richard brought Rivers all the way down to where the king was, and then arrested him there. It seems the writer took his informant too literally when he was told ‘after a plan had been made during the night all the lords set out together’ [my emphasis]. This would have been tactically foolish. Must we suppose Richard also took with him whichever companions had accompanied Rivers to Northampton the previous day? If not, what did he do with them? It is only because the Crowland Chronicle’s words held sway for 400 years, and was ingrained with historians, that this version of the morning’s activities became the standard account. When Mancini’s version came to light in the 1930s it made much more sense.

         Equally, in respect of Richard Grey’s activities we have to dismiss the remarks about Grey in Crowland which are contradicted by Argentine. Mancini’s informant would have known for certain that Richard Grey did not, as the Crowland author assumed, travel with the king and Rivers in the Ludlow party. Argentine would not have made such an egregious error when he told Mancini that Grey ‘had come out to the king from London’.

         We do need Crowland, however, to fill in a few geographical details omitted by Argentine – or more likely omitted by Mancini who was a poor geographer whenever he had not personally observed something. There are supplementary details in Crowland that confirm Edward V was receiving hospitality somewhere other than Stony Stratford. The proceedings I am describing, which occurred on Richard’s and Buckingham’s route between Northampton and Stony Stratford, need to be visualized: the sketch-plan below, depicting the movements of the various participants, should be of help.



Stripped to its bare bones, the Crowland Chronicle’s account tells us, first, that Richard set out from Northampton for Stony Stratford to see the king. Second, hardly had his party reached their approach to Stony Stratford when he came upon Richard Grey, whom he arrested, together with others that Grey had brought in his company. Third, he made sure this action was not known in the next village where Edward V was (I take this to be Grafton). Fourth, he forced his way into that place (locum) where Edward was staying, and proceeded to remove others into custody including Thomas Vaughan. But he did not omit ‘to offer to his nephew the king any of the reverence required from a subject such as bared head, bent knee or any other posture.’ We will return later to what passed between them, for Crowland again represents it differently from Mancini/Argentine. Mancini rounds off Richard’s actions by saying that the king and Grey were taken back to where Rivers was detained in Northampton and given into the care of guards. Doubtless those of Grey’s contingent who were not arrested sped their way hotfoot back to London to convey the news.

         We learn from Mancini that Grey had brought his company out from London to meet Edward V ‘shortly before’, and it is this rendezvous that I contend had been set up in advance to take place at Grafton. Crowland’s description says that Richard arrested Grey and his company ‘when they [Richard’s party] had hardly reached their approach to this village [Stony Stratford]’ (cum pene accederent ad introitum ejusdem villae). The translation of introitus as ‘entrance’ is problematic here, especially in relation to approaching a village. Its literal meaning is ‘a going in’, which is why I prefer a more idiomatic way of putting it, ‘hardly had they reached their approach to this village’, indicating that they encountered Grey’s party as they made their way towards Stony Stratford but somewhat short of reaching it. This means they were in the vicinity of Grafton Woodville.

         Richard’s outriders, whilst establishing where the king was and scouting the safety of passage through the area, would have come across Grey’s men on the road leading to Stony Stratford; they would then have sent back to warn Richard of their unexpected presence. This, to my mind, is at the root of the later report that the Woodvilles had laid ambushes on the road. Separated as Edward V was from his escort, the arrests of Grey and his men were able to be carried out without the news reaching the king: a further argument, if one were needed, that the escort had been entirely ineffective and the boy had been left unprotected from any reasonably efficient intruder. Mancini reported how mortified the Welshmen were ‘that due to their negligence their prince had been carried off’. The true negligence, however, was on the part of Rivers, their commander.

         Richard was always in favour of the pre-emptive move, which is probably why he had survived so successfully in battle. And this is a feasible explanation for his immediately deciding, in his role as High Constable, to immobilize everyone in the area bearing arms.

         Why did he act pre-emptively and with such severity? Because we need to remember that the royal escort had been prescribed by Council as a maximum of 2,000 men from Wales. Yet here was Grey, come up from London with his own contingent. Crowland says Grey had ‘certain others’ with him – we don’t know how many – but note Mancini’s comment at the end of Chapter Four when Richard dismissed the king’s escort: ‘Of the king’s retainers, or those who had come forth to meet him [i.e. Richard Grey’s men], nearly all were ordered home.’ Grey’s contingent was not only ultra vires and in breach of the Council’s directive, but an unforeseen extra element in a volatile mix.

         Note also that Mancini reports, when the king’s party eventually arrived in the capital, they displayed arms and equipment bearing the devices of the queen’s brothers and sons, i.e. not only Rivers’s equipment but also Grey’s. He was probably wrong to write ‘sons’ in the plural, because the elder Grey brother, Thomas, was busy on errands of his own raising troops … unless he had augmented his younger brother’s force with some men of his own from London, perhaps from the Tower?

         The presence of Grey’s men on the Northampton road near Grafton and Stony Stratford meant that instead of three, there were now four companies converging on the same vicinity – perhaps approaching 4,000 in number – under four different commanders. This, I think, is the key to understanding why Richard lost no time taking charge of the situation. By his decisive actions in his office as Constable he removed all alternative commanders outside his own party, and dismissed their men. He was fully aware that the incursion of Grey’s men was a breach of faith by those who were responsible for transferring the king to London, and he had no compunction in taking punitive action.

         To questions as to the arrest of Sir Thomas Vaughan I have no answer. That he was loyal to Edward IV is undoubted, but according to Michael Hicks’s assessment (in his biography of Edward V) Vaughan’s office as chamberlain to the Prince of Wales at Ludlow grew to be his principal activity, which of course gave him significant influence alongside Rivers and Grey. Which is as much as to say that Vaughan was a major figure in the regime at Ludlow. The area under control from Ludlow was itself a key extension of Woodville power, Hicks avers, and their most important area of authority: ‘indeed, the principal sphere within which Earl Rivers operated’, by which they exerted a regional (and intrusive) dominance throughout Wales and the adjoining English counties. This allowed plenty of opportunity to reap personal rewards and benefit from the distribution of favours. Overall, the hegemony they collectively exerted in Wales had the effect of ousting other leading magnates of the area and, in particular, threatening the ambitions of Buckingham. Returning to his arrest on 30 April, it’s likely that Vaughan had been left in charge of the king by Rivers, his immediate superior. And that when he saw Richard arrive and peremptorily take charge, he perhaps forgot himself so far as to remonstrate or even call for guards to resist Richard’s assumption of command. It may well be, also, that Buckingham had the trio of Rivers, Grey and Vaughan in his sights.

         Although my established habit is to eschew citing any of the Tudor chroniclers, it is perhaps worth taking a moment to address a rather persistent error derived from them, to the effect that one ‘Sir’ Richard Haute (or Hawte) was also arrested at Stony Stratford. This assertion can even be found in the ODNB entry for Thomas Vaughan. Richard Haute (without title) was a relative of the Woodvilles and controller of the Ludlow household, and if this individual was meant, he certainly survived the incident to rebel against Richard III in October 1483. Sir Richard Haute, a loyal supporter knighted by Richard, was a different person.

Interview with the king

This paper is lengthy enough without following the events subsequent to 30 April; so I will end by reviewing reports of the interactions that took place with Edward V when they met face to face at Grafton. The Crowland Chronicle declares that Richard and Buckingham forced their way (irruentes) into the royal presence, of which behaviour Mancini says nothing, and indeed there would have been no need for force against the king’s household personnel, who would instantly have recognized who had arrived.

         Just as reported in Crowland, Mancini confirms that Richard and Buckingham began the interview with demonstrations of respect, expressing sincere grief and condolences to Edward for the loss of his father. Their next sentiments Mancini can scarcely condemn, as they exactly echo the same censure of the morals of the queen’s family that Mancini himself expounds in Chapter Two. The two dukes attempted to impress on the boy that the late king’s death had come about thanks to the dissolute habits encouraged by the courtiers surrounding him, who had ‘scant regard for his honour’ and had ‘brought his health to ruination’. Because of the likelihood that these men would persist in such behaviour as soon as they had access to the young king, it was imperative that they should be ‘removed from his side’.

         Richard’s attitudes in later contexts indicate his abhorrence of the kind of moral laxity that seems to have been associated with the influence of the (male) Woodvilles and others, such as Hastings, who joined them in their practices. The change in morality at court under Richard’s aegis is reflected in the censorious words of the Act of Succession, Titulus regius, passed in 1484, wherein the sins of the past were enumerated: ‘such as had the rule and governaunce of this Land … lede by sensuality and concupiscence, folowed the counsaill of personnes indolent, vicious, and of inordinate avarice’.

         The Crowland Chronicle also adds that Richard claimed he ‘knew for certain that there were men close to the king who had sworn to destroy his honour and his life’ – again that insistence that these unworthy men were bent on compromising the honour of his family – and he then proclaimed that ‘anyone of the king’s household should withdraw from that place at once and not approach any place the king might go, on pain of death.’ You would think this proclamation was important enough for Argentine to have reported it to Mancini, especially as it would have directly affected him as one of the household, but in fact Mancini does not mention it. It may have been added by the Crowland author’s informant for dramatic effect. Mancini says only that Richard ordered they must be ‘kept at a safe distance’.

         As well as recording Richard’s complaint that those same courtiers had been behind the denial of his role as Protector, Mancini reports the same assertion as Crowland that ‘these men’ were conspiring his death. But Mancini goes further: they were ‘preparing ambushes both in the city [London] and on the road, which had been revealed to him by their accomplices’. I must admit here that although Richard may have been right in claiming that there were Woodville conspiracies against him – he was, after all, the only national figure whose stature made him capable of challenging their designs – nevertheless I find it hard to believe the notion of despatching him by ambush on the road when surrounded by hundreds of potential witnesses. By stealth and in secret, perhaps; but if we are thinking of hidden men lying in wait to pounce on him as he travelled, I cannot envision the reality of this.

         The main problem I have is with the Latin word insidiae, which can be translated not just as ‘ambushes’ but as any kind of trap, snare, treachery or plot. I do find it believable that when Richard had taken charge of the situation at Stony Stratford, some person or persons from the former Ludlow entourage, or the Grey party, may have come to him afterwards with allegations of conspiracies. Unfortunately, Mancini’s certainty makes it hard to resist the impression that he knew everything that happened and, thanks to Argentine, reported it faithfully; but words are notoriously harder to record with accuracy than actions, and it is unlikely that Dr Argentine was in the room when these conversations took place.

         Mancini in his de occupatione also goes on to state twice more that insidiae were claimed by Richard to have been laid, but is frustratingly unspecific about them. First, in public announcements upon the king’s entry into London, where a rather questionable scenario is offered. And second, when Gloucester is said to have brought charges before the King’s Council, where Mancini’s report not only stretches credulity but is equivocal about what the alleged charges really were. Neither of these reports is in Chapter Four, the ‘Argentine chapter’.

         I mentioned how the Latin word insidiae could be variously translated, and it’s regrettable that when I made the translations in my new edition I was hampered by pre-existing prejudices. One was the overall prejudice of the original editor/translator, Armstrong, whose choice of words conformed to the accepted traditional anti-Richard view of his day: he translated these words as ‘ambushes’. The other prejudice was of long-standing luminaries of the Richard III Society who poured scorn on the prospect of translating Mancini afresh, damning the idea out of hand as a desire for ‘a counterweight translation … to give the interpretation most favourable to Richard in every case’. To preserve objectivity I had to tread a fine line between perpetuating Armstrong’s negative assumptions and being accused of whitewashing Richard III (not an enviable task!). In the end, because these words were tied in with wider complexities of arrests that eventually led to executions, I let the word ‘ambushes’ stand in all three cases – while making a mental note that surely other readers and researchers would agree with me that the translation ‘ambush’ is likely to be a more specific accusation than Mancini probably intended. I rather think he used this portmanteau term to cover his own lack of any clear understanding of what the Woodvilles were supposed to have done.

         There are many ways to look at this puzzle, and one way could be for this initial ambush allegation to have been literal but transitory – an alarmed report given to Richard by his outriders after they discovered Grey’s unexpected contingent on the road – but since Richard was now alerted in advance, whatever threat they thought there was had quickly faded away. Or perhaps Grey, undistinguished and looking to make a name for himself, really was there to set some kind of trap, who knows? Alternatively, taking the trio of allegations as a whole, it might be that Buckingham, or even Hastings, was poisoning the general opinion of the Woodvilles in London which Mancini picked up in hindsight. Whatever the truth of the matter, many developments occurred in the intervening months before Rivers, Grey and Vaughan came to trial, and I am inclined to think that their indictments did not arise wholly from what happened on 30 April.

         Interestingly, the conversation with Edward V seems to have been quite a lengthy one because it covered several subjects. After the offering of condolences and the assurance of fealty, with presentations of gifts and missives from diverse parties, there must have been guarded exchanges on those decisions taken earlier in London. The king’s next question was probably, ‘Where is my uncle Rivers?’ To which Richard’s reply might well have expressed his dismay at having found His Grace sitting unprotected in a country village with only a few men of his household. Rivers had been relieved of his command for dereliction of duty in abandoning his king and leaving him separated from both his escort and its commander. Protestations probably ensued from Edward that he wished to be reunited with his loyal governor. He may well have been surprised to hear in reply that Rivers no longer held any such office because a king had no governors or guardians unless they were officially appointed under the terms of a system such as a protectorate. Since he was now about to rule without a protectorate, he must set aside those who had surrounded him in his youth as Prince of Wales, and take counsel instead from those grave men experienced in matters of kingship who would attend him in London.

         Mancini reports Richard’s lengthy exposition about the need to root out those unworthy people at court who had encouraged the late king into a life of degeneracy. His brother’s confidence had always been placed in Richard himself, he emphasized, and he had all the qualifications and experience necessary to help the new young king adopt councillors qualified to assist him. Men who had his best interests at heart, and those of the realm.

         To this the young boy gave a spirited reply, says Mancini, defending those people his father had decided to surround him with, of whom Rivers, Grey and Vaughan were, of course, the leaders. And indeed, if you read the ordinances provided by Edward IV for his son’s upbringing at Ludlow, you would see, ironically, how much care had been taken to shield him from precisely the kinds of behaviours in which his father publicly indulged. The great pity was that the son was too young to have knowledge of the unwholesome ways of the court he was about to enter; and he was too inexperienced to recognize that people could have different sides to their character; so that while apparently ‘good and faithful’ to his face, they might easily prove immoral and corrupt when opportunity presented itself. The young king also declared, to Buckingham’s disgust, his great confidence in the powers of governance not only of the nobles of his realm but also his mother, the remark that evinced Buckingham’s intemperate outburst about governance being no business of women. Perhaps it is not too far-fetched to wonder whether the uncle-nephew interview mightn’t have benefited from Harry Stafford’s absence.

         At length, says Mancini, ‘the young boy, aware of their reasoning, gave himself into the care of his uncle, as was inevitable; for although they were exhorting him with due propriety, nevertheless they made it clear that they were demanding rather than requesting.’

         But it appears that Richard and his nephew subsequently became acquainted on better terms while spending time together as rearrangements were made for their onward journey. Edward revealed he had a favourite chaplain at Ludlow named John Geffrey, and together they found a way to reward him. A surprising survival from five centuries ago is small scrap of parchment on which the autographs of the king and the two dukes appear for no apparent reason, other than that they were perhaps comparing signatures. Maybe Gloucester and Buckingham were inviting Edward to practise his new signature as king, and to consider what his motto would be. Richard’s signature appears neatly under his best-known personal motto ‘Loyaulté me lie’ (‘Loyalty binds me’). Buckingham’s careless signature, large and full of flourishes, is surmounted by his motto ‘Souvente me souvene’ (usually rendered as ‘Remember me often’).


In conclusion, I would point out that in the course of the Stony Stratford affair Richard’s awesome summary judicial powers as High Constable were not used provocatively: the three detainees were consigned to three of his northern castles pending developments, where they remained for eight weeks. He also dismissed and sent home the men brought as the king’s escort, despite having reduced his own numbers by the necessary detachments of guards accompanying Rivers, Grey and Vaughan to detention in the North. Hence Mancini reported it was a company of just 500 that eventually brought the king to London. Notice also that throughout their accounts of the incident, neither Mancini nor the Crowland author makes any mention of the use of violence; or as Hastings reportedly put it, there occurred nothing more than a cut finger.

Ashby de la Zouch Castle – Home to William Lord Hastings


An intriguing doorway leads into the Great Chamber where the family would have entertained important guests.  A fine 15th century fireplace has survived as well as a 16th century window.  Photo from the English Heritage Guidebook book

Following on from my earlier post THE RISE AND FALL OF WILLIAM LORD HASTINGS AND HIS CASTLE OF KIRBY MUXLOE , Lord Hastings also rebuilt and fortified his other residence in the Midlands, Ashby de la Zouch which had come into his possession in 1462.    Both castles were in the process of being remodelled and extended,  to befit his newly attained status,  from existing manor houses when disaster and tragedy overtook him in 1483.    Work was stopped quite soon at Kirby Muxloe but continued at Ashby de la Zouch where the rebuilding work was more more advanced with two towers and a new chapel already in use.  One of these towers contained a kitchen that was large even by the standards of medieval castle kitchens.  The other tower contained a complete set of domestic apartments.  


A doorway into the castle.  Photo English Heritage.


Buck’s c.1730 engraving of the castle.  The doorway shown in the photo above can clearly be seen as well as the chapel still retained its traceried windows.  ‘Hastings Tower’ can be seen in the background.  National Galleries.


The spacious and elegant chapel was built by Lord Hastings and would have been served by the priests and singers from his household when he was in residence.  There were stalls to the side of the chapel for people to sit while the high altar was at the far end on a dais.   There was two balconies, one above the other at the eastern end with  closets  where the Hastings family could observe the services in private.   The first floor closet was connected to the great chamber by a door which is now bricked up (1).


The windows of the chapel today minus their wonderful tracery..


The pièce de résistance of the castle was the Great Tower also known as Hastings Tower which stood in silent testimony to the power and wealth of Lord Hastings.  Crowned with a projecting parapet of battlements and elegant turrets at the corners,  with the windows growing in grandeur the higher the floors rose,  it must have been a sight to behold.  


A surprisingly small door at the entrance to the Great Tower.   A projecting panel carved with Lord Hastings arms can be seen higher up.

scan 2

The Hastings arms panel..

scan 3

Fireplace in in the Great Chamber of Hastings Tower decorated with Edward IV’s heraldic sunbursts.  From an old postcard.


Cutaway of the Great Tower c.1480.  The fireplace from the postcard above can be seen on the top floor. Ashby de la Zouch Castle English Heritage Guidebook.


The same view today.  Photo


Besides the kitchen in the Great Tower a new kitchen was built in what is known as the Kitchen Tower.  This kitchen has to get a mention.  It was basically the mother of all medieval kitchens.  The high vault was decorated with carved bosses of stone, a rare ornament in a kitchen.  This massive vaulted space was ringed with hearths.  Each of the hearths incorporated several cooking spaces, such as a cauldron stand for boiling, fireplaces for roasting and ovens for baking’ and ‘each cauldron stand was lit by a little window.’ (2).


One of the surviving hearths with a cauldron stand to the left and an oven to the right.  Above the cauldron stand and out of sight is a small window.  

But to return to Lord Hastings.  All of Hastings’ power stemmed and depended upon his close friendship with Edward IV.   In 1472 a Paston servant commented: what my seyd lord Chamberleyn may do wyth the Kyng and wyth all the lordys of Inglond I trowe it be not unknowyn to yow, most of eny on man alyve   From around 1461 numerous powers, rewards and money were showered upon him as manna from heaven.  Always a Yorkist, his father Leonard had been a retainer of Richard Duke of York, Hastings was knighted after Towton on the 29th March 1461.  From that point on his rise was ‘rapid’ and later on that year he was appointed Chamberlain of the Royal Household,  had received a personal summons to Edward’s first parliament as Lord Hastings of Hastings and made Lieutenant of Calais.  Grants of  land had to be given to support his new status.  This was when Ashby de la Zouch among other lands was given to him and the great plan took hold to rebuild and remodel the old manor house into a residence that would be more befitting for someone of the new owner’s status.   Money was being spent like rice, as they say, and good fortune smiled on him when in 1471 Charles Duke of Burgundy rewarded him an annuity of 1000 écues and in 1475 Louis XI a pension of 2000 crowns.  Rosemary Horrox wrote of Hastings “Unusually for a royal favourite Hastings seems to have been not only successful but well liked too.   There seems no reason to quarrel with the later verdict of Thomas More  – ‘an honourable man, a good knight and a gentle loving man and passing well beloved’.   He was not criticised by the rebels in 1469-70 or by Richard III in 1484 when he was distancing himself from his brother’s regime’ (3).

Although all went swimmingly well with Lord Hastings and his very best friend Edward living the life,  this may well have led to feelings of animosity from Elizabeth Wydeville,  understandably,  and possibly jealousy from her son, Thomas Marquess of Dorset who was married to Hastings’ step daughter,  the great heiress Cicely Bonville.  Indeed Mancini wrote that Hastings ‘loathed the entire family of the queen on account of the Marquess’ (4). There is a story that after Edward’s death, his favourite mistress, Jane/Elizabeth Shore was shared between Hastings and Dorset, although whether this was done willingly or is even true is another matter.  

After Edward’s premature death  had taken everyone by surprise, Hastings acted with both alacrity and integrity putting his foot down with the Wydevilles and their machinations,  and arguing for the appointment of Richard Duke of Gloucester as Protector.  This did not sit well with those who had been involved in some part in the judicial murder of George Duke of Clarence and who were fearful of their futures should Gloucester seek justice for his brother.   According to Mancini Hastings wrote to Gloucester urging to come to London in all haste ‘with a strong force’ adding he should  also take the young Edward V into his care.  When this is what indeed transpired the Crowland Chronicler described him as ‘bursting with joy over this new world‘.  This may have been a bit of exaggeration but still, you can get the drift.  However, in actions that have never been fully explained or proven, Lord Hastings’ world imploded when things came to a head, no pun intended, in the council chamber at the Tower of London on the 13th June 1483.   Hastings was accused of plotting to assassinate Richard and he was without further ado ‘byhedyd forthwith’ although there is some debate about the actual timing (5).  It can only be imagined the thoughts that raced through Hastings’ head as walked to his execution.  Others were also arrested including the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of Ely, Oliver King and  Lord Stanley who sustained a wound to his bonce which unfortunately was not terminal.   There was talk that these people and others had been meeting secretly.  What had occurred that caused Hastings to turn his coat?  One of the most plausible theories put forward has been that he although he could not contemplate the Wydevilles being in control of the young Edward V and the repercussions this would hold for him, he could neither contemplate him being excluded from the throne either.   Another suggestion is that he had tied his colours to Gloucester’s flag pole but when the expected rewards were not forthcoming, indeed they were all being heaped upon the Duke of Buckingham, he did a complete volte-face.  Perhaps it was a combination of reasons as is often the case or something else entirely different and now lost in the mist of time.   After his death Gloucester, now Richard III, behaved magnanimously to the widowed Katherine Hastings, who was allowed to retain most of her husband’s estates and custody of his heir.  His wish made in his will to be buried near Edward IV was granted and today his beautiful chantry chapel stands a testament to a man, although with his flaws, was also well thought of.   Richard,  no doubt between a rock and a hard place,  had little time to think at a dangerous and fraught time in his life.  But it’s sad to say, if Hastings had held firm in his allegiance to Richard,  things may very well have had a different outcome at Bosworth.

Lord Hasting’s widow, Katherine,  sister to Richard Neville, ‘Warwick the Kingmaker’ lived on at Ashby de la Zouch until her death in c. 1503    In her will she mentions and bequeaths tapestries and hangings that were hanging in the chapel and tower at that time which  give an idea of the opulence that was Ashby de la Zouch in its heyday –  ‘Item, an old hanging of counterfeit arres of Knollys, which now hangeth in the hall; and all such hangyngs of old bawdekyn or lynen paynted as now hang in the chappell with the altar-clothes and oon super altare (cloth) with oon of the vestiments that now be occupyed in the chappell’.  Also ‘Item I woll that my Masse (book) covered with red velvet that is occupied in the chappell, be given to a poor church….’ (6)

She requested in her will to be buried in the lady chapel of St Helen’s, Ashby de la Zouch’s parish church ‘ between the image of our lady and the place assigned for the vicars grave’. Although the site of the original lady chapel was lost at the Reformation and the site of Katherine’s burial place forgotten, there are two vaults, one under the chancel and one below the Huntingdon Chapel that contain old coffins and hopefully one of these is that of Katherine Hastings (7).


St Helen’s Ashby de la Zouch, last resting place of Katherine Hastings nee Neville.

The castle continued to be held by the Hastings family until its partial destruction in 1648. A later generation of the Hastings family would return to live at Ashby de la Zouch for a while in a house constructed in 1820.  Today a school now stands where this house once stood.

9508821827_39f712aa9b_c.  The atmospheric ruins of Ashby de la Zouch. Home to the Hastings family. Photo Philncaz at Flikr.

  1. Greater Medieval House of England and Wales pp.211-219. Anthony Emery.
  2. Ashby de la Zouch and Kirby Muxloe Castle p.6 English Heritage Guidebook.
  3. Hastings, William, first Baron Hastings ODNB 23 September 2004, Rosemary Horrox.
  4. Domenico Mancini de occupatione regni Anglie p.51 Annette Carson
  5. Richard III The Road to Bosworth Field p.228. P W Hammond and Anne E Sutton.
  6. The Kingmaker’s Sisters p.146.  David Baldwin
  7. Ibid p180.

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Elizabeth Woodville Royal Window Canterbury Cathedral

Very soon after the clandestine marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville had taken place in 1464 it became abundantly clear to the old nobility that the siblings of the new Queen would henceforth be having their pick of the most sought after heirs and heiresses of England in marriage.   These marriages as well as the aggrandisement of the Woodville clan  unsurprisingly  led to much resentment and hatred of the parvenu Woodvilles which would later inevitably boil over leading to disaster, tragedy and a bloody day at Bosworth in 1485.  But I’m off on a tangent here and back to the marriages.  Who were the spouses of the Woodville Queen’s siblings and how did they fare?

ANNE c 1438 – 30 July 1489

First married to William Bourcher,  Viscount Bourchier, heir the the Essex Earldom.  William would fight at the battle of Barnet for York on the  14 April 1471.   The couple would go on to have three children.  When William died in 1480 Anne married  George Grey , 2nd Earl of Kent and 5th Baron Grey de Ruthyn with whom she had one son.  He was made a Knight of the Bath by Richard III in July 1483. However tempus fugit as they say and  June 1487 would find George fighting for Henry Tudor against the Yorkist Pretender, Lambert Simnel  at the Battle of Stoke. On 17 June 1497, he again fought for Henry at the Battle of Blackheath when the Cornish rebels were defeated.    How things could turn on a sixpence in those turbulent times!   After Anne’s death George would go on to marry Katherine Herbert, daughter of William Herbert,  Ist Earl of Pembroke.   Herbert’s oldest son, another William, married another Woodville sister, Mary.  Anne was buried in Old Warden Church, Bedfordshire.


St Leonard Church, Old Warden.  Photo Rhodielke


Anthony became the second husband of  Elizabeth Scales, 8th Baroness Scales.  This marriage substantially improved his prospects’  since his mother’s dower was only for her lifetime and thus  ‘Woodville could inherit only his father’s barony and three manors in Kent and Northamptonshire, there was some justification for the condescension towards him of the Yorkist earls in 1460 (1).  This marriage would prove to be childless.  On Elizabeth’s death in 1473, although it was not strictly legal,  he managed to retain her land which he would go on to  bequeath to his brother Edward at a loss to Elizabeth’s heirs – ‘ I bequeath such lands as were my first wife’s, to my brother Sir Edward Woodville, and to his heirs male, and in default of such heirs male, to the right heirs of my father’.  Anthony would go on make a second advantageous marriage in 1480 to Mary Lewis daughter of Sir Henry Lewis and Elizabeth Beaufort, the daughter of Edmund, duke of Somerset (d. 1455), and sister of the last two Beaufort dukes.  Mary was her father’s heir, more importantly, she was potentially coheir to the Beaufort dukes themselves. This marriage too would prove to be childless.  It is known that Anthony had at least one illegitimate child, Mary.  For those who would like to delve deeper into Anthony’s life I would recommend Michael Hicks’ online ODNB article Woodville (Wydeville), Anthony, second Earl Rivers.

MARY WOODVILLE 1443-1481.  Married William Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke.  This marriage seems to have been a happy one for William who died 16th July 1491 aged  35 (although there is a possibility it could have been earlier in  1490)  was buried at Tintern Abbey next to Mary as he requested in his will  ‘in or neare as may be the same where my dear and  best loved wife resteth buried’.   William would go on to marry  Katherine Plantagenet , illegitimate daughter of Richard III.  This marriage was short lived, Katherine presumed dead by 1487 when  her husband was recorded as  a widower at the coronation of Elizabeth of York.image Tintern Abbey.  William and Mary were buried close to the high altar to the north of his parents tombWatercolour c.1794 Joseph M.W. Turner.

JACQUETTA 1444-1509 – Married John Strange, 8th Lord Strange of Knockin in 1450 while they were both still children thus this marriage was the only one of the siblings to have been contracted prior to the marriage of Elizabeth to King Edward.   One  of Elizabeth’s ladies in waiting.    The couple had one daughter, Joan, Lady Strange, who married George Stanley, son and heir to Thomas Stanley who let Richard III down so grievously at Bosworth.   Joan commissioned a monument for her parents in Hillingdon Church, Middlesex.  However although Joan was buried as she had requested, by her father’s side,  according to a now lost inscription her mother was buried elsewhere (2). 


Brass memorial of John le Strange and his wife Jacquetta.  Chancel of Hillingdon Church.  Photo with thanks to

JOHN b.1445 – 1469  I don’t think anyone will need reminding about this  infamous Woodville marriage.    Married in 1465 when he was nineteen, Katherine Dowager Duchess of Norfolk b.c1400-d.1483, a lady thrice his age and described at the time as a maritagium diabolicum’  by William Worcester (3).  Confusingly this marriage made him uncle to both Richard Neville, Earl of  Warwick, known as the ‘Kingmaker’  and his brother in law Edward IV ergo he was also his mother’s uncle – I think – !  Anyway Warwick would get his own back when John fell into his hands in 1469 after the battle of Edgcote and he was, along with father,  executed.  What Katherine thought of the early demise of her much younger spouse is alas, lost in time. Joan_Beaufort,_Countess_of_Westmorland

Katherine is despicted here as a young woman along with her sisters including Cicely Neville, mother to Edward IV and Richard III. Their mother Joan Beaufort, in black,  is shown at the front of her brood of daughters.

JANE/JANE 1452-1512  Lady Grey of Ruthyn.  Confusingly known sometimes as ‘Eleanor’.  Married Sir Anthony Grey, son of Edmund Grey, Ist Earl of Kent. No child would be born and  Anthony would die before his father.   Attended and led the ladies in mourning at  the funeral and burial oMary Plantagenent daughter of Elizabeth and Edward who died at Greenwich Palace in May 1482. 


Greenwich Palace.  Following the death of her niece Mary Plantagenet here in May 1482 Jane attended the funeral rites and burial at Windsor.    

MARGARET 1454-1490 Married Thomas Fitzalan,  Earl of Arundel.  Thomas whose mother was Joan Neville sister to Richard Neville ‘Warwick the Kingmaker’ would outlive Margaret not dying until 1524.  W E Hampton described this marriage as another ‘tangle of allegiances’ for Thomas’  and Margaret’s daughter, another Margaret,  married John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, a possible heir to Richard III until his death at Stoke Field 1487.  Thomas himself was granted a yearly pension of £300 by Richard in 1484 when he was commissioner of array in Sussex and Hampshire.  However he also went on to do well under the Tudor regime.  Little is known of Margaret however except she had four children with Thomas and was the great grandmother of Henry Pole the younger.    She lies buried in the Fitzalan Chapel at Arundel Castle alongside her husband and his parents.


Margaret’s in-laws, William Fitzalan and his wife Joan Neville, sister to the Kingmaker.  Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel Castle.  Photo authors.  

KATHERINE 1458-1497  –  Married the even younger Henry Stafford Duke of Buckingham 1455-1483 while they were still children.   This marriage would perhaps have serious repercussions for it has been suggested that Henry strongly objected to marrying a Woodville who he considered beneath him.  Did this cause him later as an adult to throw in his lot with Richard Duke of Gloucester?   Richly rewarded by Richard his volte-face in betraying the king has never been satisfactorily explained.  Whatever the condition of his marriage the couple did have four children.  Katherine would go on to marry Jasper Tudor – an advantageous marriage for him as she brought with her extensive Stafford lands –  and thus become Duchess of Bedford.  After Jasper’s death in 1495 Katherine would marry Sir Richard Wingfield who outlived her.



Thornbury Castle, home to Katherine and Jasper Tudor. Photo Joabsmithphotography

MARTHA b? d.c1550.  Married Sir John Bromley of Bartomley and Hextall, Shropshire (4). Very little is known of either Martha or Sir John.  This obscurity is rather puzzling.  Perhaps  this is due to them living out their lives quietly and peacefully or maybe an error has been made somewhere in Martha’s lineage? 


1. Woodville/Wydeville, Anthony. Second Earl Rivers (c. 1440–1483).  ODB online article 2011.    Michael Hicks.  

2.Memorials of the Wars of the Roses p.116. W E Hampton..

3.Edward IV Charles Ross. 

4. Elizabeth Woodville A Life p.187 David MacGibbon

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Markenfield Hall viewed through the Gatehouse.  A 14th century moated manor house and one time home to the Markenfields. Photo National Garden Scheme.

Markenfield Hall, near Ripon, Yorkshire is surely the epitome of a survivor of medieval manor houses.  The building of the Hall begun in 1230 and was rebuilt and enlarged by John de Markenfield c.1310.  This Markenfield,  d. by 1323,  was  an unpleasant man, one of Edward II’s leading officials ,  and was given permission to crenellate in 1310 when he became Chancellor of the Exchequer.

“Licence to John de Merkyngfeld, king’s clerk, to crenellate his dwelling house at Merkyngfeld co. York. 2 Feb. 1310

Merkyngfeld rose high but would appear to have been an objectionable brute who stooped to commit rape for which he was pardoned but not declared innocent.

‘Pardon to John de Merkynfeld, canon of the church of St Peter York, for the rape of Sybyl, late the wife of John de Metham, knight, whereof he was indicted’ (1). 

Eventually John Merkynfeld/Markenfield would, unsurprisingly,  be excommunicated.

The Hall was steadily improved by the Markenfields who came after,  until disaster struck in 1569 when it was confiscated from them and metamorphosed into  a farm.    However the house, which has been continuously inhabited in one way or another since it was built has now been fully and lovingly restored.     It’s an irony that such a violent and aggressive bully left behind him such a glorious legacy that is Markenfield Hall.  However tempist frugit and the house remained in the Markenfields hands for many generations passed down through a succession of  heirs, most confusingly named Thomas.


One debt of gratitude owed to the odious John is  the completion in 1310 of the Chapel of St Michael the Archangel built in the heart of the Hall.   It was in this chapel on the 20 November 1569 that one of the Markenfields, another Thomas,  and the leaders of The Rising of the North gathered to hear a Catholic Mass before their departure on their doomed enterprise.    During the time of the Hall’s life as a farm the chapel was used by the farmers as a storage area for their grain and it is only by sheer good luck that the glorious 14th century piscina and traceried east window have survived unscathed.


14th century double piscina in the Chapel with the Markenfield  family arms.   Piscinas were situated near altars and used by priests for washing their hands and chalices. 

Although the Hall had its own chapel, most family members were buried in their chantry chapel at Ripon Cathedral founded in 1345 by Andrew de Merkyngfeld c.1311 d.1365.


Sir Thomas Markenfield  born c.1340 d.1398.  Effigy in the Markenfield chantry chapel, dedicated to St Andrew, east side of the north transept Ripon Cathedral. Fought in the Hundred Years War in France.


Sir Thomas’ interesting collar depicting a stag in a little field within a fence. This is thought to have marked his adherence to Richard II whose emblem was a white hart.  However it is also thought it was a rebus/pun on the family name  ‘Mark in Field’ – a mark being the quarry in a hunt.  Perhaps it was both….

Richard IIs badge The White Hart from the Wilton Diptych.  The National Gallery

Among the later owners of the Hall in the 15th century and those turbulent times known as the Wars of the Roses was yet another Thomas:   

Sir Thomas Markenfield born c.1447 d.June 20 1497.  Sir Thomas married Elinor Conyers daughter of Sir John Conyers who had connections to Middleham.   Their second  son, Ninian, born c.1476 was named after one of Richard III’s favourite saints.  Sir Thomas was one of  the  loyal followers of the king as well as to be counted among Richard’s personal friends and who may have been  a God father to Ninian.  Joining the service of the then 19 year old Richard Duke of Gloucester,  and Thomas being around 24 years of age,  it’s easy to imagine that they could have gravitated to each other.  Well awarded Thomas also went on to become  Knight of the Body by December 1484,  Justice of the Peace for Somerset in 1484 as well as  Commissioner of Array for both Somerset and in all Ridings of Yorkshire that same year.   Richard also made him Sheriff of Yorkshire.   Thomas would support Richard in suppressing the Buckingham rebellion for which he was generously rewarded with a grant of confiscated estates in Somerset to the value of £100 p.a. doubling his landed income and was named in the Harleian Manuscript 542  as being among those who came to Richard on the eve of Bosworth to fight for their king (2).    Certainly as A J Pollard succinctly puts it ‘he did what he agreed to do; he served his lord loyally and faithfully for life,  that is for the rest of Richard III’s life’ (3 ).   Sir Thomas was to survive Bosworth and pardoned by Henry Tudor lived the latter years of his life in quiet retirement at Markenfield Hall dying there aged about 50.  He was buried in Ripon Cathedral where his tomb survives today in the Markenfield chantry chapel, after requesting in his will to be buried before the altar ’emonge the beriall of myn ancestors’.  


The tomb and effigies of Sir Thomas and his wife Elinor Conyers, sadly in poor condition.  Ripon Cathedral.  Photo Rex Harris @Flickr

Thomas’ brother Robert now makes an appearance in the story.    On the 3 March 1484 just a few short days after Elizabeth Wydeville and her daughters had left Westminster Abbey sanctuary on the Ist March, Richard III sent Robert Markenfield southwards to a small place in Devon called Coldridge or Holrig as it was called in the Harleian Manuscript 433 :

 ‘Robert Markyngfeld/the keping of the park of Holrig in Devoneshire during the kinges pleasure..’ (4 )

 Coldridge Manor and Park had belonged to Elizabeth Wydeville’s son, Thomas Grey,  Marquess of Dorset  who owned it through his Bonville wife.  However that is another story and covered in another post.  It seems perhaps rather odd that after Thomas had been so amply rewarded by Richard,  his brother was merely sent South to a backwater in Devon.    There is a plausible theory that no other than Edward V had been living in Coldridge incognito under the watchful eye of his Grey half brother.  Could it be that Robert, who prima facie appears not to have been held in such high regard as Thomas by Richard III was in actual fact the opposite and was sent on a mission of the most utmost importance and confidentiality.    That is to safeguard the man known as John Evans who may have been the king’s nephew.  Certainly around the time of Bosworth Robert, who like his brother was pardoned by Henry Tudor,  left Coldridge,  which was eventually returned to Grey and moved to nearby Wembworthy where he become an associate of Sir John Speke who is believed to  have supported Perkin Warbeck.  As far as is known Robert Markenfield, lived out the rest of his life in Devon.

Tragedy was to overtake the family when one of the latter Markenfields, Ninian’s grandson, Thomas,  was to lose the Hall after falling foul of the Tudors by involvement in the disastrous Rising of the North  in 1569.  This Thomas, described by a contemporary as  “rash, daring and too wildely yonge” fled England with other family members  and is said to have eventually died of starvation in Brussels in August 1592.  After the Hall was  confiscated from the Markenfields it became sadly neglected  by a succession of absentee landlords who let it out to various tenant farmers and their families.


An old photo of Markenfield Hall showing the Courtyard and  Gatehouse in its life as a farm…


The Tudor Gatehouse in a dilapidated condition.  Old sepia postcard.


The Gatehouse today.  Photo Lenora Genovese @ Flickr

However this was to prove to be something of a blessing in disguise because for the next 200 hundred years none of the tenant farmers had neither the money nor the inclination to ‘do‘ the Hall up.  Thus its glories were merely plastered or wallpapered over but not destroyed.    Finally in the 20th century the Hall has now been lovingly restored to its former glory by the Grantley family who are descendants of the Markenfield family.  In the words of Anthony Emery, an expert on English medieval houses : ‘The berm is beflowered and the moat beautifully kept….’ and thus may it continue so for another 700 years.  

  1. Markenfield Hall   I have found much information in the many short articles to be found on this link  and I would recommend it to those who would like to delve more deeply into the Hall.  
  2. Sir Thomas Markenfield and Richard III p8 A J Pollard.
  3.  Ibid p.10
  4. Harleian Manuscript 433 p.140 Vol One.

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