Was Richard III born on October 2 or October 11?

To begin this post, I will confess to having an attachment to the date of birth that Richard III wrote in his personal prayer-book.  In his own hand, he inscribed next to the entry for October 2 the words “hac die natus erat Ricardus Rex anglie IIIus apud ffoderingay Anno D’ni mcccc lijo” (“at this day had been born King Richard III of England, at Fotheringhay, in the year of our Lord 1452”).  I was born on October 2, five centuries later.  As a student of “Ricardian” history, it’s a point of pride for me to be born on the same calendar day as Richard — which makes me rather eccentric to say the least.


Richard III’s Book of Hours – with handwritten notation of his birthdate (L)

Nevertheless, it’s rare that we get to see anyone from the medieval period writing down their birthday, and so it is with some confusion that I see some people taking an issue with this date because they are distracted by the Gregorian calendar which came into existence in 1582, almost 100 years after Richard became king and then died.  What are we to make of the differences between the Julian (medieval) calendar and the Gregorian (modern) one?  Should we adjust the date of Richard’s birth to account for our modern calendar?

One author, Joan Szechtman, has addressed this dilemma.  In her blog Random Thoughts of an Accidental Author, she writes that dates need to be adjusted

… only if the story takes place between October 1582 and September 1752. This is because in February 1582, Pope Gregory XIII issued a papal bull to correct discrepancies in the calendar where the solstices didn’t align. The bull decreed that ten days were to be eliminated from the calendar such that the day following Thursday, October 4, 1582 would thereafter be known as Friday, October 15, 1582 (instead of October 5th)—hence eliminating ten days from that year. Years that were divisible by 100 must also be divisible by 400 to be a leap year, and new rules were put in place for determining the date on which Easter fell. In addition, leap day was moved from the day before February 25th to the day after February 28th. (I wonder if the Julian leap day was February 24.5?)

A further complication was the day celebrated for the New Year. Not only did it vary from country to country, but also between groups within a country. So the New Year may have been celebrated in March, January, or December. This bull also set the New Year to January 1st.

The bull was issued after Great Britain broke with the Roman Catholic Church. Great Britain did not adopt the new calendar until September 1752, when September 14th immediately followed September 2nd.

When Pope Gregory made his calendar, it was not intended to be applied retroactively to previous centuries and past dates were not altered.  The main reason historians engage in “date adjustment” is to account for discrepancies during the period when Great Britain was still using the Julian calendar whereas Roman Catholic countries on the Continent had followed the papal bull and adopted the Gregorian one.  So, if one happened to be dealing with an event that was recorded in France as occurring on October 12, 1590, and if one wanted to find out what was happening in England on that same day of the week, one would have to look at what the English had recorded as occurring on October 2, 1590.  Historians notate this by indicating whether the date in question is Julian (“Old Style” or “OS”) or Gregorian (“New Style” or “NS”).

Historians have not applied the Old Style/New Style system to dates from the 15th century because there’s no need to.  What happened on October 2, 1452 in England also happened on October 2, 1452 in France, since both countries were following the Julian calendar then.  At most, historians sometimes designate 15th century years in the manner XXXX/Y, e.g., 1480/1, which is to convey the difference between the medieval legal year, which in England began on Lady Day (March 25), versus the calendar year which began on January 1st.  This would apply only to dates between January 1-March 24, and is intended to assist the reader with clarifying the calendar year in question.  Because Richard was born on October 2, well after Lady Day, there is no need to make any such notation for his birth year of 1452.


Papal Bull issued by Pope Gregory in 1582

More importantly, the Gregorian calendar only affected the civil calendar, not the religious one.  This is another reason to be very cautious in applying it retroactively — a process that results in what is called a “proleptic Gregorian calendar”.   For example, the Battle of Agincourt is recorded to have occurred on St Crispin’s Day, the 25th of October, 1415 – no one disputes the month or day of the week on which it happened.  Would any serious historian claim that we should recalculate that date based on the Gregorian calendar?  If we do, then we must apply the rule of calculation for the “proleptic Gregorian calendar” and add 9 days to that date* – making the battle fought on November 3, the feast day of Winifred the Virgin Martyr.  Imagine how utterly different the narrative of that battle would be written if Winifred had to replace St Crispin in this speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V:

This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester—
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Changing dates can therefore have a profound, and unintentional, effect on the historiography of an event.  If we use the “proleptic Gregorian calendar” to say that Richard III was actually born on the 11th of October instead of the 2nd of October, then don’t we also change what saint’s feast day would have been celebrated on the day of his birth?  Admittedly, this may seem esoteric to modern secularists, but to medieval people this might have been deemed slightly heretical.

Finally, there’s the argument that we should adjust Richard III’s birth date because it would be more accurate in terms of a seasonal or astronomical understanding.  Our “understanding” of October 2 today means that the sun rises and sets, and that particular constellations would be ascendant in the sky, at X, Y, and Z times; in 1452 all those things would be different on the day they recorded as October 2.  In Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire, the sun rises 15 minutes later on October 11 than on October 2 according to modern calculations.  As pointed out by several writers of historical fiction, this may be important for how they portray past events such as battle scenes.**  It may also be important for those who subscribe to the study of astrology, and for casting astrological charts.

I am not a strong believer in astrology, but even if one were, the astrological argument is confounded by the fact that the Earth’s rotation is not a constant speed.  The Earth’s rotation is actually slower with every passing day, making today ever so slightly longer than yesterday.  Even under the Gregorian calendar, there are fluctuations in the dates of the solstices; in 1903, the date of the winter solstice was December 23, whereas in 2096, it will be December 20 – 2.25 days of variation compared with the seasonal event.  Sir John Herschel noted that the Gregorian calendar fell behind in the astronomical seasons, and therefore offered a different way to calculate leap years (a proposal that has yet to be adopted).  So, if we stood at the site of Fotheringhay Castle on October 11, 2017, it is unlikely that what we would see in the skies would have been precisely identical to what Richard’s contemporaries had seen on October 2, 1452.

Phew! Are you confused by now?  I know I am!  This is really complicated material.  And I am by no means an expert on this issue.  Personally, I believe that changing dates from the 15th century to meet the 21st century calendar is slightly dodgy, and leads to a distortion of the historical record.  Perhaps I am wrong, and am missing the counter-argument(s).  I welcome hearing alternative views; but until then, if Richard wrote that he was born on October 2, then that’s good enough for me.

(*Under the “proleptic Gregorian calendar”, one would add 10 days to 16th century dates, 9 days to 15th century, and 8 days for the 14th century.)

(**To change the date from October 2 to October 11 would also alter the day of the week Richard was born on – from Monday to Wednesday.  How that may impact the historical narrative is unknown or of minimal value, but it does result in a discrepancy between the “truth” of his birth date and one that results in a “pseudo-truth”.)


You can find Joan Szechtman’s blog at http://rtoaaa.blogspot.com/2011/07/tale-of-two-times-or-when-is-8th-really.html

For a free, on-line digitization of Richard III’s Book of Hours, including his handwritten note regarding his date of birth, see http://leicestercathedral.org/about-us/richard-iii/book-hours/

For the medieval calendar of saints’ days, see http://www.medievalist.net/calendar/home.htm

For a table for converting Julian dates into “proleptic Gregorian calendar” dates, see https://infogalactic.com/info/Proleptic_Gregorian_calendar

Thomas Langton: Richard III’s Character Witness

Amongst the glories of Winchester Cathedral, there is a chantry chapel of outstanding beauty and magnificence. The man who is buried there, and for whom the roof bosses provide a rebus clue, is Thomas Langton, who died of plague in 1501 only days after being elected by Henry VII as Archbishop of Canterbury. Earlier, he had served as the Bishop of Winchester (1493-1501), Salisbury (1484-93) and St. David’s (1483-84), and acted as a servant to three — or four, depending on how you count — English kings. As the information plaque at Winchester Cathedral succinctly announces, Langton had been a chaplain to Edward IV and Richard III, and Ambassador to France and Rome.

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Although his death came as a surprise in his 70th year, he did have the opportunity to make an extensive will, showing he died a very wealthy man. It runs to over 100 items, and contains monetary legacies amounting to £2000, including the provision of six exhibitions in Queen’s College, Oxford, and more than a dozen other benefactions to the universities. Richard Pace (d. 1536), the future diplomat and Dean of St Paul’s, who had been sent as a young man to study at Padua at Langton’s expense, remembered that the bishop ‘befriended all learned men exceedingly, and in his time was another Maecenas*, rightly remembering (as he often said), that it was for learning that he had been promoted to the rank of bishop’. *Maecenas is a man who is a generous patron, especially of arts and literature.

It was “for learning” that Langton achieved his fame and reputation as an able diplomat, a proponent of the New Learning or Studia humanitatis, and one of the preeminent educators of his day. He was born in Appleby, Westmorland around the year 1430 to an obscure family that had no social prestige or any apparent political leanings. No nobleman is mentioned in his will or within his household, and none of his ancestors receive mention in the lists of household retainers of the great northern lords.

Despite his humble origins, he graduated with a Masters of Art degree from Cambridge University by 1456 and was a fellow of Pembroke College by 1462–3, where he served as senior proctor. He vacated his fellowship in 1464 to study at Padua University in Italy, but soon returned to Cambridge because of a shortage of funds, receiving a Bachelor of Theology in 1465. During his second stay in Italy, from 1468-73, Langton was created a Doctor of Canon Law at Bologna University in 1473 and Doctor of Theology by 1476. In 1487, he was elected Provost of Queen’s College, Oxford, becoming one of its greatest benefactors. As Bishop of Winchester, he started and personally supervised a school in the precincts of the bishop’s palace, where youths were educated in grammar and music. He was a good musician himself, and took talented musical children into his tutelage. It has been said he would study the various dispositions of the pupils, and would examine them at night on their day’s work, “always on the look-out for merit, that by encouragement it might be made more”.


Aside from this, Langton is probably best known for a letter he wrote which included some remarks about Richard III. In September, 1483, he was part of the retinue which accompanied the newly-crowned king on his royal progress from London to points west and north, and observed the following:

He contents the people where he goes best that ever did prince; for many a poor man that hath suffered wrong many days have been relieved and helped by him and his commands in his progress. And in many great cities and towns were great sums of money given him which he hath refused. On my troth I liked never the conditions of any prince so well as his; God hath sent him to us for the weal of us all. . . .

As Keith Dockray observed, private letters like Langton’s are an “important quarry of information for the era of the Wars of the Roses”. They often can be dated precisely, helping historians to pinpoint the timing of key events. Moreover, since private letters are not written with a conscious attempt to record events for posterity or to promote official political propaganda, they offer a less filtered and more candid commentary on contemporary issues. As such they are valuable supplements to official records and chronicles of English history.

But letters have flaws, too, and those drawbacks can’t be ignored. People can lie, exaggerate, or speculate in their private correspondence. They can describe events they haven’t seen first-hand. They can create or spread vicious rumors and hearsay. Or, they can give unwarranted praise for an individual, or describe an event or issue not as an objective bystander, but as a partisan or someone with prejudices.  Historians therefore don’t accept as true everything said in letters, so they submit them to an analysis of whether they should be deemed reliable or dismissed, in whole or part.

Langton’s September 1483 letter has received critical appraisal by historians over the centuries. The “conventional wisdom” was expressed by Professor Charles Ross in his 1981 biography of Richard III:

Langton was scarcely an impartial witness. A Cumberland man who had risen in Richard’s service, he had only recently been promoted to the see [bishopric] of St David’s during the Protectorate, and was soon to receive Lionel Woodville’s much richer see [bishopric] of Salisbury when the latter fled into exile in the aftermath of the 1483 rebellion. He had a natural and inbuilt interest in seeing Richard succeed.

The assertion that Langton’s account is “that of a partisan, and likely to be tinged with partiality” goes back to 1827 when J.B. Sheppard transcribed and wrote the introduction to The Christ Church Letters: A volume of mediaeval letters relating to the affairs of the priory of Christ Church Canterbury. That the preeminent scholar on Richard III wrote in 1981 a sentiment that was expressed 150 years earlier shows the tenacity of certain viewpoints. But more importantly, lying beneath Sheppard’s conclusion is the irreconcilable idea that a man of Langton’s qualities could actually praise someone who in his mind is a manipulative usurper. To Sheppard, “it is to be deplored” that he should fall into such naiveté. But this begs the question: who is being naïve? Can an historian objectively assess Langton’s letter if s/he views Richard III as being essentially repellant or heroic?

Because of this potential pitfall, we could look to other methodologies that divorce the historian from his or her own prejudices. Scientific laboratory analysis of Richard III’s skeletal remains, for instance, has already helped separate fact from fiction. This multi-disciplinary approach has debunked myths about his spinal deformity and appearance. Similarly, there is a methodology for judging the credibility of what Langton said in his letter. It comes from our courts of law where, every day, juries are instructed to apply a number of factors to sort out believable from unbelievable testimony:

Preliminary Instructions – Credibility of Witnesses

In deciding what the facts are, you may have to decide what testimony you believe and what testimony you do not believe. You are the sole judges of the credibility of the witnesses. “Credibility” means whether a witness is worthy of belief. You may believe everything a witness says or only part of it or none of it. In deciding what to believe, you may consider a number of factors, including the following:

 (1) the opportunity and ability of the witness to see or hear or know the things the witness testifies to;

(2) the quality of the witness’s understanding and memory;

(3) the witness’s manner while testifying;

(4) whether the witness has an interest in the outcome of the case or any motive, bias or prejudice;

(5) whether the witness is contradicted by anything the witness said or wrote before trial or by other evidence;

(6) how reasonable the witness’s testimony is when considered in the light of other evidence that you believe; and

(7) any other factors that bear on believability.

Model Jury Instruction 1.7.

While these factors are used to weigh evidence in criminal and civil trials, they are also extremely useful in analyzing historical accounts like Langton’s letter. Indeed, historians apply some or all of them without realizing it. Charles Ross and J.B. Sheppard, for instance, rely exclusively on factor (4) to conclude that Langton was a biased partisan who would be motivated to see Richard III in the most favorable light. The reader is thus left with an incomplete analysis, since there is little or no attempt to apply the other items.

The goal of this essay is to give Langton’s letter a more thorough analysis by applying all the factors that determine a witness’s credibility. By doing so, we will discover much more about Langton’s life than is usually described in history books, and we will see emerge a picture that is quite different from the one painted by Ross and Sheppard. But before we do this, we first need to read the entire letter and understand its context.

From Thomas Langton, Bishop of St. David’s, to the Prior of Christ Church (September 1483)

My Lord I recommend one to yow, &c. If ther hap to be ony shippis at Burdeaux at such tyme as your wyne yt shalbe clear shippyd, the Kyng wil for no thyng graunte licence to yow, ne to non other, for to ship your wyne in a straunger. If ther be non Ynglyssh shippis, ye may well in that cace ship your wyne yn a straunger; ther ys no law ne statute ayeyn it; and so by thadvyce of the chef juge, Sir Fayreford Vavasor, Sir Jervas Clifton, and Medcalf you nedys no license; and so thai all shewyd the law. In this matter this ys the conclusion; in oon cas yow nedys no licence; in the other the Kyng wil noon graunte. The Kyng hath at this tyme ij messengers with his cosin of France. If thai bring home good tithings I dout not but the Kyng will wryte to his said cosin as specially as he can for your wyne; if he have no good tythings yow must have paciens; but how so ever it shal be send Smith your servant for your wyne, for I dout not but ye shal have it this yer. I pray you do so mych for me to take your servant iiij li. Or els pray master supprior to do it, to such tyme that y shal com to London, and pray your said servant for to by me ij tun of wyne with it, and bring it home with yours. I trust to God ye shal here such tythings in hast that I shalbe an Ynglissh man and no mor Welsh—Sit hoc clam omes. The Kyng of Scots hath sent a curteys and a wise letter to the Kyng for [h]is cace, but I trow ye shal undirstond thai shal have a sit up or ever the Kyng departe fro York. Thai ly styl at the siege of Dunbar, but I trust to God it shalbe kept fro thame. I trust to God sune, by Michelmasse, the Kyng shal be at London. He contents the people wher he goys best that ever did prince; for many a poor man that hath suffred wrong many days have be relevyd and helpyd by hym and his commands in his progresse. And in many grete citeis and townis wer grete summis of mony gif hym which he hath refusyd. On my trouth I lykyd never the condicions of ony prince so wel as his; God hathe sent hym to us for the wele of us al neque . . . . voluptas aliquis regnat . . . . . . . . . . . .
Our Lord have you in his kepyng. I wold as fayn have be consecrate in your chyrch as ye would have had me your


It shal be wel do that your servant bring a certificate from the Mayr of Burdeaux that ther was no sheppis ther of Ynglond at such tymes as he ladyd your wyn.

To my Lord the Prior of Cryschyrch of Canterbury.

In order to understand the letter, we need to know three things: (a) to whom was he writing? (b) what was the nature of their past correspondence? and (c) what were the events that prompted this particular letter?

Who was the Prior of Christ Church and Why was Langton Writing to Him?

The Prior of Christ Church in Canterbury was William Selling. Like Langton, he came from an obscure family, studied in Italy, supported the New Learning, and collected books. Selling is considered one of the early Renaissance figures of England and several of his Latin orations are still extant; particularly notable is the speech he prepared for the convocation of 19 April 1483, cancelled by Edward IV’s death and funeral.   Selling and Langton were the same age, both born circa 1430, and first met in Italy where Langton was pursuing a doctorate of canon law. Selling was a Benedictine monk at the time, but would become prior of Christ Church in 1472.

The two lived through the turmoil of Henry VI’s mental incapacitations and the power struggles that accompanied them, the defeat of the House of Lancaster at Towton in 1461, the early uncertainties of Edward IV’s Yorkist reign, the Kingmaker’s 1469 defection, Henry VI’s readeption and demise in 1471, and the crises brought about by the king’s sudden death in April, 1483. With so many shared experiences, they must have had a natural kinship. This is reflected in Langton’s statement that “I wold as fayn have be consecrate in your chyrch as ye would have had me”. Indeed, just a year earlier, Selling gave Langton the prestigious rectory of All Hallows Gracechurch in London, so presumably he reciprocated Langton’s affection.

They had been corresponding to each other for at least half a decade. In a letter written by Langton to Selling and dated the last day of the 1478 Parliament, we learn that Selling composed a sermon for convocation and had asked Langton to deliver it. Langton explains that Edward IV had assigned him to deal with Spanish ambassadors on “weighty” matters and regrets he might not be available to do so. He inquires after Master T. Smyth (presumably the same servant mentioned in the September 1483 letter) and then interjects “Ther be assignyd certen Lords to go with the body of the Dukys of Clarence to Teuxbury, where he shall be beryid; the Kyng intendis to do right worshipfully for his sowle.” He conveys the news that he was recently made Treasurer of Exeter Cathedral and states how much income he will derive from that office. He hopes Prior Selling shall be receiving “his wine” soon. The letter shows a mix of current events, personal news, and concern for a good friend.

What is the letter of September 1483 talking about? And what’s the big deal about “the wine”?

The letter written by Langton in September 1483 falls along the same general lines as the one from 1478, being a mix of current political events and personal news. More than half the content deals with the issue of “Prior Selling’s wine” and how to get it shipped from Bordeaux without incurring import taxes. Wine was not a frivolity but a major concern for the Canterbury priory; it was expensive and it was needed for the communion sacrament. In 1179, King Louis VII of France made a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Thomas à Becket in Canterbury and in gratitude made a bequest in perpetuity for an enormous quantity of French wine (1,600 gallons per year) to the monks of Christ Church Priory. With the English invasion of France during the Hundred Years War, the French stopped honoring this grant, possibly because of the despoiling of their northern vineyards. When Langton was sent to France in 1477 as Edward IV’s ambassador, Selling gave him a petition along with instructions to do his utmost to press Louis XI (“the Spider King”) for a favorable answer on acknowledging the grant. As a result of Langton’s efforts, the French king not only committed himself to honoring the grant again, but he also stipulated that the wine would come from the Loire Valley – the best quality of wine produced in France. Langton’s achievement was memorialized in Canterbury’s records, and he was offered the living of St. Leonard, Eastcheap — an offer he declined in favor of accepting a future benefice. He’d end up waiting five years for that to happen. If anything, Langton was a very patient man.

In September 1483, with the accession of Richard III, the grant was still in operation but its future was uncertain, especially since the French had a new king in the person of Charles VIII. Langton reports to Selling that King Richard had sent two messengers to King Charles, ostensibly for the purpose, among others, of seeing whether the new French king would honor the grant of wine. Langton assures his friend that King Richard will personally write to Charles if necessary. However, the immediate concern for Selling was how to get his wine shipped out of Bordeaux without paying duties or a license to import. This was why Langton conferred with several judges and lawyers on the matter; their consensus was that Selling did not need a license to import and would not have to pay duties, even if the wine was carried aboard French ships. Langton then asks a favor: could Selling’s man buy two tuns of wine in France for him and have it shipped along with the Prior’s wine? Posterity does not record whether Selling agreed to this, but the upshot is that Langton was looking to evade paying duties by having his wine commingled with Selling’s duty-free cargo. One can be certain that Langton didn’t intend this letter to be read by the king’s agents.

The remainder of the September 1483 letter deals with how the new English king is being perceived on royal progress, Langton’s personal aspirations, and the situation with Scotland. Langton reports that the Scottish siege of Dunbar is still on-going, and he hopes the English will prevail in their occupation of that fortress. While the “Kyng of Scots” sent a courteous and wise letter about it, Langton believes some kind of confrontation between the two monarchs will occur, in the form of a “sit up” (i.e., diplomatic parlay) while King Richard is at York.

One of the more curious things about Langton’s letter is when he breaks into Latin, which happens twice. The first time is when he says “I trust to God ye shal here such tythings in hast that I shalbe an Ynglissh man and no mor Welsh—Sit hoc clam omes”. This sentence has been interpreted to mean that Langton aspired to be translated from St. David’s to an English bishopric in the foreseeable future — but let this be secret from everybody.

The second use of Latin is more puzzling, and is confounded by the illegibility of the original document which is partially damaged by damp.   In 1827, Sheppard transcribed Langton as saying: “On my trouth I lykyd never the condicions of ony prince so wel as his; God hathe sent hym to us for the wele of us al neque . . . . voluptas aliquis regnat………” Alison Hanham made another attempt in 1975 to decipher this portion of the letter, reporting that she was assisted by a Miss Anne M. Oakley, Canterbury Cathedral’s archivist who looked at the manuscript under ultra-violet light. Hanham’s transcription reads: “Neque exceptionem do voluptas aliqualiter regnat in augmentatia” This, she translates into English as “Sensual pleasure holds sway to an increasing extent, but I do not consider that this detracts from what I have said”.  Hanham finds this observation to be consistent with the Crowland chronicler’s comments about Richard III’s court, where it was said too much attention was paid to singing and dancing and to vain exchanges of clothing, provoking the outrage of the people, the magnates and the prelates.

Viewing the totality of Langton’s relationship with Selling, the general tenor of his correspondence, and the things discussed, one can safely say they were intimate colleagues who were keenly interested in political developments and were genuinely interested in the other’s welfare. Selling entrusted Langton to deliver his sermon in convocation, to negotiate a sensitive issue with Louis XI about a lapsed grant, and to get a legal opinion about shipping his wine. With the accession of Richard III, Selling could reasonably expect to be called upon to write a sermon for the next convocation, as he had done for the one canceled April, 1483. Getting an accurate temperature reading on the new king and the political climate would be critical to that task. So the question becomes whether Selling could trust the credibility of Langton’s observations about the king, and this brings us to applying the legal methodology set out above.

Application of Witness Credibility Factors

(1) Did Langton have the opportunity and ability to see, hear, or know the things he wrote about Richard III?

Langton was remarkably well-placed to have first-hand observations about Richard III and the events of 1483. Not only was he present with the new king during his royal progress, but he was also living in London after returning from a diplomatic embassy to France in December 1482.   As Rector of All Hallows Gracechurch, Langton’s parish included the Tower and Baynard’s Castle. This put Langton in close proximity to the events occurring at the Tower, and it made Richard a parishioner of Langton’s while he lived at Baynard’s as Lord Protector, and where on 26 June 1483 he was offered the crown.  Moreover, it is quite likely that he was called to consult Edward V’s and Richard III’s royal councils on matters concerning foreign policy with France; Langton had made numerous diplomatic trips to the court of Louis XI and could provide valuable insights. As Langton’s biographer D.P. Wright notes, whenever Langton wasn’t on embassy “he was busy at court”.  Since the administrations of Edward V and Richard III were notable for their continuity with Edward IV’s, there’s no reason to believe Langton suddenly found himself ostracized from court.

Langton participated, to some extent, in the coronation rituals of Richard III. He is mentioned in an indenture made between the king and Abbot of the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, Westminster, dated July 7, 1483. There, Langton and the Bishop of St. Asaph’s conveyed to the Abbot’s possession the reliquary ampule of St Becket’s oil that had been used during the king’s anointment.   From this, historians believe Langton might have also participated in the procession carrying the ampule on the Vigil before coronation.

We can therefore conclude that Langton had an excellent opportunity to observe Richard’s conduct as Lord Protector and as king. But did he have a basis to measure Richard against other princes?  Here again, Langton had a wealth of experience to draw upon.  During his diplomatic embassies to Spain, France, and Burgundy, he met King Ferdinand, Duke Maximilian, and Louis XI.  Indeed, Langton had several private audiences with the “Spider King”, including one in 1479 when Louis dismissed everyone from his palace so he could speak to Langton in absolute privacy.  And, of course, Langton had ample experience with Edward IV and his courtiers, through six years of service to his administration. So when Langton states “On my troth I liked never the conditions of any prince so well as his”, it’s coming from a man who draws from a deep well of past experience with Europe’s and England’s most powerful leaders.

(2) How good was Langton’s understanding and memory of the events he spoke about?

Unlike Dominic Mancini, Langton was a native-born Englishman who understood its vernacular language and customs. In 1483, he was 53 years old with no apparent defects in his memory or acuity; he would go on to be elected Archbishop of Canterbury at age 70 so he must have had his “senses” even at that advanced age.

More importantly, Langton wrote his letter contemporaneously with the events he was reporting about. Contemporaneous writings are generally more reliable than those written “in hindsight”. The problem with hindsight is that it tends to view past events as fitting into pattern or being consistent with a result occurring much later. Many of us are familiar with the phrase “Monday morning quarterback” in American football, where a quarterback’s decision to throw a pass is criticized if it was intercepted and/or contributed to his team’s ultimate loss of the game. Most of us agree it’s not entirely fair to judge someone like that because the loss of the game was dependent on more variables than just one pass.

The same applies to historical chronicles, such as the Abbey of Crowland’s Continuations (aka “Crowland Chronicle”). Written by an unknown cleric in 1486, the chronicler assesses Richard III’s reign a year after his death at Bosworth. He views this outcome as evidence of God’s judgment on a usurper, murderer of nephews, and evil king.  And while the Continuator tries to be as fair as possible, he cannot resist judging an event, or people, by the future consequences. When, for instance, the assembled English lords took an oath in February 1484 recognizing Richard III’s son as heir to the throne, the Crowland Chronicler views the son’s death in April as evidence that the oath was futile and was an “attempt of man to regulate his affairs without God”.  The Crowland Chronicler observes this about Richard III’s royal progress to York in September 1483:

“Wishing therefore to display in the North, where he had spent most of his time previously, the superior royal rank, which he acquired for himself in this manner, as diligently as possible, he left the royal city of London and passing through Windsor, Oxford and Coventry came at length to York. There, on a day appointed for the repetition of his crowning in the metropolitan church, he presented his only son, Edward, whom, that same day, he had created prince of Wales with the insignia of the gold wand and the wreath; and he arranged splendid and highly expensive feasts and entertainments to attract to himself the affection of many people. There was no shortage of treasure then to implement the aims of his so elevated mind since, as soon as he first thought about his intrusion into the kingship, he seized everything that his deceased brother, the most glorious King Edward, had collected with the utmost ingenuity and the utmost industry, many years before, as we have related above, and which he had committed to the use of his executors for the carrying out of his last will.”

Langton’s letter of September 1483 was not written with foreknowledge of Richard III’s eventual death at Bosworth, or even the rebellion that would be put down in November. Instead, it is offered as an appraisal of the king during his first two months on the throne, and rendered after the controversial way in which he acceded to the crown. What’s interesting is how Langton describes a different version of why the king was so popular with the people; it’s not for the “splendid and highly expensive feasts and entertainments” alone, but because “many a poor man that hath suffered wrong many days have been relieved and helped by him and his commands in his progress”. Langton’s account also differs from the Crowland Continuator’s statement about Richard III’s rapacity for acquiring wealth. The king, Langton observes, refuses the tributes and gifts of money offered to him. While we needn’t toss out the entirety of the Crowland chronicler’s observations, we can concede that Langton’s account is given without the 20/20 hindsight possessed by an unknown cleric in East Anglia.

(3) How did Langton offer his information?

The information offered in Langton’s letter to Selling has two features. It was given in privacy (“Sit hoc clam omes” – let this remain secret from everybody) and it tries to be objective. The first item has received little recognition in historical journals. Compared to Mancini, who was being paid for his service and therefore would have a motive to exaggerate the significance of the rumors he heard on the street, Langton had nothing to prove or to gain, financially or otherwise, by telling Selling a slanted view of the king. And Langton did not report only the good things about Richard III. He broke into Latin to tell Selling that he thought “Sensual pleasure holds sway to an increasing extent, but I do not consider that this detracts from what I have said”.

(4) Did Langton have any personal interest, bias, or motivation in seeing Richard III’s reign only in a positive light?

This is the area where most historians attack Langton’s credibility and objectivity. As Charles Ross asserts, Langton is biased in three ways: he is Northern and thus would favor a king from the North; he “rose up” under Richard and thus would naturally want the “gravy train” to continue; and he was favored by the king for translation to a more august English bishopric.

It is true that Langton was born in Appleby, Westmorland County, in the northwest of England, and probably (but not necessarily) lived in the north for the first two decades of life. He then moved away and, for the next 30 years, was educated at Oxford, Cambridge, Padua and Bologna, traveled extensively, and served on multiple diplomatic embassies on the continent. A fondness for his birthplace is evident by the way his last will and testament provided for his deceased parents’ chantry chapel there; for his own tomb, he chose Winchester Cathedral. Whether this background translated into a bias for men from the North is not entirely borne out. The most any historian has said on the subject is that, at the time of his death, his household had some individuals with the last names “Machell” and “Warcop” which are “redolent of Appleby and Westmoreland”.

The only favoritism displayed by Langton was for men “of learning” and youths showing talent musically or intellectually. He also promoted his nephews, Robert Langton and Christopher Bainbridge, to positions in the Church. Nepotism aside, Langton’s life and career shows striking neutrality. He served Yorkist and Tudor kings. He befriended men like William Selling, a Kentish man. Whether Langton even viewed Richard III as northern is open to question, as the king was not born or raised there, and did not show any early inclination to promote his northern ducal retainers into royal administration. We should also remember that the king’s royal progress moved through Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire, before arriving in Yorkshire.  Langton’s observations are not limited to what he saw in York (“he contents the people wherever he goes”).

Langton was never a retainer of Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Rosemary Horrox, whose book Richard III: A study of service details the duke’s affinity, makes no mention of Langton whatsoever. Nor did Langton’s family have the level of patronage demonstrated by another Westmorland man – Richard Redman, Bishop of St. Asaph’s – who had several family members within Richard III’s northern affinity.

Thus, the idea that he “rose up” in Richard’s service is simply wrong. Langton first came to prominence under the reign of Edward IV. He appears to have been involved in the drafting of the Royal Household Ordinance of 1478, a set of regulations for the king’s household that were complementary to those in the earlier Black Book. Here, the warrant under the king’s signet, dated 9 July 1478, tells the chancellor that “we by thaduis [the advice] of oure counsell have made certain ordinaunces for the stablysshing of oure howshold which by oure commaundement shal be deliuered vnto you by oure trusty and righte welbeloued clerc and councellor, Maister Thomas Langtone” and directing the chancellor to “put alle the ordinaunces in writing seled vnder oure great sele, and the same so seled send vnto vs by oure said counsellor without delay”.  From 1476 to 1482, Edward IV repeatedly employed Langton to serve on diplomatic embassies to Castile, France and Burgundy to negotiate matters of state, including the marriage of his children to foreign princes/princesses and the tortuous negotiations with France and Burgundy. For his efforts, Edward IV rewarded Langton by nominating him to the Treasurership of Exeter Cathedral and the rectory of Pembridge in Herefordshire. Langton probably wanted to see continuity between Edward IV’s administration, where he had a secure place, and the new regime, whether that be under Edward V or Richard III. It is likely that he, like many prelates and lords, saw Richard as presenting the best opportunity for that continuity.

Finally, there is Langton’s statement that he hoped to be translated to an English diocese in the near future (“I trust to God ye shal here such tythings in hast that I shalbe an Ynglissh man and no mor WelshSit hoc clam omes”). For a man of Langton’s cosmopolitan qualities, the Bishopric of St. David’s was probably viewed as a stepping stone to greater benefices, rather than a final destination. Such was the case for Henry Chichele, John Catterick, and Stephen Patrington, who briefly served at St David’s before moving on to Canterbury, Coventry/Lichfield, and Chichester.

It was very early in the reign of Edward V that the Bishopric of St David’s became vacant. Richard Martyn had been elected to that position by Edward IV in April 1482, but died on May 11, 1483. As the newly-confirmed Lord Protector, Richard elected Langton whose service to Edward IV had been amply demonstrated. While he surely welcomed the bishop’s mitre, he had no connections whatsoever to Wales and it probably was not the best fit for a man with so many duties at the royal court. His predecessor, Martyn, claimed the Welsh diocese was impoverished, heavily in debt, and comprised of dilapidated buildings.  It seems when Langton was given St. David’s a year later, the diocese was still so poor that some provision had to be made for him to keep his Pembridge rectory:

Harleian MS, Vol 1, p 35: dated May 1483, by Edward V: “Know that we of our special grace and mere motion have given and granted and by these presents give and grant to our dearly beloved and faithful clerk Thomas Langton custody of all the temporalities of the bishopric of St Davids . . . on account of the sincere love and affection which we bear and have to the person of our aforesaid dearly beloved counselor Thomas Langton clerk now elected to St Davids and considering that the goods benefices and also manors lands tenements rents and other possessions belonging to the same bishopric are so greatly diminished and reduced and suffer such dilapidation and ruin that the same now elect, when he takes upon himself the office of bishop, will not be able to support or maintain as he ought his state and dignity and other burdens incumbent on the honour of bishop, of our especial grace and of our certain knowledge and mere motion and in order that the same bishop elect may be able to support and maintain fittingly and honourable the state honour and dignity of the episcopate, we have granted and given licence for ourselves and our heirs that the same now elected may send and direct his proctor or proctors to the Roman curia and that they should make certain provision that the same elect after he has been consecrated to the bishopric of that place should be able to hold the parish church of Pembridge in the diocese of Hereford in our gift which said Thomas now holds….”

Like Martyn, Langton’s relationship with his diocese of St. Davids was distant and he left no imprint on its Register.  He probably employed a vicar-general to administer the diocese and used a suffragan to deputise for him in his spiritual functions. Perhaps Langton had his eye elsewhere as there were other prelates who were of frail age (Thomas Bourchier, born 1411) or out of favor with Richard III (Thomas Rotherham, John Morton). If Langton wanted to be translated from St. David’s to an English bishopric, he’d have to be patient, wait for a vacancy to open up, and remain in favor with the king.

It seems there was one bishopric on the verge of being forcibly vacated: Lionel Woodville’s see of Salisbury. Woodville had been made bishop in 1482, and notwithstanding a brief interlude in June when he took sanctuary at Westminster Abbey with his sister the widowed Queen Elizabeth, he “did not play any significant part in the political crisis after Edward IV’s death in 1483”.  Although absent from Richard III’s coronation, he apparently came to terms with the new regime, for he was named to the commission of the peace in Dorset and Wiltshire after Richard III’s accession.  Some have suggested that Woodville personally welcomed Richard III in his role as Chancellor of Oxford University when the king visited Magdalen College on July 24-26, 1483.  His last official act as Bishop of Salisbury is dated September 22, 1483, when he granted a commission to effectuate the appropriation of the chapel of St. Katherine, Wanborough, to Magdalen College, Oxford.  He must have been under suspicion at this point, because Richard III ordered the forfeiture of his temporalities the next day. Perhaps Langton was aware of the king’s suspicions and knew that Lionel Woodville’s days were numbered.

The takeaway from all this is that Langton was certainly not a retainer of Richard III from his days as duke, had no strong pro-northern bias, and was realistically ambitious as a prelate looking for advancement to a more financially secure and less “dilapidated” bishopric. So, indeed, Langton was happy to see Richard III so well received. Did this influence his observations? Probably, but not to the extent that Charles Ross and others have suggested.

(5) Is there any evidence to contradict what Langton said in his letter, by his own hand or others?

While Langton did observe “Sensual pleasure holds sway to an increasing extent, but I do not consider that this detracts from what I have said”, there is nothing in his letter that contradicts his statement about the king’s popular reception while on royal progress or the justice dispensed to the common people along the way. So his letter is internally consistent.

The only other contemporary observation about how the people received Richard comes from Mancini, in his December 1483 report to Angelo Cato. Read in its entirety, Mancini describes the London population as being ambivalent and turbulent with speculation about Richard’s true intentions. At one point, they are favorably impressed with a letter to royal council written by Richard in April 1483 before he arrived in London. In it, he declared his loyalty to Edward IV’s heir and asked council to take “his desserts” into consideration when disposing of the government, to which he was entitled by law, and his brother’s ordinance. “This letter had a great effect on the minds of the people, who, as they had previously favoured the duke in their hearts from a belief in his probity, now began to support him openly and aloud; so that it was commonly said by all that the duke deserved the government.”

Public opinion, however, would soon veer between support and distrust of the Lord Protector. After reports were received in London that Richard had taken Edward V into custody at Stony Stafford, “the unexpectedness of the event horrified every one. The queen and the marquess, who held the royal treasure, began collecting an army to defend themselves… But … they perceived that men’s minds were not only irresolute, but altogether hostile to themselves. Some even said openly that it was more just and profitable that the youthful sovereign should be with his paternal uncle than with his maternal uncles and uterine brothers.”  Meanwhile, a “sinister rumor” was circulating that Richard had taken the young king into his possession so that he might usurp the crown. These rumors were met with more letters from Richard to council justifying his actions; when publicly read, “all praised the duke of Gloucester for his dutifulness toward his nephews and for his intention to punish their enemies. Some, however, who understood his ambition and deceit, always suspected whither his enterprises would lead.”  When Richard entered the city with wagons filled with weapons to prove there was an attempt against his life, there were Londoners who disbelieved this and thought they came from storehouses of weaponry related to the Scottish war. “[M]istrust both of his accusation and designs upon the throne was exceedingly augmented.”  When the public received news of a plot in the Tower and that its originator, Hastings, had “paid the penalty” by his execution there, Mancini writes that “at first the ignorant crowd believed, although the real truth was on the lips of many, namely that the plot had been feigned by the duke”.  The public’s pattern of alternating between trust and distrust of Richard is Mancini’s essential point.

Mancini’s final observation about the public’s perception of Richard comes shortly after Hastings’ death. By this time, Richard is riding through London surrounded by a thousand attendants dressed in purple. “He publicly showed himself so as to receive the attention and applause of the people as yet under the name of protector; but each day he entertained to dinner at his private dwellings an increasingly large number of men. When he exhibited himself through the streets of the city he was scarcely watched by anybody, rather did they curse him with a fate worthy of his crimes, since no one now doubted at what he was aiming.”  How Richard was perceived after his accession to the throne, however, is not part of Mancini’s report, as he concludes by saying: “These are the facts relating to the upheaval in this kingdom; but how he may afterwards have ruled, and yet rules, I have not sufficiently learnt because directly after these his triumphs I left England for France, as you Angelo Cato recalled me. Therefore farewell, and please show some mark of favour to our work, for whatever its quality, it has been willingly undertaken on your account. Once more farewell. Concluded at Beaugency in the County of Orleans. 1 December 1483.”

Mancini’s account of what happened in London in April, May and June 1483 does not match the glowing account of Langton given in September 1483. Can we explain this inconsistency? Yes. They cover different time periods so are not necessarily inconsistent; the public might have initially viewed Richard with wariness and hesitation, and then came to accept his rule in the months that followed. We also know that Mancini did not speak English, was relying on others to translate for him, was reporting hearsay and rumors. We have no way of knowing if he personally observed any of the events recorded. Nor do we know the identity of his sources for those events he did not witness. These “unknowns” do not necessarily disqualify his account but neither do Mancini’s observations disqualify Langton’s.

(6) How reasonable are Langton’s statements when considered in light of other evidence?

Langton’s statements find support in other contemporary primary sources. John Rous, when creating in 1483-84 his famous Warwick Roll, wrote that the Richard III ruled his subjects “full commendably” – punishing offenders, especially extortioners and oppressors of the common people, and cherishing those that were virtuous. By his “discrete judgment” he received great thanks and the love of all his subjects, rich and poor.  Later, in his generally critical post-1485 assessment of the king, Historium Regum Angliae, Rous observed that when offered money by the peoples of London, Gloucester and Worcester, he declined it with thanks, affirming that he would rather have their love than their treasure.

Shortly after his coronation, Richard sat with his judges and had the following exchange, as reported in the Richard III Society’s website:

Richard was concerned about justice, both for the individual and its administration. A Year Book reports one of his most famous acts, when he called together all his justices and posed three questions concerning specific cases. This record provides an idea of Richard’s comprehension of and commitment to his coronation oath to uphold the law and its proper procedures.

The second question was this. If some justice of the Peace had taken a bill of indictment which had not been found by the jury, and enrolled it among other indictments ‘well and truly found’ etc. shall there be any punishment thereupon for such justice so doing? And this question was carefully argued among the justices separately and among themselves, … And all being agreed, the justices gave the King in his Council in the Star Chamber their answer to his question in this wise: that above such defaults enquiry ought to be made by a commission of at least twelve jurors, and thereupon the party, having been presented, accused and convicted, shall lose the office and pay fine to the King according to the degree of the misprision etc.’

Even Charles Ross, who characterized Langton as a partisan, finds support for his observations in contemporary records:

“[Langton’s] specific statements are supported by other evidence. That Richard turned down offers of benevolences from the towns he visited is confirmed by John Rous, one of the most hostile sources for Richard’s reign, and record evidence confirms a similar statement by John Kendall, the king’s secretary, that throughout his reign Richard was at pains to ensure the dispensing of speedy justice, especially in the hearing of the complaints of poor folk. In December 1483 John Harington, clerk of the council, received an annuity of Ł20 for ‘his good service before the lords and others of the [king’s] council and elsewhere and especially in the custody, registration and expedition of bills, requests and supplications of poor persons’; and that portion of the council’s work which dealth with requests from the poor, later to develop into the Tudor Court of Requests, received a considerable impetus during Richard’s reign.”

Given the number of corroborative primary sources, the observations contained in Langton’s letter are all the more reasonable and credible, rather than the product of a partisan’s over-enthusiastic “spin” on what he had witnessed.

(7) Any other factors that bear on believability.

Finally, we should determine whether Langton was unduly impressed by the pomp and ceremony of the royal progress, and whether he had demonstrated a good judgement of people in his life.  Although from an undistinguished family, Langton was no stranger to pomp and ceremony – he’d traveled to the grandest courts in Europe and had witnessed their splendor. He was consecrated a bishop on September 7, 1483, a day before the investiture of the king’s son as Prince of Wales, which raises the interesting prospect that this may have been a part of the magnificent ceremonies that occurred in York. Langton, in his letter to Selling, described them a little disapprovingly as exemplars of sensual pleasure, so obviously he wasn’t that overawed.

One of Langton’s chief characteristics was that of a sincere educator, who placed a high priority on talent and intellect, rather than courtly display. As stated above, one of his students called him a Maecenas and, because of Langton’s patronage, was able to study in Italy and ultimately become the Dean of St. Paul’s. The student’s name was Richard Pace, and there is a lovely tale about how Langton discovered him:

There is happily a contemporary appreciation of [Thomas Langton] still extant. This occurs in a classical treatise of Richard Pace on the advantages of Greek studies, printed at Basle at the famous press of John Froeben in 1517. Pace began life as an office boy to the Bishop at Winchester. Langton observed his genius for music, and in the musician prospected the scholar: the boy was meant for greater things. Forthwith he packed him off to Padua to be taught Greek and Latin in the best school of the place, and paid all the expenses of his education. The work was still incomplete in 1500-1, at the Bishop’s death—Pace was then at the university of Bologna — but provision was made in his will for a further seven years’ study. The Bishop’s discernment was justified. Pace became distinguished in the New learning, and was a close friend of Colet and Erasmus, the latter of whom addressed to him a considerable proportion of his fascinating letters: he was employed by Henry VIII as private secretary, and, among a long list of ecclesiastical preferments, succeeded Colet in the deanery of St. Paul’s.”

Langton similarly went out of his way to support his nephews – but not all of them. He determined his nephew Robert Langton to be particularly talented and paid for his education in Italy, too. Robert went on to become a prebend at several cathedrals and a great benefactor to Queens College, Oxford. Langton seems to have had a good talent for discerning people’s abilities.


It is hoped that this analysis has elucidated some the arguments about the credibility of Langton’s September 1483 letter. Langton is a fascinating man not only because of his meteoric rise from a modest family, but also because of his avocation of the New Learning in England, showing that his homeland was not living in the “Dark Ages” while Italy was basking in the sun of the “Renaissance”.

Langton went on to serve Henry VII, but didn’t take an active part in his court, unlike fellow Westmorlander Richard Redman, Bishop of St. Asaph’s. There is some thinking that Langton was present at the Battle of Bosworth, being loyal to Richard III to the end, although there is no direct proof to confirm that. In the aftermath of Richard III’s death, he forfeited his temporalities as Bishop of Salisbury but by November 1485, had been restored to them. Henry VII first summoned him to parliament in 1487, and appointed him to commissions of the peace in Wiltshire, Hampshire and Surrey, which he served on through the end of his life. In 1493, Langton was translated to the wealthiest bishopric in England, that of Winchester where he now reposes in death. Despite this seal of approbation from the Tudor king, Langton continued to shun the court and focused on diocesan administration and on the musical education of children at his new school.  Perhaps he had seen enough of princely politics. The rebus he adopted for himself, representing a “long tone” and featuring prominently in his chantry’s fan vaults, suggests he had turned his gaze to matters more musical and spiritual.

Sources & Further Reading


C.A.J. Armstrong (ed.): “DOMINIC MANCINI’S THE USURPATION OF RICHARD THE THIRD”, Oxford University Press (1936)

Keith Dockray: “RICHARD III: A SOURCE BOOK”, Alan Sutton (1997)

Rhoda Edwards: “THE ITINERARY OF KING RICHARD III 1483-1485”, Richard III Society (1983)


Alison Hanham: “RICHARD III AND HIS EARLY HISTORIANS 1483-1535”, Clarendon Press Oxford (1975)

Michael Hicks: “RICHARD III”, The History Press (2009 reprint)


Rosemary Horrox & P.W. Hammond (eds.), “BRITISH LIBRARY HARLEIAN MANUSCRIPT 433”, Alan Sutton (1979)

Rosemary Horrox (ed.): “PARLIAMENTARY ROLLS OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND 1275-1504, RICHARD III (1484-85)”, Boydell Press (2005)

Rosemary Horrox: “RICHARD III: A STUDY OF SERVICE”, Cambridge University Press (1989)

R.F. Isaacson: “THE EPISCOPAL REGISTERS OF THE DIOCESE OF ST DAVID’S 1397-1518, VOLUME II”, Society of Cymmrodorion (1917), https://ia800302.us.archive.org/31/items/theepiscopalregi02unknuoft/theepiscopalregi02unknuoft.pdf (accessed 2 November 2016)

Paul Murray Kendall: “RICHARD THE THIRD”, W.W. Norton & Co. (1955)

A.R. Myers: “THE HOUSEHOLD OF EDWARD IV: THE BLACK BOOK AND THE ORDINANCE OF 1478”, Manchester University Press (1959)

Nicholas Pronay & John Cox (eds.): “THE CROWLAND CHRONICLE CONTINUATIONS 1459-1486”, Alan Sutton (1986)

Charles Ross: “RICHARD III”, University of California Press (1981)

John Rous, “THE ROUS ROLL”, Alan Sutton (1980, first published 1859)



Anne F. Sutton & P.W. Hammond (eds.): “THE CORONATION OF RICHARD III: THE EXTANT DOCUMENTS”, Alan Sutton (1983)

Edith Thompson (ed.): “WARS OF YORK AND LANCASTER 1450-1485”, London (1892)

D.P. Wright (ed.): “THE REGISTER OF THOMAS LANGTON, BISHOP OF SALISBURY 1485-93”, Canterbury and York Society (1985)

Journals and Biographical Dictionaries:

Percival Brown: “Thomas Langton and his Tradition of Learning”, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, new series, Vol. xxvi (1926), pp. 150-246 [http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-2055-1/dissemination/pdf/Article_Level_Pdf/tcwaas/002/1926/vol26/tcwaas_002_1926_vol26_0007.pdf, accessed 19 August 2016]

Cecil H. Clough: ‘Selling , William (c.1430–1494)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press (2004); [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/4991, accessed 23 Oct 2016]

John Hare: “The Bishop and the Prior: demesne agriculture in medieval Hampshire”, Agricultural History Review, vol. 54, no. II, pp 187-212 [citations to M. Page, ‘William Wykeham and the management of the Winchester estate, 1366–1404’, in W. M. Ormrod(ed.), FOURTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND, vol. 3 (2004), p. 108]

Ken Hillier: “The Rebellion of 1483: A study of sources and opinions,” The Ricardian, (September 1982)

Rosemary Horrox: ‘Rotherham , Thomas (1423–1500)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press (2004) [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/24155, accessed 23 Oct 2016]

Jonathan Hughes, ‘Martyn, Richard (d. 1483)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/18236, accessed 27 Oct 2016]

David M. Luitweiler, “A King, A Duke, and A Bishop”, The Ricardian Register, Vol. XVIII, No. 4 (Winter, 2004), pp. 4-10.

John A. F. Thomson, ‘Woodville, Lionel (c.1454–1484)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press (2004); online edn, Sept 2011 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/29938, accessed 23 Oct 2016]

Susan L. Troxell: “Rulers, Relics and the Holiness of Power: A review”, The Ricardian Bulletin (December 2014), pp. 55-57 (transcription of Westminster Abbey Muniments, 9482, 7 July 1483, relating to the reliquary oil of Thomas à Becket, by T. Erik Michaelson)

D.P.  Wright: “Langton, Thomas (c.1430–1501)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press (2004); online edn, May 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/16045, accessed 23 Oct 2016]

Other Sources:

“Richard By His Contemporaries”, from Richard III Society website, http://www.richardiii.net/2_1_0_richardiii.php (accessed 31 Oct 2016)

Model Civil Jury Instructions, District Courts of the Federal Court of Appeals, 3d Circuit (2010)

Overview – Federal Jury Instructions & Evidence, http://federalevidence.com/node/893/ (accessed 1 November 2016)

Pattern Criminal Jury Instructions, Superior Courts of New York

The Mystery Man In The Vaux Passional

In 1921, a late medieval manuscript was donated to the National Library of Wales. It was a “passional”, a book recounting the sufferings of saints and martyrs, and contained two texts in medieval French: “La Passion de Nostre Seigneur” (The Passion of Our Lord), an account of the Passion of Christ, and “Le miroir de la mort” (The mirror of death), a religious poem by the Burgundian chronicler Georges Chastellain. The book had once been owned by Lady Joan Guildford (c. 1463-1538), nee Vaux, who served in the household of Elizabeth of York as governess to the Princesses Mary and Margaret Tudor, but it didn’t receive any special attention until 2012 when it was digitised to make it available on the internet.

When Dr Maredudd ap Huw, the library’s manuscripts librarian, examined the first miniature in the book, he realised that it appeared to show the family of Henry VII, including the future Henry VIII, mourning the death of his Queen, Elizabeth of York (1466-1503). Young Henry, who is shown slumped over his mother’s empty bed, was 11 years old at the time of her death, making this the earliest known depiction of him and certainly the most vulnerable. Also present are his sisters Margaret and Mary, dressed in mourning black, while the sovereign in the centre of the miniature appears to be an idealised version of their father, Henry VII. The bottom of the page bears the royal arms of England.


Dr ap Huw’s discovery catapulted the Vaux Passional to fame, but while the figures on the left of the miniature are now tentatively identified, the others remain shrouded in mystery. Most mysterious of all is the man at the centre who is handing a book to the King, so much so that Dr ap Huw has appealed to fellow historians and even members of the public for suggestions who he could be. Unfortunately, the response has been muted: apparently I was the only member of the public who contacted him. This post is a summary of my suggestions and replies I received from him and other experts.

Presentation Miniature Or Not?

At first glance, the scene appears to be a typical “presentation miniature”, a type of illustration which shows the author of a book – in this case the passional – or the person who commissioned the book presenting it to his patron – in this case, Henry VII. It was therefore initially assumed that the book had been owned by Henry before passing into Lady Guildford’s possession. As for the mystery man, since both texts contained in the book had been published before, he can’t be the author. He would therefore have to be the person who commissioned the book, but this is where it gets mysterious.

He is unlikely to be Sir Richard Guildford since he has been tentatively identified by Dr ap Huw as the man in the foreground holding the white wand of the office of Comptroller of the Household. The book bears an inscription by Lady Guildford’s son, Sir Henry Guildford, but he was only 14 years old at the time of Queen Elizabeth’s death and her brother was in France where he served as Lieutenant of Guînes. Dr ap Huw had hoped that the coats of arms on other pages of the manuscript would help to identify the mystery man, but they were found to point to Lady Guildford’s maternal ancestors, except those on the page depicting Christ’s resurrection, which belong to the family of Henry VII’s mother, the Beauforts. This discovery led Dr ap Huw to reconsider his original interpretation that the book had been commissioned for Henry VII and allow for the possibility that it had actually been intended for Lady Guildford. However, in that case the scene can’t be a presentation miniature as the recipient of the book is clearly a male monarch.

There are other clues supporting this conclusion. In presentation miniatures the person presenting the book is usually shown kneeling, but the mystery man is standing. The composition places him on roughly the same floor level as the king and his facial expression and body language are relaxed and confident – he looks more like an equal than a subject paying tribute to his sovereign. And the book in the picture is blue while the passional is bound in red velvet which, according to the library’s website, is the original binding. So if the book was commissioned for Lady Guildford then we should take a closer look at her and her family.

Who Was Joan Guildford?

The Guildfords are usually considered pillars of the Tudor regime. Lady Guildford was the daughter of William Vaux, who died fighting for Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou at Tewkesbury. Her mother Katherine Vaux, nee Peniston, served Queen Margaret as lady-in-waiting and was so loyal to her mistress that she is said to have shared her imprisonment and exile. Young Joan and her brother Nicholas were brought up in the household of Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, and Joan went on to become her lady-in-waiting. Nicholas is thought to have fought for Henry at Bosworth as he later did at Blackheath and Stoke, for which he was knighted. Lady Guildford’s husband, Sir Richard Guildford, was the son of Sir John Guildford, who had been Comptroller of the Household to Edward IV, but lost his position when Richard III became King. Both father and son took part in Buckingham’s rebellion and when it was quashed Sir Richard joined Henry in exile in Brittany. Like his brother-in-law, he is thought to have fought for him at Bosworth.

What’s less well known is that Lady Guildford’s Yorkist links went beyond her service in Elizabeth of York’s household and her father-in-law’s service to Edward IV. Despite her devotion to Margaret of Anjou, her mother had received an annuity of 20 marks from Richard III, the same amount she would later receive from Henry VIII. Her brother’s first wife was Elizabeth FitzHugh, daughter of Sir Henry FitzHugh and Alice Neville, niece of Cecily Neville, duchess of York and aunt to Anne Neville, Richard’s Queen. Both Elizabeth and her mother had served Queen Anne as ladies-in-waiting and her sister Anne FitzHugh was the wife of Francis Lovell, Richard’s friend and one of the leaders, together with Richard’s nephew John de la Pole, of the Lambert Simnel rebellion against Henry VII. Most strikingly, in 1504 Sir Richard Guildford was accused by one of Henry’s spies of supporting the Yorkist pretender Edmund de la Pole, John’s brother, whose household he had been trying to infiltrate. Meanwhile Lady Guildford’s brother, when asked about the possibility of de la Pole succeeding Henry, reportedly commented that he “should be sure to make his peace how so ever the world turn.” In 1505, Sir Richard was arrested and sent to prison, allegedly for not keeping proper accounts when Master of the Ordnance, and was only pardoned the following year. He died a few months later while on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Lady Guildford’s loyalties were divided. Indeed, after her husband’s death she re-entered Margaret Beaufort’s household and in 1514 when Princess Mary married King Louis XII she accompanied her former charge to France. However, her immediate family certainly included people who had been part of the Yorkist King Richard III’s inner circle and had known him personally. I’ll come back to this later.

Who Is The Mystery Man?

Unlikely as it may seem, he looks remarkably like . . . Richard III. The hair style, texture and colour as well as facial features – prominent chin, down turned corners of the mouth and furrowed brow – are similar to Richard’s portraits from the Tudor period. These were created based on an established pattern and while book illustrations aren’t usually faithful portraits the miniature broadly follows it: allowing for the cartoonish style, the 3/4 perspective, facial features and even the frown line between his eye brows line up remarkably well. The position of his hands – holding a book rather than fiddling with his ring – and his facial expression – smiling instead of looking stern or sinister – are different, but he certainly looks more like Richard III than the idealised sovereign looks like Henry VII. Finally, the coat of arms on this page of the manuscript was used by both Henry and Richard: the royal arms of England.

The mystery man 1) superimposed on the Society of Antiquaries portrait 2), the Royal Collection portrait 3) and the NPG portrait 4)

So could this be Richard? According to the Richard III Society, there’s no precedent for depictions of a dead king handing a present to his living political enemy. This may be true of presentation miniatures, but a very similar scene is described in the epitaph of the alabaster tomb that Henry placed on Richard’s grave in 1494, almost 10 years after Bosworth. The exact wording of the epitaph as it appeared on the tomb is unclear as several different versions of it exist and all of them appear to have transcription errors. The Guildhall version, which has survived in Sir George Buck’s 17th century biography “THE HISTORY OF KING RICHARD THE THIRD”, reads:

”I, here, whom the earth encloses under various coloured marble,
Was justly called Richard the Third.
I was Protector of my country, an uncle ruling on behalf of his nephew.
I held the British kingdoms in trust, although they were disunited.
Then for just sixty days less two,
And Two summers, I held my sceptres.
Fighting bravely in war, deserted by the English,
I succumbed to you, King Henry VII.
But you yourself, piously, at your expense, thus honoured my bones
And caused a former king to be revered with the honour of a king
When in twice five years less four
Three hundred five-year periods of our salvation had passed.
And eleven days before the Kalends of September
I surrendered to the red rose the power it desired.
Whoever you are, pray for my offences,
That my punishment may be lessened by your prayers.”

The Wriothesley-Hawling-Sandford version of the epitaph is more critical of Richard2 but describes the transfer of royal power from him to Henry in equally amicable terms. Is this why the book in the miniature doesn’t look like the passional – because it isn’t a physical book, but Richard’s present to Henry?

The Red Rose Of Beaufort?

The surrender of power to the “red rose” who had “desired” it, as described in the epitaph, deserves closer scrutiny. Firstly, it’s an admission that Richard “surrendered” his power not of his own volition, but because someone else desired it – or, according to the Wriothesley-Hawling-Sandford version, was owed it as a right. But who is this red rose? Both John Ashdown-Hill and Thomas Penn have pointed out that, while the Plantagenets had been using rose emblems as far back as Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, these tended to be gold or indiscriminate in colour and were often subordinate to other heraldic badges, such as Henry VI’s antelope. Until 1485 the only royal rose emblem was the white rose of York as used by Edward IV and Richard III.

When Henry VII married Elizabeth of York, he introduced the red-and-white Tudor rose, supposedly a fusion of his red rose of Lancaster, which however hadn’t really existed before, and her white rose of York. Henry’s instructions for the pageants with which the city of York was to receive him on his first progress of northern England in April 1486 included “a world desolate full of trees and flowers” and in it “a royal, rich, red rose conveyed by a vice, unto which rose shall appear another rich white rose, unto whom all the flowers shall lout and evidently give sovereignty, showing the rose to be principal of all flowers, and there upon shall come from a cloud a crown covering the roses.”3 In a scene not dissimilar to the one described in the epitaph, the pageant was then to show King Ebrauk, the mythical founder of York, salute Henry and “present unto the King the keys of the citie being thenheritaunce of the said Ebrauk yielding his title and crowne unto the King as moost glad of hym above all other.”4

Henry therefore created the Tudor rose almost immediately upon his accession to the throne, so it’s interesting that the passional, which dates from at least 17 years later, doesn’t contain a single one of these symbols of unity between the houses of Lancaster and York. There are plenty of other roses – most of them red, but also a blue rose and, in the decorative border, some white ones (alongside more red roses, violets, pansies and thistles) – but no red-and-white Tudor rose. Both Ashdown-Hill and A J Pollard have noted that Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, used a red rose and suggested that the mythical red rose of Lancaster might therefore actually be a Beaufort emblem. The fact that the illustrations in the passional show not only red roses, but also portcullises, an emblem employed by the Beauforts including Lady Margaret, as well as the Beaufort arms would seem to support this theory.

The page depicting the resurrection of Christ alongside the Beaufort arms also shows a red dragon, a symbol which is strongly associated with Henry VII, who landed in Wales in 1485 flying a red dragon banner and claiming to fulfil the prophesy of Cadwallader, the mythical redeemer of Britain. The combination of the resurrection with the red dragon and the Beaufort arms seems to underline the epitaph’s message about the transfer of power from one dynasty to the other. Nevertheless, given Lady Guildford’s relationship to Margaret Beaufort, the proliferation of Beaufort emblems together with coats of arms associated with her own maternal ancestors again suggests that the passional was commissioned for her, rather than Henry – or his mother.


What Does It Mean?

If the mystery man is Richard III it would be one of the oldest surviving pictures of him aside from pen-and-ink sketches (the oldest portraits in the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Collection date from around 1504-1520) and the only one showing him smiling. Given that the “crookback” soubriquet had been around since at least the 1490s and by the time the Royal Collection portrait was created paintings were being actively “corrected” to fit this new image, it would also be unusual in that it shows him without deformities.

As we saw above, Lady Guildford had access to people who had seen Richard and would have known that his scoliosis was not visible under normal circumstances, such as her in-laws who had been ladies-in-waiting to Anne Neville, his Queen. Likewise Margaret Beaufort, in whose household Lady Guildford grew up and whom she served later in life, had played a prominent part at Richard’s and Anne’s coronation. And what about Elizabeth of York, Richard’s niece, in whose household Lady Guildford served as governess? It is highly unlikely that he wanted to marry her – he publicly denied the rumour and was in the process of negotiating a foreign marriage when he died – but she had spent time at his court and they seem to have been on friendly terms. One source for this is Elizabeth’s letter to John Howard, duke of Norfolk, in which she declared that her uncle “was her onely joy and maker in . . . Worlde, and that she was his . . . harte, in thoughts, in . . . and in all.” The original letter doesn’t survive, so we can’t be sure how accurately its content was summarised and the summary itself is damaged, but the tone is clear. Richard also appears to have given her two books as gifts. The first, Boethius’ “DE CONSOLATIONE PHILOSOPHIAE”, bears his motto “Loyalte me lye” and underneath it her signature. The other, “ROMAN DE TRISTAN”, is inscribed “Iste Liber constat Ricardo Duci Gloucestre” and on the same page in her handwriting “sans remevyr Elyzabeth”.

Of course, one English king is missing from the scene: where is Elizabeth’s brother, Edward V? The destruction of Titulus Regius by Henry VII in 1485 had reinstated all of Edward IV’s children to the rank of legitimate royal offspring, including him. Indeed, the harsher version of the epitaph accuses Richard of ruling on his behalf by broken faith – contradicting not only the epitaph’s assertion about the right owed to the “red rose”, but also Henry’s claim dating back to 1484 that he, Henricus Rex, was the rightful heir to the crown by “lineal inheritance”5, which bypassed the entire house of York. If the mystery man is Richard, the uncle who allegedly stole the crown from Edward and ordered his death, why is he depicted in such a benign way in a book belonging to a servant of his sister? After James Tyrell’s supposed murder confession, allegedly made in 1502, but mentioned for the first time in 1513, when both Elizabeth and Henry were dead? As so often, it seems that answering one question only leads to new ones!

Related Posts:

The King In The Lab – Body of Evidence

Sources And Further Reading:

National Library of Wales: “The Vaux Passional

History Extra: “Portrait may show young Henry VIII“, BBC History Magazine (2012)

Frederick Hepburn: “Earliest Portraiture of Richard III“, Richard III Society (2013)

John Ashdown-Hill: “THE LAST DAYS OF RICHARD III AND THE FATE OF HIS DNA”, Stroud (2013), pp. 101-5, 164-5, and plates 26, 27


Emily Kearns: “Richard III’s Epitaph”, THE RICARDIAN VOL. XXIV (2014), p.75-86.

John Ashdown-Hill: “THE WARS OF THE ROSES”, Amberley (2015)

A J Pollard: “THE WARS OF THE ROSES”, Palgrave Macmillan (2013)

Thomas Penn: “How Henry VII branded the Tudors“, The Guardian (2 March 2012)

Desmond Seward: “THE LAST WHITE ROSE: THE SECRET WARS OF THE TUDORS”, Constable (2010)

Tracy Bryce: “Sir James Tyrell – Hero or Villain?” (1999)

  1. A N Kincaid (ed.): “THE HISTORY OF KING RICHARD THE THIRD”, Alan Sutton (1979), p. 217-8, translated in John Ashdown-Hill: “THE LAST DAYS OF RICHARD III AND THE FATE OF HIS DNA”, Stroud (2013) 
  2. Emily Kearns: “Richard III’s Epitaph”, The Ricardian Vol. XXIV (2014), p.75-86. 
  3. York House Books 1461-1490, Vol. 6, Richard III and Yorkist History Trust (1991), p. 481 
  4. Ibid., p. 481-2 
  5. British Library Harleian MS 787, f.2, cited in Annette Carson: “RICHARD III – THE MALIGNED KING”, History Press (2013), p. 284 

Tales of a Ricardian Traveler – Debunking a Myth at Dartington Hall

Lady on Horseback

Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

Dartington Hall, near Totnes in Devon and just southeast of Dartmoor National Park, represents a uniquely British form of historical contradiction. It is both medieval, having parts of a Grade I-listed late 14th century manor house, and modern, being the current home of the Schumacher College and formerly the site of a progressive coeducational boarding school which broke all the molds of English education and even attracted the attention of MI5. Today, it operates a hotel, restaurant and conference center, and has Grade II* listed gardens.

Our visit was prompted by the prospect of staying briefly in the house built between 1388-1400 by John Holland, first earl of Huntingdon and duke of Exeter. The Holland dukes of Exeter were themselves highly controversial figures and their history is closely intertwined with that of the Houses of York and Lancaster. We didn’t expect, however, that we’d discover an architectural feature that would refute one of the more commonplace myths of the “Wars of the Roses”.

Step-Brother to a King, Builder of a Great House

Approaching Dartington Hall, the first thing one notices is that it is not a fortified structure and was not built with a military purpose in mind. There are no battlements or curtain walls, no remnants of motte or bailey. There is an “entrance block” consisting of a two-story building with only doors instead of a portcullis. The visitor enters a large, green quadrangle, at the end of which is the magnificent Great Hall with its crenelated porch.

Dartington Hall

Plan of Dartington Hall from Anthony Emery’s text

Dartington Hall

14th c. Great Hall with Porch Entrance – Dartington Hall

Along the western edge of the quadrangle is a wing that contains several apartments and garderobes. Beyond the Great Hall was another quadrangle that faced a tiltyard or tournament grounds. In all, the impression is that this was a lavish residence for a very great lord who had numerous retainers and who liked to joust. Like Richard III, John Holland generates polarized opinions, with some viewing him as viciously capricious and others as valiant and misunderstood. The story of John Holland and his heirs, is an integral part of the conflicts between the “Red Rose of Lancaster” and the “White Rose of York”.

He was born one hundred years before Richard III, in 1352, the son of Joan, Countess of Kent, who later married the Black Prince. Thus, he was an older, half-brother to Richard II and part of the extended royal family. His early fame came as a soldier and jouster, but he also had a temper that could get him into trouble. In fact, according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, his first “political act” was to murder a friar who had accused John of Gaunt of conspiring to kill the 17-year old Richard II. As a young man, Holland was very much under the sway of John of Gaunt, the latter being the senior uncle to the king and probably the wealthiest magnate in England, if not its most influential. Holland even seduced Gaunt’s daughter Elizabeth and got her pregnant before he married her. But his relationship with Gaunt cooled, and Richard II became his patron instead. The favor he received was so extravagant (and included an earldom and dukedom) that Holland memorialized it by having Richard II’s white hart badge constructed as a roof boss in the entrance porch at the great manor house he was building at Dartington Hall. Its location meant that every visitor who was received into his great hall would see Holland’s overt connection to the king.


Dartington Hall

Late 14th c. Roof Boss showing Richard II’s Badge on Cinquefoil Rose

From Royal Patronage to Treason

Things would not go well for Holland’s new patron, however. When Richard II and Holland returned from a military campaign in Ireland in 1399, they were greeted with troops gathered by Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, who forced the king’s abdication. Holland attended the Parliament which formalized Richard II’s deposition, and attended the coronation of Bolingbroke as Henry IV – the first Lancastrian king. While he officially renounced his allegiance to Richard II, Holland suffered the loss of many lands and titles previously given to him, and hardly three months had passed before he was conspiring with others to assassinate Henry IV and restore Richard II in the “Epiphany Rising”. The plot was foiled, Holland fled, but he was caught and executed without trial by one of Henry IV’s allies.

John Holland lost his life at the hands of Henry IV’s Lancastrian faction.  So, one might ask, why does the Dartington Hall roof boss depict the “Red Rose of Lancaster”? Does it represent a contradictory tribute to both of Holland’s patrons, Gaunt and Richard II?

One explanation lies in the 20th century restoration of Dartington Hall. Having fallen into rack and ruin, the property was purchased by Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst in 1925, and they retained a well-credential architect to restore and modernize it. While working on the porch to the great hall, they discovered the roof boss which also helped to determine it was built during the last decade of Richard II’s reign. The engorged (chained) white hart, or white hind, was a well-known badge adopted by the king in the late 1380s; it would come to be associated with him in the following century and even used by the Yorkists to symbolize their claim as rightful heirs to Richard II. It is most prominently displayed in the “Edward IV Roll”, a genealogical document published in 1461 following Edward IV’s defeat of Henry VI at Towton.


Edward IV Roll

Edward IV Roll – Showing Richard II’s Badge at Mid- & Lower Right


The Dartington boss depicts Richard II’s badge on top of a five-petaled or “cinquefoil” heraldic rose, a symbol that by the 20th century had become synonymous with the “Wars of the Roses”. Notably, there was no pigment left on the roof boss when it was discovered, so it was gilded and painted with colors they thought would have been suitable. That they painted the heraldic rose red was most likely because of the association of the red rose with the House of Lancaster. This association was made famous in a scene in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part I in which Somerset (a Lancastrian) and York argue in the Temple garden, and they pick, respectively, a red rose and a white rose to represent their competing interests. It has been part of historical mythology ever since. Undoubtedly, the Dartington Hall restoration team were aware of this mythology, and they were probably aware of the connections that later developed between the second and third dukes of Exeter and the Lancastrian kings of England.

Loyal to Lancaster, Married to a Yorkist

Following his execution in 1400, Holland was succeeded by his son John, who styled himself the earl of Huntingdon and would later receive the title of duke of Exeter from Henry VI by virtue of his loyal service. John fought at Agincourt with distinction and was on the tribunal which tried and sentenced to death those accused of the Southampton Plot. One of those to be executed was Richard III’s grandfather, the earl of Cambridge. Despite his pedigree, he was poor in resources and never had adequate funds to support his station in life. Nevertheless, he served on the royal council, was present for Henry VI’s coronation in France, served on the tribunal that declared Eleanor Cobham a witch, and was able to marry himself to high-born widows, including a Mortimer. In all, he was a solid Lancastrian, but died in 1447 before a series of crises arose from Henry VI’s mental incapacity and political divisions with the third duke of York. He also lived to see his son and heir, Henry, marry Anne, the duke of York’s eldest daughter, in 1446.

Henry and Anne had probably one of the strangest marriages of the day, a union of Lancastrian and Yorkist children, one whose father had ordered the execution of the other’s grandfather. Henry Holland was in the line of succession to the childless Henry VI in 1446 because he was a great-grandson of John of Gaunt. This made him an appealing marriage prospect, so York was willing to pay the destitute Holland 4,500 marks for the privilege. Anne was only 6 years old at the time; Henry was 15. They had one child, a daughter called Anne, but their marriage was a disaster. Holland was cruel and violent, and remained a staunch Lancastrian. After the birth of their daughter, they lived separately and Anne took on a lover, Thomas St Leger. Holland fought for Henry VI at the Battle of Barnet and was left seriously injured, believed to be dead. He somehow crawled to a nearby abbey and managed to survive. His marriage did not. Anne was granted a divorce in 1472 and she married St Leger. Holland served in Edward IV’s 1475 military campaign to France, but on his ship back to England, he fell overboard in the Channel and drowned to death, some saying he had been forced overboard at the order of the Yorkist king.

Following the death of Exeter, Dartington Hall passed to his former wife Anne, who was now married to St Leger.  St Leger was a Yorkist under Edward IV but betrayed Richard III in October, 1483 when he conspired with the duke of Buckingham to remove him from the throne. By this time, Anne of York had already died. St Leger was executed, attainted, and his estates – including Dartington Hall – reverted to Richard III as crown property. When Richard III was killed at Bosworth, Dartington was given as a life-estate to Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, who apparently never visited but did derive income from the estate. It reverted to Henry VIII as a crown possession upon her death. Thus, Dartington Hall was owned, at different times, by people who represented almost all the factions comprising the “Wars of the Roses”.

Is that the Red Rose of Lancaster?

It might be tempting to see the Dartington heraldic rose as the “Red Rose of Lancaster”, but there is a significant problem with that theory. It was built in the last decade of the 14th century, too early to have any associations with the “Wars of the Roses”, which at the earliest would be dated to Richard II’s deposition in 1399.  We can also rule out its construction in the 15th century. The second and third dukes of Exeter were devoted to the Lancastrian kings and would have no reason to display the badge of a monarch who they had deposed.  Dartington Hall was possessed by the Yorkist, St Leger, from 1475-1483, but there is no indication that he initiated any building projects there. And while the Tudors owned the estate from 1485 on, there is similarly no evidence that they made any renovations to the Great Hall or its porch, and there is still no further evidence of the Tudors combining the badge of Richard II with the Lancastrian red rose.  Therefore, the only conclusion to be reached is that the Dartington roof boss contains imagery that contemporaries of Richard II associated with him, including the rose.

Cinquefoil roses were used by Plantagenet royalty in diverse circumstances, not necessarily all heraldic. Although there is some controversy as to when the rose first became a royal English badge, the modern thinking is that Henry III’s queen, Eleanor of Provence, brought it with her. Both sons of Henry III and Eleanor used rose badges of uncertain color; it is said that Edward I’s was gold with a green stem and Edmund “Crouchback”‘s was red. Edward III’s sixth Great Seal employed roses as background detail. The effigy of the Black Prince at Canterbury Cathedral incorporates gold roses on his armour and on the lower edge of the tester over his tomb. John of Gaunt gave St. Paul’s Cathedral a bed powered with decorative red roses, and Henry IV’s tomb effigy at Canterbury Cathedral has blue roses decorating his mantle. Coinage produced during Henry IV’s reign briefly employed a rose figure as a stop between words. All of this suggests that the device of the rose, of various colors, was generally employed from the time of Henry III through his great-grandson Edward III and his heirs. There was no specific association between John of Gaunt or his sons and the color red.

In fact, while there is a long-standing belief that the Earls of Lancaster adopted the red rose badge ever since Edmund “Crouchback” first used it, there is no contemporary 14th or 15th century evidence that the House of Lancaster followed this precedent. In his seminal article, “The Red Rose of Lancaster?” published in The Ricardian (June 1996), Dr John Ashdown-Hill demonstrated that the first account of the red rose being associated with Lancaster came early in the reign of Henry VII, the first Tudor king, as part of a visual propaganda to cast him as a unifier between two dynastic houses symbolized by red and white roses. But, as Ashdown-Hill observes: “None of the three Lancastrian kings can be proved to have used such an emblem, even if they were entitled to it, and this is in striking contrast to the white rose badge of York, for which ample contemporary evidence can be provided.” Portraits of Henry IV, V and VI are either devoid of any rose badge or were painted well into the Tudor period. A Tudor-period book depicts Henry IV’s battle standard as having red roses on a white background, but this has never been authenticated. The same is true for a Tudor-period account of Henry V’s funeral hearse, which allegedly had a valence of red roses. Indeed, when Henry VI briefly regained his throne in 1470-71, he removed Edward IV’s heraldic rose and sunburst mint marks on coinage and replaced them with a fleur de lis.

Dartington Hall’s roof boss substantiates Dr Ashdown-Hill’s proposition that the rose was not a peculiarly Lancastrian badge before or during the “Wars of the Roses”.  Richard II was not the Earl or Duke of Lancaster, and was not on particularly good terms with Gaunt or Bolingbroke in his last decade of life.  The only sound conclusion one can draw is that the cinquefoil rose was one of Richard II’s devices, perhaps not as well known, but the memory of this – like much of history – was rewritten by the victorious Tudors.


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John Ashdown-Hill, “The Red Rose of Lancaster?” The Ricardian, June 1996, pp. 406-420.

John Ashdown-Hill, WARS OF THE ROSES (Amberley, 2015)

Henry Bedingfeld, Peter Gwynn-Jones, HERALDRY (Brompton, 1993)

Anthony Emery, “Dartington Hall, Devonshire”, http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-1132-1/dissemination/pdf/115/115_184_202.pdf

Griffiths, R. A.. “Holland , John, first duke of Exeter (1395–1447).” R. A. Griffiths In OXFORD DICTIONARY OF NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed., edited by David Cannadine, January 2008. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/13530 (accessed August 2, 2016)

Hicks, Michael. “Holland, Henry, second duke of Exeter (1430–1475).” Michael Hicks In OXFORD DICTIONARY OF NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY, online ed., edited by David Cannadine. Oxford: OUP, 2004. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/50223 (accessed August 2, 2016)

Stansfield, M. M. N.. “Holland, John, first earl of Huntingdon and duke of Exeter (c.1352–1400).” M. M. N. Stansfield In OXFORD DICTIONARY OF NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed., edited by David Cannadine, January 2008. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/13529 (accessed August 2, 2016)

Tales of a Ricardian Traveler – Conisbrough

Lady on Horseback

Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

For me, being a “Ricardian traveler” doesn’t necessarily mean that you only visit places where Richard III — as a child, the Duke of Gloucester or the King — lived.  It means exploring towns, castles, battlefields, and churches which have some association to his family or to the Wars of the Roses.  I would call Conisbrough in South Yorkshire a “Ricardian” site because it does have connections to Richard’s ancestors, including a rather infamous one!  And, to my surprise, I discovered that Richard did give its castle some attention during his life, consistent with his reputation as being a Duke who made extensive investments in architecture and his estates’ infrastructure.

Conisbrough Castle

From the 11th to the 14th century, Conisbrough Castle was in the possession of the de Warenne Earls of Surrey.  Construction began in the late 11th century, with the unique great tower (also called “Hamelin’s Tower” after Hamelin de Warenne, Henry II’s half-brother) being built in the 1170s or 1180s.

Conisbrough Castle

Conisbrough Castle

Conisbrough Castle

Conisbrough Castle – Barbican and SW Curtain Wall

The great tower contained living quarters for its early inhabitants:  a great chamber for receiving guests, a bedchamber, chapel and latrine.  “Mod cons” such as a well and fireplaces provided fresh water and heat.  The fireplaces have unique “joggled” (V-shaped) lintel stones and intricately carved capitals in the French style, similar to examples at York Minster (completed by 1175).  The castle anchored a burgeoning human settlement on the River Don, and there are lovely views of Conisbrough village from the roof of Hamelin’s Tower.

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Conisbrough Castle passed to the crown (Edward III) when the de Warenne family line ran out of surviving heirs.  The king granted it to his son Edmund of Langley, first Duke of York. While Fotheringhay and Ludlow were primary Yorkist residences, Conisbrough was an important secondary residence.  It was at Conisbrough Castle that Langley’s second son, Richard, was born in 1385.  Richard II served as his god-father, as the king was staying in York at the time.

Richard of Conisbrough is a controversial historical figure.  There are, and were, significant doubts about his birth legitimacy.  He was conceived 12 years after his older brother Edward when his mother (Isabella of Castile) was rumored to have been having an extra-marital affair with Richard II’s half-brother, John Holland, Earl of Huntingdon.  Further doubt is cast on his legitimacy by his father and brother neither mentioning nor providing him with any land or income in their wills.  In a secret and clandestine marriage,  he took the 16-year old Anne Mortimer, eldest sister of the Earl of March and Richard II’s declared heir, as his wife.  Aside from receiving an annuity of 500 marks from Richard II, and later the title of Earl of Cambridge in 1414 from Henry V, Richard was the poorest of all English earls and held no political or military office.  His “claim to fame” came in 1415 when he was executed for his role in the Southampton Plot, a poorly devised scheme to assassinate Henry V and put his brother-in-law, Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, on the throne.  Notably, some historians and scholars have questioned whether any such cohesive conspiracy existed.  They suggest that Henry V might have gotten wind of grumblings amongst some noblemen and, in an effort to eradicate political turmoil before he left for his campaign in France, accused them of plotting against his life.  A confession was obtained from one of the alleged co-conspirators (Sir Thomas Grey), but Richard of Conisbrough demanded a trial by his peers.  He was found guilty.

His second accomplishment is that he and his wife Anne Mortimer produced one male child, also named Richard, who later became the third Duke of York and the father of two kings (Edward IV and Richard III).  Although the English Heritage guidebook states that the future third Duke of York was born at Conisbrough Castle, this is not documented by baptismal records there.  Anne Mortimer died either while giving birth to Richard in 1411 or shortly thereafter, when she was around 20 years of age.  There are no records about where she died or was buried, but there is a theory that she was interred at King’s Langley in Hertfordshire.  Her skeleton was found during an exhumation of Edmund of Langley’s tomb in 1877.  It was during the disinterment of Langley’s remains, which were intermixed with those of his first wife Isabella, that archeologists discovered a separate lead coffin containing the skeleton of a young woman less than 30 years of age with auburn hair.  The scientists concluded it could not belong to Langley’s second wife, Joan Holland, since she died at the age of 53/54 after remarrying several times.  Of course, no DNA or other forensic testing was done back in the Victorian days, so this conclusion is based on the educated guesswork of archeologists.  It is possible that Anne gave birth to Richard and  died at Conisbrough Castle, with her body being translated more than 150 miles to Kings Langley, but again there is no record of this happening.  There is some logic to the argument that she would have been buried near her place of death, thus making Conisbrough a less likely candidate.

With the accession of Edward IV to the throne in 1461, the castle again became a crown property. The last recorded repairs to it were carried out in 1482-3, on the orders of  Richard, Duke of Gloucester.  After the Battle of Bosworth, it fell into a ruinous state and remained in that condition for hundreds of years.  Yet, for many, the castle has inspired the imagination.  Both Geoffrey of Monmouth (Historia Regum Britanniae) and Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe) used Conisbrough Castle as a setting for their storied flights into English history.

The Church of St Peter, Conisbrough

Perhaps one of the more surprising “gems” discovered on the trip to Conisbrough was the parish church of St. Peter’s, which boasts architectural details from the Roman, Anglo-Saxon, and Norman periods.

St. Peters Church, Conisbrough

St. Peters Church, Conisbrough

St Peters Church, Conisbrough

Nave of St Peters Church, Conisbrough


The church was founded in the 8th century, built around 740-750 AD and more likely even as early as 680 AD based on masonry construction similarities with other churches dating from that period, making it one of the oldest parish churches in all of England.  One of the arch capital supporters in the nave came from a nearby Roman villa, and it features a carving of a Roman soldier with a leather-pleated skirt; it was later defaced by 16th century iconoclasts, but it is still visible today.  The nave itself has round Saxon arches on the north side, and pointed Norman arches on the south side from the 1200 period.  The nave’s roof was raised in 1200 and again 1475, when the church was being substantially remodeled in the Perpendicular style during the reign of Edward IV, to its present height.  The Victorians enlarged the north aisle in 1866, keeping the original stones and some ancient 13th century glass windows which depict Old Testament figures such as Joseph, Noah and Jacob.  Unfortunately, their work was met with scorn and ridicule, and it seems they may have caused the loss of some ancient frescoes and wall paintings.  A 13th century altar slab, with its 5 consecration crosses, presently in the north presbytery chapel, was found in the Castle ruins in 1923 and brought into the church where it is used for prayer.

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There is a most curious tomb chest that is said to be from the Romano-British time period, a leftover from when Aurelius Ambrosius remained in Conisbrough following the withdrawal of Roman governors in 400 AD and preached in what is now the churchyard.  According to the history recounted by Geoffrey of Monmouth, he gathered and led the Britons against the invading Saxons. The tomb chest depicts (from right to left) a dragon, a serpent, a knight with sword and shield defending against the dragon, and a priest with a bishop’s crozier.  Other experts say that Geoffrey of Monmouth’s history is suspect and more fantasy than fact, and the chest actually dates from the Norman period.

St Peters Church Grave Cover

Tomb Chest:  Romano-British or Norman?

Remnants of 15th century glass have been assembled into two collages in the windows of the south wall of the chancel.  One contains a depiction of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with tears streaming from her face, as she knelt at the crucifixion of Jesus.  The other contains a portrait of Prior Thomas Atwell from Lewes Priory in Sussex and a figurehead of St Blaise with his bishop’s crozier.

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For more information, including visiting hours, about Conisbrough Castle, click here and here.

The parish church of St Peter has a 20-minute video about its history on its website, which you can find here.

The King In The Lab – The Unsanitary Lifestyle Of Richard III

Today’s blog focuses on another widely-reported discovery from Richard III’s skeletal remains: the presence of roundworms in his gravesite and the scientific theory that he suffered from an intestinal infection prior to death. We’ve previously reported on how the scoliosis of his spine was literally twisted out of proportion by mass media and some historians to arrive at dubious conclusions, so it would seem a worthy endeavor to take a closer look at this issue to see if a similar dynamic is playing out, and whether certain myths and misconceptions are being created even as others have been solidly debunked.

A quick internet search for the topic of Richard III and roundworms immediately leads to headlines and stories suggesting that the king’s body was “riddled” and “crawling” with parasites, that his infection produced symptoms that limited him physically and mentally, and that his lifestyle was dissolute with luxuries yet simultaneously unsanitary and hazardous. Richard III has the unique attribute of being both too kingly and too banal: a regal monarch on the outside yet rife with disease on the inside. But do the scientific findings support these conclusions?

Riddled With Parasites

Let’s begin with the actual study, reported by the British medical journal The Lancet, in September 2013. There, the scientists reported that they collected soil samples from the area where they discovered the king’s skeleton, from the dirt near the pelvis and head. They also collected soil from outside the grave cut for comparison. After putting the soil samples through a series of fine mesh sieves and the application of chemicals, they examined the residue with powerful microscopes and saw the presence of multiple roundworm eggs (Ascaris lumbricoides) in the pelvic sample, where the intestines would have been during life. The sample from the skull was negative for parasite eggs, and the control sample from outside the grave cut showed only scanty environmental soil contamination with parasite eggs. This led them to conclude that Richard III’s intestines were infected with roundworms at the time of his death, and it was this finding that prompted the flurry of media reports that he was “riddled” and “crawling” with parasites.

Richard III Roundworms

A sacral sample (S) taken from Richard III revealed ancient roundworm eggs. Control samples from his skull (C1) and outside of the grave (C2) linked the infection to his body. Photo: Mitchell et al., The Lancet.

What was not reported as widely, however, was the very critical finding that the king’s remains did not have many of the parasites they would expect to see from someone who lived in the 15th century and who had a nobleman’s diet:

“Past research into human intestinal parasites in Britain has shown several species to have been present prior to the medieval period, including roundworm, whipworm (Trichuris trichiura), beef/pork tapeworm (Taenia saginata/solium), fish tapeworm (Fasciola hepatica). We would expect nobles of this period to have eaten meats such as beef, pork, and fish regularly, but there was no evidence for the eggs of the beef, pork, or fish tapeworm. This finding might suggest that his food was cooked thoroughly, which would have prevented the transmission of these parasites.”

So, there was evidence of only one type of common parasite, but not three others that would have been expected of a man who ate meat and fish regularly. Richard III was known to have eaten a “high protein” diet rich in these foods; this was reported here. Of course, no journalist would have written a headline saying “Richard III was remarkably free from common parasites of his day”. That wouldn’t be as attention-grabbing, right?

Ironically enough, not long after the report of Richard III’s roundworm infection had hit the news cycle, another study was published showing that parasitic infections of the gut were more widespread than previously known. This time it was the Vikings who lived hundreds of years earlier than Richard, but had the reputation of being “robust types, feared throughout much of Europe” and who “enjoyed excellent living conditions”. The study showed that the soil samples from Viking latrines contained parasite eggs from roundworm and human whipworm, along with liver fluke from cattle or sheep.  “You can’t tell if they come from parasites that infected humans or animals by simply looking at the eggs,” said one of the scientists. “But by examining their DNA, we are able to confirm what we until now have only believed to be the case: that a thousand years ago, humans carried these parasites around.” It certainly puts Richard III’s infection into perspective: not as shocking or even really that unexpected given that roundworms and other parasites had been carried around by humans for generations.

Another feature of Richard III’s infection that went under the radar screen was the very circumstantial nature of the evidence. According to the lead investigator of the The Lancet article, 15 roundworm eggs were located in the king’s gravesite, and one was found from outside it. This disparity in number only circumstantially suggests Richard III had the infection. But it’s also possible that the control sample collected from outside the grave was not representative. That the gravesite was later penetrated by a Victorian latrine might explain the presence of roundworms.  Dr. Philip Mackowiack, an infectious disease specialist, has observed that the samples from the soil surrounding the grave might have contained fewer eggs than usual just by chance; the researchers might have seen much more if they had taken additional samples from neighboring areas. If they had, then there might have been no basis to say the parasites were contained in Richard III’s body. They could have been part of the background environment in which the king’s remains were deposited.

Suffering An Infection At The Battle Of Bosworth

Another narrative that has crept into the finding of roundworms in Richard III’s grave emerges from the impact an intestinal infection might have had on his mental and physical health during his last year of life. Some people find it just too tempting; he must have been very sick at the Battle of Bosworth or very frightened by what he saw when he relieved himself in the privy or garderobe. Some seek to use the roundworm infection to explain what they see in retrospect as irrational behavior, such as his last cavalry charge at the Battle of Bosworth. Science, however, does not support these speculations.

The symptoms of a roundworm infection depend largely on the type of roundworm that infects a person. Roundworms, like all living organisms and parasites, come in many different types; some are more “virulent” than others and make the human host sicker. Others are less so, and create no symptoms at all. Since no DNA testing was done by the scientists on the roundworms found in Richard III’s grave, no one knows exactly which strain they were. They could have been the virulent type or the non-virulent type.

The scientists who reported on their findings in The Lancet have concluded that they were probably the most common strain that has been observed in English and European archeological sites.   Assuming this to be the case, what are the symptoms? It turns out they are relatively minimal. What would have happened is that Richard, as duke or king, would have eaten something that had traces of human feces on it; probably from a cook who just used the privy and then went to the kitchen to prepare food. Or it could have come from vegetables that were raised with fertilizer that had been mixed with human waste. In either case, no one would have noticed this contamination, roundworms being invisible to the naked eye, and since the Germ Theory of Disease was not yet discovered, no one would have thought to thoroughly wash the food or their hands before it was prepared. Most of the food would be cooked, but sometimes it was served without being cooked to the temperatures that would have killed off any bacteria or parasites. Neither Richard nor his contemporaries would have known that they were eating something contaminated and he would have gone for weeks without noticing anything at all.

It is only after an incubation period that the roundworm eggs ingested by human hosts begin to infect them. The eggs hatch miniscule larvae, which then migrate to the lungs from the gut, and travel up the “wind pipe” or trachea. This causes a mild tickling sensation in the airway, and the human host coughs. And, just like everyone who has a very mild cold or some phlegm upon coughing, they swallow the sputum into their stomach. From there, the roundworm larvae develop into long worms, which live in the intestines and create new roundworm eggs to be excreted. The intestinal worms themselves cannot survive burial conditions and cannot be examined by archeologists; so the “crawling” with roundworms headline is really not accurate. Moreover, the scientists who wrote The Lancet article cannot say how many intestinal worms Richard III had; if he had only a few, then they probably would have done him no harm and would have had no impact on his robusticity. Treatment for intestinal worms in the 15th century included a change in diet, ingesting wormwood or other abortifacients, or blood letting. Whether Richard III ever had these treatments is unknown but, if he had submitted to extensive blood letting, it’s possible that the treatment was worse than the infection.

The NHS says that most people do not even know that they are infected with roundworms, and that at most, one will experience a passing low grade fever, mild abdominal discomfort, nausea, and in the most extreme cases they will pass a worm the size of an earthworm in their feces or have intestinal obstruction leading to malnutrition. People who have a good diet and plenty of food usually experience no problems at all, as they will not lose nutrition and will not suffer weight loss or other vitamin deficiencies.

monty python king

Anyone who has studied Richard III’s last years of life will be very disappointed to see any references to the king being sick or lacking in nutrition. As shown by John Ashdown-Hill in his book THE LAST DAYS OF RICHARD III, he went about his business without any disruption. There were no contemporary reports of him being ill or in extremis from an intestinal blockage – the symptoms of which would have been very obvious and difficult to suppress or disguise. Stories sprung up in the Tudor era saying that Richard suffered from a restless, fevered night before Bosworth; but that would have not been caused by roundworms since Richard III’s infection had gone past the initial incubation stage. Most historians have rejected this tale and, if they give it any credence at all, they tend to attribute it to the “sweating sickness”. In any case, it is difficult if not impossible to reach any conclusion as to how Richard III’s roundworm infection affected his life. The scientists who have commented on it have described it as being mildly annoying or a mere nuisance.

A Filthy Medieval Age

Aside from being riddled with parasites and made irrational in mind, the last myth that has arisen from the finding of roundworms in Richard III’s gravesite is the notion that medieval society was filthy and extraordinarily unhygienic. The Lancet article actually shows that Richard III had fewer parasites than the scientists expected, leading them to conclude that the technical preparation of his food had reduced the transmission of intestinal parasites. Of course, he was from society’s elite class, so his hygienic standards would have been much better than those in the lower economic strata.

Nevertheless, people in the medieval day did take baths, wash their hands, clean their teeth, and change their undergarments regularly. I was visiting The Cloisters in New York City and was struck by their collection of medieval aquamanile – vessels that were used to wash hands in liturgical and secular settings.


Collection of aquamanile vessels at The Cloisters, NYC

A nobleman always washed his hands before and after eating a meal — to not do so would have been considered bad manners. During banquets, people would take their food from shared platters, but care was taken to minimize touching it. Most food was thoroughly cooked, as there was a preference for roasts and highly flavored/spiced dishes, and the sale of reheated cooked food was outlawed by the City of London. Eating raw vegetables and salads was not as common as it is today.

Roundworms continue to infect humans despite our improved personal hygiene, public sanitation, antibacterial soaps and knowledge of germs. Estimates of roundworm infection in the 21st century range from affecting between 800 million to one billion people, including millions of people living in the United States. The persistence of this parasite shows that it cannot be eradicated even in first-world countries.


Although the 2012 discovery of Richard III’s skeletal remains is an archeological feat of our modern age, we must remember that no other medieval monarch’s skeleton has been subjected to such a rigorous scientific analysis using today’s cutting-edge laboratory tests and forensic tools. It makes Richard III’s skeleton a novelty and novelties have a way of exaggerating their significance because we have no others to compare it to. One wonders what scientists would find today if they exhumed the remains of other monarchs from the 15th century such as Henry V who is believed to have died of an intestinal infection (dysentery), or Edward IV who suddenly died from an unknown cause. We might then be able to put Richard III’s physical condition into a much more accurate context, but until then, the narratives which continue to shape him as diseased in body say more about the way we tell his story rather than the way he actually lived it.

Book Sources:

John Ashdown-Hill, THE LAST DAYS OF RICHARD III (2013)


Charlotte Roberts & Keith Manchester, THE ARCHEOLOGY OF DISEASE (3d ed.) (2010), pp. 217-220.


Peter Barnet & Nancy Wu, THE CLOISTERS: MEDIEVAL ART AND ARCHITECTURE (75th anniversary ed., rev’d and expanded)

Journal Sources:

F. E. G. Cox, “History of Human Parasitology”, Clinical Microbiology Reviews, October 2002, vol. 15, no 4, pp. 595-612 [doi:  10.1128/CMR.15.4.595-612.2002]

Michael O. Harhay, John Horton, and Piero L Olliaro. “Epidemiology and Control of Human Gastrointestinal Parasites in Children”, Expert review of anti-infective therapy 8.2 (2010): 219–234. PMC. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.

Piers D. Mitchell, Hui-Yuan Yeh, Jo Appleby, Richard Buckley, “The intestinal parasites of King Richard III”, The Lancet, Vol. 382, September 7, 2013.

Martin Jensen Søe, Peter Nejsum, Brian Lund Fredensborg, and Christian Moliin Outzen Kapel “DNA Typing of Ancient Parasite Eggs from Environmental Samples Identifies Human and Animal Worm Infections in Viking-Age Settlement”, Journal of Parasitology: February 2015, Vol. 101, No. 1, pp. 57-63.

Internet Sources:

Parasites – Ascariasis FAQs, Centers for Disease Control (USA), http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/ascariasis/gen_info/faqs.html

Roundworm, NHS Choices (UK), http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Roundworm/Pages/Introduction.aspx

Was Richard III Riddled With Roundworms? http://www.history.com/news/was-richard-iii-riddled-with-roundworms

Soil samples show Richard III suffered from roundworm,  http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-23878424

Infected and Hunched: King Richard III Was Crawling With Roundworms, http://www.livescience.com/39392-king-richard-iii-roundworm-infection.html

Into the bowels: Richard III’s remains riddled with roundworms, http://www.nbcnews.com/science/richard-iii-roundworms-8c11067779

King Richard III suffered from roundworm infection, scientists say, http://articles.latimes.com/2013/sep/03/science/la-sci-sn-king-richard-iii-roundworm-infection-20130903

Did People in the Middle Ages Take Baths? http://www.medievalists.net/2013/04/13/did-people-in-the-middle-ages-take-baths/

Ancient Toilet: Parasites Seen in Crusaders’ Feces Puts Spotlight on Medieval Hygiene, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/19/ancient-toilet-parasites-crusaders-feces-medieval-hygiene_n_3466373.html

What was Dental Hygiene Like During the Middle Ages? http://www.slate.com/blogs/quora/2015/04/10/dental_hygiene_did_people_in_the_middle_ages_have_bad_teeth.html

Video Sources:

Richard III ‘Had Roundworms’, The Telegraph, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ljri1MMDOWc

Richard III – The New Evidence, BBC4, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_CcB2-zUMk

Blog Sources:

Bathing in the Middle Ages, https://keripeardon.wordpress.com/2012/06/14/bathing-in-the-middle-ages/

Debunking The Myths – How Easy Is It To Fake A Precontract?

This post investigates another aspect of the popular belief that upon Edward IV’s untimely death his brother Richard, duke of Gloucester conspired to usurp the throne from his nephew, as recently addressed in our piece about the Edward V coins. Originally my fellow loon and I were unaware of each other’s research, so we were surprised to discover how well our findings supported each other!

On 10 and 11 June 1483, Richard wrote to his affinity in the North and asked for troops to support him against the Woodvilles who, he claimed, were plotting his destruction. On 22 June Ralph Shaa preached his “bastard slips” sermon, followed by similar speeches by the duke of Buckingham, and on 26 June a quasi-parliamentary assembly of the Three Estates of the Realm – the nobles, bishops and representatives of the commons who had come to London for the coronation and subsequent first Parliament of Edward V – offered Richard the crown in place of his nephew. Allegedly Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, had come forward and testified that the boy’s father, Edward IV, had secretly entered into a legally binding marriage contract with Lady Eleanor Butler, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, who was still alive when he, again secretly, married his queen, Elizabeth Woodville. This second marriage was therefore invalid, which meant that young Edward – along with all his siblings – was illegitimate and couldn’t inherit his father’s title.

This was a key turning point: Richard had been staunchly loyal to his brother and all surviving evidence suggests that up until mid-June he had every intention of pressing ahead with his nephew’s coronation. He had sworn allegiance to him, spent the month and a half since his arrival in London preparing robes and food, issued letters of summons for the 40 esquires who were to receive the knighthood of the Bath on the occasion and even paid £800 of his own money towards the royal household, which, according to an analysis by Dr. Rosemary Horrox, was on the verge of bankruptcy. He also minted Gold Angels and other coinage in young Edward’s name. To mint valuable gold coins for a king you’re planning to depose at the earliest opportunity seems unnecessarily wasteful, especially when your treasury is empty.

Moreover, Richard’s political future in his nephew’s government seemed secure: the speech drafted by Chancellor John Russell for Edward V’s first Parliament proposed not only to extend his Protectorate beyond the coronation, but to expand its remit from keeping law and order to in the future also have “tutele and oversight of the king’s most royal person during his years of tenderness”, effectively making him regent. This may have been a break with the traditional division of power between protector, council and guardian of the king, as Annette Carson has concluded, but it wasn’t a partisan move on Richard’s part or evidence of his ambition. According to the Crowland chronicle part of the council had been arguing for it all along:

“The more prudent members of the council, however, were of the opinion that guardianship of so youthful a person, until he should reach the years of maturity, ought to be utterly forbidden to his uncles and brothers on his mother’s side.”

This concern led directly to the decision to limit Edward V’s escort from Ludlow to London to 2000 men. At this point, Richard was still in Yorkshire.

Nevertheless, some people – including Dr. Horrox, who in her ODNB of Richard assumes that he “chose to end” his protectorate which, she acknowledges, was a “period of harmony” – believe that the sudden revelation of the precontract was too convenient to be true. They argue that the executions of William Hastings, Antony Woodville, Richard Grey and Thomas Vaughan and the threat of troops advancing from the North terrified the council – the same council which only two months earlier had successfully persuaded the queen to limit her son’s escort to 2000 men – and the Three Estates into accepting a fabricated precontract so Richard could satisfy his hitherto secret ambition of becoming king. As brother and uncle of kings, Lord Protector, Constable, Great Chamberlain and Lord High Admiral of England, Richard was indeed a powerful man, so could it be true?

As I discovered while researching this post, there’s a lot of confusion over what a precontract actually is, even among historians. In a nutshell, it’s a promise to marry which is binding if it is made either a) per verba de praesenti (“I marry you”) or b) per verba de futuro (“I will marry you”) and then followed by sexual intercourse. It’s not an engagement as we understand it today: a person who has previously (“pre”) made such a binding promise (“contract”) to someone can’t just go and marry someone else instead. Which is precisely what Edward IV was alleged to have done according to Titulus Regius:

“At the time of contract of the same feigned Marriage, and before and a long time after, the said King Edward was and stayed married and troth plight to one Dame Eleanor Butler, Daughter of the old Earl of Shrewsbury, with whom the same King Edward had made a precontract of matrimony, a long time before he made the said feigned Mariage with the said Elizabeth Grey, in manner and form above said.”

The precontract that deposed Edward V tends to be viewed as some kind of exotic technicality, but precontracts were common not only in medieval England, but well past the Reformation and affected all levels of society, even kings. A well documented example is Richard’s great-nephew Henry VIII, who tried to have three of his six marriages annulled on the basis of an alleged precontract. In all three cases the claim was highly dubious, but Henry was not only an anointed and firmly established – if not feared – king, but also Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England. So how did he fare?

Surprisingly, he failed in two out of three cases. Let’s look at each of them in detail:

Anne Boleyn

Henry had changed his kingdom’s religion to be able to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and marry his second wife, Anne Boleyn, but in 1536 their marriage was on the rocks and Henry was looking for pastures new. One of the tools he tried to use to get rid of Anne was her former relationship with Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.

In 1527, when Anne was lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, a romance had developed between her and Percy and they had become secretly “engaged”, presumbably by making a de futuro marriage vow. Henry, who had his eye on Anne for himself, asked his then Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, to intervene and “after much debate and consultation about lord Percy’s case it was finally decided that his engagement to Anne Boleyn should be dissolved and that he should instead marry one of the Earl of Shrewsbury’s daughters, Lady Mary Talbot, which he later did.”

The fact that the engagement had been dissolved at his own insistence didn’t stop Henry from claiming now, nine years later, that it was in fact a legally binding contract and therefore made his marriage to Anne invalid. His new Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, tried to persuade Percy to support this version of events, but he refused to be bullied. On 13 May 1536 he wrote to Cromwell:

“I perceive by Raynold Carnaby that there is supposed a pre-contract between the Queen and me; whereupon I was not only heretofore examined upon my oath before the archbishops of Canterbury and York, but also received the blessed sacrament upon the same before the duke of Norfolk and other the King’s highness’ council learned in the spiritual law, assuring you, Mr. Secretary, by the said oath and blessed body, which afore I received and hereafter intend to receive, that the same may be to my damnation if ever there were any contract or promise of marriage between her and me.”

There’s little reason to doubt his sincerity. His marriage to Mary Talbot was very unhappy and in 1532 Mary had tried to obtain an annulment by claiming Percy had blurted out during an argument that they weren’t really married as he had been precontracted to Anne. However, as he stated in his letter to Cromwell, the matter was investigated and he swore on the Blessed Sacrament in front of the duke of Norfolk, the archbishops of Canterbury and York and Henry’s canon lawyers that it wasn’t true. He should have jumped at the opportunity to regain his freedom, but de futuro marriage vows only became binding if followed by sexual intercourse, so if he hadn’t slept with Anne then there was no binding contract.

Faced with Percy’s refusal, the king had to find another reason why his marriage to Anne was invalid. In the end it was declared null and void due to unspecified impediments supposedly confessed by Anne herself, but if she had hoped that this would save her life it wasn’t to be. She was accused of adultery with a number of men, including her own brother, and of planning to replace Henry with one of her lovers, which was treason. All but one of the accused, a musician who had been pressured into confessing, pleaded not guilty, but to no avail. On 15 May Anne was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to death. How she could have committed adultery if her marriage to the king was invalid was not explained. Percy, who sat on the jury that convicted her, fainted and had to be carried out. He died eight months later of natural causes. On 17 May the queen’s supposed lovers were executed, followed two days later by Anne herself, her sentence having been commuted from burning to beheading. Incredibly, Henry had been able to make the unlikely incest charge stick – the spectators at George Boleyn’s trial were betting ten to one that he would be acquitted – but not the claim of the precontract.

Anne of Cleves

Henry’s marriage to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, was a political match and not a happy one. They were married in January 1540 and by June Henry was looking for a way out, complaining that he was unable to have sex with her because she was ugly, that she wasn’t a virgin and even that she smelled bad. Sir John Wallop, the English ambassador in France, was therefore instructed to speak to the Cardinal of Lorraine about Anne’s former marriage negotiations with his brother, duke Francis of Lorraine.

Henry knew that many years ago Anne and Francis had been contracted to marry; in fact, he had questioned this after meeting her for the first time in an attempt to call off the wedding, but her brother’s ambassadors had dismissed his concerns. They declared that they had not only read the agreement, but also been present when the ambassador of the Duke of Gueldres, who had arranged the match, declared it null and void, and promised to provide copies of both the agreement and its dissolution. However, all they had been able to produce was a notarised statement that they had investigated the Cleves archives and found a report which stated that the negotiations “were not going to take their course”. Crucially, they had been unable to confirm whether the marriage contract was per verba de praesenti or de futuro and Henry now used this to his advantage.

On 6 July Anne was asked to agree for a church court to investigate her marriage, which she did. The following day a convocation presided over by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer began to consider the evidence and after two days of “mature deliberation” found the marriage “null by reason of a precontract between lady Anne and the marquis of Lorraine, that it was unwillingly entered into and never consummated, and that the King is at liberty to marry another woman, and likewise the lady Anne free to marry.” Specifically, it was argued that Anne’s marriage contract with Francis had likely been per verba de praesenti and therefore binding even without consummation and that, far from not being able to get it up, Henry had deliberately abstained from sleeping with Anne while awaiting clarification of the matter since, if the precontract turned out to be valid, it would have made their children bastards.

On 12 July Parliament announced Anne’s agreement to the annulment of her marriage to Henry, including her confirmation “that she remaineth not carnally known to the King’s Highness’s body”. Henry showed his gratitude by deciding “to endow you with £4,000 of yearly revenue. We have appointed you two houses, that at Richemont where you now lie, and the other at Blechinglegh, not far from London, that you may be near us and, as you desire, able to repair to our Court to see us, as we shall repair to you. When Parliament ends, we shall, in passing, see and speak with you, and you shall more largely see what a friend you and your friends have of us.” In return Anne sent him the ring she had received for their “pretensed marriage”, asking for it to be broken into pieces. It was a good deal: although she endured public humiliation and had to give up her title as queen, her cooperation with Henry’s wishes not only saved her life, but made her one of the wealthiest women in England.

Catherine Howard

Only 19 days after his marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled, Henry married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. Like her cousin Anne Boleyn, she was a niece of Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk, and her fall from grace was just as spectacular. On 2nd November 1541 Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, passed a letter to Henry which alleged that while growing up in the household of her step-grandmother, the dowager duchess of Norfolk, Catherine had affairs with Henry Manox, her music teacher, and Francis Dereham, a servant of the Howard family and now the queen’s secretary. The claims were made by a chambermaid who had shared a dormitory with her. Stunned, Henry ordered an investigation.

The chambermaid and Manox were questioned and Manox admitted that he “had commonly used to feel the secrets and other parts of the Queen’s body”, but denied sleeping with her, unlike Dereham who “used to haunt her chamber rightly and banquet there until 2 or 3 a.m.” Dereham and a number of Howard servants were arrested and sent to the Tower. Dereham confessed under torture that he “had known her carnally many times, both in his doublet and hose between the sheets and in naked bed”, but insisted that this had ended before her marriage to the king and that Thomas Culpeper, a gentleman of the Privy Chamber, had “succeeded him in the Queen’s affections”. Culpeper was arrested, tortured and confessed that “he intended and meant to do ill with the Queen and that in like wise the Queen so minded to do with him.”

On 8 November, Catherine herself was interrogated and made a written confession, in which she admitted to sexual relations with Dereham, but denied that they were contracted to be married:

“Examined whether I called him Husband, and he me Wife.— I do Answer, that there was Communication in the House that we Two should Marry together; and some of his Enemies had Envy thereat, wherefore he desired me to give him Leave to call me Wife, and that I would call him Husband. And I said I was content. And so after that, commonly he called me VVife, and many times I called him Husband. And he used many Times to Kiss me, and so he did to many other commonly in the House… As for Carnall Knowledge, I confess as I did before, that diverse Times he hath lyen with me, sometimes in his Doublet and Hose, and Two or Thre Times naked: But not so naked that he bad nothing upon him, for he had al wayes at the least his Doublet, and as I do think, his Hose also, but I mean naked when his Hose were putt down.”

In a letter to Henry she implied that Dereham had forced himself on her:

“Also Frauncez Derame by many persuasions procured me to his vicious purpose and obteyned first to lye uppon my bedde with his doblett and hose and after within the bedde and fynally he lay with me nakyd and used me in suche sorte as a man doith his wyfe many and sondry tymez but howe often I knowe not and our, company ended almost a yere before the Kynges majestye was maried to my lady Anne of Cleve and contynued not past oon quarter of a yere or litle above. Nowe the holl trouythe beyng declared unto your majestye I most humble beseche the same to considre the subtyll persuasions of young men and the ignorans and fraylnez of young women.”

Catherine clearly hadn’t learnt from the experiences of her predecessors, Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves. Admitting to a precontract with Dereham might have saved her life since, having been consummated, it would have invalidated her marriage to the king; denying it meant that her dalliance with Culpeper came dangerously close to treason. Henry’s advisors on the other hand were only too aware and interrogated the dowager duchess about a possible precontract between Dereham and her step-granddaughter.

Denying the precontract sealed Catherine’s fate. Henry now sought to establish adultery, which again proved easier than establishing a precontract. She admitted to secret meetings with Culpeper, calling him her “little sweet fool” and giving him presents, but both denied a sexual relationship. Nevertheless, on 1 December Dereham and Culpeper were convicted of treason and on 10 December Culpeper was beheaded and Dereham hanged, drawn and quartered. Their heads were put on spikes and displayed on London Bridge, where they remained until 1546.

On 21 January an Act of Attainder was passed against Catherine, which found her guilty of wanting to “return to her old abominable life” with Dereham and to “bring her vicious and abominable purpose to pass with Thos. Culpeper.” Since a mere intention to commit adultery wasn’t actually treason, it also declared “that an unchaste woman marrying the King shall be guilty of high treason” and on 13 February Catherine was executed. The same Act found the elderly dowager duchess, her eldest son William, his wife, two of her daughters and several of their servants, who had all spent Christmas in the Tower, guilty of concealing this treason. They were sentenced to life imprisonment and their property was confiscated.

Richard vs Henry

As the above examples show, even a king and head of the church couldn’t simply declare that a precontract existed; he had to prove it and there was no guarantee that he would succeed. Henry’s position was well-established – Anne Boleyn’s trial took place in the 27th year of his reign, that of Catherine Howard in the 32nd – and he had all the tools of his office(s) at his disposal to assemble evidence and intimidate witnesses, including imprisonment and torture, but he only succeeded in one case – Anne of Cleves – and only because the lady played along. Canon law hadn’t changed since the Middle Ages, so let’s compare Henry’s experience to Richard’s claim of a precontract between Edward IV and Eleanor Talbot.

While Richard had been confirmed as Lord Protector by the council and was working in co-operation with its members, he was in a considerably weaker position than Henry. He wasn’t an anointed king, merely de-facto regent, had only recently arrived in London and only had 200–300 retainers at his disposal (500–600 including Buckingham’s men). Unlike Anne of Cleves, neither Stillington nor Lady Eleanor’s family appear to have been rewarded for supporting the precontract claim. There’s also no indication that they were intimidated, imprisoned or tortured to make them support it, like the relatives and supposed lovers of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

The Crowland Chronicle, written with hindsight in 1486, speaks of “armed men, in fearful and unheard-of numbers, from the north, Wales, and all other parts” marching on London in response to Richard’s letters, but Simon Stallworth, in his letter to Sir William Stonor dated 21 June 1483, doesn’t sound fearful or suspicious. On the contrary, he assumes they’re a peace keeping force:

“Yt is thoughte ther shalbe 20 thousand of my Lorde Protectour and my lorde of Bukyngham menne in London this weike to what intent I knowe note but to kep the peas.”

As it turned out, the 4000 men who answered Richard’s call didn’t arrive until his coronation and were sent home without seeing any action. Clearly he expected trouble, either due to a plot against his life, as he claimed in his letters, or the revelation of the precontract or both, but in the end reinforcements weren’t needed. The executions of Hastings, Rivers, Grey and Vaughan may have contributed to a general feeling of uncertainty, but a contemporary fragment in the Cely papers suggests that, far from seeing Richard as the culprit, people were worried about his safety:

“… there is great rumour in the realm, the Scots have done great [harm] in England, the Chamberlain is deceased in trouble, the Chancellor is desperate and not content, the Bishop of Ely is dead, if the King, God save his life, were deceased, the Duke of Gloucester were in any peril, if my Lord Prince, who God defend, were troubled, if my lord of Northumberland were dead or greatly troubled, if my Lord Howard were slain.”

The logical conclusion therefore has to be that the precontract that deposed Edward V was accepted without threats or bribery because the evidence itself – at the very least Stillington’s testimony – was seen as convincing.

Richard of Gloucester, Protector and Constable of England or Henry VIII, King and Supreme Head of the Church of England: who do you think was more powerful?

Related Posts:

“Debunking the Myths – Richard the Secret Usurper”

Sources And Further Reading:

H A Kelly: “THE MATRIMONIAL TRIALS OF HENRY VIII”, Wipf and Stock; Reprint edition (2004)


Claire Ridgway: “Henry Percy Won’t Play Ball”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/13-may-1536-henry-percy-wont-play-ball

Marilee Hanson: “The relationship between Henry Percy & Anne Boleyn”, English History http://englishhistory.net/tudor/henry-percy-anne-boleyn-relationship

Claire Ridgway: “The End of Henry VIII’s Marriage to Anne of Cleves”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/9-july-1540-the-end-of-henry-viiis-marriage-to-anne-of-cleves

Marilee Hanson: “Anne of Cleves: Facts, Biography, Information & Portraits”, English History http://englishhistory.net/tudor/monarchs/anne-of-cleves

Marilee Hanson: “Catherine Howard: Facts, Biography, Portraits & Information”, English History http://englishhistory.net/tudor/monarchs/catherine-howard

Claire Ridgway: “The Fall of Catherine Howard”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/the-fall-of-catherine-howard

Claire Ridgeway: “The Bill of Attainder against Catherine Howard and Lady Rochford”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/21-january-1541-bill-attainder-catherine-howard-lady-rochford

Marilyn Roberts: “Terror for the Howards at Christmas”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/470-years-ago-terror-for-the-howards-at-christmas