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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Bibliography

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)

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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.

Aquamanile

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.

Conclusion

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)

P.W. Hammond, FOOD AND FEAST IN MEDIEVAL ENGLAND (1993)

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

Toni Mount, DRAGON’S BLOOD & WILLOW BARK: MYSTERIES OF MEDIEVAL MEDICINE (2015)

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”

“The Trial That Should Have Happened in 1483”

Sources And Further Reading:

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

Annette Carson: “RICHARD DUKE OF GLOUCESTER AS LORD PROTECTOR AND HIGH CONSTABLE OF ENGLAND”, Imprimis Imprimatur (2015)

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

Did Richard III Really Say That?

My morning ritual involves making a pot of coffee: I can’t function without it! Normally, I don’t connect Richard III with the process of brewing a pot of Joe, but today, I happened to reach for a coffee mug that I’d received as a gift upon graduating from law school in 1993. I laughed to myself, because it was emblazoned with the quote “Kill all the lawyers” and it attributed that statement to King Richard. My friends obviously had a wicked sense of humor in giving me the mug, but they didn’t know it was doubly relevant to me, both as a lawyer and a history buff with a fascination for that monarch.

Richard III mug

Did Richard III hate lawyers?

 

Twenty years later, I was attending a continuing legal education course on advanced trial techniques, and – much to my surprise – the lecturer brought up the “Kill all the lawyers” quote.   It was in the context of how trial lawyers had to navigate the unfounded assumptions, biases and beliefs that judges, jurors, witnesses and the public brought into the justice system. He asked the audience if anyone knew who said it. A few hands shot up, and someone shouted “Richard III!”

The lecturer responded, “Now, see, even in this highly educated group, we have a popular misconception. It was not Richard III, but a character from Shakespeare.  Does anyone know which one?”

It was the only time I’d ever raised my hand at a continuing legal education course, and was probably one of my proudest moments as a Ricardian. Here, I finally had a chance to correct a common misperception about King Richard!

The common belief shown by my colleagues actually involves a triple myth as to the quote’s origin, its speaker, and its meaning. Despite what my mug said, Richard III never uttered these words, although you sometimes encounter people who think he did.  If anything, the public statutes propounded in Richard’s 1484 Parliament show a reformist approach to the legal system.  They have been hailed by the likes of Francis Bacon as beneficial “for the ease and solace of the common people” and University of Oxford’s Professor of Law H.G. Hanbury observed the king was “a singularly thoughtful and enlightened legislator, who brought to his task a profound knowledge of the nature of contemporary problems, and an enthusiastic determination to solve them in the best possible way, in the interests of every class of his subjects”.  Nowhere did Richard III ever express a grudge against lawyers nor a desire for their wholesale murder.  In fact, one of Richard’s closest advisers was a lawyer himself:  William “the Cat” Catesby.

When you do meet someone who knows that they come from one of Shakespeare’s plays, it is more often than not that they think they were uttered by the delightfully villainous character of Richard in the Bard’s The Tragedy of Richard III.  Nope. They come from Henry VI, Part Two, and are probably the only memorable words from all three parts of the Henry VI play cycle. The speaker is a very minor character, simply called “Dick” or “Dick the butcher” and are said in the following exchange from Act 4, scene 2:

All:
God save your majesty!

Jack Cade:
I thank you, good people—there shall be no money; all shall eat
and drink on my score, and I will apparel them all in one livery,
that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

Dick:
The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

Cade:
Nay, that I mean to do.

This exchange is part of a dramatization of an actual event called “Cade’s Rebellion” that occurred in 1450 – two years before the birth of the future Richard III.   Although he has an entry in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the real Jack Cade is something of a shadowy man, born sometime in 1420-1430, possibly in Ireland or Sussex. After serving in the French Wars, he returned to live in Kent and married a lady of good standing. On the 3rd of July, 1450, Cade – using the sobriquet “Jack Mortimer” – led a large group of rebels into London. Their grievances were directed at the misadministration of government under Henry VI and his inner circle of favorite courtiers. They pointed to abuses in the judicial system, corrupt officials, the king’s insolvency, the seizure of land by nobles, heavy taxation and the loss of Normandy to France. Despite the loftiness of their stated grievances, Cade and his followers soon fell to looting, violence and burning property. Cade was mortally wounded as he tried to flee England with his booty, and when his corpse was returned to London, it was given a traitor’s treatment – beheaded, drawn and quartered.

This brings me to the third misunderstanding about the “kill all the lawyers” quote. Many view it as a jab at the legal profession, along the lines of “dead lawyer” jokes told in countless pubs. Because of the complexity of legal process, its expense, and the abstruse lingo used by attorneys, there is some truth to the sentiment that society would be simpler – and better — with fewer lawyers. However, this ignores the farcical nature of Shakespeare’s Jack Cade and his supporters in the above-quoted scene. Jack Cade has declared himself autocrat, another king, and almost like today’s populist politicians, he makes promises that are ridiculously impractical and can only be believed by the most gullible (such as “there shall be no money”). Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens once chimed in with, literally, his own opinion. “As a careful reading of that text will reveal, Shakespeare insightfully realized that disposing of lawyers is a step in the direction of a totalitarian form of government,” he wrote in a footnote to a dissenting opinion from a 1985 case.

James Shapiro, an English and comparative literature professor at Columbia University who has written several books about the Bard and his plays, said it could be argued that Shakespeare was tapping into fears of insurrection and civil unrest among the noble classes. But, he observed, the proliferation of lawyers also generated resentment among commoners who couldn’t afford them and viewed them as aligned with the powerful elite. Ironically, we wouldn’t know much about the “real” Shakespeare without the legal world. According to Professor Shapiro, much of what we know about the playwright comes from legal records, including lawsuits he brought to recover debts and his last will and testament. So, kill the lawyers, but don’t kill Shakespeare’s!

To read more about the controversy over this infamous quotation, as well as the proliferation of “Kill all the lawyers” paraphernalia and merchandise, check out:

Jacob Gershman, “To Kill or Not To Kill All the Lawyers? That is the Question,” Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2014.

 

The King In The Lab – Richard III’s Dissolute Diet

I recently had the opportunity to attend a talk by Professor Jane Evans of the British Geological Survey, co-author of the multi-isotope analysis which explored what the last Plantagenet king of England ate and drank. As I mentioned in a previous science post, this study formed the basis for the widely reported claim that, although he was a capable soldier, he overindulged on food and drink and that this “dissolute” diet was the reason for his unexpected defeat at the battle of Bosworth. As this seemed to be at odds with both historical sources and also the study itself, I was hoping to finally get to the bottom of the facts. I wasn’t disappointed.

What Isotopes Can Tell Us

Professor Evans began her talk by explaining that isotopes are particles which transmit information from geology to us via our food chain. Basically:

Rock > soil > plants > herbivores > carnivores

Specifically, strontium isotopes indicate where we lived as children while oxygen, nitrogen and carbon isotopes indicate what we ate and drank during our life. This information is recorded in our teeth and bones as they form or regenerate. Since different parts of our bodies regenerate at different rates, they record information from different stages of our life.

In order to plot Richard’s life history as completely as possible, samples were taken from two of his teeth, a thigh bone and a rib. Teeth mineralise between age 0-15, depending on the tooth, and don’t regenerate, so their composition remains fixed for the rest of a person’s life. Leg bones regenerate slowly, recording the last 10-15 years of our life, while ribs turn over relatively quickly and record the last 2-5 years.

Professor Evans discussed the results of the analysis in sequence, starting with Richard’s childhood. The strontium and oxygen isotopes in his tooth enamel confirmed that he spent the first years of his life in his birthplace of Fotheringhay. However, they also indicated that from age 7-8 onwards he lived in western England, so not in York, as the team had expected, but possibly at Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches.

A Hard Drinker?

Moving on to Richard’s adult life, Professor Evans focused on the change in oxygen and nitrogen values in his rib compared to his leg bone. She explained that the oxygen isotope in Richard’s leg, which is usually associated with drinking the local water, is consistent with water from eastern England while the isotope in his rib is consistent with water from western England. The conventional interpretation of this would be that in the last 2-5 years of his life he moved from eastern to western England, but we know from historical records that this wasn’t the case. Since medieval people didn’t only drink water the team also tested beer but, because beer is made from water, the isotope signature was very similar. In fact, the signatures of water and beer are so similar that it’s impossible to tell how much water Richard drank compared to beer.

Next, the team tested French wine and found that its isotope signature was very different because wine is not made from water, but from fruit juice. They calculated that, if 20-25% of what Richard drank was wine, it would explain the oxygen value of the rib. This wouldn’t have been unusual for a high status individual: as mentioned in the study, wine accounted for 21% of food expenditure by the Duke of Buckingham’s estate in 1452-1453. The team therefore concluded that Richard’s wine consumption increased along with his social status, particularly as he introduced himself to his subjects on his royal progress. As Professor Evans pointed out, he wouldn’t have been offered a cup of water by his hosts, but good wine! However, this may have become less pronounced as he settled down as king. Professor Evans also cautioned that medieval wine probably only contained around 10-11% of alcohol, just enough to act as preservative, rather than the 12-16% typical of modern wine, and that a 20-25% rate of consumption at age 30-32 wouldn’t have been debilitating.

At this point, Professor Evans emphasised that she and her colleague, Dr Angela Lamb, had agonised over the wording of the study to prevent its findings from being sensationalised by the media. Specifically, she stressed that they never said Richard drank a bottle of wine a day, as was claimed in the newspaper clippings she showed. This misinformation came about because people looked at the 3-5 litres of daily water intake that are recommended in the 21st century and calculated that, if he drank 3 litres, then 1/5 of that – just under a bottle – would be wine.

Although Professor Evans didn’t mention it, the bottle-a-day claim was first made in the TV documentary “Richard III – The New Evidence”, on which many of the media reports were based. One of the historians on the programme, Dr Ian Mortimer, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Society of Antiquaries of London, then further elaborated that “when it comes to liquids the great dividing line is status. Rich people drink wine, as much as they can through the day, huge amounts of wine were consumed by the wealthy. Some wealthy people also drank beer, they didn’t drink water.” Based on this, the programme speculated that “if he didn’t drink water he would have consumed 2-3 litres of alcohol every day.”

Ruddy outdoor cheeks or spider veins and broken capillaries?

Ruddy outdoor cheeks or spider veins and broken capillaries?

As a result, the media reported that Richard was a drunk who downed up to 3 litres of alcohol a day. Some even knew that it was pressures that made him hit the booze while others saw telltale signs of alcoholism in the facial reconstruction! Since Richard is now a global celebrity, the news that the hunchbacked king who murdered children was also a heavy-drinking glutton soon traveled around the world.

A Big Eater?

Turning to the question what Richard ate, Professor Evans explained that nitrogen indicates our place in the food chain and that medieval delicacies, such as game animals and freshwater fish, happen to have long food chains as a small fish is eaten by a medium-sized fish, which is eaten by a larger fish and so on. Each link in the food chain pushes the person who eventually eats the largest fish, which has eaten all the smaller fish, higher up the nitrogen scale. As king, Richard would have been served more of these delicacies than before, so the nitrogen value in his rib, which only recorded the last 2-5 years of his life, is significantly higher than that of his leg bone, which recorded his diet all the way back to his late teens. Crucially, Professor Evans clarified that isotopes can only tell us what a person ate, not how much, so the change in Richard’s diet doesn’t mean that he suddenly ate more; it just means that he ate more animals with long food chains.

Unfortunately, the TV documentary “Richard III: The New Evidence” overlooked this important detail. Describing Richard’s coronation banquet as a “catalogue of excess”, it not only claimed that his food consumption “went off the scale” when he became king, but that “greed ran in the family, proving an irresistible urge for his brother Edward IV”. Finally it concluded that “the evidence suggests that when Richard took to the battlefield in 1485 his body was in no shape for fighting” and that this was the reason for his defeat at Bosworth, noting that subsequent kings no longer tried to combine “the conflicting customs of fighting and feasting”.

Again, the newspapers faithfully reported the programme’s claims, with particular focus on medieval delicacies that sound exotic to 21st century readers, such as swan, peacock, egret and heron. The Independent actually consulted the Richard III Foundation about medieval food, but decided to ignore their input and proclaimed that the king lead a “debauched lifestyle”, which saw him embark on an “orgy” of feasting and heavy drinking. The Foundation complained and their letter was published, but all criticism was edited out. Thanks to the internet and social media the news about Richard’s supposed vices quickly spread into public consciousness.

This article appears to have been removed from the internet, possibly as a result of the Foundation's complaint

This article appears to have been removed from the internet, possibly as a result of the Foundation’s complaint

More concerning is that it has also spread into academia. The historians in the TV documentary, Dr Mortimer and Dr David Grummitt, formerly of the University of Kent and now Head of the School of Humanities at Canterbury Christchurch University, not only accepted the claims, but went on to speculate that they were the reason why Richard decided to charge Henry Tudor on horseback, rather than fight on foot. It’s unclear to what extent Dr Mortimer was aware of the experiments that medical and combat experts had been conducting with Richard’s body double, Dominic Smee, which showed that his scoliosis didn’t affect his ability to fight, when he conceded that “it is certainly possible that Richard’s downfall was coming off his horse. As soon as he was off his horse he was going to tire very quickly and was not going to be able to defend himself”, adding that his condition made him “especially vulnerable”.

Dr Grummitt, however, clearly disregarded a primary source he should have been familiar with since it contains a rare eye witness account that was widely cited as supporting evidence for the identification of the king’s remains. Niclas von Popplau, a German knight who had dined with Richard only a year before Bosworth, described him as “very slender” and more interested in conversation than food, which he “barely touched”, yet Dr Grummitt suspected that his eating habits resembled those of his brother: “Edward IV was reputed as a glutton throughout Europe by the time of his death and there were indications that Edward’s prowess, his ability on the battlefield, had been compromised by his love for food and it is really interesting to think that Richard too had access to this incredibly sumptuous, incredibly lavish royal diet.” Based on this he agreed that “Richard’s choice then to try and win the battle by cavalry may have been affected by his physical condition, his scoliosis and the ability of the saddle and the armour to support him while in battle.”

Interestingly, the health and fitness experts at The Examiner took a very different view. They praised Richard’s high protein, low carb regime as a medieval Atkins diet and suggested that, far from making him unfit, it could have led to weight loss and improved athletic performance!

A Myth In The Making?

Isotope analysis is a very technical subject, but Professor Evans made it easy to understand and even fun. Her talk once again highlighted the important role science can play in adding new details to our understanding of Richard III. However, it also highlighted the tendency of journalists to exaggerate and distort these details and the readiness of historians to accept claims without verifying the underlying facts, make assumptions based on these unverified claims and brush aside primary sources that don’t fit into the resulting picture. It’s precisely this knee-jerk copy-and-paste history which is at the heart of many myths about Richard III, not least the one that he was dug up at the dissolution of the monasteries and dumped into the river Soar, which was only debunked when his undisturbed remains were found exactly where he had been buried 527 years earlier. Will the claim that the last warrior king of England was too unfit to fight become another one of those myths? Time will tell.

Related Posts:

“The King In The Lab – Bones Don’t Lie”
“The King In The Lab – Body Of Evidence”
“The King In The Lab – The Unsanitary Lifestyle Of Richard III”

Sources And Further Reading:

Lamb, A.L., et al: “Multi-isotope analysis demonstrates significant lifestyle changes in King Richard III”, JOURNAL OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL SCIENCE (2014)

Channel 4: “Richard III: The New Evidence” (2014)

The King In The Lab – Bones Don’t Lie

We may jokingly call ourselves Ricardian Loons, but we’re serious about our research. Consequently, science will be a key area of focus for our blog. Since the discovery of Richard’s lost grave in 2012, the scientific examination of his remains has revealed – and continues to reveal – a wealth of new information. Some people insist that these insights have no bearing on history, but we disagree. In our opinion, they’re casting doubts on many popular theories about England’s most controversial King.

I’d like to kick off our science series with a paper I wrote for the University of Oxford’s “The Wars of the Roses: Power, Politics and Personalities” course, which asked how far the analysis of Richard’s remains changes our understanding of his life and reign. So, what can his bones tell us about the man? As it turns out, quite a lot.

More than meets the eye: 3D model of Richard’s spine © University of Leicester

Starting with his childhood, they put his relationship with the north into perspective. Much has been written about Richard’s childhood home at Middleham Castle and his wardship in the Earl of Warwick’s household. According to wide-spread belief, he lived in Yorkshire for most of his formative years and it has been suggested that the happy time spent amid its purple moors and rolling hills shaped his personality. Others have argued that, having lost his father at an early age, the ambitious Kingmaker became his mentor and served as role model for his more controversial actions, such as the executions of Hastings and Rivers and the deposition of Edward V.

By carrying out a multi-isotope analysis of Richard’s teeth, which would have formed during his childhood and early adolescence, and bone samples from parts of his skeleton which would have regenerated at slower rates, scientists were able to plot his life history geographically. The results indicate that from age 7 he lived in southwest Britain, possibly Ludlow in the Welsh Marches, part of the duchy of York. Only during his adolescence did he move back into eastern England.

This ties in with the view held by a number of historians that Richard was only in Warwick’s custody for about 3 years, from age 13 to 16. Although his name was added to charters and commissions before 1465, these were most likely nominal appointments, similar to the office of Admiral of England, Ireland and Aquitaine to which he was appointed around the same time. As AJ Pollard has pointed out, “a child of 9 cannot be a commissioner, any more than he could preside over admiralty courts.”

Moreover, Richard may have only seen Warwick at special occasions, such as the enthronement feast of George Neville as Archbishop of York, as the Earl’s commitments required him to travel and it is unlikely that he personally tutored his ward in lessons as diverse as horsemanship, weapons training, hawking, languages, music and dancing. It is therefore doubtful that Richard saw him as a mentor or that his wardship had a significant influence on his personality.

Moving on to his adult life, the analysis of Richard’s spine has shown that he was not a “hunchback”, but suffered from adolescent onset idiopathic scoliosis. The condition typically associated with the word hunchback, which is not a medical term, is kyphosis, a forward curvature of the spine that causes the upper part of the back to appear more rounded than normal. By contrast, scoliosis is a sideways curvature which results in uneven shoulders or hips. Based on a 3D reconstruction of Richard’s spinal column, scientists concluded that his scoliosis was spiral shaped with a Cobb angle of 70-90 degrees during life. While this is classed as severe, the curve was well balanced and abnormalities of individual vertebrae were restricted to the chest region, which means that the physical disfigurement was slight and could be easily disguised with custom-made clothing. Aside from this, his bones were symmetric and well formed. He did not have a withered arm nor did he walk with a limp.

This explains why Tudor sources describe Richard as deformed while contemporary accounts do not: his contemporaries weren’t afraid to speak the truth; they simply couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. It wasn’t until after his death at the battle of Bosworth, when his naked body was thrown over a horse to transport it back to Leicester, that his condition became public knowledge. Indeed, one way of diagnosing scoliosis is to ask the patient to bend forward as this causes the curve to protrude. Unfortunately for Richard, in the Middle Ages an imperfect body was seen as indication of a corrupt mind, so his condition was seized upon and further embellished by the Tudors to justify the usurpation of Henry VII. We should therefore be wary of the logic that, if the Tudors were right about his deformity, they were probably also right about his character: not only did they attribute deformities to him that he did not have, but in the age of Paralympics and equal opportunity employment we hopefully no longer see physical imperfection as a sign of mental corruption.

According to the scientists, Richard’s scoliosis was not disabling as back pain and breathing or heart problems are rare, even in severe cases. This was vividly demonstrated in the TV documentary “Richard III: The new evidence”, which saw a young man – Dominic Smee – with Richard’s gracile bone structure and the same degree of scoliosis explore the king’s ability to wield medieval weapons and fight on horseback. To the surprise of medical experts and combat instructors, he mastered every challenge, even though he had no prior experience and led a sedentary lifestyle. The experiments revealed that, far from reducing his physical ability, the plate armour and medieval saddle actually improved it by supporting his back. Richard would have trained for combat since childhood and therefore grown up to be considerably more athletic than his body double, so his scoliosis would have affected him even less.

The programme also confirmed that a 70-90 degree Cobb angle can be easily disguised. In a loose fitting t-shirt Dominic’s scoliosis was barely noticeable and under armour it was completely invisible. Like that of his body double, Richard’s armour would have been custom-made to accommodate his uneven shoulders and hips, but there is no reason to doubt his well-documented military reputation based on his physicality. Consequently the reverse argument that, if he managed to overcome his disability, this indicates a powerful personality capable of great ambition and potentially evil, is also no longer credible.

The conclusion that his scoliosis was not disabling is further supported by the analysis of the perimortem trauma on his remains, which identified 11 injuries from bladed weapons inflicted around the time of death, 9 to the skull and 2 to his ribs and pelvis, indicating that he really was killed “fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies”. The absence of defensive wounds on arms and hands suggests that, although he had lost his helmet, he was indeed wearing armour. Since this would have protected his body, the cuts to his ribs and pelvis are thought to be humiliation injuries, inflicted post mortem when his naked corpse was thrown over a horse.

The treatment Richard’s body received in death is sometimes cited as evidence for his unpopularity, but this overlooks the fact that Henry Tudor’s army consisted largely of foreign mercenaries, who wouldn’t have seen him as their anointed king, but as an enemy they were paid to defeat. Richard’s remains show fewer post mortem injuries than those of the men who died at Towton, another battle fought with the help of mercenaries, and while he was buried with minimal effort, his grave was located in a place of honour. James IV of Scotland, who historians describe as a wise and charismatic ruler, fared far worse at the hands of his brother-in-law, Henry VIII. After his death at the battle of Flodden his unburied corpse was allowed to rot until his head became detached from his body and eventually both parts were lost. Seen in this context, Richard’s fate was not unusual.

The assumption that he was hated or feared was also at the heart of the belief that his remains had been dug up at the dissolution of the monasteries, carried through the streets by a jeering mob and then thrown into the river Soar. This story was so widely accepted that it was even cited by ULAS, the archeologists commissioned to dig for Richard’s grave under the now famous Leicester car park, on the application for the license to exhume the remains suspected to be his. The positive identification of the undisturbed remains has since shown that it had no basis at all.

Unfortunately, as old myths are debunked, new ones are being created. Much was made in the TV documentary of the fact that Richard suffered from roundworm infection and osteoarthritis and that, according to the multi-isotope analysis, his diet became more fancy in the last 2-5 years of his life and contained a higher proportion of wine compared to water and beer. The programme concluded that his “ill health” and “dissolute” lifestyle were responsible for his defeat at Bosworth and even suggested that he charged Henry Tudor on horseback because he was too unfit to fight on foot. This contradicts both historical records, which show that this diet was normal for a medieval king and that only a year before Bosworth he was described as very slender and more interested in conversation than food, as well as scientific research which indicates that he had fewer parasites than the average medieval person and that arthritis was common in the Middle Ages. The authors of the multi-isotope analysis have since dismissed the allegations as unfounded and Dominic Smee has revealed that he spent 20 minutes on a treadmill before running out of breath, so again there’s no reason to assume that Richard, who reportedly killed or unhorsed several opponents at Bosworth, was significantly physically disadvantaged.

Since Richard’s scoliosis was not visible and not disabling, it is also unlikely that it caused self-loathing or other psychological or emotional defects. This explains a contradiction in his psychological portrait which puzzled its authors. The psychological analysis predates that of his spine and assumes that the scoliosis would have been very visible and difficult to disguise. The psychologists therefore expected Richard to have struggled with interpersonal relationships in his adult life as he would have found it hard to establish trust, but couldn’t find any evidence for this in historical accounts. On the contrary, they concluded that “he seemed remarkably able to engender and build trust with the people with whom he worked.”

Indeed, it is difficult to see how he could have established himself as Edward IV’s Lieutenant of the North if he suffered from serious psychological defects. Given the bitter divide between the Yorkist south and the Lancastrian north, this was not an easy task. Only 10 years earlier, Yorkist propaganda had accused northerners of “slaying and maiming liegeman in such detestable cruelness as has not been heard done among Saracens and Turks to Christian men” and as late at 1471, when Edward returned from exile to reclaim his throne from Henry VI, the city of York closed its gates to him. 19-year old Richard moved to Yorkshire that same year and adolescent onset scoliosis sets in between age 10 and 13, so it would have already been present. As the multi-isotope analysis shows, it is unlikely that he developed strong emotional or social ties during his wardship, so far from enjoying a nostalgic homecoming he was planted into hostile territory and, as AJ Pollard pointed out, “had to win round the political elites in the aftermath of Warwick the Kingmaker’s downfall. He had not been then the expected or natural heir”. Nevertheless, Rosemary Horrox concluded that he managed to build “one of the great affinities of the Middle Ages, both in scale and cohesion.” To accomplish this he would have needed all his wits and it is highly improbable that he suddenly lost them when he became king.

Combining all of the above, the picture that emerges of Richard is that of an able-bodied and psychologically stable young man, who was as competent on the battlefield as he was in the council chamber and who wasn’t any more feared or hated than other rulers of his time. Some may find this hard to accept, but bones don’t lie. Richard is talking to us and after 500 years of questioning his every word and action it’s time we started listening to him.

2 Parking Spots

Related Posts:

“The King In The Lab – Body Of Evidence”
“The King In The Lab – Richard III’s Dissolute Diet”
“The King In The Lab – The Unsanitary Lifestyle Of Richard III”

Sources And Further Reading:

Angela Lamb et al: “Multi-isotope analysis demonstrates significant lifestyle changes in King Richard III” (JOURNAL OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL SCIENCE)

Jo Appleby et al: “The scoliosis of Richard III, last Plantagenet King of England: diagnosis and clinical significance” (THE LANCET)

Jo Appleby et al: “Perimortem trauma in King Richard III: a skeletal analysis” (THE LANCET)

Piers Mitchell et al: “The intestinal parasites of King Richard III” (THE LANCET)

Mark Lansdale and Julian Boon: “Richard III – A Psychological Portrait” (THE RICARDIAN BULLETIN)

Channel 4: “Richard III: The New Evidence”

History Extra: “What does the discovery of Richard III’s remains mean for history?”

Alex David: “Alison Weir on the Real Richard III” (endorsed and linked on WWW.ALISONWEIR.ORG.UK)

Debunking the Myths – Richard III’s Execution of a Political Lampoonist

Ripon Cathedral misericord

“And in another isle toward the south dwell folk of foul stature and of cursed kind that have no heads. And their eyes be in their shoulders.” – Sir John Mandeville (14th c.)

It’s funny how myths and legends become a part of history. This column – Debunking the Myths – is devoted to exploring the many false rumors, tales, and impressions that have embedded themselves into our modern perception of Richard III and his times.  Join us, as we hunt down the Loch Ness monsters, Sasquatches, and Blemyae that have roamed the Ricardian historical landscape for centuries.  No need to bring a weapon.  Just bring an open mind!

Today’s blog is about the infamous lampoon posted on the doors of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral in July 1484, during the second year of Richard III’s reign.  Even the casual reader of Ricardian history can recite it from memory:

“The Cat, the Rat, and Lovel our Dogge,
Ruleth all Englande under a Hogge.”

While not mentioning the King and his councilors by name, the lampoon references their well-known heraldic badges, describing Richard III’s white boar device as a “hogge”.  Conventional history tells us that Richard III, being insecure on his throne, was so incensed and threatened by lampoons of this nature that he indicted its author – William Collingbourne – for high treason.  The penalty paid by Collingbourne was severe.  He was hanged, castrated and disemboweled, and there is a poetic account that he was heard to say “oh Lord Jesus, yet more trouble!” as his bowels were ripped from his body.  The effect that ripples from this incident is the perception that Richard III was a petty, paranoid and tyrannical man who brooked no tolerance for political free speech.

But, hold on a second.  There’s a couple of important facts that are missing from this historical Blemyah.  The first of them is that Collingbourne was not brought up on charges of high treason until October or November, 1484, more than three months after the doggerel was posted.  As written by Kenneth Hillier, “On 29 November a commission of oyer and terminer was set up; it included the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk; the Earls of Nottingham and Surrey; Viscounts Lovell and Lisle, and others ‘touching certain treasons and offences’ committed by ‘William Colyngbourne late of Lydeyard co. Wilts esquire, and John Turburvyle late of Fyremayne, co. Dorset, esquire’.” 1  If the offense forming the basis of the indictment was the poem, why would the King delay the prosecution?  Surely, speech that countenanced the death of the King, or diminished his regality by exciting the people against him, was a sufficient and well-settled basis to bring immediate charges.  So why did the King wait?

It turns out that Collingbourne was, in fact, plotting for the overthrow of Richard III and the evidence of this probably did not emerge until after the lampoon was posted.  According to James Gairdner’s RICHARD III biography, the charge against him was that he, amongst others, offered a certain Thomas Yate a sum of money to go over to Brittany to Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, and his adherents, Dorset, Cheyney, and others, and

“To declare unto them that they should do very well to return into England with all such power as they might get before the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist next ensuing [October 18]; for so they might receive all the revenues of the realm due at the feast of St. Michael [September 29] next before the feast of St. Luke.  And that if the said Earl of Richmond with his part-takers, following the counsel of the said Colyngbourne, would arrive at the haven of Poole in Dorsetshire, he the said Colyngbourne and other his associates would cause the people to rise in arms and to levy war against King Richard, taking part with the said earl and his friends, so that all things should be at their commandments.  Moreover, to move the said earl to send the said John Cheyney unto the French king to advertise him that his ambassadors sent into England should be dallied with, only to drive off the time till the winter season were past, and that then in the beginning of summer King Richard meant to make war into France, invading that realm with all puissance; and so by this means to persuade the French king to aid the Earl of Richmond and his part-takers in their quarrel against King Richard.” 2

Collingbourne was tried before peers of the realm, mentioned above, at the Guildhall in London in December.  It is difficult to imagine a more serious charge, which included not only giving counsel to Henry Tudor as to the optimal time and place to make his invasion, but also conspiring with the French King to give assistance to Tudor’s effort!  According to some scholars, what motivated Collingbourne to plot against Richard III was the fact that he had lost some offices that he had held previously, including one in service to the King’s mother.  Also, as mentioned by Mr. Hillier, Collingbourne’s home in Wiltshire had “always been notoriously Lancastrian, and it was one of the centres of the 1483 uprising” suggesting that he was also involved in Buckingham’s earlier rebellion.  In other words, Collingbourne was something of a known enemy of the state.

Lastly, what are we to make of the notion that Richard III was so insecure on his throne that even lampoons like Collingbourne’s threw him into a state of high panic?  In all honesty, I never thought the poem was all that subversive; it merely names the King and his men by their well-known badges, although calling Richard’s boar a “hogge” was certainly intended to give offense.  However, we have to cast off our modern notions of free speech, and confront the fact that earlier English kings – even those who were very secure on their throne – did not countenance attacks on their regality.  This is abundantly clear in the treason indictments made against two commoners, Thomas Gate and Harry Mase, during the reign of Henry VI. 3  Both made statements – in taverns of all places – that mocked his newly-minted Noble coin which showed the King as commander of the “ship of state”.  Gate and Mase said Henry VI did not deserve to be called a ship’s commander but rather a sheep, not only because of his passivity and deference to overweening lords, but also because he was losing the lands that his father, Henry V, had so gloriously won in France.  Gate and Mase made their statements in the 1440s, well before there was a Yorkist challenge to the Lancastrian claim to the throne, and well before the first conflict of the Wars of the Roses at St. Albans in 1455.

And yet, notwithstanding the above, the historian Edward Hall (1497–1547), in his chronicle UNION OF THE TWO ILLUSTRE FAMILIES OF LANCASTER AND YORK, accuses Richard III of executing Collingbourne merely “for making a small rhyme“, an accusation repeated by subsequent historians.  Somehow they forgot some details.  See how easy it is to create a myth?

What do you think?  Was Richard III being overly paranoid and tyrannical by indicting Collingbourne?  Was the English public unaccustomed to such heavy-handedness by the King, and thus becoming disenchanted with his rule? Are there other historical myths and Blemyae that you’re aware of and think should be debunked?  Share your thoughts and ideas in the Comments below!

For an interesting discussion about the concept of high treason, check out Annette Carson’s book RICHARD DUKE OF GLOUCESTER AS LORD PROTECTOR AND HIGH CONSTABLE OF ENGLAND, pp. 27-33 (2015).

Footnotes:


  1. Kenneth Hillier, “William Colyngbourne”, RICHARD III – CROWN AND PEOPLE (J. Petre, ed.) (A selection of articles from THE RICARDIAN, the journal of the Richard III Society, March 1975 to December 1981). 
  2. James Gairdner, HISTORY OF THE LIFE AND REIGN OF RICHARD THE THIRD (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1898, 1968 ed.) 
  3. Helen Wicker, “The Politics of Vernacular Speech:  Cases of Treasonable Language, c. 1440-1453” (Brepols).