Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third
by Horace Walpole
- That chronicle, which – now and – then, though seldom, is circumstantial, gives a curious account of the marriage of Richard duke of Gloucester and Anne Nevil, which I have found in no other author; and which seems to tax the envy and rapaciousness of Clarence as the causes of the dissention between the brothers. This account, and from a contemporary, is the more remarkable, as the lady Anne is positively said to have been only betrothed to Edward prince of Wales, son of Henry the Sixth, and not his widow, as she is carelessly called by all our historians, and represented in Shakespeare’s masterly scene. “Postquam filius regis Henrici, cui Domina Anna, minor filia comitis Warwici, desponsata fuit, in prefato bello de Tewkysbury occubuit,” Richard duke of Gloucester desired her for his wife. Clarence, who had married the elder sister, was unwilling to share so rich an inheritance with his brother, and concealed the young lady. Gloucester was too alert for him, and discovered the Lady Anne in the dress of a cookmaid in London, and removed her to the sanctuary of St. Martin. The brothers pleaded each his cause in person before their elder brother in council; and every man, says the author, admired the strength of their respective arguments. The king composed their differences, bestowed the maiden on Gloucester, and parted the estate between him and Clarence; the countess of Warwick, mother of the heiress, and who had brought that vast wealth to the house of Nevil, remaining the only sufferer, being reduced to a state of absolute necessity, as appears frome Dugdale. In such times, under such despotic dispensations, the greatest crimes were only consequences of the economy of government. —-Note, that Sir Richard Baker is so absurd as to make Richard espouse the Lady Anne after his accession, though he had a son by her ten years old at that time.
- The chronicle above quoted asserts, that the speaker of the house of commons demanded the execution of Clarence. Is it credible that, on a proceeding so public and so solemn for that age, the brother of the offended monarch and of the royal criminal should have been deputed, or would have stooped to so vile an office? On such occasions do arbitrary princes want tools? Was Edward’s court so virtuous or so humane, that it could furnish no assassin but the first prince of the blood? When the house of commons undertook to colour the king’s resentment, was every member of it too scrupulous to lend his hand to the deed?
- Vide Biog. Brittanica, p.3159
- Twelve guardians were apointed by parliament, and the earl of Lancaster was entrusted with the care of the king’s person. The latter, being excluded from exercising his charge bu the queen and Mortimer, gave that as a reason for not obeyeing a summons to parliament. Vide Parliam. Hist. Vol. i. P. 208-215.
- Vide the act of succession in Parl. Hist. Vol. iii. P. 127.
- It should be remarked too, that the duke of Gloucester is positively said to be celebrating his brother’s obsequies there. It not only strikes off part of the term by allowing the necessary time for the news of king Edward’s death to reach York, and for the preparations to be made there to solemnize a funeral for him; but this very circumstance takes off from the probability of Richard having as yet laid any plan for dispossessing his nephew. Would he have loitered at York at such a crisis, in he had intended to step into the throne?
- Grafton says, “and in effect every one as he was neerest of kinne unto the queene, so was he planted nere about the prince,” p. 761 ; and again, p.762, “the duke of Gloucester understanding that the lordes, which were about the king, entended to bring him up to his coronation, accompanied with such power of their friendes, that it should be hard for him, to bring his purpose to passe, without gatherying and assemble of people, and in manner of open war,” &c. In the same place it appears, that the argument used to dissuade the queen from employing force, was, that it would be a breach of the accommodation made by the late king between her relations and the great lords; and so undoubtedly it was; and though they are accused of violating the peace, it is plain that the queen’s insincerity had been at least equal to theirs, and that the infringement of the reconciliation commenced on her side.
- Henry duke of Buckingham was the immediate descendant and heir of Thomas of Woodstock duke of Gloucester, the youngest son of Edward the Third, as will appear by this table:
Thomas, duke of Gloucester
Anne —————-Edmund earl of Stafford
sole dr. and heiress
Humphrey duke of Bucks
Humphrey lord Stafford
Henry duke of Bucks
It is plain, that Buckingham was influenced by this nearness to the crown, for it made him overlook his own alliance with the queen, whose sister he had married. Henry the Eighth did not overlook the proximity of blood, when he afterwards put to death the son of this duke.
- This is confirmed by the chronicle of Croyland, p.566.
- He was probably eye-witness of that ceremony; for he says, ” the king was of the maior and his citizens met at Harnesey parke, the maior and his brethren being clothed in scarlet, and the citizens in violet, to the number of V.C. horses, and than from thence conveyed into the citie, the king being in blewe velvet, and all his lords and servauntes in blacke cloth>”p.513.
- What should we think of a modern historian, who should sink all mention of the convention parliament, and only tell us that one Dr. Burnet got up into the pulpit, and assured the people that Henrietta Maria (a little more suspected of gallantry than duchess Cecily) produced Charles the Second and James the Second in adultery, and gave no legitimate issue to Charles the First, but Mary princess of Orange, mother of king William: that the people laughed at him and so the prince of Orange became king?
- The Earl of Rutland, another son, elder than Richard, had been murdered at the battle of Wakefield, and so was omitted in that imaginary accusation.
- Clarence was the first who is said to have propagated this slander, and it was much more consonant to his levity and indigested politics, than to the good sense of Richard. Who can believe that Richard renewed this story, especially as he must have altered the dates of his mother’s amours, and made them continue to her conception of him, as Clarence had made them stop in his own favour?
- It appears from Rymer’s Foedera, that the very first act of Richard’s reign is dated from quandam altera camera juxta capellam in hospitio dominae Ceciliae dicissae Eborum. It does not look much as if he had publicly accused his mother of adultery, when he held his first council at her house. Among the Harleian MSS. In the Museum, No. 2236. Art.6. is the following letter from Richard to this very princess his mother, which is an additional proof of the good terms on which they lived: “Madam, I recomaunde me to you as hertely as is to me possible, beseeching you in my most humble affectuouse wise of your daly blessing to my synguler comfort and defence in my nede: and, madam, I herely beseche you, that I may often here from you to my comfort; and suche newes as there be here, my servaunt Thomas Bryan, this berer shall showe to you, to whome please it you to yeve credence unto. And, madam, I beseche you to be good and graciouse lady to my lord chamberlayne to be your officer in Wiltshire in suche as Colinbourne had: I trust he shall therin do you good servyce; and that is plese you, that by this berer I may understande your pleasur in this behalve. And I praye God send you th’accomplishement of your noble desires. Written at Pountfreit, the thirde day of Juyn, with the hande of your most humble son, Ricardus Rex”
- Liv. 5. P. 151 In the 6th book, Comines insinuates that the bishop acted out of revenge for having been imprisoned by Edward: it might be so; but as Comines had before alleged that the bishop had actually said he had married them, it might be the truth that the prelate told out of revenge, and not a lie; not is it probable that his tale would have had any weight, if false, and unsupported by other circumstance.
- Except the proclamation which, Sir Thomas says, appeared to have been prepared beforehand. The death of Hastings, I allow, is the fact of which we are most sure, without knowing the immediate motives: we must conclude it was determined on his opposing Richard’s claim: farther we do not know, not whether that opposition was made in a legal or hostile manner. It is impossible to believe that, an hour before his death, he should have exulted in the deaths of their common enemies, and vaunted, as Sir Thomas More assets, his connection with Richard, if he was then actually at variance with him; not that Richard should, without provocation, have massacred so excellent and accomplice. This story, therefore, must be left in the dark, as we find it.
- So far from it, that, as Mr. Hume remarks, there is in Rymer’s Foedera a proclamation of Richard, in which he accuses, not the lord Hastings, but the marquis Dorset, of connection with Jane Shore. Mr. Hume thinks so authentic a paper not sufficient to overbalance the credit due to Sir Thomas More. What little credit was due to him appears from the course of this work in various and indubitable instances. The proclamation against the lord Dorset and Jane shore is not dated till the 23d of October following. Is it credible that Richard would have made use of this woman’s name again, if he had employed it before to blacken Hastings? It is not probable that, immediately on the death of the king, she had been taken into keeping by lord Hastings; but near seven months had elapsed between that deat and her connection with the marquis.
- In the Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors, vol. I.
- Though I have copied our historians, as the rest have copied him, in this date, I must desire the reader to take notice, that this very date is another of Sir Thomas More’s errors; for in the public acts is a deed of Edward the Fifth dated June 17th.
- Sir Thomas More
- It appears from the Foedera that Brakenbury was appointed Constable of the Tower July 7th; that he surrendered his patent March 9th of the following year, and had one more ample granted to him. If it is supposed that Richard renewed this patent to Sir Robert Brakenbury, to prevent his disclosing what he knew of a murder, in which he had refused to be concerned, I then ask if it is probable that a man too virtuous or too cautious to embark in an assassination, and of whom the supposed tyrant stood in awe, would have laid down his life in that usurper’s cause, as Sir Robert did, being killed on Richard’s side at Bosworth, when many other of his adherents betrayed him?
- This is confirmed by lord Bacon: “Neither wanted there even at that time secret rumours and whisperings (which afterwards gathered strength, and turned to great trouble) that the two young sons of king Edward the Fourth, or one of them (which were said to be destroyed in the Tower) were not indeed murthered. But conveyed secretly away, and were yet living.” Reign of Henry the Seventh, p. 4. Again, p. 19. “And all this time it was still whispered every where that at least one of the children of Edward the Fourth was living.”
- It appears by Hall, that Sir James Tirrel had even enjoyed the favour of Henry; for Tirrel is named as captain of Guisnes in a list of valiant officers that were sent by Henry, in his fifth year, on an expedition into Flanders. Does this look as if Tirrel was so much as suspected of the murder? Sir James was not executed till Henry’s seventeenth year, on suspicion of treason, which suspicion arose on the flight of the earl of Suffolk. Vide Hall’s Chronicle, fol. 18 & 55.
- There is a heap of general accusations alleged to have been committed by Richard against Henry, in particular of his having shed infant’s blood. Was this sufficient specification of the murder of a king? Is it not rather a safe was of insinuating a slander, of which no proof could be given? Was it not consonant to all Henry’s policy of involving everything in obscure and general terms?
- As cardinal Bourchier set the crown on Richard’s head at Westminster, so did archbishop Rotherham at York. These prelates either did not believe Richard had murdered his nephews, or were shamefully complaisant themselves. Yet their characters stand unimpeached in history. Could Richard be guilty, and the archbishops be blameless? Could both be ignorant what was become of the young prines, when both had negotiated with the queen dowager? As neither is accused of being the creature of Richard, it is probable that neither of them believed he had taken off his nephews. In the Foedera there is a pardon passed to the archbishop, which at first made me suspect that he had taken some part in behalf of the royal children, as he is pardoned for all murders, treasons, concealments, misprisions, riots, routs &c. but this pardon is not only dated Dec.13, some months after he had crowned Richard; but, on looking farther, I find such pardons frequently granted to the most eminent of the clergy. In the next reign Walter, archbishop of Dublin, is pardoned all murders, rapes, treasons, felonies, misprisions, riots, routs, extortions, &c.
- Lord Bacon tells us, that “on Simon’s and Jude’s even, the king (Henry the Seventh) dined with Thomas Bourchier, archbishop of Canterburie, and cardinal: and from Lambeth went by land over the bridge to the Tower.” Has this not the appearance of some curiosity in the king on the subject of the princes, of whose fate he was uncertain?
- P. 128. Rous is the more to be creditied for this fact, as he saw the earl of Warwick in company with Richard at Warwick the year before on the progress to York, which shows that the king treated his nephew with kindness, and did not confine him till the plots of his enemies thickening, Richard found it necessary to secure such as had any pretensions to the crown. This will account for his preferring the earl of Lincoln, who, being his sister’s son, could have no prior claim before himself.
- It is unfortunate, that another great chancellor should have written a history with the same propensity to misrepresentation, I mean lord Clarendon. It is hoped no more chancellors will write our story, till they can divest themselves of that habit of their profession, apologizing for a bad cause.
- “He had no purpose to go through with any warre upon France; but the truth was, that hee did but traffique with that warre to make his returne in money.” Ld Bacon’s reign of Henry the Seventh, p. 99.
- This singular curiosity was first mentioned to me by the lord bishop of Carlisle. Mr. Astle lent me an extract of it, with other useful assistances; and Mr. Chamberlain of the great wardrobe obliged me with the perusal of the original; favours which I take this opportunity of gratefully acknowledging.
- Polydore Vergil says, “In vulgus fama valuit filios Edwardi Regis aliquo terrarum parten migrasse, atque ita superstites esse.” And the prior of Croyland, not his continuator, whom I shall quote in the next note but one, and who was still better informed, “Vulgatum est regis Edwardi pueros concessisse in fata, sed quo genere interitus ignoratur.”
- Buck asserts this from the parliament roll. The annotator in Kennett’s collection says, “this author would have done much towards the credit he drives at in his history, to have specified the place of the roll and the words thereof, whence such arguments might be gathered; for,” adds he, “all histories relate the murders to be committed before this time.” I have shown that all histories are reduced to one history, Sir Thomas More’s; for the rest copy him verbatim; and I have shown that his account is false and improbable. As the roll itself is now printed, in the parliamentary history, vol. 2. I will point out the words that imply Edward the Fifth being alive when the act was passed. “Also it appeareth that all the issue of the said king Edward be bastards and unable to inherit or claim anything by inheritance, by the law and custom of England.” Had Edward the Fifth been dead, would not the act indubitably have run thus, were and be bastards. No, says the act, all the issue are bastards. Who were rendered incapable to inherit but Edward the Fifth, his brother and sisters? Would not the act have specified the daughters of Edward the Fourth, if the sons had been dead? It was to bastardize the brothers, that the act was calculated and passed; as the words all the issuecomprehend makes and females, it is clear that both were intended to be bastardized. I must, however, impartially observe that Philip de Comines says, Richard having murdered his nephews, degraded their two sisters in full parliament. I will not dwell on his mistake of mentioning two sisters in stead of five; but it must be remarked, that neither brother nor sisters being specified in the act, but under the general term of king Edward’s issue, it would naturally strike those who were uncertain what was become of the sons, that this act was levelled against the daughters. And as Comines did not write till some years after the event, he could not well help falling into that mistake. For my own part I know not how to believe that Richard would have passed that act, if he had murdered the two princes. It was recalling a shocking crime, and to little purpose; for as no woman had at that time ever sat on the English throne in her own right, Richard had little reason to apprehend the claim of his neices.
- “Per haec festa natalia choreis aut tripudiis, variique mutatoriis vestium Annae reginae atque dominae Elizabeth, primogenitae defuncti regis, eisdem colore & forma distributis nimis intentum est: dictumque a multis est, ipsum regem aut expecta morte regimae aut per divortium, matrimonio cum dicta Elizabeth contrhendo mentem omnibus modis applicare,” p.572. If Richard projected this match at Christmas, he was not likely to let these intentions be perceived so early, nor to wait till March, if he did not know that the queen was incurably ill. The Chronicle says, she died of a languishing distemper. Did that look like poison? It is scarce necessary to say that a dispensation from the pope was in that age held so clear a solution of all obstacles to the marriage of near relations, and was so easily obtained or purchased by a great prince, that Richard would not have been thought by his contemporaries to have incurred any guilt, even if he had proposed to wed his neice, which however is far from being clear to have been his intention.
- Lord Bacon
- The earl of Lincoln assuredly did not mean to blacken his uncle Richard by whom he had been declared heir to the crown. One should therefore be glad to know what account he gave of the escape of the young duke of York. Is it probable that the earl of Lincoln gave out, that the elder had been murdered? It is more reasonable to suppose, that the earl asserted that the child had been conveyed away by means of the queen dowager or some other friend; and before I conclude this examination, that I think will appear most probably to have been the case.
- Henry had so great a distrust of his right to the crown, that in his second year he obtained a bull from pope Innocent to qualify the privileges of sanctuaries, in which was this remarkable clause, ” That if any took sanctuarie for case of treaaon, the king might appoint him keepers to look to him in sancutarie.” Lord Bacon, p. 39.
- It would have required half the court of Edward the Fourth to frame a consistent legend. Let us state this in a manner that must strike our apprehension. The late princess royal was married out of England, before any of the children of the late prince of Wales were born. She lived no farther than the Hague; and yet who thinks that she could have instructed a Dutch lad in so many passages of the courts of her father and brother, that he would not have been detected in an hour’s time. Twenty-seven years at least had elapsed since Margaret had been in the court of England. The marquis of Dorset, the earl of Richmond himself, and most of the fugitives had taken refuge in Bretagne, not with Margaret; and yet was she so informed of every trifling story, even thise of the nursery, that she was able to pose Henry himself, and reduce him to invent a tale that had not a shadow of probability in it. Why did he not convict Perkin out of his own mouth? Was it ever pretended that Perkin had failed in his part? That was the surest and best proof of his being an impostor. Could not the whole court, the whole kingdom of England; so cross-examine this Flemish youth, as to catch him in one lie? No; lord Bacon’s Juno had inspired him with full knowledge of all that had passed in the last twenty years. If Margaret was Juno, he who shall answer these questions satisfactorily, “erit mihi magnus Apollo.”
- A gentleman of fame and family, says lord Bacon
- To what degree arbitrary power dares to trifle with the common sense of mankind has been seen in Portuguese and Russian manifestos.
- As this solution of the likeness is not authorized by the youth’s supposed narrative, the likeness remains incontrovertible, and consequently another argument for his being king Edward’s son.
- On the contrary, Perkin calls his grandfather Diryck Ofbeck; Diryck as every body knows is Theodoric, and Theodoric is certainly no Jewish appellation. Perkin too mentions several of his relations and their employment at Tournay, without any hint of a Hebrew connection.
- Grafton’s Chronicle, p.930.
- I take this to mean the English language, for these reasons; he had just before named the English nation, and the name of his master was John Strewe, which seems to be an English appellation: but there is a stronger reson for believing it means the English language, which is, that a Flemish lad is not set to learn his own language; though even this absurdity is advanced in this same pretended confession, Perkin affirming that his mother, after he had dwelled some time in Tournay, sent him to Antwerp to learn Flemish. If I am told by a very improbable supposition, that French was his native language at Tournay, that he learned Flemish at Antwerp, and Dutch at Middleburg, I will desire the objector to cast his eye on the map, and consider the small distance between Tournay, Middleberg, and Antwerp, and to reflect that the present United Provinces were not then divided from the rest of Flanders; and then to decide whether the dialects spoken at Tournay, Antwerp, and Middleberg were so different in that age, that it was necessary to be set to learn them all separately. If this cannot be anwered satisfactorily, it will remain, that Perkin learned Flemish or English twice over. I am indifferent which, for still there will remain a contradiction in the confession. And if English is not meant in the passage above, it will only produce a greater difficulty, which is, that Perkin at the age of twenty, learned to speak English in Ireland with so good an accent, that all England could not discover the cheat. I must be answered, too, why lord Bacon rejects the youth’s own confession and substitutes another in its place, which makes Perkin born in England, though in his pretended confession Perkin affirms the contrary. Lord Bacon too confirms my interpretation of the passage in question, by saying that Perkin roved up and down between Antwerp and other towns in Flanders, living much in English company, and having the English tongue perfect. P. 115.
- Mr. Hume, to whose doubts all respect is due, tells me he thinks no mention being made of Perkin’s title in the Cornish rebellion under the lord Audeley, is a strong presumption that the nation was not persuaded of his being the true duke of York. This argument, which at most is negative, seems to me to lose its weight, when it is remembered, that this was an insurrection occasioned by a poll-tax: that the rage of the people was directed against archbishop Morton and Sir Reginald Bray, the supposed authors of the grievance. An insurrection against a tax in a southern county, in which no mention is made of a pretender to the crown, is surely not so forcible a pre- sumption against him, as the persuasion of the northern counties that he was the true heir, is an argument in his favour. Much less can it avail against such powerful evidence as I have shown exists to overturn all that Henry could produce against Perkin.
- If diligent search was to be made in the public offices and convents of the Flemish towns in which the dichess Margaret resided, I should not despair of new lights gained to that part of our history.
- The excessive affection shown by the Northern counties, where .the principle strength of the Yorkists lay, to Richard the Third while living, and to his memory when dead, implies two things; first, that the party did not give him up to Henry; secondly, that they did not believe he had murdered his nephews. Tyrants of that magnitude are not apt to be popular. Examine the life of the chiefs in Henry’s army, as stated by the Chronicle of Croyland, p. 574. And they will be found Lancastrians, or very private gentlemen, and but one peer, the earl of Oxford, a noted Lancastrian.
- Grafton has preserved a ridiculous oration said to be made by Perkin to the king of Scotland, in which this silly tale is told. Nothing can be depended upon less that such orations, almost always forged by the writer, and unpardonable, if they pass the bounds of truth. Perkin, in the passage in question, uses there words, “And farther to the entent that my life might be in a suretie he (the murderer of my elder brother) appointed one to convey me into some straunge countrie, where, when I was furthest off, and had most neede of comfort, he then forsooke me soudainly ( I think he was so appointed to do) and left me desolate alone without friend or knowledge of any reliefe or refuge, &c.” Would not one think one was reading the tale of Valentine and Orson, or any legend of a barbarous age, rather than the history of England, when we are told of straunge countries And such indefinte ramblings, as would pass only in a nursery? It remains not only a secret but a doubt, whether the elder brother was murdered. If Perkin was the younger, and knew certainly that his brother was put to death, our doubt would vanish: but can it vanish on no better authority than this foolish oration? Did Grafton hear it pronounced? Did king James bestow his kinswoman on Perkin, on the strength of such a fable?
- Henry was so reduced to make out any title to the crown, that he catched even at a quibble. In the act of attainder, passed after his accession, he calls himself a nephew of Henry the Sixth. He was so, but it was by his father, who was not of royal blood. Catherine of Valois, after bearing Henry the Sixth, married Owen Tudor, and had two sons, Edmund and Jasper, the former of which married Margaret, mother of Henry the Seventh, and so he was half nephew of Henry the Sixth. On one side he had no royal blood, on the other only bastard blood.
- Observe, that when lord Bacon wrote, there was great necessity to vindicate the title even of Henry the Seventh, for James the First claimed from the eldest daughter of Henry and Elizabeth.
- In the prints, the single head is most exactly copied from the drawing, which is unfinished. In the double plate, the reduced likeness of the king could not be so perfectly preserved.
- The author I am going to quote, gives us the order in which the duchess Cecily’s children were born, thus; Ann duchess of Exeter, Henry, Edward the Fourth, Edmund earl of Rutland, Elizabeth duchess of Suffolk, Margaret duchess of Burgundy, William, John, George duke of Clarnce, Thomas, Richard the Third, and Ursula. Cox, in his history of Ireland, says, that Clarnce was born in 1451. Buck computed Richard the Third to have fallen at the age of thirty -four or five; but, by Cox’x account, he could not be more than thirty-two. Still this makes it probable, that their mother bore them and intervening brother Thomas as soon as she well could one after another.
- See Vincent’s Errors in Brooke’s Heraldry, p.623.
- This is not a mere random conjecture, but corroborated by another instance of like address. He disforested a large circuit, which Edward had annexed to the forest of Whichwoode, to the great annoyance of the subject. This we are told by Rous himself, p. 216
- Drake says, that an embassador from the queen of Spain was present at Richard’s coronation at York. Rous himself owns, that, amidst a great concourse of nobility that attended the king at York, was the duke of Albany, brother of the king of Scotland. Richard therefore appears not to have been abhorred by either of the courts of Spain or Scotland.
- Attamen fi ad ejus honorem veritatem dicam, p. 218.
- Vide Dugdale’s Warwickshire in Beauchamp.
- Baronage, p.258
- In his History of York
- See his Desiderata Curiosa
Special thanks to Society member Janet Trimbath for keyboarding this electronic edition.