Walpole’s Historic Doubts
With regard to the person of Richard, it appears to have been as much misrepresented as his actions. Philip de Comines, who was very free spoken even on his own masters, and therefore not likely to spare a foreigner, mentions the beauty of Edward the Fourth; but says nothing of the deformity of Richard, though he saw them together. This is merely negative. The old countess of Desmond, who had danced with Richard, declared he was the handsomest man in the room except his brother Edward, and was very well made. But what shall we say to Dr. Shaw, who in his sermon appealed to the people, whether Richard was not the express image of his father’s person, who was neither ugly nor deformed? Not all the protector’s power could have kept the muscles of the mob in awe and prevented their laugh- ing at so ridiculous an apostrophe, had Richard been a little, crooked, withered, hump-back’d monster, as later historians would have us believe — and very idly? Cannot a foul soul inhabit a fair body?
The truth I take to have been this. Richard, who was slender and not tall, had one shoulder a little higher than the other: a defect, by the magnifying glasses of party, by distance of time, and by the amplification of tradition, easily swelled to shocking deformity; for falsehood itself generally pays so much respect to truth as to make it the basis of its superstructure.
I have two reasons for believing Richard was not well made about the shoulders. Among the drawings which I purchased at Vertue’s sale was one of Richard and his queen, of which nothing is expressed but the out-lines. There is no intimation from whence the drawing was taken; but by a collateral direction for the colour of the robe, if not copied from a picture, it certainly was from some painted window; where existing I do not pretend to say: in this whole work I have not gone beyond my vouchers. Richard’s face is very comely, and corresponds singularly with the portrait of him in the preface to the Royal and Noble Authors. He has a sort of tippet of ermine doubled about his neck, which seems calculated to disguise some want of symmetry thereabouts. I have given two (51) prints of this drawing, which is on large folio paper, that it may lead to a discovery of the original.
My other authority is John Rous, the antiquary of Warwickshire, who saw Richard at Warwick in the interval of his two coronations, and who describes him thus: “Parvae staturae erat, curtam habens faciem, inaequales humeros, dexter superior, sinisterque inferior.” What feature in this portrait gives any idea of a monster? Or who can believe that an eye-witness, and so minute a painter, would have mentioned nothing but the inequality of the shoulders, if Richard’s form had been a compound of ugliness? Could a Yorkist have drawn a less disgusting representation? And yet Rous was a vehement Lancastrian; and the moment he ceased to have truth before his eyes, gave into all the virulence and forgeries of his party, telling us in another place, “that Richard remained two years in his mother’s womb, and came forth at last with teeth, and hair on his shoulders.” I leave it to the learned in the profession to decide whether women can go two years with their burden, and produce a living infant; but that this long pregnancy did not prevent the duchess, his mother, from bearing afterwards, I can prove; and could we recover the register of the births of her children, I should not be surprized to find, that, as she was a very fruitful woman, there was not above a year between the birth of Richard and his preceding brother Thomas(52). However, an ancient (53) bard, who wrote after Richard was born and during the life of his father, tells us,
Richard liveth yit, but the last of all Was Ursula, to him whom God list call.
Be it as it will, this foolish tale, with the circumstances of his being born with hair and teeth, was coined to intimate how careful Providence was, when it formed a tyrant, to give due warning of what was to be expected. And yet these portents were far from prognosticating a tyrant; for this plain reason, that all other tyrants have been born without these prognostics. Does it require more time to ripen a foetus, that is, to prove a destroyer, than it takes to form an Aristides? Who was handsomer than Alexander, Augustus, or Louis the Fourteenth? And yet who ever commanded the spilling of more human blood?
Having mentioned John Rous, it is necessary I should say something more of him, as he lived in Richard’s time, and even wrote his reign; and yet I have omitted him in the list of contemporary writers. The truth is he was pointed out to me after the preceding sheets were finished; and upon inspection I found him too despicable and lying an author, even amongst monkish authors, to venture to quote him, but for two facts; for the one of which as he was an eye-witness, and for the other, as it was of public notoriety, he is competent authority.
The first is his description of the person of Richard; the second, relating to the young earl of Warwick, I have recorded in its place.
This John Rous, so early as the reign of Edward the Fourth, had retired to the hermitage of Guy’s Cliff, where he was a chantry priest, and where he spent the remaining part of his life in what he called studying and writing antiquities. Amongst other works, most of which are not unfortunately lost, he composed a history of the kings of England. It begins with the creation, and is compiled indiscriminately from the Bible and from monastic writers. Moses, he tells us, does not mention all the cities founded before the deluge, but Bernard of Beyedenback, dean of Mayence, does. With the same taste he acquaints us, that, though the Book of Genesis says nothing of the matter, Giraldus Cambrensis writes, that Caphera or Cefara, Noah’s neice, being apprehensive of the deluge, set out for Ireland, where with three men and fifty women, she arrived safe with one ship, the rest perishing in the general destruction.
A history, so happily begun, never falls off: prophesies, omens, judgments, and religious foundations compose the bulk of the book. The lives and actions of our monarchs, and the great events of their reigns, seemed to the author to deserve little place in a history of England. The lives of Henry the Sixth and Edward the Fourth, though the author lived under both, take up but two pages in octavo, and that of Richard the Third, three. We may judge how qualified such an author was to clear up a period so obscure, or what secrets could come to his knowledge at Guy’s Cliff: accordingly he retails all the vulgar reports of the times; as that Richard poisoned his wife, and put his nephews to death, though he owns few knew in what manner; but as he lays the scene of their deaths before Richard’s assumption of the crown, it is plain he was the worst informed of all. To Richard he ascribes the death of Henry the Sixth; and adds, that many persons believed he executed the murder with his own hands: but he records another circumstance that alone must weaken all suspicion of Richard’s guilt in that transaction. Richard not only caused the body to be removed from Chertsey, and solemnly interred at Windsor, but it was publickly exposed, and, if we will believe the monk, was found almost entire, and emitted a gracious perfume, though no care had been taken to embalm it. Is it credible that Richard, if the murderer, would have exhibited this unecessary mummery, only to revive the memory of his own guilt? Was it not rather intended to recall the cruelty of his brother Edward, whose children he had set aside, and whom by the comparison of this act of piety, he hoped to (54) depreciate in the eyes of the people? The very example had been pointed out to him by Henry the Fifth, who bestowed a pompous funeral on Richard the Second, murdered by order of his father.
Indeed the devotion of Rous to that Lancastrian saint, Henry the Sixth, seems chiefly to engross his attention, and yet it draws him into a contradiction; for having said that the murder of Henry the Sixth had made Richard detested by all nations who heard of it, he adds, two pages afterwards, that an embassy arrived at Warwick (while Richard kept his court there) from the (55) king of Spain, to propose a marriage between their children. Of this embassy Rous is a proper witness: Guy’s Cliff, I think, is but four miles from Warwick; and he is too circumstantial on what passed there not to have been on the spot. In other respects he seems inclined to be impartial, recording several good and generous acts of Richard.
But there is one circumstance, which, besides the weakness and credulity of the man, renders his testimony exceedingly suspicious. After having said, that, if he may speak truth in Richard’s favour (56), he must own that, though small in stature and strength, Richard was a noble knight, and defended himself to the last breath with eminent valour, the monk suddenly turns , and apostrophizes Henry the Seventh, to whom he has dedicated his work, and whom he flatters to the best of his poor abilities; but, above all things, for having bestowed the name of Arthur on his eldest son, who, this injudicious and over-hasty prophet foresees, will restore the glory of his great ancestor of the same name. Had Henry christened his second son Merlin, I do not doubt but poor Rous would have had still more divine visions about Henry the Eighth, though born to shake half the pillars of credulity.
In short, no reliance can be had on an author of such a frame of mind, so removed from the scene of action, and so devoted to the Welsh intruder on the throne. Superadded to this incapacity and defects, he had prejudices or attachments of a private nature: He had singular affection for the Beauchamps, earls of Warwick, zealous Lancastrians, and had written their lives. One capital crime that he imputes to Richard is the imprisonment of his mother-in-law, Ann Beauchamp countess of Warwick, mother of his queen. It does seem that this great lady was very hardly treated; but I have shown from the Chronicle of Croyland, that it was Edward the Fourth, not Richard, that stripped her of her possessions. She was widow too of that turbulent Warwick, the king-maker; and Henry the Seventh bore witness that she was faithfully loyal the Henry the Sixth. Still it seems extraordinary that the queen did not or could not obtain the enlargement of her mother. When Henry the Seventh attained the crown, she recovered her liberty and vast estates: yet young as his majesty was both in years and avarice, for this magnificence took place in his third year, still he gave evidence of the falshood and rapacity of his nature; for though by act of parliament he cancelled the former act that had deprived her, as against all reason, conscience, and course of nature, and contrary to the laws of God and man(57) and restored her possessions to her, this was but a farce, and like his wonted hypocrisy; for the very same year he obliged her to convey the whole estate to him, leaving her nothing but the manor of Sutton for her maintenance. Richard had married her daughter; but what claim had Henry to her inheritance? This attachment of Rous to the house of Beauchamp, and the dedication of his work to Henry, would make his testimony most suspicious, even if he had guarded his work within the rules of probability, and not rendered it a contemptible legend.
Every part of Richard’s story is involved in obscurity: we neither know what natural children he had, nor what became of them. Sandford says, he had a daughter called Katherine, whom William Herbert earl of Huntingdon covenanted to marry, and to make her a fair and sufficient estate of certain of his manors to the yearly value of 200 l. over and above all charges. As this lord received a confirmation of his title from Henry the Seventh, no doubt the poor young lady would have been sacrificed to that interest. But Dugdale seems to think she died before the nuptials were consummated: “whether this marriage took effect or not I cannot say; for sure it is that she died in her tender years (58).” Drake(59) affirms, that Richard knighted at York a natural son called Richard of Gloucester, and supposes it to be the same person of whom Peck has preserved so extraordinary an account(60). But never was a supposition worse grounded. The relation given the latter of himself, was, that he never saw the king till the night before the battle of Bosworth; and that the king had not then acknowledged , but intended to acknowledge him, if victorious. The deep privacy in which this person had lived, demonstrates how severely the persecution had raged against all that were connected with Richard, and how little truth was to be expected from the writers on the other side. Nor could Peck’s Richard Plantagenet be the same person with Richard of Gloucester, for the former was never known till he discovered himself to Sir Thomas Moyle; and Hall says that king Richard’s natural son was in the hands of Henry the Seventh. Buck says, that Richard made his son Richard of Gloucester, captain of Calais; but it appears from Rymer’s Foedera, that Richard’s natural son , who was captain of Calais, was called John. None of these accounts accord with Peck’s; nor, for want of knowing his mother, can we guess why king Richard was more secret on the birth of this son (if Peck’s Richard Plantagenet was truly so) than on those of his other natural children. Perhaps the truest remark that can be made on this whole story is, that the avidity with which our historians swallowed one gross ill-concocted legend, prevented them from desiring or daring to sift a single part of it. If crumbs of truth are mingled with it, at least they are now undistinguishable in such a mass of error and improbability.
It is evident from the conduct of Shakespeare, that the house of Tudor retained all their Lancastrian prejudices, even in the reign of queen Elizabeth. In his play of Richard the Third, he seems to deduce the woes of the house of York from the curses which queen Margaret had vented against them; and he could not give that weight to her curses, without supposing a right in her to utter them. This indeed is the authority which I do not pretend to combat. Shakespeare”s immortal scenes will exist, when such poor arguments as mine are forgotten. Richard at least will be tried and executed on the stage, when his defence remains on some obscure shelf of a library. But while these pages may excite the curiosity of a day, it may not be unentertaining to observe, that there is another of Shakespeare’s plays, that may be ranked among the historic, though not one of his numerous critics and commentators have discovered the drift of it; I mean The Winter Evening’s Tale, which was certainly intended (in compliment to queen Elizabeth) as an indirect apology for her mother Anne Boleyn. The address of the poet appears no where to more advantage. The subject was too delicate to be exhibited on the stage without a veil; and it was too recent, and touched the queen too nearly, for the bard to have ventured so home an allusion on any other ground than compliment. The unreasonable jealousy of Leontes, and his violent conduct in consequence, form a true portrait of Henry the Eighth, who generally made the law the engine of his boisterous passions. Not only the general plan of the story is most applicable, but several passages are so marked, that they touch the real history nearer than the fable. Hermione on her trial says,
‘Tis a derivative from me to mine,
And only that I stand for.
This seems to be taken from the very letter of Anne Boleyn to the king before her execution, where she pleads for the infant princess his daughter. Mamillius, the young prince, an unnecessary character, dies in his infancy; but it confirms the allusion, as queen Anne, before Elizabeth, bore a still-born son. But the most striking passage, and which had nothing to do in the tragedy, but as it pictured Elizabeth, is, where Paulina, describing the new-born princess, and her likeness to her father, says, she has the very trick of his frown. There is one sentence indeed so applicable, both to Elizabeth and’her father, that I should suspect the poet inserted it after her death. Paulina, speaking of the child, tells the king,
And might we lay the old proverb to your charge,
So like you, ’tis the worse——
The Winter’s Evening’s Tale was therefore in reality a second part of Henry the Eighth.
With regard to Jane Shore, I have already shown that it was her connection with the marquis Dorset, not with lord Hastings, which drew on her the resentment of Richard. When an event is thus wrested to serve the purpose of a party, we ought to be very cautious how we trust an historian, who is capable of employing truth only as cement in a fabric of fiction. Sir Thomas More tells us, that Richard pretended Jane “was of councell with lord Hastings to destroy him; and in conclusion, when no colour could fasten upon these matters, then he layd seriously to her charge that what she could not deny,” namely her adultery; “and for this cause, as a godly continent prince, cleane and faultless of himself, sent out of heaven into this vicious world for the amendment of mens manners, he caused the bishop of London to put her to open penance.”
This sarcasm on Richard’s morals would have had more weight, if the author had before confined himself to deliver nothing but the precise truth. He does not seem to be more exact in what relates to the penance itself. Richard, by his proclamation, taxed mistress Shore with plotting treason in confederacy with the marquis Dorset. Consequently, it was not from defect of proof of her being accomplice with lord Hastings that she was put to open penance. If Richard had any hand in that sentence, it was, because he had proof of her plotting with the marquis. But I doubt, and with some reason, whether her penance was inflicted by Richard. We have seen that he acknowledged at least two natural children; and Sir Thomas More hints that Richard was far from being remarkable for his charity. Is it therefore probable, that he acted so silly a farce as to make his brother’s mistress do penance? Most of the charges on Richard are so idle, that instead of being an able and artful usurper, as his antagonists allow, he must have been a weaker hypocrite than ever attempted to wrest a sceptre out of the hands of a legal possessor.
It is more likely that the churchmen were the authors of Jane’s penance; and that Richard, interested to manage that body, and provoked by her connection with so capital an enemy as Dorset, might give her up, and permit the clergy (who had probably burned incense to her in her prosperity) to revenge his quarrel. My reason for this opinion is grounded on a letter of Richard extant in the Museum, by which it appears that the fair, unfortunate, and amiable Jane (for her virtues far outweighed her frailty) being] a prisoner, by Richard’s order, in Ludgate, had captivated the king’s solicitor, who contracted to marry her. Here follows the letter:
Harl. MSS, No. 2378
By the K I N G.“Right reverend fadre in God, &c. Signifying unto you, that it is shewed unto us, that our servaunt and solicitor, Thomas Lynom, merveillously blinded and abused with the late (wife) of Willm Shore, now being in Ludgate by oure commandment, hath made contract of matrymony with hir (as it is said) and entendith, to our full grete merveille, to procede to th’effect of the same. We for many causes wold be sory that hee soo shulde be disposed. Pray you therefore to send for him, and in that ye goodly may, exhorte and sture hym to the contrarye. And if ye finde him utterly set for to marye hur, and noen otherwise will be advertised, then (if it may stand with the law of the churche) We be content (the tyme of mariage deferred to our comyng next to London) that upon sufficient suertie founde of hure good abering, ye doo send for hure keeper, and discharge him of our said commandment by warrant of these, committing hur to the rule and guiding of hure fadre, or any other by your descretion in the mene season. Yeven, &c. To the right reverend fadre in God,&c. the bishop of Lincoln, our chauncellor.”
It appears from this letter, that Richard thought it indecent for his sollicitor to marry a woman who suffered public punishment for adultery, and who was confined by his command – but where is the tyrant to be found in this paper? Or, what prince ever spoke of such a scandal, and what is stronger, of such contempt of his authority, with so much lenity and temper? He enjoins his chancellor to dissuade the sollicitor from the match – should he persist—a tyrant would have ordered the sollicitor to prison too — but Richard – Richard, if his servant will not be dissuaded, allows the match; and in the meantime commits Jane – to whose custody? –Her own father’s. I cannot help thinking that some holy person had been her persecutor, and not so patient and gentle a king. And I believe so, because of the salvo for the church: “Let them be married,” says Richard, “if it may stand with the lawe of the church.”
From the proposed marriage, one should at first conclude that Shore, the former husband of Jane, was dead; but by the king’s query, whether the marriage would be lawful? And by her being called in the letter the late wife of William Shore, not of the late William Shore, I should suppose that her husband was living, and that the penance itself was the consequence of a suit preferred by him to the ecclesiastical court for divorce. If the injured husband ventured, on the death of Edward the Fourth, to petition to be separated from his wife, it was natural enough for the church to proceed farther, and enjoin her to perform penance, especially when they fell in with the king’s resentment of her. Richard’s proclamation and the letter above-recited seem to point out this account of Jane’s misfortunes; the letter implying, that Richard doubted whether her divorce was so complete as to leave her at liberty to take another husband. As we hear no more of the marriage, and as Jane to her death, retained the name of Shore, my solution is corroborated; the chancellor-bishop, no doubt, going more roundly to work than the king had done. Nor, however Sir Thomas More reviles Richard for his cruel usage of mistress Shore, did either of the succeeding kings redress her wrongs, though she lived to the eighteenth year of Henry the Eighth. She had sown her good deeds, her good offices, her alms, her charities, in a court. Not one took root; nor did the ungrateful soil repay her a grain of relief in her penury and comfortless old age.
I have thus gone through the several accusations against Richard; and have shown that they rest on the slightest and most suspicious ground, if they rest on any at all. I have proved that they ought to be reduced to the sole authorities of Sir Thomas More and Henry the Seventh; the latter interested to blacken and misrepresent every action of Richard; and perhaps driven to father on him even his own crimes. I have proved that More’s account cannot be true. I have shown that the writers, contemporary with Richard, either do not accuse him, or give their accusations as mere vague and uncertain reports: and what is as strong, the writers next in date, and who wrote the earliest after these events are said to have happened, assert little or nothing from their own information, but adopt the very words of Sir Thomas More, who was absolutely mistaken or misinformed.
For the sake of those who have a mind to canvas this subject, I will recapitulate the most material arguments that tend to disprove what has been asserted; but as I attempt not to affirm what did happen in a period that will still remain very obscure, I flatter myself that I shall not be thought either fantastic or paradoxical, for not blindly adopting an improbable tale, which our historians have never given themselves the trouble to examine.
What mistakes I may have made myself, I shall be willing to acknowledge; what weak reasoning, to give up: but I shall not think that a long chain of arguments, of proofs and probabilities, is confuted at once, because some single fact may be found erroneous. Much less shall I be disposed to take notice of detached or trifling cavils. The work itself is but an inquiry into a short portion of our annals. I shall be content, if I have informed or amused my readers, or thrown any light on so clouded a scene; but I cannot be of opinion that a period thus distant deserves to take up more time than I have already bestowed upon it.
It seems to me to appear,
That Fabian and the authors of the Chronicle of Croyland, who were contemporaries with Richard, charge him directly with none of the crimes, since imputed to him, and disculpate him of others.
That John Rous, the third contemporary, could know the facts he alleges but by hearsay, confounds the dates of them, dedicated his works to Henry the Seventh, and is an author to whom no credit is due, from the lies and fables with which his work is stuffed.
That we have no authors, who lived near the time, but Lancastrian authors, who wrote to flatter Henry the Seventh, or who spread the tales which he invented.
That the murder of prince Edward, son of Henry the Sixth, was committed by king Edward’s servants, and is imputed to Richard by no contemporary.
That Henry the Sixth was found dead in the Tower; that it was not known how he came by his death; and that it was against Richard’s interest to murder him.
That the duke of Clarence was defended by Richard; that the parliament petitioned for his execution; that no author of the time is so absurd as to charge Richard with being the executioner; and that king Edward took the deed wholly on himself.
That Richard’s stay at York on his brother’s death had no appearance of a design to make himself king.
That the ambition of the queen, who attempted to usurp the government, contrary to the then established custom of the realm, gave the first provocation to Richard and the princes of the blood to assert their rights; and that Richard was sollicited by the duke of Buckingham to vindicate those rights.
That the preparation of an armed force under earl Rivers, the seizure of the Tower and treasure, and the equipment of a fleet, by the marquis Dorset, gave occasion to the princes to imprison the relations of the queen; and that, though they were put to death without trial (the only cruelty which is proved on Richard) it was consonant to the manners of that barbarous and turbulent age, and not till after the queen’s party had taken up arms.
That the execution of lord Hastings, who had first engaged with Richard against the queen, and whom Sir Thomas More confesses Richard was lothe to lose, can be accounted for by nothing but absolute necessity, and the law of self-defence.
That Richard’s assumption of the protectorate was in every respect agreeable to the laws and usage; was probably bestowed on him by the universal consent of the council and peers, and was a strong indication that he had then no thought of questioning the right of his nephew.
That the tale of Richard aspersing the chastity of his own mother is incredible; it appearing that he lived with her in perfect harmony, and lodged with her in her palace at that very time.
That it is as little credible that Richard gained the crown by a sermon of Dr. Shaw, and a speech of the duke of Buckingham, if the people only laughed at those orators.
That there had been a precontract or marriage between Edward the Fourth and lady Eleanor Talbot; and that Richard’s claim to the throne was founded on the illegitimacy of Edward’s children.
That a convention of the nobility, clergy, and people invited him to accept the crown on that title.
That the ensuing parliament ratified the act of the convention, and confirmed the bastardy of Edward’s children.
That nothing can be more improbable than Richard’s having taken no measures before he left London, to have his nephews murdered, if he had had any such intention.
That the story of Sir James Tirrel, as related by Sir Thomas More, is a notorious falsehood; Sir James Tirrel being at that time master of the horse, in which capacity he had walked at Richard’s coronation.
That Tirrel’s jealousy of Sir Richard Ratcliffe is another palpable falsehood; Tirrel being already preferred, and Ratcliffe being absent.
That all that relates to Sir Robert Brakenbury is no less false: Brakenbury either being too good a man to die for a tyrant or murderer, or too bad a man to have refused being his accomplice.
That Sir Thomas More and lord Bacon both confess that many doubted, whether the two princes were murdered in Richard’s day or not; and it certainly never was proved that they were murdered by Richard’s order.
That Sir Thomas More relied on nameless and uncertain authority; that it appears by dates and facts that his authorities were bad and false; that if sir James Tirrel and Dighton had really committed the murder and confessed it, and if Perkin Warbeck had made a voluntary, clear, and probable confession of his imposture, there could have remained no doubt of the murder.
That Green, the nameless page, and Will Slaughter, having never been questioned about the murder, there is no reason to believe what is related of them in the supposed tragedy.
That Sir James Tirrel not being attainted on the death of Richard, but having, on the contrary, been employed in great services by Henry the Seventh, it is not probable that he was one of the murderers. That lord Bacon owning that Tirrel’s confession did not please the king so well as Dighton’s; that Tirrel’s imprisonment and execution some years afterwards for a new treason, of which we have no evidence, and which appears to have been mere suspicion, destroy all probability of his guilt in the supposed murder of the children.
That the impunity of Dighton, if really guilty, was scandalous; and can only be accounted for on the supposition of his being a false witness to serve Henry’s cause against Perkin Warbeck.
That the silence of the two archbishops, and Henry’s not daring to specify the murder of the princes in the act of attainder against Richard, wears all the appearance of their not having been murdered.
That Richard’s tenderness and kindness to the earl of Warwick. Proceeding so far as to proclaim him his successor, betrays no symptom of that cruel nature, which would not stick at assassinating any competitor.
That it is indubitable that Richard’s first idea was to keep the crown but till Edward the Fifth should attain the age of twenty-four.
That with this view he did not create his own son prince of Wales till after he had proved the bastardy of his brother’s children.
That there is no proof that those children were murdered.
That Richard made, or intended to make, his nephew Edward the Fifth walk at his coronation.
That there is strong presumption form the parliament-roll and from the Chronicle of Croyland, that both princes were living some time after Sir Thomas More fixes the dates of their deaths.
That when his own son was dead, Richard was so far from intending to get rid of his wife, that he proclaimed his nephews, first the earl of Warwick, and then the earl of Lincoln, his heirs apparent.
That there is not the least probability of his having poisoned his wife, who died of a languishing distemper: that no proof was ever pretended to be given of it; that a bare supposition of such a crime, without proofs or very strong presumptions, is scarce to be credited.
That he seems to have had no intention of marrying his neice, but to have amused her with the hopes of that match, to prevent her marrying Richmond.
That Buck would not have dared to quote her letter as extant in the earl of Arundel’s library, if it had not been there: that others of Buck’s assertions having been corroborated by subsequent discoveries, leave no doubt of his veracity on this; and that that letter disculpates Richard from poisoning his wife; and only shews the impatience of his neice to be queen.
That it is probable that the queen-dowager knew her second son was living, and connived at the appearance of Lambert Simnel, to feel the temper of the nation.
That Henry the Seventh certainly thought that she and the earl of Lincoln were privy to the existence of Richard duke of York, and that Henry lived in terror of his appearance.
That the different conduct of Henry with regard to Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, implies how different an opinion he had of them; that, in the first case, he used the most natural and most rational methods to prove him an impostor; whereas his whole behavior in Perkin’s case was mysterious, and betrayed his belief or doubt that Warbeck was the true duke of York.
That it was morally impossible for the duchess of Burgundy at the distance of twenty-seven years to instruct a Flemish lad so perfectly in all that had passed in the court of England, that he would not have been detected in few hours.
That she could not inform him, nor could he know, what had passed in the Tower, unless he was the true duke of York.
That if he was not the true duke of York, Henry had nothing to do but to confront him with Tirrel and Dighton, and the imposture must have been discovered.
That Perkin, never being confronted with the queen-dowager, and the princesses her daughters, proves that Henry did not dare to trust to their acknowledging him.
That if he was not the true duke of York, he might have been detected by not knowing the queens and princesses, if shown to him without his being told who they were.
That it is not pretended that Perkin ever failed in language, accent, or circumstances; and that his likeness to Edward the Fourth is allowed.
That there are gross and manifest blunders in his pretended confession.
That Henry was so afraid of not ascertaining a good account of the purity of his English accent, that he makes him learn English twice over.
That lord Bacon did not dare to adhere to this ridiculous account; but forges another, though in reality, not much more credible.
That a number of Henry’s best friends, as the lord chamberlain, who placed the crown on his head, knights of the garter, and men of the fairest character, being persuaded that Perkin was the true duke of York, and dying for that belief, without recanting, makes it very rash to deny that he was not so.
That the proclamation in Rymer’s Foedera against Jane Shore, for plotting with the marquis Dorset, not with lord Hastings, destroys all the credit of Sir Thomas More, as to what relates to the latter peer.
In short, that Henry’s character, as we have received it from his own apologists, is so much worse and more hateful than Richard’s, that we may well believe that Henry invented and propagated by far the greater part of the slanders against Richard : that Henry, not Richard, probably put to death the true duke of York, as he did the earl of Warwick : and that we are not certain whether Edward the Fifth was murdered; nor, if he was, by whose order he was murdered.
After all that has been said, it is scarce necessary to add a word on the supposed discovery that was made of the skeletons of the two young princes, in the reign of Charles the Second. Two skeletons found in that dark abyss of so many secret traditions, with no marks to ascertain the time, the age of their interment, can certainly verify nothing. We must believe that both princes died there, before we can believe that their bones were found there : and upon what that belief can be founded, or how we shall cease to doubt whether Perkin Warbeck was not one of those children, I am at a loss to guess.
As little is it requisite to argue on the grants made by Richard the Third to his supposed accomplices in that murder, because the argument will serve either way. It was very natural that they, who had tasted most of Richard’s bounty, should be suspected as the instruments of his crimes. But till it can be proved that those crimes were committed, it is in vain to bring evidence to show who assisted him in perpetrating them. For my own part, I know not what to think of the death of Edward the Fifth : I can neither entirely acquit Richard of it, nor condemn him ; because there are no proofs on either side ; and though a court of justice would, from that defect of evidence, absolve him; opinion may fluctuate backwards and forwards, and at last remain in suspense.
For the younger brother, the balance seems to incline greatly on the side of Perkin Warbeck, as the true duke of York; and if one was saved, one knows not how or why to believe that Richard destroyed only the elder.
We must leave this whole story dark, though not near so dark as we found it : and it is perhaps as wise to be uncertain on one portion of our history, as to believe so much as is believed in all histories, though very probably as falsely delivered to us, as the period which we have here been examining.
After the death of Perkin Warbeck, his widow, the lady Catherine Gordon, daughter of the earl of Huntley, from her exquisite beauty, and upon account of her husband called The white rose of Scotland, was married to Sir Matthew Cradock, and is buried with him in Herbert’s isle in Swansea church in Wales, where their tomb is still to be seen, with this inscription in ancient characters:
“Here lies St Mathie Cradok knight, sume time deputie unto the right honorable Charles Erle of Worcets in the county of Glamorgan, R. Attor. G.R. Chauncelor of the same, steward of Gower and Hilvei, and mi ladie Katerin his wife.”
They had a daughter Mary, who was married to Sir Edward Herbert, son of the first earl of Pembroke ; and from that match are descended the earls of Pembroke and Powis, Hans Stanley, Esq; George Rice, Esq; etcetera.
Special thanks to Society member Janet Trimbath for keyboarding this electronic edition.