“Give me some ink and paper” (V.3) and
“These letters will resolve…my mind” (IV.5)
Richard III’s letters, from his earliest in 1469 to that of the Buckingham rebellion in 1483 with its long postscript in his own hand. With graphological analysis by Josephine Nicholl.
Richard’s earliest surviving letter dates from 1469. When travelling with Edward IV to put down a disturbance in Yorkshire, he writes from Castle Rising, Norfolk, this urgent request for a loan of £100, to Sir John Say, the King’s Undertreasurer, whose memorial brass survives at Broxbourne, Herts. [illustrated]. The Duke’s title at the head and the anxious postscript are in Richard’s own hand:
The Duke of Gloucester
Right trusty and well beloved, we greet you well. And forasmuch as the King’s good Grace hath appointed me to attend upon his highness into the North parts of his land, which will be to me great cost and charge, whereunto I am so suddenly called, that I am not so well purveyed of money therefore as it behoves me to be, and therefore pray you as my special trust is in you, to lend me an hundredth pound of money unto Easter next coming, at which time I promise you you shall be truly thereof content and paid again. The bearer hereof shall inform you, to whom I pray you to give credence therein, and show me such frendliness in the same as I may do for you hereafter, wherein you shall find me ready. Written at Rising the 24th day of June.
Sir J Say, I pray you that you fail me not now at this time in my great need, as you will that I show you my good lordship in that matter that you labour to me for.
[British Library Cotton Vespasian Ms. F iii f 19]
This scrap of parchment, cut from its original context by an 18th century autograph collector, probably represents an attempt by Richard and Buckingham to gain the confidence of their far from friendly young king Edward V, between Stony Stratford and St. Albans 2-3 May 1483. At the top in a regally large and rather stiff hand ‘Edwardus Quintus;’ next is inscribed, neater than his usual hand ‘Loyaulte me lie’ (loyalty binds me — Richard’s later motto); sprawled broad and carelessly across the bottom appears ‘Souvente me souvene’ (remember me often) ‘Harry Bokyngham.’ The signatures, as well as their mottos, are not without symbolic value.
[British Library Cotton Vespasian Ms. F XIII f 123]
In 1483 on learning of Buckingham’s rebellion against him, King Richard dictated this letter on October 12, to his chancellor, Bishop John Russell, which has been described as the most intrinsically valuable document of his reign which survives. To at least one of his biographers, P. M. Kendall, the postscript lent weight to his supposition that Buckingham had saddled Richard and his government with the crime of the murder of the princes. Although sometimes represented as symptomatic of Richard’s tension at the time of betrayal, after the conventional greeting he nevertheless finds space to acknowledge the gifts he had received from Russell’s servants and then to ask for the Great Seal to be sent to him at Lincoln, since the Chancellor cannot bring it himself on account of his ‘infirmities and diseases.’ Richard added the long, poignant and emotional postscript in his own hand:–
We would most gladly that ye came yourself if you may, and if ye may not, we pray you not to fail, but to accomplish in all diligence our said commandment, to send our seal incontinent upon the sight hereof, as we trust you, with such as you trust and the officers pertaining to attend with it, praying you to ascertain us of your news. Here, loved be God, is all well and truly determined, and for to resist the malice of him that had best cause to be true, the Duke of Buckingham, the most untrue creature living; whom with God’s grace we shall not be long till that we will be in those parts, and subdue his malice. We assure you there was never false traitor better purveyed for, as this bearer, Gloucester, shall show you.
Three days later, Robert Blackwell, one of the Clerks of the Chancery, delivered the Great Seal, in its white leather bag, into the hands of the King at the Angel Inn, Grantham. [Illustrations, engraving of the Great Seal, the Angel & Royal Hotel, Grantham.]
A singular survival of an informal note scribbled by Richard to his Lord Chancellor, again requesting the use of the Great Seal, which was in Russell’s custody, and had to be specially conveyed to the King for his use in emergencies. This is an example of Richard passing the usual bureaucratic process of the Signet, Privy Seal, and Chancery chain of writs. ‘Master Skypton’ was Richard Skipton, a senior chancery clerk, whose name appears frequently in the records. He was a witness in July 1485 when the Cancellor handed the Great Seal to Thomas Barowe, Master of the Rolls, to convey to Richard at Nottingham and in March 1486 witnessed its delivery to John Morton. He continued in office at the Chancery at least until 1495:–
My Lord Chancellor, we pray you, in all haste, to send us a pardon under our Great Seal to Sir Harry Wode, priest, &c. and this shall be your warrant.
[Postscript] Master Skypton speed this forth with expedition.
[Holograph letter and signature. Public Record Office Chancery Warrants for the Great Seal Series 1 C81 1531 No. 68]
[Illustration: Cast of Richard’s signet seal in red wax.]
These two copies of Richard III’s letters from 1484 perhaps give some impression of his personality. The first is the only surviving example of one to his mother, Cecily Neville, once known as the ‘Rose of Raby,’ now living the life of a Benedictine abbess at her castle of Berkhamsted. Though cast in customary form its tone of filial devotion seems to transcend the mere conventional expression of the times, when even royal sons were expected to be dutiful to their mothers. Her officer, William Colyngbourne, is notorious for the rhyme ‘The Cat, the Rat & Lovell our Dog’ etc., satirizing Richard and his ministers. Following his involvement in the Buckingham rebellion and correspondence with Henry Tudor, he was convicted of high treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered on Tower Hill.
Madam, I recommend me to you as heartily as is to me possible, beseeching you in my most humble and effectuous wise of your daily blessing to my singular comfort and defence in my need. And madam, I heartily beseech you that I may often hear from you to my comfort. And such news as be here, my servant Thomas Brian, this bearer, shall show to you, to whom please it you to give credence unto. And madam, I beseech you to be good and gracious lady to my lord, my Chamberlain, to be your officer in Wiltshire in such as Colyngbourne had. And that it please you that by this bearer I may understand your pleasure in this behalf. Written at Pontefract the 3rd day of June, with the hand of your most humble son.
[Secretary’s copy: British Library Harleian MSS 433 f2b]
[Illustration: Frontispiece to the ‘Luton Guild Book’ 1475-1546. Kneeling before the Trinity are the founders of the Guild: Thomas Rotherham, Bishop of Lincoln, Edward IV and his wife, Queen Elizabeth Woodville, with immediately behind her, in the robe of the Royal Arms of England, the King’s mother, Cecily Neville, one of the few rare representations of her that still exist.
When Elizabeth (‘Jane’) Shore, the former mistress of Edward IV, was in prison in Ludgate, she engaged the affections of Thomas Lynom, Richard’s solicitor and he wished to marry her. Politically and morally Richard took a harsh view of Mistress Shore and he may well have persuaded himself that he was acting in Lynom’s good in prohibiting the match, but the following letter is what he wrote to John Russell, giving his consent and the marriage duly took place. Lynom appears to have served Richard faithfully and enjoyed the King’s favour. He lost his legal office under Henry VII but continued to work for the crown in an administrative capacity:–
By the King
Right reverend father in God etc. Signifying unto you, that it is showed unto us, that our servant and solicitor, Thomas Lynom, marvelously blinded and abused with that late wife of William Shore, now being in Ludgate by our commandment, hath made a contract of matrimony with her, as it is said, and intendeth, to our full great marvel, to proceed to effect the same. We for many causes, would be very sorry that he should be so disposed. Pray you therefore to send for him, and in that ye goodly may exhort and stir him to the contrary. And, if ye find him utterly set for to marry her, and none otherwise would be advertised, then, if it may stand within the law of the church, we be content, the time of the marriage being deferred to our coming next to London, that upon sufficient surety being found for her good a-bearing, ye do send for her keeper, and discharge him of our said commandment by warrant of these; committing her to the rule and guiding of her father, or any other, by your discretion in the mean season.
To the right Reverend father in God etc. The Bishop of Lincoln our chancellor.
[Secretary’s copy: British Library Harleian MSS 433 f 259]
Immortalized by Thomas More and Shakespeare, ‘Jane’ Shore’s true identity was only revealed in 1972 by the publication of a series of articles by Nicholas Barker and Sir Robert Birley in ‘Etoniana,’ the magazine of Eton College, where she had been hailed traditionally as a benefactress, due to her intercession with Edward IV who at one time sought its destruction. Her father was John Lambert, a Warden of the Mercers Company, and her mother Amy Marshall, a prosperous grocer’s daughter. She was christened Elizabeth, around 1450. Fifteenth century sources only refer to her as ‘Mistress Shore’ or ‘Shore’s wife’ so that later chroniclers such as Fabyan were ignorant of her first name, and often left a blank. ‘Jane’ occurs for the first time in an Elizabethan play nearly a century later. William Shore, her first husband, was, like her father, a well-to-do mercer but it was not a propitious match. When, or how, she met Edward IV is not known, but she became his mistress and in 1476 petitioned the Pope for an annulment of the marriage on the grounds of her husband’s impotence. After the death of Edward IV she appears fo have been successively the mistress of Lord Hastings and the Marquess Dorset, and upon their downfall, Richard insisted that she do public penance for harlotry. Her will is extant and refers to her second husband Thomas Lynom, and gives some indication of her reduced circumstances in later life. This is the last that is known of her until Thomas More’s description of her destitute old age.
[Illustration: detail of the figure of Elizabeth (‘Jane’) Shore from her parents’ memorial brass at Hinxworth, Herts.]
A graphologist’s view
Richard’s writing tells a story — a story of contrasts and shift-patterns of behavior, as it traces his development from a young man of seventeen to the final years of his life.
There is the public man, with his great, formidable, embellished signatures, emphasizing the importance of the signatory: we have, by contrast, the small and modest signatures, written in his devotional books, written for himself alone – the private man, removed from the need to impress and intimidate. And then there is the mysterious document containing his signature and motto, together with those of the young King Edward, and Buckingham.
Placed high on this document, and presumably the first to be written is the boy king’s wavering and uncertainly directed writing. It has a refined and somewhat spiritual quality. It is not robust, but it would be unwise to deduce too much from such a small sample. Well below this are the signatures of the two men. Richard’s, strong and clear, is centrally placed and beautifully spaced. His is the writing to which our eyes are first drawn. Of the three, he is the only person of real substance. As usual, he dominates the scene. The inherent depression is plain to see, but not as an overwhelming force.
Finally, we see Buckingham’s flattened, threadlike letter-forms. This writing is a fine example of an elusive, sinuous character whose chief ability lay in his avoidance of all decisions, his susceptibility to persuasion, and the ease with which he could glide away into thin air, leaving no trace. A “most untrue creature” indeed.
Most interesting of all are the letters. The earliest surviving one written when he was seventeen in 1469, and the famous postscript written fourteen years later to the Lord Chancellor in 1483.
All these examples from the same hand show a marked variety of style, but there is a vein of depression common to practically all of them. Its continued presence indicates that its origin came from within himself, and was not caused by circumstances.
In 1469, the seventeen year old Richard’s writing is most closely matched by his signatures in his books of devotion. It is notable for its clear and unpretentious forms, its sense of order and self-discipline. The able administrator of the future is evident in the young man. His latent depression is unconsciously expressed, as is his sense of isolation. The overall impression, with his curiously wide spacing, especially between the lines, is one of withdrawal. Compressed energy and depression are an inflammatory combination, and they uneasily presage the psychological storms of the future.
The contrast between this writing and the postscript from the time of Buckingham’s rebellion is plain for all to see. It represents a change over and above the normal process of growth to maturity. This man would have been emotional, violent and unpredictable. The writing is of someone in a state of disintegration. He is swept along by a tide of events, by despair and a dangerously distorted imagination. And yet, despite the chaotic state of mind and fundamental instability , there is such eloquence and dynamic energy, the real man springs to life before our eyes. Here is the flesh and blood on the bones. Somewhere, in this flawed personality, lay a fine and clever mind. Those who valued their safety would do well to keep out of his way. But for good or ill, this was a great character who would have left a lasting impression on all who crossed his path.
Signatures on documents and letters invariably emphasise the importance of the signatory. Richard’s official signatures are large by any standards. They dwarf their surroundings and they intimidate, as their author would have dominated any situation at which he was present. These signatures represent the great Duke of Gloucester at his most powerful and ominous.
Those after he was king lead us to the final chapter of his story. “Ricardus Rex” in 1484 often has very inflated loops, soaring upwards, top-heavy and unbalanced. These signatures are redolent of the effects of power and pride, which when freed from a framework of self-restraint, become detached from reality. In certain respects he could be described as a visionary trying to grasp something beyond his reach. By 1485, the last year of his life, the signatures have changed again. They have become uncertain, shrunken, sick and dispirited, in poignant contrast to those of the previous year and to the big, overpowering ‘Gloucesters.’