Category Archives: London

The Resurrection of King Richard III: February 2013

Exactly a week ago today, on 4th February 2013, we had the electrifying news that the skeletal remains discovered in a Leicester Car Park were those of King Richard III, the last ‘medieval monarch of England’. Experts from the University of Leicester confirmed that DNA from the bones matched the DNA of Richard’s descendants.

(A) The  Enduring Fascination of King Richard III.

(1) Richard III reigned for only two years (26th June 1483 to 22nd August 1485); yet he is one of the most famous monarchs in British History. Richard III is one of the few British monarchs to have a society named after him. ‘The Richard III Society’, founded nearly 90 years ago in 1924, is today a flourishing society. There is also a ‘Richard III Society’ in the USA, founded over 50 years ago in 1961.

A major function of both these societies is has been to rehabilitate the posthumous reputation of King Richard III. Shakespeare effectively executed a ‘hanging job’ on the last Yorkist monarch in his famous play:’ The Tragedy of King Richard III’ (written in 1593). In Shakespeare’s complete canon of cads only Iago exceeds Richard in criminal conduct. In his play, ‘The Third Part of King Henry VI (1591), Shakespeare portrays Richard as exultingly murdering the ‘saintly’ King Henry VI: “Down, down to hell; and say I sent thee thither.” [Act V, Scene VI.] However, Shakespeare was not alone in damming Richard III’s reputation. Another ‘saintly’ historical character, Sir Thomas More, did much to blacken Richard’s reputation in his ‘History of Richard III’ (written between 1512 and 1519). More’s account was little more than political propaganda. As Professor Hicks remarked about twenty years ago: “How was More’s  Richard III ever regarded as objective?” [M.A.Hicks, page 39, in ‘The Wars of The Roses’, Macmillan, 1995.] More is still often regarded as a very upright historical character. In the year 2000, More was even glorified by Pope John Paul II, who declared More to be the Patron of Catholic Politicians.

(2) The other reason for Richard III’s enduring fascination is the question of the ‘Princes in the Tower’. On 9th April 1483, King Edward IV died, only 41years old. Edward IV’s premature death caused a constitutional crisis, as his two male heirs were both minors: Edward, Prince of Wales (12 years old) and Richard, Duke of York (just over 9 years old).

Immediately after his father’s death, Edward Prince of Wales became King Edward V, but he was never crowned. Both Edward and Richard were effectively removed from the monarchy, and their uncle, Richard of Gloucester, became King Richard III. Both princes were lodged in the Tower of London, but both soon disappeared from public view, and, within a few months, were presumed dead. This is not the place to go into a long analysis on the sad fate of the two young princes; but Richard III must be counted as one of their potential ‘murderers’. If the princes had survived Richard III’s coronation, it was in Richard’s self-interest to exhibit the princes, if only to head off potential unrest.  He might therefore have given the order for their execution. However, there are two other possible ‘murderers’ who also might have ordered the princes’ murder.

(i) Henry Tudor (King Henry VII)

Like Richard III, Henry Tudor was a usurper. He had a weak claim to the English Crown (mainly through his mother, Margaret Beaufort). After he took the throne in August 1485 (by defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth), Tudor made sure he eliminated any rival claimants to the throne. Chief among these was Edward, Earl of Warwick (Richard III’s nephew). Henry Tudor ordered his execution in 1499. One feels that Tudor would have been equally prepared to have the two young princes executed after his accession to the Crown.

(ii) Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham.

A devious character, he played the key role in helping Richard accede to the English Crown in 1483. In recognition for Buckingham’s ‘Kingmaker Role’, King Richard III showered Buckingham with rewards, especially in Wales. (On this matter, Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ is simply erroneous).

Having been amply rewarded by Richard III for helping him  accede to the Crown in the summer of 1483, Buckingham then turned against Richard in the following autumn. Buckingham’s reasons for his sudden change of allegiance are still uncertain; but Professor Carpenter has suggested: “Possibly Buckingham had some idea that a rebellion in favour of Henry Tudor might remove Richard and culminate in his (i.e. Buckingham’s) ascent to the throne.” [Christine Carpenter, ‘The Wars of the Roses’, page 212, Cambridge, 1997.] Extending this line of argument, Buckingham would have had no scruples in having the two princes murdered in the Tower after Richard’s accession in June 1483.

(B) Richard III’s Fall From Power 1483-1485

  • Richard’s usurpation engendered opposition from those Yorkists who supported the young King Edward V. This culminated in a major rebellion against Richard in southern England, led by the Duke of Buckingham in the autumn of 1483, and involving Henry Tudor. Even so, Richard crushed this rebellion with ease, so one feels that Richard’s ultimate overthrow, in August 1485, was not primarily linked to the circumstances of his usurpation. Richard’s very short tenure as King of England was due to a combination of long run factors and chance events.
  • Long Run Factor: Richard III’s Narrow Power Base.

Richard’s power base was the north of England. Richard had remained loyal to his elder brother, King Edward IV, when Edward had temporarily lost the English Crown in 1470. After Edward IV’s dramatic recovery of the English Crown in 1471, he rewarded Richard for the latter’s loyalty (especially in the north of England). In 1471, Richard was appointed High Sheriff of Cumberland and granted the lordship of Middleham. From 1471 onwards, Middleham Castle (in North Yorkshire), became Richard’s power base.

In the following year, 1472, Richard was appointed President of the Council of the North. This was King Edward IV’s experiment in devolution, and was designed to strengthen Yorkist government in the north of England, in an era of restricted communications. Richard seems to have successfully governed North England. According to one contemporary chronicler, Domenico Mancini:  “He (Richard) kept himself within his own lands (Northern England) and set out to acquire the loyalty of his people through favours and justice. [EHD, Volume IV, edited A.R. Myers, page 330.]

Richard’s policies in the North of England were very successful in the 1470s. Together with the Percies in Northumberland, Richard virtually ruled Northern England.  Richard’s crowning glory occurred in August 1482 (six months before Edward IV’s death). In that month, Richard led a northern English Army that re-captured the key fortress of Berwick upon Tweed. This military triumph protected northern England against Scottish incursions, thereby increasing Richard’s popularity in Northern England,

In a sense, Richard was a northern king imposed on a largely hostile south of England, including London. This meant that Richard’s power base was narrow, and it became even narrower after the southern Rebellion against him in the autumn of 1483 (The Buckingham Rebellion). The Rebellion was ended by Buckingham’s execution for treason. Richard signed the death warrant , not in London; but at Grantham (a Yorkist borough enfranchised by King Edward IV in 1463). Richard’s response to this southern rebellion was to dispossess disloyal southern magnates. This was understandable. What was less sensible was to replace them by ‘planted’ northerners. This mistake meant that Richard passed up the opportunity of broadening his narrow power base by getting southern support.

Thus, when Richard faced Henry Tudor’s invading Army at Bosworth in August 1485, his Army was mainly commanded by northern magnates; one of whom was to prove disloyal (Lord Stanley), the other was to prove indifferent (Lord Northumberland)

  • Short-Term Factors: Chance Events.

Historians have tended to play down the importance of chance events as major factors influencing historical change. Chance events tend to be very specialised. They fit into the Karl Popper mode of unique events: they cannot be replicated. As they are so varied, they do not  easily fit into the pattern of the ‘Hierarchy of Causes’, so beloved of historians. I may say that my personal instinct is to favour long run causes, which can be tabulated in importance. For example, in my recent, January Blog, on the internal weaknesses affecting Henry VI’s Lancastrian Regime, I focussed on economic factors. That is, I was applying a neo-Marxist analysis to the weaknesses of the Lancastrian Regime in the mid-Fifteenth Century. I am perfectly happy with this line of argument, as historical experience does show some linkage between economic pressure and political conflict. In other words, economic factors are significant in the hierarchy of causes. Similarly the extent and nature of a political power base is an important long run factor explaining the retention (or loss) of government. (For example, the British Labour Party’s power base in northern England in 2013 is like Richard’s power base in 1483 – too narrow to retain government.)

However, perhaps we need to pay more heed to chance factors in explaining historical events, including Richard’s loss of power. There were at least two major chance events that collectively may explain Richard’s brief two year reign.

(i) Family Tragedies: 1483 and 1485.

On 9th April 1484, Richard’s only son(and heir), Edward of Middleham, died, aged only ten years old. This was a great personal tragedy for Richard, who received the sad news whilst in Nottingham (again, not London). On a practical level, it meant that Richard had no direct heir (he then designated his nephew, Lord Lincoln, as his heir). Just as bad, Richard’s own wife, Anne Neville, died on 16th March 1485. This was an ‘unlucky death’, as Queen Anne was then only 29 years old. It is thought that this chance event, a double tragedy, made Richard more reckless as a monarch. In particular, it might explain Richard’s headstrong actions at Bosworth, when he threw caution to the winds in his desire to personally eliminate Henry Tudor (instead of retiring northwards to re-group his forces, as his commanders advised).

(ii) Opposition of France 1485

It is not generally realised how much Henry Tudor depended on French help at the battle of Bosworth (certainly not mentioned by Shakespeare). Estimates of the size of the French forces vary, but 3,500 seems about right, and this clearly  was a major factor explaining Tudor’s ultimate triumph, especially as the French forces had superior weaponry. Not only that, but Tudor’s invading force was conveyed to Wales in French ships.

It seems that this determined French support for Henry Tudor was simple ‘bad luck’ for Richard, the result of a series of chance events and coincidences.

To begin with, in 1483, in France, as in England, a minor became king . In France, Charles of Valois became King Charles VIII of France on 30th August 1483 (he was then thirteen years old). The Regent was Charles’s elder sister, Anne of Beaujeu.  However, young King Charles VIII was threatened by his uncle, Louis, Duke of Orleans: just as King Edward V had been threatened by his uncle (Richard). The Regent Anne decided to oppose Richard (the Duke of Orleans was pro-Richard).

(C) Conclusion.

King Richard III remains a figure of controversy.  Even his skeletal remains are a cause of debate. It is absolutely right that Richard III receives an honourable interment; but the actual place of interment is today a matter of some dispute. One feels that Richard himself would prefer his final resting place to be in the North of England (York Minster would be an obvious resting place). However, it seems that Leicester Cathedral will have the honour of harbouring Richard’s remains, despite the fact that Leicester was a Lancastrian stronghold in the Wars of the Roses. Still, one feels that Richard would appreciate this irony; perhaps it is for the best.

(D)Conclusion.

King Richard III is one of the few medieval kings to lose his crown by losing his life in battle. Name two other medieval monarchs who similarly lost their thrones by losing their lives in battle.

 

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Sibling Strife Part 2 : King William II and King Henry I: August 1100

The second part of my Trilogy on Henry I’s Accession and Retention of Power takes us back from July 1101 to August 1100. Picture the scene:-

  •  It is the afternoon of 2nd August 1100. King William II (the second son of King William the Conqueror) is out hunting in the New Forest, accompanied by several magnates. He is in his mid-forties, quite healthy (having survived serious illness in 1093). Towards the end of that August day, tragedy struck King William. Let a contemporary chronicler, the reliable William of Malmesbury, tell us what happened next:

“The sun was now setting, and the king drawing his bow let fly an arrow which slightly wounded a stag which passed before him. He ran in pursuit, keeping his gaze rigidly fixed on the quarry, and holding up his hand to shield his eyes from the sun’s rays. At that instant Walter {Tirel}, forming in his mind a project which seemed good to him, tried to transfix another stag which by chance came near him while the king’s attention was otherwise occupied. And thus it was that unknowingly, and without power to prevent it (oh, gracious God!), he pierced the king’s breast with a fatal arrow. “[EHD, Vol II, page 318].

  • At the time of his brother’s death, Henry was conveniently close by. He immediately galloped to nearby Winchester to get control of the important castle and the royal treasure. Henry was out to get the throne: this was his golden chance for power, while his elder brother (Duke Robert of Normandy) was still involved in the First Crusade. Possession of the important city of Winchester would clearly strengthen Henry’s claim to the English Crown. Having secured some baronial support for his monarchical coup d’état, Henry then continued his energetic pursuit of the Crown by quitting Winchester and, with a few baronial companions, riding post haste to London. It is possible that Henry covered the 70 miles to London in 24 hours (arriving in London on the evening of 4th August). And so it was that Henry was formally crowned King Henry I of England on the next day, 5th August 1100.
  • The speed of the political events, over the four day period 2nd to 5th August, was amazing: it fuels speculation that maybe there had existed a planned assassination attempt against King William II. Most historians dismiss this conspiracy theory. They see William II’s death as simply a tragic accident, caused by a series of chance events, such as the dazzling effect of the setting sun, William’s partial wounding of his quarry, and Tirel’s bow shot whilst William II was preoccupied. Such an interpretation is supported by William of Malmesbury’s own judgement that Tirel ‘unknowingly’ killed the king. However, Professor Judith Green, in her excellent recent biography of King Henry, considers that: “a conspiracy to murder Rufus involving Henry, Walter Tirel and the Clares {a powerful baronial family} is…… not out of the question.” {Henry I, by Judith Green (2009), p.40, CUP}. Walter Tirel’s later actions are certainly suspect. Describing Tirel’s reaction to King William’s hunting accident, William of Malmesbury dryly observed, “Walter immediately ran up, but finding the king senseless and speechless, he leapt quickly on his horse, and escaped at full gallop.” [EHD, Vol II, page 318]. It could be argued that Tirel’s flight was simply the result of fear. A possibly more convincing explanation is that Tirel made sure that William II really was dead, and having ascertained this fact, he immediately ensured his own escape.
  • Whether or not King William’s death in the New Forest was the result of accident or design, Henry would have to make some immediately important political gesture to shore up his new monarchical regime. It was therefore no accident that Henry’s Coronation on the 5th August (by Maurice, Bishop of London) was accompanied by King Henry I (as he now was) issuing his celebrated ‘Coronation Charter’. This Charter remains virtually unknown to today’s general public (unlike the 1215 ‘Magna Carta’). Yet King Henry I’s Coronation Charter of 5th August 1100 (exactly 912 years ago today) was a very important medieval document: so significant was Henry’s Coronation Charter, that it was re-issued by King Stephen in 1135 and King Henry II in 1154. It was even cited by Archbishop Stephen Langton in 1215 as a precedent for Magna Carta. Indeed, certain of its provisions (especially those dealing with women) are still relevant today.

King Henry I’s Coronation Charter, 5th August 1100.

As Professor Green and other historians have pointed out, many of the Charter’s Fourteen Points were not entirely new. [See Judith Green, ‘Henry I’, pages 45 to 49]. Even so, some of the specific details enshrined in the Coronation Charter were novel.

Clause 1By this Clause, Henry promised the Church that he would “neither sell or lease its property; nor on the death of an archbishop or a bishop or an abbot will I take anything from the demesne of the Church or from its vassals during the period which elapses before a successor is installed.”

Clause 2 concerned the succession of heirs to the estates of their fathers; and the inheritance tax (‘Relief’) they would have to pay to the Crown. Henry promised that such ‘reliefs’ would only be “Just and Lawful.”

Clause 3concerned both the marriage of aristocratic female heirs and the rights of widows. Regarding the childless widow of a tenant-in-chief, Henry stated that, “she shall have her dower and her marriage portion, and I will not give her in marriage unless she herself consents.”

Clause 4 further stipulated the rights of widows and their offspring: “If a widow survives with children under age, she shall have her dower and her marriage portion, so long as she keeps her body chaste; and I will not give her in marriage except with her consent. And the guardian of the land, and of the children, shall be either the widow or another of her relations, as may seem proper. And I order that my barons shall act likewise towards the sons and daughters and widows of their men.”

Clause 5gave a warning to counterfeiters of the coinage.

Clause 6 Henry promised to forego most of the debts owed to his late brother, King William II.

Clause 7 concerned intestate estates of the barons For those of Henry’s barons who died intestate, “his widow or his children or his relatives or one of his true men shall make such division {of the movable property} for the sake of his soul, as may seem best to them.”

Clauses 8 to 10dealt with various matters concerning the barons, such as the Law of the Forests.

Clause 11concerned the feudal obligations of the Knights (lesser tenants): “The knights, who in return for their estates perform military service equipped with a hauberk of mail, shall hold their demesne lands quit of all gelds {taxes} and all work.”

Clauses 12 to 14were general statements, including a pledge to keep the peace, and restore the law of the Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor.

{See EHD, Vol II, pages 432 to 434 for full details of King Henry I’s Coronation  Charter}

Interpretation of King Henry I’s Coronation Charter: Cunning or Commendable?

The Charter was a mixture of both. On one level, Henry’s Coronation Charter was clearly an ingenious device to win support for his royalist coup d’état. In the words of the famous BBC character Baldrick, King Henry I ‘had a cunning plan’ to win support from those sections of English society whose support was vital to any monarch: the Church, Tenants-in-Chief, and the Knights. In this sense, the Charter was simply a Political Manifesto, intended to help Henry defeat his elder brother’s opposition to his accession to the English Throne. The reference to the Knights (Clause 11) is especially significant. By giving the knights the privilege of tax exemption, Henry I attested his faith in the military organisation of the ‘Feudal Levy’ (Servitium Debitum), by which Henry I could nominally count on 5,000 knights to aid him in a crisis.

However, what is also striking is the rights King Henry I accorded to women, especially widows (Clauses Three, Four, and Seven). Such repeated assertions of the rights of widows almost implies that the Coronation Charter was a ‘Medieval Feminist Proclamation’. In this sense, the Coronation Charter certainly was commendable, because there was little political reward for Henry in making such ‘suffragist’ declarations.

Conclusion.

In promoting his Coronation Charter, Henry I had made a good start in rallying support. He made another politically astute move three months after the promulgation of the Coronation Charter, by marrying the Anglo-Saxon Princess, Edith Matilda, on 11th November 1100. Edith Matilda was the daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland. By her mother, Edith Matilda was also the great grand-daughter of the Anglo-Saxon King, Edmund Ironside. By his marriage, Henry I probably also gained the backing of the Anglo-Saxon population In England, as well as the friendship of Scotland. Even so, would all these plus points help Henry I withstand the expected challenge to his Crown from his elder brother Duke Robert of Normandy?

Sibling strife was a potent factor affecting relations between Henry and Robert (and also William II). In acceding to the English throne in August 1100, Henry had thrown down the gauntlet to his brother Robert (perhaps literally)! Duke Robert picked up the gauntlet and invaded England in the summer of 1101. What happened next? See my July Blog for details!!!!

Question

King Henry’s Coronation Charter of 5th August contained 14 Points. Which other important historical political charter also contained 14 Points? (Clue – think 20th century.)

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Does Magna Carta Mean Nothing to You?

Most of us would probably pause before answering such a leading question; but I suspect that few of us would emulate the classic response  to this question by the late comedian, the great Tony Hancock: ’Did she die in vain?’ The equally brilliant scriptwriters, Ray Galton & Alan Simpson, penned this immortal quip in their script for the ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ episode of ‘Twelve Angry Men’, broadcast on BBC Television on 16th October 1959.

Galton & Simpson’s  famous witticism is ageless; but can the same be said of Magna Carta, issued  seven hundred and ninety-six years ago today, 15th June, 1215?

Background to  the Promulgation of Magna Carta

  • Baronial resentment played the critical role in the negotiations with King John in 1215 which led to Magna Carta; and part of their resentment stemmed from the financial demands placed on England by Richard I’s crusading zeal. Even so, it was John’s policies and failures that ultimately precipitated the final struggle between nobility and monarchy in 1215.  John’s Justicar, Peter des Roches, was an abrasive foreigner who greatly increased taxes. Another foreigner who antagonised English opinion, this time at local level, was Sheriff Philip Mark, from Touraine. Yes, he was Sheriff of Nottingham, so perhaps there is something in the ‘Robin Hood’ story. John would probably have survived such unpopularity, had it not been for the disastrous defeat of John’s Angevin allies by the French at the Battle of Bouvines, on 27th July 1214. This major defeat spelt the final loss of Normandy, and, with it, any hope of Angevin recovery. In England, the devastating military reverse of Bouvines shattered John’s authority, thereby igniting the baronial resentment which in turn paved the way to Magna Carta.
  • Revolt actually began in October 1214, when King John had returned to England from Europe. This revolt of ‘the Northerners’ later spread to include some tenants-in-chief from southern and eastern England. From then on, the  opposition against John gathered apace, extending to include some knights.
  • As in any political conflict, possession of London was the key to ultimate success. Both sides now tried to get London support. John granted London the right to have a mayor elected within the City, in a charter of May 1215. It did no good. The Londoners let in the opposition on 17th May 1215. At this point, John had to open up negotiations with the opposition at Runnymede, which ended with the issue of Magna Carta about a month later, on 15th June, 1215.

Was Magna Carta a ‘Freedom Charter’ for society?

  • It could well be argued that Magna Carta was essentially a ‘rich man’s charter’, as it really benefitted the barons. Chapters 2 to 16 dwelt with baronial concerns, such as scutage (taxation in lieu of military service) and reliefs (a sort-of inheritance tax). The final chapter, the so-called ‘security clause’, empowered twenty-five barons with the task of compelling the monarch to keep Magna Carta’s provisions.
  • However, Magna Carta was no mere ‘baron’s charter’. Chapters 39 & 40 were applicable to all sectors of society, and still have a resounding ring to them:-

‘No free man shall be seized, imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed, exiled or ruined in any way, nor shall we attack him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers and the law of the land.’

‘To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice.’

Even today, in 2011, these chapters have a resounding ring to them.

  • Magna Carta was also a freedom charter for the rest of Britain, not just England, as chapters 56 to 59 extended various rights to Scotland and Wales. Alan of Galloway, Constabule of Scotland, was one of the notables listed in the preamble to MagnaCarta.

Final Thoughts on Magna Carta

Looking back eight hundred years or so since the Runnymede agreement of 15th June 1215, Magna Carta now seems to be primarily the political swansong of the Angevin Empire; rather than the precursor of British liberties. Yet this is probably too narrow a judgement. The third re-issue of Magna Carta, in 1225, remains the earliest statute on the English Statute Book. Seen in this way, Magna Carta does mean a lot to all of us. Magna Carta is as ageless as Galton & Simpson’s classic one-liner; and is therefore a fitting accolade to a glorious empire.

Question

As usual, I will round off this month’s blog with a little problem-solving exercise:-

Henry Fitz-Ailwin became the first Mayor of London, nominated by King Richard I in 1194. As we have seen, King John allowed London citizens to elect their own mayor in May 1215 just before issuing Magna Carta. The office of Lord Mayor of the City of London therefore has a very long history and the current Lord Mayor is Michael Bear. There also is a Mayor of London, elected by the voters. When was the office of ‘Mayor of London’ established, and who is currently the Mayor?

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