Thursday, 14 August 2008


This tale arose out of me reading The Son of Prophecy: Henry Tudor's Road to Bosworth by David Rees. My copy is a 1985 first edition, which I bought over twenty years ago but didn't read until this summer. The account of Buckingham coming from nowhere to be king-maker and then suddenly changing sides made no sense to me. It provoked me into some historical reconstruction of my own.

Wikipedia aspires to a neutral point of view, and its contributors have done a good job of documenting the period. The Wars of the Roses page is a good starting point; from there you can easily find links to all the historical figures. You won't find Lady Matilda Rose, of course, and if you are struggling to locate Lord Ralph Harris of Walsingham you will find him on this page.

The disadvantage of this neutral point of view is that it is stuck with some unsatisfactory non-explanations. For example, a Lancastrian widow becoming a Yorkist queen is merely "a source of irony". Or, Elizabeth Woodville's behaviour has been "a source of frustration for historians".

Hence the need to consult other points of view.

A traditional anti-Richard III history is Winston Churchill's History of the English-Speaking Peoples. The 15th century is covered in the last section of volume one. Churchill gives lots of details and tells a good story.

For pro-Richard III material, there is the Richard III Society and its American sister site.

My tale is heavily indebted to Gordon Smith's paper on Lambert Simnel and the King from Dublin.

I also appreciated Susan Higginbotham's sturdy defence of Elizabeth Woodville and her unromantic insights.

The format of a mash-up of history with contemporary political resonance, romance and humour is undoubtedly inspired by the BBC's latest version of Robin Hood.

The concluding quotation is the chorus of the song Circumstances from the 1978 Rush album Hemispheres.

Last, but by no means least, I am sure I would never view the world the way I do now but for The Antagonist:

To confront ideas that radically alter our perception of the world is one of life's most unsettling yet liberating experiences.

The final score settled

In 1502, the indefatigable Margaret and Henry finally worked out who had sheltered Edward V and Richard of York. Sir James Tyrrell was tortured into signing a confession that has been the Official Narrative of the Princes in the Tower ever since, and then executed.

Were I limited to the annals of history, my story would end on this sordid note. That would be a poor reward for anyone who has read this far. Fortunately I have one fictional character at my disposal. Lady Matilda Rose accepted a proposal of marriage from Lord Ralph Harris of Walsingham, and they lived happily ever after.

All the same, we take our chances,
Laughed at by time, tricked by circumstances.
Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
The more that things change, the more they stay the same.


"Perkin Warbeck"

It is perhaps a mercy that Elizabeth did not live to see the re-appearance of her second son, Richard of York.

His uprising was less well organised and after a few skirmishes on the periphery of the kingdom he was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Once again, Henry alleged that it was an impostor and his ministry of silly names came up with "Perkin Warbeck" for this one.

Edward son of Clarence was still in the Tower, and the two young men contrived an escape plan. At this, Henry lost patience with acting magnanimously and sent "Warbeck" to the gallows. Edward, who had been detained with no charges laid against him for nearly fifteen years, was beheaded.

The "Warbeck" affair did produce one testimony to the power of conscience. The claims of Richard of York received carefully qualified support from one totally unexpected quarter: William Stanley, to whose actions at Bosworth Field Henry probably owed his crown. For daring to admit even the possibility that "Warbeck" was really Richard of York, Stanley's head was not permitted to remain attached to his body.

Next Chapter

Cruel and unusual punishment

The Royal Council met to discuss what to do about Elizabeth Woodville. It was not clear how much involvement she had, if any, with the attempted restoration of her son Edward V, but Henry thought it safest to assume the worst.

Henry: She must be beheaded.

Oxford: Your majesty, there is no precedent for executing a woman of the nobility.

Henry: Servants follow precedents; masters set precedents.

The king was impervious to his wife's tears for her mother. Lady Margaret Beaufort had a different taste in cruel and unusual punishment from her son, and as her opinion prevailed it was left to three of Henry's children to establish chopping off female heads as a Tudor contribution to sexual equality.

Elizabeth was obliged to take a vow of chastity and spend the remainder of her days in the celibacy of Bermondsey Abbey.

Next Chapter

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

"Lambert Simnel"

In 1487, the first reports that a rival King had been proclaimed in Dublin were received in London.

Lady Matilda Rose, now working in the private sector as a royal pundit, immediately put the word out on the grapevine that it was someone impersonating Richard of York, younger brother of Edward V.

When later reports named the rival King as Edward, Henry Tudor was ready. He had imprisoned Edward, son of Clarence, in the Tower from the start of his reign, even though Edward posed no real threat as he was barred from the throne by his father's attainder. The story was propagated that the claimant in Dublin was Edward, son of Clarence. Henry allowed his prisoner a rare excursion to St Paul's Cathedral. Everyone saw that the real son of Clarence was in London, and concluded that the one in Dublin was an impostor.

As Henry well knew, the Dublin pretender was actually Edward V. From Ireland, Edward brought a substantial army which fought its way through Lancashire, Yorkshire and Sherwood Forest as far south as the river Trent. At Stoke Field near Newark, forces loyal to Henry finally overcame it. Edward was killed, but Henry had something different for public consumption. He alleged that the impostor had been captured alive and spared. A young lad was presented with a well prepared back story and the distinctive name of "Lambert Simnel". Elizabeth Lambert was the real name of "Jane Shore", so "Lambert" had useful connotations of illegitimacy. "Simnel", the time of year, was an unknown surname so instantly memorable. It also commenced the long tradition of associating conspiracy theories with fruitcakes. Henry displayed his magnanimity by appointing "Simnel" to the position of royal spit turner, and kept the legend in the public consciousness by subsequently promoting him to royal falconer.

Next Chapter

The new regime

The new regime soon asserted itself. Henry repealed Richard's law so that his wife to be Elizabeth of York was legitimate again. When it was pointed out that this would also legitimate her brothers, he ordered that the repealed law should not be read out, to avoid drawing attention to them. When it was pointed that there was no precedent for this, he replied that the rules of the game had changed.

Elizabeth, nursing her secret grief, made the most of things for her daughter's sake. Lady Margaret Beaufort wasted no opportunity to put her in her place. Lady Margaret had established that her position was only half a pace behind the King; Elizabeth must always be at least a full pace behind. Even so, Lady Margaret was not completely satisfied with her dominance. The two young princes were lurking in the background somewhere, and she and Henry would have to be ready for them.

Next Chapter

Bosworth Field

Richard was trying to set his army in battle array at Bosworth Field. Brave Norfolk was happy to command the leading forces, but Northumberland was insisting on staying in the rear. The Stanleys were still on the sidelines. Richard knew that William was a lost cause, but he sent an ultimatum to Lord Stanley to join him immediately or Lord Strange would die. Stanley replied cheekily that he had many more sons, sending Richard into a rage. He summoned block, axeman and priest and turned upon young Strange.

Richard: You told me your uncle William would not support me, but why did you lie to me about your father? Confess your lies, and I may yet show mercy.

Strange: Your majesty, I did not lie and I cannot lie. I truly believed that my father was loyal to you.

Checked by the courage of the youth, and perhaps recalling his hastiness with Hastings, Richard relented.

Richard: If God grants me victory this day, I swear to you that I will be a better father to you than Lord Stanley has ever been.

The priest asked whether he should say mass before the battle. Richard declined the offer on the grounds that if his cause was good God would uphold it anyway, and if his cause was bad they had no right to ask for God's blessing, a reply exhibiting the folly of exalting reason above revelation. Elizabeth, we may be confident, was not neglecting her prayers.

The battle commenced. Norfolk and his men gave everything, but they were no match for his opposite number Oxford, and were slaughtered. Northumberland's idea of a rearguard position appeared to be somewhere in Northamptonshire. There was nothing for it but for Richard and his men to attack Tudor directly. The best axeman in England set to work. Quickly he cut down Sir William Brandon, Tudor's standard bearer. Next he unhorsed Sir John Cheyney, a man mountain who was one of Tudor's fiercest warriors. Richard was close to his objective and yelled at Tudor, who was merely watching the proceedings, to fight like a man.

Tudor took the view that heroism was for romantic fools. He glanced across to William Stanley, who set his forces upon Richard's. Richard's peloton defended their king stoutly, but one by one they were hacked away by Stanley's overwhelming numbers until Richard was left exposed. Down he went, never to rise.

Next Chapter

The unavoidable conflict

Queen Anne's funeral soon followed, preceded by that of her only child. Richard and Elizabeth considered the option of giving the throne and Princess Elizabeth to Henry Tudor, and retiring to live quietly in the north. They both knew, though, that a Lancastrian Margaret doting on her only son would never give them any peace. There was no choice but to defeat Henry Tudor in battle.

The odds were stacked against Richard. He knew that he could not rely upon most of his chief commanders. Lord Stanley was the wife of Lady Margaret Beaufort and stepfather of Henry Tudor. His brother William was even more doubtful. The Earl of Northumberland was a Percy, and in their hearts all Percys were Lancastrians, "the bird in my bosom" as one of them poetically described it. Only the Duke of Norfolk could be depended upon. Richard attempted to mitigate the situation by holding Lord Stanley's son Lord Strange as security for his father's loyalty.

The time came for the man Elizabeth loved to depart for battle. When John Grey had departed all those years ago, she had been too naive to appreciate the danger. Whenever Edward had departed, her attachment to him was not so strong that she cared overmuch whether he returned or not, and ironically he always did return. This time, though, her heart really ached. Richard was about the same age as John when he died. It was as if she had the prospect of resuming her life where she had left off with John. Her future was about to be decided in the Leicestershire countryside just a few miles away from where she had spent the happiest days of her life.

Her daughter joined her as they watched the army depart. Soon one of them would be Queen of England, but which one?

Next Chapter

Love sickness

Elizabeth filled Richard's thoughts. Whenever she came into the same room, it felt like a huge physical effort to stop his legs walking over to her. He felt as if he would burst when courtiers pointed out to him how well she looked. His feelings were so strong that he found it hard to understand why they were not obvious to everyone else, but he knew that he must maintain self control, both out of respect for Anne and to ensure that Lady Margaret Beaufort had no idea that Elizabeth was allied to him. A distraction was called for, to divert suspicion.

For the forthcoming Christmas festivities, Richard made a gift of a new dress to Princess Elizabeth of York. It was to be in the same style as Queen Anne's dresses. Richard commissioned its procurement to Lady Matilda Rose, by now the oldest Maid of Honour in the history of England. This had the desired effect of setting tongues wagging in the court about Richard's designs upon his niece.

Elizabeth read Richard's move perfectly. She encouraged her daughter to write to her uncle, thanking him for his gift with exaggerated terms of endearment. She gave the letter to Lady Matilda Rose, stressing that it was so confidential that it could not be entrusted to any lesser person. Matilda delivered the letter faithfully, but not without first peeking at its contents. As a result, talk of Richard marrying the Princess spread like wildfire.

Richard had the satisfaction of being forced to make another solemn public pledge, this time that he had no intention of marrying Princess Elizabeth of York.

Next Chapter

Heart to heart

At last they were face to face and Richard could ask Elizabeth why she was helping him. Before replying, Elizabeth had a few questions of her own.

Elizabeth: Where are my sons?

Richard: I have sent them away. They are very safe.

Elizabeth: Why then do you allow rumours of their death to circulate?

Richard: If Tudor finds the boys he will kill them. It is safer if he does not know what has happened to them. The more people think they are dead, the fewer will go looking for them. Once Tudor is dealt with the boys can come out of hiding.

Elizabeth was inclined to believe Richard, but she had a further test. What did he know about the death of Henry VI? Richard paused. He knew of Elizabeth's deep respect for Henry. What would she think of him if she knew the truth? He could say farewell to any further assistance from her. But he needed to know why Elizabeth had trusted him, and he could not demand an honest answer from her if he was not honest himself. He told her everything.

As Elizabeth listened, she was overjoyed to hear Richard's account match what she had previously learnt from Waynflete. Her trust had not been misplaced. Relief coursed through her veins that Richard was the man she fervently hoped he was. Her face, her whole body, visibly relaxed.

By the time Richard finished speaking, he had no need to ask why Elizabeth was helping him. He could not fathom why she loved him, but to a man as sensitive as Richard it was plain that she did.

Even though she was still the most beautiful woman in England, Elizabeth felt all the vulnerability of someone nearly fifty who had betrayed her love for a married man not much past thirty. The tension returned to her body.

Richard: Anne does not have long to live. Our son has inherited her sickliness and may die even sooner. If you marry me, when your son Edward comes of age I will see to it that he succeeds to the throne.

They smiled contentedly at each other for a few moments, then left before their absence elsewhere was noticed.

Next Chapter

Crossing the threshold

Richard needed to talk to his unexpected ally Elizabeth. Elizabeth was puzzled by his actions, though. Had he just used her help to grab power for himself? What had become of her sons, the princes in the Tower? How could she trust a man who had accused her of sorcery? She hoped she had not misjudged him, but her survival instinct told her to remain in the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey.

To overcome her reluctance, Richard swore a solemn oath in public before the Lords and Bishops and the Mayor and Aldermen of London. He promised not to imprison or in any way harm Elizabeth or her daughters. He promised Elizabeth a substantial pension, and that he would ensure that her daughters were married to men becoming their station.

Despite her doubts, Elizabeth was sure that Richard was not a man who would break such a pledge, and so she came out from the Abbey with her daughters.

That threshold crossed, Richard set up the crucial meeting. His experience of secret assignations with women facilitated this. When it had become clear that Anne's disease ridden body could not be risked with childbearing, he had turned to others, but as Elizabeth had already acknowledged those liaisons had remained undiscovered.

Next Chapter

The dummy run

Richard decided upon a royal tour of his realm to consolidate his position. Buckingham returned to Brecon with Morton.

For all Richard's efforts, discontent was brewing in some of the southern counties. Rebellious movements arose in support of the restoration of Edward V. Lady Margaret Beaufort saw in this an opportunity to regain the initiative. Urgently she sought information from Buckingham about the whereabouts of the young princes. When Buckingham replied that Richard had sent them away, he knew not where, she instructed him to foment the rumour that the princes had been killed. For added realism, he should hint strongly that he had some personal involvement in their death.

It was a master stroke. People at large, already wary of Richard, were filled with abhorrence at the thought that he had murdered his nephews in the Tower, and with the princes supposedly dead the only figurehead remaining to lead the opposition to Richard was, of course, Henry Tudor.

Buckingham raised his forces in the name of Henry Tudor. However Buckingham was nowhere near as popular a governor of his territory as Richard was in the north, so the men he commanded were half hearted. In addition, the notoriously changeable British weather turned against him and he was soon defeated. Eventually apprehended, he was beheaded in Salisbury market place on the sabbath. This ensured a good crowd for the execution, but perhaps Richard would have been wiser to listen to those who advised him not to profane the Lord's day in this way.

For her part in the rebellion, Lady Margaret Beaufort forfeited all of her estate to her husband Lord Stanley who had maintained a position of loyalty to Richard.

Lady Margaret Beaufort was unperturbed. This had been a dummy run. Next time there would be a power surge.

Next Chapter

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Gloucester takes the crown

Gloucester was brooding in his room, late at night, totally demoralised. Hastings' treachery had caused him to doubt his own judgment so much that he felt he could no longer trust anyone, a lonely place to be.

There was a knock at the door. It was Waynflete, and he had brought Stillington, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, with him. Thinking he could do with some divine assistance, but with little faith that he would receive it, he invited the men in.

Waynflete related the information that Elizabeth had given him: that Lady Margaret Beaufort was plotting to make Henry Tudor King with Princess Elizabeth of York as Queen, and that Elizabeth believed that Gloucester had been tricked into believing that Hastings wanted to kill him, though she did not know how that had been done.

Gloucester was astounded. Part of him wanted to believe Elizabeth, but part of him was afraid that this was a Woodville ruse.

Waynflete then explained that as a token of her good faith, Elizabeth had sent Stillington who had information that would put Elizabeth completely in Gloucester's power.

Stillington revealed to Gloucester that he had married Edward IV to Lady Eleanor Talbot before his marriage to Elizabeth, the secret that had cost Clarence his life.

Suddenly the world made sense again to Gloucester. With renewed confidence, he acted swiftly.

Hastings would be laid to rest in a place of honour near to his master Edward IV. His wife and children would inherit his estate.

The Bishops would arrange for trustworthy ministers to preach against illegitimate children inheriting from their parents.

A law would be drawn up excluding Edward V and his brother from the throne on account of their illegitimacy, and making Gloucester King Richard III as the legitimate heir.

Sir James Tyrrell, who had served Gloucester faithfully for years, would be charged with keeping Edward V and his brother in a safe place, overseas if necessary.

Gloucester needed to protect his source. He would free the bogus conspirators Morton, Rotherham and Stanley, so no one would think that he suspected them. As for Elizabeth, his opponents had already solved the problem for him. In his law of illegitimacy, he would accuse her of obtaining her marriage by sorcery. This would give the appearance that he was displeased with her, but no one would take the charge seriously.

The plan was excecuted successfully. Buckingham was disconcerted by the departure from Lady Margaret's script. He insisted upon retaining his guide Morton as his personal prisoner, but otherwise was powerless to stand in Gloucester's way. The decorative part of the constitution, parliament, meekly passed the law of illegitimacy submitted by the executive, as remains the custom in England. Gloucester and Anne were crowned King and Queen.

Next Chapter

Elizabeth decides

Elizabeth thought about the offer made through Doctor Lewis. As part of her plan to make her son Henry Tudor King of England, Lady Margaret Beaufort wanted Elizabeth's daughter Princess Elizabeth of York to marry Henry. This would finally reconcile the competing lines of Lancaster and York. It was time for Elizabeth to return to her Lancastrian roots. The Yorks had never accepted her Woodville family, and Gloucester was a psychopath who had already murdered her brother and son. Put like that, it seemed as if once again Elizabeth had no choice, so she had consented.

All the same, she was uneasy. She had been as shocked and horrified by the deaths of Hastings and in Pontefract as anyone. Yet they were not the actions of the Gloucester she knew. He and his brothers had inherited the military skills of their father. Edward and Clarence had also inherited their father's poisonous, addictive lust, though expressed in different ways. In the father, it was for power, in Edward for women and in Clarence for wine. Gloucester was different. He loved Anne. He had cared for her when she was unwell. If he had taken mistresses, he had been so discreet about it that their identity was not public knowledge, unlike Edward's. She had seen his loyalty to Edward and his genuine affection for his nephews and nieces. He had earned a good reputation as a governor in the north, consolidating support by accommodating rivals rather than eliminating them.

On the other hand, there were rumours that Gloucester had killed Henry VI in the Tower. She didn't know whether this was true, but she did know that it was Edward who had given the order to kill Henry. Gloucester had a quick temper too. Most of us lose our temper, but few of us do so when we have the power to severely punish those who annoy us. Would we behave any better in those circumstances?

These thoughts went round and round in her mind. Then it came to her. If Lady Margaret Beaufort was intriguing with her, who else might she be plotting with? Her husband Lord Stanley was an obvious candidate, and he had been involved in the Hastings conspiracy. Buckingham was her nephew, and come to think of it Elizabeth's brother-in-law had never before shown any interest in national politics but had somehow become Gloucester's right hand man.

She was faced with two implausible possibilities. Either Gloucester was a murderous psychopath, or he was the victim of an extraordinary conspiracy. That was as far as her mind could take her. To decide between them she would have to follow her heart. Once she realised that, the next step was obvious.

To take it, she needed the one man whose transparent integrity had ensured that his services had been retained whoever was in power. Elizabeth enquired whether the Bishop of Winchester was in town.

Next Chapter

The official conspiracy theory

The Protector's Council meeting was about to begin. Gloucester was amiably complimenting the Bishop of Ely on his Holborn garden, particularly his strawberries, when he was called out of the chamber for an urgent message. Reliable intelligence had been received that Lord Hastings was planning to assassinate Gloucester. Gloucester dismissed the suggestion, but the informant was insistent. To humour him, Gloucester accompanied him to Hastings' quarters. The rooms were locked, and there was no sign of forced entry to any of them. A guard broke into the bedchamber and began searching it under Gloucester's watchful gaze. Several minutes passed and nothing was found, just as Gloucester expected. But then a drawer was opened revealing letters from the men held at Pontefract Castle. The letters did indeed discuss murdering Gloucester. Soon other letters were found, showing that Bishop Morton of Ely, Archbishop Rotherham of York, Lord Stanley, Queen Elizabeth and "Jane Shore" were also part of the conspiracy. Gloucester was stunned. Even now he could not believe it possible of Hastings, but how could he deny the evidence before him?

Gloucester re-entered the Council in a foul temper, and challenged the conspirators. To Hastings' consternation, Morton, Rotherham and Stanley immediately confessed their involvement in the non-existent plot, begging for mercy and blaming their involvement upon the witchcraft of Queen Elizabeth. Noticing Gloucester's scepticism on this last point, Buckingham prudently offered to take the supergrasses into his personal custody, leaving Hastings to face the white heat of Gloucester's anger. This man had served his brother with unfailing diligence and loyalty. This man had fought alongside him at Barnet and Tewkesbury. This man, of all men, was his most dependable ally. But this man was planning to kill him. It was impossible to comprehend, so raw emotion took over. Gloucester ordered the immediate execution of Hastings. The lack of a block delayed it long enough for a compassionate guard to locate a priest. A log was found adequate to the purpose, and the deed was done. Orders were sent to Pontefract Castle to deal likewise with Rivers, Grey and Vaughan.

Buckingham took advantage of the climate of fear to detach Edward IV's younger son from Queen Elizabeth, arguing that "as the boy had done nothing wrong he did not need sanctuary", re-uniting him with Edward V in the Tower of London "for his own safety".

Next Chapter

The battle of Hastings

"Jane Shore" was past her prime, but considerably closer to it than Lord Hastings. She found the Lord Chamberlain in his office, hard at work as ever with the affairs of state. What they had in common was their affection for the late king, whom they had served in their different ways. Conversation flowed as they reminisced happily about Edward, until Hastings was completely at ease. Then, "Jane" unleashed her lethal weapon, an inviting smile that Hastings' defences systematically failed to withstand. Thus was Hastings' bedchamber breached. Once he was sound asleep, exhausted by his exertions, "Jane" planted the incriminating documents.

Next Chapter

Buckingham befriends Gloucester

The Duke of Buckingham, nephew of the late Henry Stafford, was at home in Brecon Castle when the messenger came from his Auntie Margaret. He was taken aback by her instructions. He must pledge his unconditional support to the Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and do his utmost to nullify the influence of the Woodvilles. His immediate reaction was to question his fitness for the role, given that he was married to Elizabeth's sister Katherine! Surely he would be marked as a Woodville sympathiser? Margaret had covered this eventuality. The messenger explained that all he needed to do was complain bitterly about his in-laws, especially about being forced to marry someone so far beneath his own station. The Woodvilles were sufficiently unpopular that no one would doubt his sincerity. The messenger also assured him that John Morton, Bishop of Ely, would give him all the assistance he needed at court in London.

Support duly pledged, Buckingham set out with his men from south Wales to join up with Gloucester, who was heading for London from the north. Young Edward V was also travelling towards London, from near the border with north Wales, in the company of Elizabeth's brother Earl Rivers, her son Richard Grey and chamberlain Thomas Vaughan. The three parties met in Northamptonshire and shared a pleasant evening meal. Before morning dawned, however, the silver-tongued Buckingham had persuaded Gloucester that the Woodville party posed a threat. At daybreak, Rivers, Grey and Vaughan were arrested and dispatched to Pontefract Castle. Edward was distraught at this treatment of his life-long guardians. Gloucester did his best to console his tearful nephew, deceived by the age-old canard that a twelve year old is too young to understand.

On hearing news of the arrests, Elizabeth took the precaution of seeking sanctuary in Westminster Abbey with her children.

Lady Margaret Beaufort was off to a flying start. With Elizabeth in fear of her life, she sent her physician Doctor Lewis to the Abbey to make an offer that ought not to be refused. Her next target would be the pillar of the Yorkist cause, Lord Hastings.

Next Chapter

Lady Margaret's hour arrives

Lady Margaret Beaufort had been consolidating her position. Upon the death of Henry Stafford, she had married another Yorkist sympathiser, Lord Stanley.

Upon the death of Margaret of Anjou, she had become the leader of the Lancastrians. Her son, Henry Tudor, was their new pretender for the crown. His claim was sufficiently obscure that she had deemed it wise to bide her time rather than assert it in battle. The Beauforts were the illegitimate offspring of the Duke of Lancaster, third son of Edward III. Richard II had legitimated the Beaufort line. Henry IV had added some small print to deny them the right to inherit the throne, but no one reads the small print.

With the death of Edward IV in 1483, the time had come to put her patient planning to the test. The strategy was simple: divide and rule. Edward had willed that Gloucester should act as Protector until his son came of age. She would set Gloucester and the old Yorkists against the upstart Woodvilles, let them destroy each other, then take the spoils.

Next Chapter

The wine talks

The peace of England that Henry yearned for was, to a great extent, realised in the years following his death.

Gloucester married his beloved Anne and spent most of the time in the north. Edward delegated the government of a large area there to Gloucester, who proved both capable and popular.

The cycle of royal babies, royal mistresses and preferment for the Woodvilles resumed in the south.

One incident marred this steady progress. Clarence was partial to Malmsey wine, and the royal court became accustomed to his drunken orations in the evening. His favourite subject was what he would do if he were king, and he was indulged as a harmless bore setting the world to rights. One night in 1478 his slurred speech took a diversion from its normal course. He began to talk about really becoming king, that when his brother died he would produce evidence that Edward had been married prior to Elizabeth, making Elizabeth's children illegitimate and Clarence the rightful heir to the throne.

To Elizabeth's astonishment, Edward took this outburst seriously and incarcerated Clarence. He was soon joined in prison by Robert Stillington, the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

Edward summoned a rare parliament and asked it to attaint Clarence for treason. The mercenary assembly, thankful that it had not been called to raise any taxes, submitted to the king without asking any questions. Clarence experienced Gilbert and Sullivan justice. He was executed privately, drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine, the punishment fitting the crime.

Stillington received mercy. On interrogation, he pointed out to Edward that he had kept the secret of his prior marriage for many years. Edward, in fairness to this loyalty, accepted his pledge to maintain his secrecy.

Next Chapter

The best axeman in England

Henry VI did not receive many visitors to his room in the Tower of London, so it was a surprise when the Duke of Gloucester entered and introduced himself.

Henry: Ah, the Duke of Gloucester. I remember the old Duke of Gloucester, of the line of the fifth son of Edward III. I don't think there are any of that line left now, except maybe the Buckinghams, but I think they came from a second marriage. Anyway, the old Duke was a dreadful warmonger. As soon as I came of age, I had him removed from the royal council. Oddly enough, he took it quite well, went off to his estate and took up book collecting. I wish we had left him in peace, but Margaret and Suffolk would have him charged with treason. He died in custody, and ever since there has been nothing but trouble. Your father York wanted revenge. We agreed to send Suffolk into exile, but that wasn't enough to appease his enemies. Suffolk was intercepted on the high seas as he travelled abroad and beheaded with a rusty sword. On it goes, even to this day. Why do we never learn? Oh, forgive me rambling on. I expect your visit is not purely a social one?

Gloucester: I bring grave tidings. Margaret of Anjou and her son Edward have been defeated in battle at Tewkesbury. Edward died in the fighting.

Henry: The poor boy inherited his mother's belligerent spirit. Would that they had accepted the Accord I made with your father. What will become of dear Anne?

Gloucester hesitated, blushing slightly.

Henry: But of course. I have heard good reports of you, Gloucester, and I don't doubt you will make her a far better husband. Your brother Edward has governed tolerably well. At least he seems to fight only out of necessity. I understand he is something of a ladies' man. Perhaps old Waynflete was right about celibacy after all. If so, beware the Lady Margaret Beaufort. To return to your tidings, if Edward is dead then the line of Lancaster has terminated, so may we not hope that the feuding must come to an end?

Gloucester: I fear that Margaret of Anjou will rally her forces in your name.

Henry laughed at the absurdity of this suggestion, but he was wise enough to realise that others would not find the notion so ridiculous.

Henry: You are right, Gloucester. There will be no peace while I live. I have been meditating much upon our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The prophecy was made of him that it was expedient for one man to die for the people rather than for the whole nation to perish. Our Lord was thirty three when He laid down His life for His sheep. Would that I had died when I was thirty three, in 1455. How much bloodshed would have been avoided. I still think about the twenty thousand who entered eternity on a single day at Towton. So much blood shed in my name. My only hope is that the blood of Christ can cleanse even my awful sins. Do not reproach yourself, Gloucester, we must put a stop to the killing once and for all. I must follow the Lord in obedience unto death. Thank God for the hope of the resurrection and a better world to come. Is there a priest?

Gloucester: I have brought Waynflete.

Henry: Dearest Waynflete. How thoughtful, Gloucester. Thank you.

Gloucester left the room to allow Waynflete to minister to Henry. Confession heard and absolution pronounced, Gloucester led the two men to the place where a block had been prepared. Upon seeing an executioner standing ready, Henry turned to Gloucester for a final request.

Gloucester nodded.

"It would be a great mercy if the task could be performed by the best axeman in England."

Again Gloucester assented silently, but this time with a bow, in deference not to any title which Henry held but to the majesty of his character.

Henry took his position.

Gloucester took the axe, and delivered a single clean blow.

Henry was dead.

Next Chapter

Monday, 11 August 2008

Clarence decides

King Edward sent overtures to his estranged brother via a lady in waiting of the Duchess of Clarence, and prepared for battle with Warwick.

Edward and Warwick were both undefeated in battle. Edward assembled a powerful army, commanding its centre personally and entrusting the flanks to Gloucester and Hastings, but was it a match for the might of Warwick? Clarence was officially loyal to Warwick, but he had given private assurances of support to Edward. Who would he join when matters came to a head?

In the event, Clarence came in on the side of Edward at Barnet. Warwick fought on foot to demonstrate to his own forces that he would not be fleeing on horseback when the going got tough. A thick fog added to the confusion of the battle, but the outcome was decisive. Warwick was defeated and, having deprived himself of the means of a speedy escape, killed.

The victorious team of Edward, Gloucester, Hastings and Clarence headed west to confront the forces of Margaret of Anjou and her son Edward.

Margaret was also nominally in alliance with Warwick, at the insistence of the French King. Margaret and Warwick held the record for the most cynical partnership in history for over 450 years, until superseded by the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. She refused to link up with Warwick at his time of need since if Warwick won without her she would still be on the victorious side, and if he lost she hoped that the Yorkists would be weakened by the encounter enough for her army to prevail against them. Had she miscalculated?

Next Chapter

The strategem succeeds

The royal marriage settled into a regular cycle. Elizabeth would announce that she was with child, Edward would remove her from the royal bedchamber and summon "Jane Shore" to take her place and Elizabeth would obtain preferment for members of her family as the price of this humiliation. By this means Woodvilles married into many families of the nobility and attained positions of prominence in the royal council.

Elizabeth was happy enough with this existence. She thought that no man could ever take the place of John Grey in her heart, so her expectations of Edward were not high. She found fulfilment in caring for her children, and satisfaction in helping others in her family.

One day, though, she found the king's younger brother Richard Duke of Gloucester looking uncharacteristically despondent. Elizabeth was fond of the young man, and asked the reason for his unhappiness. Immediately his mood changed to one of anger.

"I hate you Woodvilles. Warwick has turned against us because of you, he has turned our brother George Duke of Clarence against us and now he is giving his daughter Anne in marriage to Edward, son of Margaret of Anjou."

Even in his rage, he could not speak Anne's name without tenderness. After the death of his father, Gloucester had been brought up in Warwick's home. His childhood friendship with Anne had obviously become something more.

In his anguish, Gloucester had forgotten that Warwick had executed Elizabeth's father and brother not so long before, and that she would therefore be a sympathetic hearer. Elizabeth, thinking more clearly than Gloucester, saw an implication that offered hope. If Anne married Edward, they would almost certainly have children, making the likelihood of Clarence becoming king much more remote. If this was pointed out to Clarence, perhaps he could be persuaded to rejoin Edward against Warwick.

Next Chapter

The eyelids flutter

It was a glorious day, so Edward IV decided he would spend it out hunting in the Northamptonshire countryside, leaving the dull paperwork to his faithful Lord Chamberlain Hastings.

Amongst the day's supplicants was the widow of a Lancastrian knight, because Elizabeth Grey was in such dire financial straits that she had no option but to comply with Somerset's scheme. She requested the confirmation of her jointure by the king. Hastings was the master of such technicalities and worked out a deal, securing for himself an agreement that one of the widow's sons would marry his (as yet unborn) daughter.

After his day in the field, the time came for Edward to ratify the terms that Hastings had agreed. The Lord Chamberlain outlined the proposal as Elizabeth Grey came before the king. With face cast down, she slowly closed and opened her eyelids, drawing attention to her fabulous eyes. A heart melting smile of encouragement was not necessary on this occasion, as there was not even a hint of inhibition in Edward's six foot four inch frame. He granted the requested provision, supplementing it with an invitation to the royal bedchamber.

Elizabeth declined. In truth, this was not simply because she was following her script. She would not have yielded her honour to such a man in any case. She skilfully deployed the arguments she had learnt from Henry's court about the virtues of chastity and the consequences of mortal sin. Edward could see that she was in earnest. What, though, was the point of being the king of England if he could not have the most beautiful woman in England? Warwick could keep his French princesses, he would marry Elizabeth.

Next Chapter

Friday, 8 August 2008

The Beaufort Strategem

A filthy, bedraggled figure staggered into the court of King James III of Scotland.

It was Queen Margaret who recognised him first.

Margaret: Somerset. Is that you?

Somerset: It is I, your majesty.

Henry: Somerset, thank God you are here. We had almost begun to believe that none of our nobles had survived the battle of Towton. Is it true what is being said of the scale of our defeat?

Somerset: At least twenty thousand are dead, your majesty.

Henry: Twenty thousand! Slain in a single day!

Margaret: What of Wiltshire? Did he escape to Ireland?

Somerset: Alas your majesty, he was captured on the west coast of England. He has been taken to Newcastle for execution. I fear I am the only noble remaining of those who commenced the battle on our side.

Margaret: At least we shall be safe here in Scotland because of its strong alliance with France.

Somerset: Do not be so sure, your majesty. I have heard rumours that Warwick intends to go to France to seek a wife for Edward of York.

Henry: I thought Edward was betrothed to the daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury?

Somerset: Maybe, but Warwick has other ideas and his power cannot be underestimated.

Margaret: Then we shall have to resort to the Beaufort strategem.

Somerset: I do not understand, your majesty.

Henry: Lady Margaret Beaufort, widow of my half brother Owen Tudor.

Margaret: I arranged for her to marry Henry Stafford in order to infiltrate the Yorkist nobility.

Henry: Lady Margaret practises the sacred path of celibacy.

Margaret: It has the advantage of bringing that line of Staffords to an end, I suppose.

Henry: A Stafford is one thing, but you will find it much harder to find someone acceptable to a man claiming the crown of England.

Margaret: I know just the person. One of my former Maids of Honour, of a most striking appearance, is now a widow. She has a vast number of siblings. If she became queen, her family would need to be given more honoured positions and Warwick's influence would be reduced correspondingly.

A plan was developed. Somerset would return to England, seek pardon and ingratiate himself with the new regime. He would attempt to marry Elizabeth Grey to Edward of York. Elizabeth would be given strict instructions to settle for nothing less than marriage.

Next Chapter


The royal court was a fading memory for Elizabeth Grey. She and John had begun married life as strangers, but with the openness of youth their friendship had developed quickly and grown into a deep rooted mutual love.

Elizabeth's mother had married one of the servants after her first husband, the Duke of Bedford, died. To marry so far beneath one's station was such an affront to society that a severe fine was inflicted. But marrying for love resulted in a home full of love in Elizabeth's formative years, and that happy experience was being recapitulated now that Elizabeth was building her own home. John's upbringing had been similar: his mother was the heir of the Ferrers Baronetcy of Groby and had married a mere knight, a disparity not so great as to merit a fine yet sufficient to ensure that love was the foundation in his home.

The habits of piety inculcated by King Henry in his household were another beneficial influence upon the young couple. The godliness of the family was destined to reach its zenith in the short life of Lady Jane Grey many years later.

Then there was the wonderful estate, particularly Bradgate. John and Elizabeth spent many blissful hours exploring its diverse beauties together. Sometimes they would follow the river Lin as it bubbled along gently, at others they would strike out amongst the trees, or trek through the bracken. On a clear day they would climb the hill and look out over the ever flattening landscape to the east and the undulating terrain to the west. The deer grazed peacefully while the birds sang. Nothing could be more conducive to harmony.

As John and Elizabeth matured into adulthood, so inevitably the older generation passed on and all too soon John's father died. John determined to use the inheritance to build a new home in the middle of Bradgate. With great joy and excitement Elizabeth helped to draw up the plans. Each of her two little sons would have his own room, and no doubt further additions to the family were anticipated and taken into account. Contemplating the furnishings that would be required was another source of pleasure. With her beloved John, Elizabeth could not be happier if she was the Queen of England.

John's new status brought greater responsibilities, though. A message was received from Queen Margaret that she was assembling the Lancastrian forces to deliver the King, and requesting that Sir John Grey lend his support. The men of the estate who were fit for active service were gathered together, equipped and led to the south by Sir John.

At length, one of Sir John's men returned with the news that the Queen's army had won a great victory at St Albans, and that the King had been liberated. Then came the question he dreaded, but knew must come, What of Sir John? The loyal retainer opened his mouth to speak, but no sound would come out. Instead, floods of tears ran from his eyes, and Elizabeth began weeping as she had never wept before.

Next Chapter

The Accord of 1460

The "madness" of King Henry lasted for two years. Eventually he was persuaded that he was suffering from fits of amnesia, and to admit the possibility that he had fathered Queen Margaret's child even though he could not remember doing so. That accomplished, the Queen and her allies lost no time in depriving the Duke of York of his position as Lord Protector on account of the King's recovery.

York's dissatisfaction with the restored Lancastrian government led to skirmishing between the rival parties for the next few years. The Earl of Warwick allied himself to York, and captured King Henry at Northampton in 1460, whereupon York came to London with the intention of becoming King. This move shocked even his closest supporters, Salisbury and Warwick, who feared to set a precedent of disorderly succession. York was descended from the fourth son of Edward III, whereas Henry was descended from the third so appeared to have the better claim. They were willing for York to be the effective head of government, but not for him to have the title of King. Appearances must be maintained. York, however, had prepared himself and pointed out to them that there had already been a disorderly succession, from the extinct line of the first son of Edward III to the line of his third son. The descendants of the second son had been passed over, and when the genealogies were examined it was discovered that the true heir to the throne by that line (through his mother) was none other than the Duke of York.

The nobles conceded that York had made a strong case, but try as they might they could not formulate a soundbite by which his intricate claim could be conveyed to the country at large, and so a compromise was agreed. Under the Act of Accord of 1460 Henry would reign for the rest of his life, but at his death the crown would pass to York. Henry had no regrets about disinheriting his son. Besides his nagging doubts about the boy's paternity, he reasoned that the lad would be much happier without the responsibilities of sovereignty. In Henry's view, retaining possession of England was not worth the trouble; his heart was fixed upon treasure in heaven. It puzzled him that his Queen did not share this view, as he confided in the Bishop of Winchester, William Waynflete.

Henry: Why is it that Queen Margaret is so determined to fight for position, with all the death and destruction that warring brings? It seems so unwomanly.

Waynflete: Your majesty, I perceive that women have an instinct to bring life. Perhaps when that appetite is not satisfied the instinct is somehow perverted in the fashion you describe?

Henry: Nonsense, Waynflete. If celibacy is good for bishops and priests I am sure that it must be good for kings and queens.

Next Chapter

Thursday, 7 August 2008

The Royal Council of 1453

At the Royal Council of 1453, there was a notable absentee.

York: Your majesty, we are not graced with the presence of her majesty the Queen. I hope she is not unwell?

Henry: Unfortunately she is. Her belly is swollen, and the swelling only increases. I am very fearful for her.

Presently, a messenger arrived from the royal physician.

Henry: It is bad news, I fear.

Messenger: No, your majesty, it is the very best news. Her majesty the Queen has given birth to a baby boy.

The Duke of York and his supporters were astonished and appalled in equal measure. The House of Lancaster now had an heir to the throne. The King was no less surprised.

Henry: But that is impossible. I practise the sacred path of celibacy. How can it be? It cannot be my child.

Alarmed by this utterance, the quick witted Earl of Wiltshire summoned the guards to take the King to his chamber and fetch a physician.

Wiltshire: He's having one of his funny turns. He doesn't know what he's saying. You've been telling us for years that he's mad, York, and this quirk of providence has unsettled his equilibrium.

York: This is a trick, Wiltshire. Who is the father? Which one of you is it?

Wiltshire: How dare you impugn the virtue of her majesty and her loyal nobles. Hold your tongue, York, or we may start asking how the Duchess of York conceived your son Edward when she was in Rouen and you were miles away in Pontoise.

At this a tide of muttering swept the chamber, until the Earl of Salisbury put a stop to it.

Salisbury: Enough of this ludicrous diversion. The King is clearly incapacitated by a mental affliction, and the Queen likewise owing to her confinement. We must have a Lord Protector to govern the country. I nominate the Duke of York.

The nomination was supported by a large majority of those present.

Next Chapter

The Royal Council of 1452

The Royal Council Sessions for 1452 were just as acrimonious as in the previous year. The nobles allied to the King were becoming increasingly anxious about the lack of a Lancastrian heir to the throne. The Queen was in a quandary. Her husband was unwilling to co-operate, nor could he be coerced. A man so devout could not be intoxicated, and he was a light sleeper who spent many of the night hours in prayer. After the proceedings were complete one day, Queen Margaret suggested to King Henry that they should go over plans for Ireland with their trusted ally James Butler, Earl of Wiltshire.

Henry: The only use Ireland has been to us is as somewhere to keep the Duke of York occupied. Since he refuses to stay there any more, it doesn't even serve that purpose. Why can't we leave Ireland to the Irish? It is another burden of responsibility we could do without.

Margaret: Perhaps, my lord, you think your time would be better spent praying for Ireland, rather than going through all these details?

Henry: A welcome suggestion, my lady. I shall retire to my chamber for prayer, and leave the rest of the matter in Wiltshire's capable hands.

Margaret: We have had a long day already, Wiltshire. Refresh yourself with some of this excellent wine. I have it imported from my native Anjou, and the vintages have been good in recent years.

Wiltshire took a tentative sip. Finding the drink most palatable, he drained the cup gladly, relishing the thick, sweet fruitiness. He needed no encouragement from the Queen to help himself to some more, unaware that she had augmented the delicious juice with a potent narcotic. Soon he was having difficulty concentrating on the names of Irish people and Irish places. His head started to swim, there was a brief sensation of euphoria and then he collapsed, utterly stupefied. Quickly Queen Margaret set to work, doing her duty for the House of Lancaster.

Next Chapter

The Royal Council of 1451

At the Royal Council Sessions of 1451 that commenced the next day, the Duke of York was not slow to air his grievances against King Henry VI.

York: The time for change has come. The country will not tolerate incompetence any longer. All the glorious gains of your majesty's father in France are being lost. We need a new policy to reclaim the lost territories, and new commanders to execute it.

Henry: On the contrary, it is a blessing to be relieved of this burden. We have land of our own a-plenty here in England. Let us leave the French to enjoy theirs. We have no need of it.

York: Your majesty, for over a hundred years our countrymen have shed their blood in defence of the lawful claim of the King of England to the throne of France. Has their sacrifice been in vain? We must fight on, out of faithfulness to their memory.

Henry: A hundred years of slaughter is more than enough. It is better to end it now than to suffer another century of bloodshed.

York: What sort of King does not fulfil his primary obligation, to defend his lawful domain?

Henry: Our Lord and Saviour is King of Kings, yet He is not ashamed to be called Prince of Peace.

York: This is the fifteenth century. We have a modern economy that depends upon resources from overseas territories and the pursuit of warfare. Already the merchants are complaining that they are losing money. We must invest in our armed men and their equipment, and in the fleet. That is the only way to restore our prosperity. Is it not our duty to relieve poverty?

Henry: Of course we should care for the poor, yet there are other trades which may serve equally well to the purpose. For that we shall require better education, and it is in education that I am minded to invest. My new colleges at Eton and Cambridge are a great success, and I urge similar ventures upon the nobles gathered here. Let men have the consolations of reading and knowledge.

York: This is madness. If knowledge is diffused more widely it will only be used to overturn the established state. Let us channel the virile instincts of the people into patriotic warfare, otherwise they will be channelled into rebellion against us. Real men have no time for book learning.

Henry: Not so. There is a great hunger for learning in our land. My grandfather introduced a law requiring that heretics be burnt at the stake, yet their number has only multiplied. How much better it would be if mother Church, rather than a Lollard preacher, was satisfying their desire for instruction. Let us invest in the Church. Consider the great chapel I have planned at Cambridge. It may take a hundred years to build, but how much better an employment of the time and talent of man than the hundred years' war of which we have spoken. Besides it will bring glory to God, and who knows but that it may cause Him to shine the light of His countenance upon us.

York: You are supposed to be our King, not our Archbishop. Away with these castles in the air. The reality is that law and order are collapsing around us. The nobles need funds to reinforce their armies so that they can deal with threats to lawful authority.

Henry: The only disorder that I have observed arises from these private armies clashing with each other. If the nobles were to disband them they would be relieved of the expense and the nation would be relieved of much violence.

York: This is insane. Surely you have not forgotten the late insurrection of Jack Cade?

Henry: Indeed I have not. I remember quite distinctly that he used the name Mortimer, which coincidentally is one of your family names, and that he quartered at the White Hart, which coincidentally is one of your emblems, so I have my doubts about whether it was a spontaneous popular uprising.

York: The conspiracy theory of a lunatic if ever I heard one.

The Council continued in a similar vein for some days, but after its conclusion there was a more harmonious discussion. As the chamber emptied, a message was brought to the King. Baron Rivers, Baron Ferrers and his son John Grey craved a private interview with their majesties, which was readily granted.

Henry: What is your petition?

Ferrers: Your majesties, my son requests the hand in marriage of Elizabeth, daughter of Baron Rivers. The Baron has graciously consented, and we seek your approval since Elizabeth is a Maid of Honour to the Queen.

Henry: An excellent proposal. Do you not agree, my lady?

Margaret: Only if I can find a suitable replacement.

John: Your majesties, may I humbly suggest the Lady Matilda Rose?

Henry: Splendid idea.

Margaret: Then I consent. Felicitations.

Next Chapter

The eyelids of a dragon

"... and she has the eyelids of a dragon!"

John Grey had been ignoring the monotonous prattle of his dining companion, Lady Matilda Rose, but this curious description arrested his attention. How could he find out who she was talking about without betraying the fact that he hadn't listened to a word she had said for the last ten minutes? He didn't need to concern himself because Matilda had been desperate to engage him, and continued eagerly.

"Nouveau riche, as Queen Margaret would say. Her father is only the First Baron Rivers, and how do you think he obtained that? By defeating Pedro de Vasquez of Spain at a jousting tournament. A common sporting champion! Not like my family, a long distinguished line that won its honours in real battles like Crecy and Agincourt. As for her mother, she is from Luxembourg. I don't know where that is, but they say it is pagan and full of witchcraft, and definitely foreign. I suppose that is why our queen from Anjou has favoured dragon-eyes as a Maid of Honour over us English girls."

John Grey looked across to the section of the Royal Banquet where the Maids of Honour were seated. As he scanned their faces, he saw none that had the monstrous features described, but then his gaze alighted on one so lovely as to be unmistakeably responsible for provoking such intense jealousy in Lady Matilda Rose. He stared, transfixed. After a short while, Elizabeth Woodville looked up at him, as people who are stared at always do (no one knows why) and John looked away.

A decent interval later, John tried to sneak another look at Elizabeth, only to discover that she had chosen the same moment to sneak a look at him, so they both quickly averted their eyes. This happened several times. John felt embarrassed, and resolved not to look again. Within him, though, an emotion was welling up that overwhelmed mere embarrassment. He could not help himself, he must look again. This time, instead of looking away when their eyes met, he smiled. Elizabeth smiled back, irresistibly.

Lady Matilda Rose worked on the principle that what she lacked in charm she made up for with persistency. "I hear that your estate at Grow-by is very beautiful. I should so like to see it".

"Actually, we pronounce it Groo-by" was the only reply.

Next Chapter