Thomas More's murder accountThe Princes in the Tower were the two sons of King Edward IV of England. The elder of the two succeeded to the throne as Edward V on the death of his father in April 1483. Some six weeks later, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, uncle of the two boys, proclaimed himself king as Richard III. His nephews were at that time living in the royal apartments in the Tower of London where they were seen sporadically until about mid-July 1483. After this they were never seen again. Their fate was a mystery at the time and has been ever since.
Rumours about the disappearance of the princes and their uncle's part in it soon began to circulate on the continent, where those who were disaffected by the current regime had taken refuge. However, it was only after Richard's own death that the accusations became more substantive and they are still popularly believed.
The few facts that are known do not, however, support the traditional story, which was that they had been smothered by James Tyrell, Master of the Horse to Richard III, with the help of two men, Miles Forest and John Dighton. The bodies were then buried at the foot of a flight of stairs in the Tower. This story is well known from Shakespeare's play The Tragedy of King Richard III and from his major source for this story, Thomas More's The History of King Richard III.
The Bones from the Tower
The Tower of London
© Geoffrey WheelerThis story is often said to have been confirmed by the discovery of the bones of two children within the foundations of a staircase in the Tower of London in 1674. In 1678 some bones, said to be the same ones, were interred in an urn in Westminster Abbey as the bones of the princes by order of Charles II. In 1933 they were exhumed and, after examination, were declared to be the bones of two children of the right age and thus assumed to be the bones of the princes. Neither sex nor century of death could be determined, however.
With the advance of knowledge and with new techniques available, the conclusions of the 1933 examination are now disputed. The categorical statements made in the report which followed the examination would not now be made by modern forensic scientists, who would stress the uncertainties in the determination of age, sex, family relationship, date of death and so on. To take just one example, modern forensic techniques show that the ages arrived at for the two skeletons are highly disputable and they may both be younger than they would be if they were the princes. Furthermore, the age gap between the two children appears to be less than the three years that separate the births of Edward and Richard, the two princes. Assigning a date to the bones could not be done at all in 1933. Using radiocarbon dating, it would now be possible to at least assign a century to them, and indeed probably come as close as a date with a margin of error of plus or minus about 15 years. This would at least enable us to know whether we were talking about late medieval bones or Roman bones, for example. It is likely that in the future even more accurate dating will be possible.
The urn containing the 'bones' in Westminster AbbeyAnother major deficiency in 1933 was the lack of a reliable method for establishing a family relationship between the two bodies. In the report a relationship was largely assumed, and unreliable techniques then applied to prove it. No attempt was made to determine their sex. With such young children this is difficult, but new techniques being developed will soon make it possible. More reliable methods have been developed since 1933, particularly DNA testing. With this powerful new technique it is possible to determine whether the children were male or female, to show if a relationship existed between them and whether they were both descended from the same person. The drawback in this particular case is that for this test to work a comparison between the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in the bones and that in a person descended in an unbroken female line from Elizabeth Woodville, the mother of the princes, must be made. This is because only mtDNA descends unchanged, through the female line, through the generations. No such descent from Queen Elizabeth Woodville, or her mother Jacquetta, is currently known. An alternative would be to disinter Queen Elizabeth's body and, to check their paternity, that of Edward IV their father. However, genealogical research is being undertaken by Dr John Ashdown-Hill to trace the Woodville mtDNA.
It is therefore apparent that a further examination of these bones could tell us much more than could be determined in 1933. However, in a few years it may be possible to find out even more and it is not desirable to disinter bodies just to satisfy our curiosity now. The Society will, however, welcome a re-examination if and when the authorities are prepared to give permission. We have to be content to wait for that and when scientific advances will have made the results much more meaningful.
The defining moment in Shakespeare's play of Richard III occurs in the first scene when the dramatic Richard declares 'I am determined to prove a villain'. Over the remainder of the play he fulfils his promise and at the very end, as he summons his supporters for the final assault, he acknowledges his fate:
'let's to it pell-mell,
if not to heaven, then hand-in-hand to hell'
During the course of the play the audience is made aware that Richard is responsible for the deaths of Henry VI and his son Prince Edward, Richard's brother the duke of Clarence, Earl Rivers, Richard Grey, Vaughan, William Hastings, the Princes, the duke of Buckingham and his own queen, Anne Neville. And if this catalogue of crime is not enough, he usurped the throne from his nephew. Collectively these are the 'crimes' of Richard III.
Let's look at some of these 'crimes' in their chronological order:
Edward, Prince of Wales (son of king Henry VI) '… twas I that stabb'd young Edward … '
Murder of Edward of Lancaster, by James Doyle 1864
© Geoffrey WheelerThis is the earliest 'crime' that can be attributed to Richard III. The murder of Edward, the last Lancastrian Prince of Wales, on the field of Tewkesbury on May 4th 1471.
The first direct reference to Richard's involvement came with Polydore Vergil who wrote in his Anglica Historia that Edward was 'crewelly murderyd' by Clarence, Hastings and Gloucester.
It is in the Chronicles of Raphael Holinshed that Richard of Gloucester is cited as the principal culprit who strikes the first blow against Edward. Holinshed's Chronicle was first published in 1577 and it soon became a standard history of England. Shakespeare probably made extensive use of Holinshed as source material for his plays. Shakespeare developed the crime for dramatic purposes into one of the series of pre-meditated murders that paved the Shakespearean Richard's path to the throne.
All contemporary sources are unanimous in making no reference to Richard as the murderer of Edward of Lancaster.
The Arrivall of Edward IV, the official Yorkist account of the events of 1470/71 stated that '… Edward, called Prince, was taken, fleigne to the towne wards, and slayne in the fielde. '
Warkworth's Chronicle, more Lancastrian in sympathy, elaborated slightly, 'And there was slayed in the fielde Prynce Edward, which cryde for socure to his brother-in-law the Duke of Clarence.' Few serious historians today would consider speculating that Richard was responsible for the murder of Edward of Lancaster. Professor Charles Ross wrote that 'No shred of blame can fall on Richard …'
King Henry VI – '… for I did kill King Henry …'
Murder of Henry VI. Byam Shaw 1902
©Geoffrey WheelerHenry VI died in the Tower of London probably on 21 May 1471, the day that Edward IV returned in triumph to his capital after his victory at the battle of Tewkesbury. Polydore Vergil wrote that 'Henry the sixt … was put to death in the tour of London. The contynuall report is, that Richard Duke of Gloucester killyd him with a sword … but who so ever wer the killer of that holy man …' Not yet a firm conviction of Richard. Thomas More wrote that Richard '… slew with his own hands King Henry the Sixth, being prisoner in the Tower, as men constantly say.'
It was Shakespeare who threw away any doubts about Richard's involvement. For the litany of crimes to be complete Shakespeare's Richard had to have sole responsibility for Henry's murder, a task that he performed with apparent zeal.
The Arrivall of Edward IV stated that Henry died of 'pure displeasure and melencoly.' It may well have been that he did suffer a fatal stroke or fit after learning of the death of his only son and the eclipse of his cause at the battle of Tewkesbury. However it is probably too much of a coincidence that his death should have taken place so soon after Edward IV returned to London.
Warkworth's Chronicle stated that Henry 'was put to dethe … beynge thenne at the Toure the Duke of Gloucester … and many others.'
The fact that Richard is said to have been in the Tower is not as sinister as it may appear. Whilst it is probable that Henry VI was put to death the responsibility must lie with Edward IV. Only another monarch could legally order a regicide. It would have been Richard's responsibility as Constable of England to deliver the official warrant to the Tower. Since the Tower was a centre of government and a royal residence, Richard's presence there does not imply complicity with the murder. Edward may have viewed the murder as a political necessity.
It is now accepted that if Henry VI was murdered in the Tower he died on the orders of Edward IV. Charles Ross wrote that the accusation that Richard was personally responsible for the murders of Edward of Lancaster and Henry VI was 'quite unrelated to the mundane facts of historical evidence'.
George, Duke of Clarence – '… Clarence hath not another day to live …'
The drowning of Clarence.
©Geoffrey WheelerThat Richard, Duke of Gloucester drowned his brother George in a butt of malmsey wine is one of the most popular myths in English history.
It is Thomas More who first hinted that Richard might have been involved with Clarence's death: 'Some wise men also ween that his drift covertly conveyed, lacked not in helping forth his brother of Clarence to his death.' Whilst More did at least concede that this was only a rumour, the seed was sown. The charge was soon incorporated into the growing legend of Richard III, culminating in the Shakespearean Richard and the butt of malmsey in the Tower of London.
There is no contemporary evidence to suggest that Richard was actively involved with the death of Clarence. The Crowland Chronicle stated '… the execution, whatever form it took, was carried out secretly in the Tower of London'.
Clarence had been in dispute with Edward IV for some time prior to 1478 over a variety of matters. Clarence had shown an interest in marrying the Burgundian heiress, Mary, following the death of her father Charles the Rash in 1477. Edward thwarted this plan and relations between the brothers became tense. Once Clarence began to take the king's justice into his own hands, he was challenging Edward's authority as king. With the precedent of Clarence's behaviour during 1470/1, Edward had no option but to take action. This was the background to Clarence's execution for treason. It is not possible to say if there is any truth in the story that Clarence had discovered details of the pre-contract between King Edward and Lady Eleanor Butler, although there is circumstantial evidence that does give rise to such speculation. Whilst it is true that the Woodvilles would not have been too distressed by Clarence's execution the evidence does not suggest that it was them.
Dominic Mancini reported that Richard '… was so overcome with grief for his brother … that he was overheard to say he would one day avenge his brother's death'. However, the Woodvilles made few material gains from the death and attainder of Clarence, and there is little evidence to suggest that Richard openly fell out with them. Indeed in some areas of his responsibility Richard must have co-operated with members of the family or their supporters.
Few would now doubt that George, Duke of Clarence, was judicially executed by Edward IV for treason. Jeremy Potter writes 'There is no evidence ... to connect Richard with the death of his brother Clarence, who was later executed on King Edward's orders after a public slanging match … '
Read more about Clarence.
The Usurpation – 'My thoughts aim at a further matter; I stay not for love of Edward, but the crown'
Richard III accepting the crown.
©Geoffrey WheelerThe sudden and unexpected death of Edward IV on April 9th 1483 set in motion the series of events that were to destroy the life and reputation of Richard III.
The picture of the events from April to July 1483 as seen through the eyes of the Tudor myth reveals a tyrannical Richard murdering his way to the throne of England. Richard's seizure of the crown, his long cherished ambition, being preceded by the executions of Rivers, Vaughan, Grey and Hastings.
Polydore Vergil wrote that when Richard first heard of the death of Edward IV he began 'to be kyndyld with an ardent desyre of soveraigntie'. Thomas More elaborated and had Richard eyeing the crown even before Edward had died '... he long time in King Edward's life forethought to be king in case that the king his brother should happen to decease while his children were still young'. Shakespeare used his dramatic skills to create a Richard who was aiming for the crown at least from his teens.
The main contemporary sources that we have for the period April to July 1483 are the Crowland Chronicle and Dominic Mancini's Usurpation of Richard III. Neither gives a complete picture and both are questionable as to their reliability. We have nothing that gives a complete picture of the confused and traumatic events leading to the accession to the throne of Richard III.
The Crowland Chronicle is not favourable to Richard and displays a distinct bias against the north of England, where of course the backbone of Richard's support lay. The Chronicle does not openly suggest that Richard aimed for the throne immediately he heard of Edward's death. However it does condemn him for the imprisonment and subsequent executions of Rivers, Vaughan and Grey. The execution of Hastings and the imprisonment of the Bishops of York and Ely moved the Chronicler to write 'In this way without justice or judgement the three strongest supports of the new king were removed ...' The Chronicle then goes on to speak of threats from the north and Richard's taking of the crown. It gives details of the pre-contract, which the Chronicler refers to as '… sedition and infamy.'s
Dominic Mancini, an Italian cleric visiting England during the first half of 1483, wrote his Usurpation of Richard III before the end of that year. Mancini would have relied almost completely on second hand reports and rumour. Mancini's reporting of events is coloured by his assumption that Richard aimed for the crown from the moment he heard of Edward IV's death. He does however retain a degree of objectivity, and there is no portrayal of Richard as a monster. Indeed of Richard's administration in the north he wrote 'The good reputation of his private life and public activities powerfully attracted the esteem of strangers'.
Mancini is critical of Richard for ordering the execution of Hastings, which he considered came about '… on the false pretext of treason'.
Both Mancini and the Crowland Chronicler give crucial information on the events from April to July, but their interpretation of the facts and rumours they had access to can be questioned. Edward IV certainly specified in his will that Richard was to be Protector of the realm in the event of a minority. The initial period following Edward's death suggests that Queen Elizabeth and her supporters were aiming to crown Edward V before Richard could assume the role of Protector. The fact that no official word came to Richard from the Queen or the Council (then effectively in her control) informing him of Edward's death and his legal right to be Protector, must have raised some suspicion in Richard's mind about the Queen's motives. However Richard's behaviour once he had secured the person of Edward V and had arrived in London was exemplary. A date was set for the coronation of Edward V and writs and warrants were issued in the King's name. Summonses were sent for a parliament to meet after the coronation. Richard had the support of the Council and there is no reason to suspect at this stage that anything other than the coronation and reign of Edward V would take place.
The atmosphere changed around 10 June when Richard wrote to the City of York urgently requesting reinforcements to assist him against the Queen's ' … blode adherentts and affinitie. This is a crucial point in the series of events leading to Richard taking the crown. If a plot had been discovered, who was behind it apart from the Queen's blood adherents? The most vexed question centres on the possible involvement of Lord Hastings - does this explain his sudden execution on 13 June? All answers to such questions must be speculative in the absence of definite evidence. The Crowland Chronicler certainly saw the plot as being invented by Richard as a pretext for executing Hastings, who had by then concluded that Richard was aiming for the throne. However there is no hint in Richard's behaviour that he was planning to be crowned in place of Edward V. Government was still being carried out in the name of Edward V - 'By the advice of our dearest uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, Protector of our realm during our young age …' As late as 5 June letters of summons were being issued to forty squires who were to receive knighthoods at Edward's coronation, and even the King's coronation robes were in preparation.
The climax came at the famous Council meeting on 13 June after which Hastings was executed. Hastings who had been Richard's erstwhile supporter against the Queen suddenly turned against him. It could be argued that he did indeed suspect Richard of aiming for the throne and that loyalty to Edward V made him ally with the Queen's party in order to thwart Richard. Whatever the reason Hastings' summary execution remains a blot on Richard's reputation, and was certainly out of character.
It was probably around this time that the pre-contract became a major factor in the course of events. Bishop Stillington's revelation that he had witnessed the pre-contract of Edward IV to Lady Eleanor Butler is one of the most contentious issues in Ricardian studies, dismissed by many as a hollow story. However, the matter of the pre-contract is fully set out in the Titulus Regius, which justified Richard's claim to the throne. This act of settlement was passed by Richard's only parliament, which met during January 1484. The act has led one modern historian to comment that Richard III '... has a claim to having been the only possessor of a genuinely parliamentary title during the entire Middle Ages.' Regarding the pre-contract as a basis for the legitimacy of Richard's title, another modern historian has written that the relevant law to judge the pre-contract by is '... canon law. Under that law the Parliamentary claim stated a legitimate cause of action.'
Richard's coronation on 6 July 1483 was very well attended. This fact alone might lead us to conjecture that Richard had considerable support amongst the nobility and City of London for the course of action that he had pursued. His motives throughout the April to July period will always be a matter of controversy and debate, failing the discovery of further contemporary evidence.
The dispute over Richard's motives continues today. Most modern historians would agree with the remark made by Professor Myers that '… the responsibilities and perils of an unexpected royal minority aroused in his nature the elements of fear, ambition, and impulsive ruthlessness which led him further and further along the path of immediate expediency …' However, to this should be added the view of many others that Richard took '… the crown with widespread support and little bloodshed. … Its constitutional validity apart, his assumption of the crown may be judged as sensible and perhaps even inevitable.'
The Princes in the Tower –'Shall I be plain? – I wish the bastards dead'
Queen Anne Neville – 'And Anne my wife hath bid the world goodnight.'
Anne Neville flanked by her two husbands from the Beauchamp Pageant
©Geoffrey WheelerShakespeare has Richard wooing the recently-widowed Anne Neville over the corpse of her father- in-law, Henry VI. Richard being responsible for both calamities - Anne's widowhood and Henry's death. Richard amazingly under such circumstances wins Anne and marries her. Of course the marriage does not last and Richard tires of Anne and has her poisoned. He then proceeds to bolster his throne by attempting to marry his niece Elizabeth of York.
Polydore Vergil openly suggested that Richard rid himself of Anne. He has Richard causing 'a rumor … to be spred abrode of the quene his wyfes death …' A short while later Anne '… whether she wer dispatchyed with sorowfulnes, or poyson, dyed …'
John Rous accused Richard of poisoning Anne Neville, and for good measure locking up Anne's mother, the Dowager Countess of Warwick, for the duration of his life.
Richard would have known Anne Neville from the days during the 1460s when he was under the tutelage of the Earl of Warwick, her father. It does not follow however that Richard and Anne were 'childhood sweethearts' and married for love. There is no way that we can determine the nature of their personal relationship. Marriages in the fifteenth century were first and foremost business arrangements. Richard had much to gain in material terms from marriage to Anne. She was co-heiress of one of the country's greatest landowners. The other heiress was Anne's sister, Isabel, married to George, Duke of Clarence. When Richard, Duke of Gloucester, sought to make Anne Neville his wife a bitter row developed between him and the Duke of Clarence. The Crowland Chronicle reported that 'so much disputation arose between the brothers and so many keen arguments were put forward on either side with the greatest acuteness in the presence of the king … even those learned in the law, marvelled at the profusion of the arguments which the princes produced for their own cases'. Whilst the acquisition of land, wealth and power was a factor in Richard's determination to marry Anne Neville it is reasonable to assume that their marriage was successful for there is no hint of scandal or mistresses. Richard's acknowledged bastards were both born before his marriage. A brief glimpse of Anne and Richard together is given by the Crowland Chronicler when he reported on the death of Edward of Middleham: 'You might have seen the father and mother, after hearing the news … almost out of their minds when faced with the sudden grief.'
Of the accusation that Richard poisoned Anne there is no contemporary evidence. Rumours were certainly spread by Richard's enemies after Anne died, along with the allegation that Richard intended to marry his niece Elizabeth of York. The latter accusation Richard publicly denied. There is no reason to suppose that his contemporaries took the accusation of poisoning seriously. It seems most likely that Anne was suffering from some debilitating disease, possibly tuberculosis. The Crowland Chronicle remarked that doctors had advised Richard to avoid Anne's bed.
Little credence is now given to the story that Richard poisoned Anne Neville and that the marriage was a wretched one from Anne's point of view. Paul Murray Kendall wrote 'It appears that Richard's marriage was happy, that he gave Anne Neville his heart as well as his name.' The evidence would seem to support this state of affairs, though the danger of over-romanticising the relationship should be avoided.
Much of the above comes from the Society's publication Speaker's Notes 1997 and which is available for purchase.
by Dr Anne F. Sutton
Richard III accepting the crown.
© Geoffrey Wheeler.Richard III's claim to the throne was set out in the document known as the Titulus Regius (The Title of the King) presented to his first parliament held in January 1484, and accepted by that assembly. The main points were that the children of his brother, Edward IV, were illegitimate, and that as the children of his other elder brother, the duke of Clarence, were disabled by their father's attainder for treason, Richard was the next heir.
The arguments specifying the illegitimacy have proved to be the most difficult for commentators to understand or accept. They were difficult to comprehend outside the circle of canon lawyers at the time, and modern unfamiliarity with the tenets of medieval canon law and a tendency of popular historians to over-simplify until the original arguments no longer hang together do not assist those who wish to understand the problem as it existed in 1483. The legal aspects were set out most clearly in 1986 by Professor Richard Helmholz, a modern authority on medieval canon law. The following explanation is greatly indebted to his work.
The argument in canon law was made up of two strands of evidence, both equally important. First that there had been a contract of marriage between Edward and Lady Eleanor Butler (born Talbot) before he married Elizabeth Woodville in May 1464. This would be understood to have consisted of vows exchanged in the present tense, 'I do marry you' -- no witness or priest was necessary -- followed by intercourse. The second fact of Richard's claim -- often forgotten by commentators -- was that Edward's marriage to Elizabeth was clandestine, private, before only a few witnesses, with no banns called and no participation of the king's ministers.
Lady Eleanor Talbot
by Mark SatchwillThe fact of the pre-contract cannot now be proved, although it could have been known to many persons in 1483; but there is no doubt that Edward's marriage to Elizabeth was clandestine. Eleanor Talbot-Butler was not available to testify to the precontract as she had died in 1468. She had in fact died before the boy children of Edward IV were born, and thus under modern law, the adulterous nature of Edward's second union would have ended before they were born. This did not help their legitimacy in the fifteenth century, however: 'adultery, when coupled with a present contract of marriage', was an impediment to the subsequent marriage of the two adulterers. Thus even after Eleanor's death, Edward could not have married Elizabeth under canon law. This harsh judgement could have been mitigated if Elizabeth had not known of Edward's prior marriage - in this case the two could have remarried after Eleanor's death.
Signature of Edward IV.
Redrawn by Piat DesignBut all possible mitigation was rendered irrelevant by the clandestine nature of Edward's and Elizabeth's marriage. Although a clandestine marriage was accorded validity in many circumstances and the children born of such a marriage might be considered legitimate, the clandestine nature of this particular marriage actually made the children illegitimate. Clandestine marriages were deplored because people, between whom impediments existed, might contract marriage in error or by fraud; the calling of banns was aimed to publicise a proposed marriage and prevent such misfortunes, and to proclaim the good faith of the contracting parties. Edward's hasty and secret marriage to Elizabeth proclaimed his bad faith: if the banns had been called and his councillors informed, the impediment of the pre-contract might have been revealed and circumvented.
The long time during which Edward and Elizabeth lived together openly as man and wife would have been in favour of the legitimacy of the children of their union, but only if their marriage had obeyed the church's laws and had not been clandestine. Canon law allowed questions of legitimacy to be raised after the parents' deaths -- wrong was not excused by the passage of time, and long continuance of adultery did not make it right. Medieval canon law allowed Richard, Duke of Gloucester to raise the question of the children's legitimacy as late as 1483.
The Great West doorway of the
Carmelite Priory Church in Norwich.
Lady Eleanor's coffin would have
passed beneath this archway.
© John Ashdown-HillIt has frequently been asserted that parliament was an improper place to try the issue of illegitimacy, as it was a secular assembly. It was still customary in late fifteenth-century England that questions of bastardy be tried in an ecclesiastical court, but the matter of inheritance was an entirely secular matter and canon lawyers of the day would have conceded this. In a case of less political and national urgency the issue of bastardy would have been raised in a secular court which would then have referred it to an ecclesiastical court, which in its turn would have delivered its finding to the secular court to take action upon. The Titulus Regius, composed by Richard's supporters, attempted to circumvent this problem of jurisdiction by emphasising the notorious nature of the entire case which obviated an actual trial. It was asserted that public opinion considered the marriage of Edward and Elizabeth to be invalid, the essential truth of that public opinion could be presumed and no trial was necessary. Parliament was aware that there was a jurisdictional problem and, according to the Croyland Chronicler, only reluctantly accepted the new king's title 'out of fear'. An ecclesiastical court should have pronounced on the issue of bastardy, and no one was allowed to speak on behalf of the children -- these were weaknesses in the arguments on Richard's side. Similarly, his claim did not relate to a minor matter but to the descent of the crown, and the highly debatable rules that governed its descent -- at no time did a full parliament debate this, although there may have been some debate, at an almost parliamentary level, in the highly charged atmosphere of June 1483. For Richard's claim to succeed he had to over-ride the potential authorities of an ecclesiastical court and parliament. This does not, however, negate the undoubted weight of his claim in canonical terms.
Whatever the view of modern commentators, an ecclesiastical court might well have pronounced in Richard's favour. His case depended on the truth of the facts: the existence of a precontract, which we cannot now prove, and the clandestine marriage about which there is no doubt. Bastardy was held in strong dislike and the parents' guilt was visited upon their children. Medieval canon law was highly sensitive to the idea of ultimate truth, apart from what facts might be proved in a court. Thus the canon law could accept that the precontract had existed solely on the word of the bishop of Bath and Wells or because it was notoriously accepted to have been a fact -- that it was ultimately true. Conscience meant that a canon lawyer could be far more convinced of Richard's claim than a modern common lawyer might be.
The political circumstances certainly affected the way Richard's claim was presented, for example in the use made of the issue of notoriety. It was urgent that there should be a king, and it was generally undesirable that a child should be on the throne, and opposition to the proposal that Richard should be king might coalesce if the matter was delayed. The importance of notoriety in the arguments emphasises the well-known predilection of Edward IV for amorous adventures. It was only too easily supposed that he might have seduced a well-born lady such as Lady Eleanor, daughter of the earl of Shrewsbury, with the words of marriage. Intimates of the king could have known of the liaison even if the words of contract had not been heard. His secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville in a private house with only a few witnesses had shocked his council when he finally revealed it; the story was well known throughout Europe by 1483, along with the detail that she had preserved her virtue and held out for marriage against all his persuasions. Edward's reputation was well known and a public scandal, and Richard's supporters made full use of this: the argument of 'notoriety' was highly plausible. Once parliament had accepted Richard's claim and the Titulus Regius was enrolled, his title was as acceptable as those of Henry IV, Edward IV, or Henry VII.
The legal aspect of the claim was always difficult to grasp by the average layperson and it was explained on several occasions. It was first explained to Londoners in a sermon at St Paul's on Sunday 22 June 1483 by Ralph Shaa, a fellow of Queens' College, Oxford, and brother of the mayor of London. Another speech was made by the duke of Buckingham at the Guildhall and presumably repeated the same facts. The original draft of what was to be embedded in the Titulus Regius was presented to those in positions of authority then in London in expectation of a parliament and a coronation (of Edward V), and it formed part of the petition to Richard to take the throne on 26 June. The details of the claim were then publicised during their formal acceptance by parliament in January 1484. But a few months later it was still thought necessary to explain the title carefully: in April the Ironmongers' Company of London recorded that they had paid for two wherries to take them to Westminster 'the which tyme the kyng tytylle and right was ther publyschid and shewid'. This exercise in public relations was directed at the citizen elite of London, who would then have explained it to their subordinates. It was supported by a sermon at St Mary's Hospital Bishopsgate by Thomas Penketh, the Provincial of the Augustine Friars, at Easter 1484, part of a sequence of highly prestigious sermons held each year in Easter Week in London at St Paul's and St Mary's; they were attended by the mayor, aldermen and all leading citizens and drew large crowds. The last two events testify to the efforts made by Richard to explain the intricacies of his title in canon law to his people, and probably also to his sincere acceptance of its validity.
The Bishop of Bath and Wells
Interior of Wells CathedralThe source of the argument that Edward's children were illegitimate is generally taken to have been John Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells. He was certainly a noted authority on canon law and had been lord chancellor of England 1467-70, 1471-73. There is no need to assert that he had anything to do with or witnessed the original precontract between Edward and Eleanor, he only had to make the crucial connection between a precontract and a subsequent clandestine marriage under canon law and realise how they affected the legitimacy of Edward's children. It is also possible that Stillington had voiced his opinion at the time of the execution of George, Duke of Clarence, for he was imprisoned in the Tower and heavily fined shortly after in 1478 (Kendall, p. 217 and n. 10). Stillington's arrest was ordered by Henry VII on the same day as Bosworth and although the bishop was pardoned for unspecified offences, he joined the Lambert Simnel conspiracy, was recaptured, and remained in custody for the rest of his life.