Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Note on Thomas More's
History of Richard III and Richard Marius' View of it

Thomas More (Left) Richard III (Right)

But even if More’s interpretation was askew, the consistency of his portrait testifies to determined research, and willy-nilly he gives us a more satisfying and coherent image of Richard than the King’s many modern apologists have managed to create

The History of King Richard III, offers a consistent, detailed and plausible version of events, one not published in his lifetime and consequently less open to the charge of malice that More’s accusers have made. In its general outline, More’s story also enjoys the advantage of agreeing substantially with much other evidence from the time1
 Thus does Richard Marius, More’s best modern biographer, also with one exception2 the biographer least enamored with the legend of Thomas More,3 accept the “black legend” about Richard III. Like so many writers who seem to have a need to accept this vision of Richard III he seems blind to the obvious problems with More’s account.

Marius’ Reasons

Marius’s reasons for accepting the basic truth of More’s account can be briefly summarized:

1, More did a great deal of detailed research.

2, One of More’s sources could have been John Howard, Duke of Norfolk and or his son Thomas Howard.

3, Any distortions or errors in the account of the murder of the Princes in the tower may have been the result of one or both of the Howards trying to cover up their part in the murders.

4, Henry VII would not have invaded England unless the Princes were dead otherwise his invasion would only have served to possibly restore Edward V to the throne.

5, Tyrell, the probable, murderer may have been ambitious and in pursuit of his own ends have murdered the Princes upon Richard’s order, and then informed Henry VII, that this obstacle to him, Henry VII, becoming King of England had been removed. In fact Tyrell may have claimed he did it for Henry.

6, Tyrell may have confessed for the good of his soul in 1502 and Henry VII, given the favour he had shown both Tyrell and the Howards would have suppressed the confession because it would have been obvious that he approved of both doer and deed.

7, More hated Henry VII and would not write a white-wash of Henry VII or be a Tudor propagandist.

8, The discovery of the bones of two children buried in a box beneath a stairway in 1674 is a confirmation of More’s story along with a medical analysis of the bones done in 1933 that confirms that the bones were of the right age.

9, More’s account was not published and in fact its publication would have gotten More into serious trouble, hence once again enhancing the veracity of the account.

10, Richard’s character has described by More is consistent and believable and hence probable and true.4

That is it!

Problems with Marius' Reasoning

The problems with the above are legion the following points should be kept in mind.

1, The bones that are continually trotted out has evidence of Richard’s guilt were not found where More said they were buried. In his account More states that the bones were buried under a stairway and then moved to another spot. The stairway may postdate the reign of Henry VII. The circumstances of the finding of the bones in 1674 were far from ideal which creates problems over what was the actual find. The dating of the age of the bones in 1933 is far from conclusive and likely wrong. Finally other bones of children have been found in the tower including two bodies found in a sealed room in the reign of James I.5

2, In Tyrell’s alleged confession he identifies the men who assisted him as Miles Forest and John Dighton who smothered the children. It appears that when More wrote his account Forest was dead but that Dighton was still alive. In fact according to More’s account he was still free and traveling around the country more than a decade after Tyrell’s confession. This is to put it mildly very hard to believe. We are asked to believe that a man who is accused by a deathbed, sworn confession of involvement in regicide and the murder of then Queen Elizabeth’s two brothers was allowed to stay free and unpunished. (Note: After Bosworth field Henry VII cemented his claim to the throne by marrying the York heiress, Elizabeth, sister of Edward V.) This is hard to swallow.6 The pertinent quote is as follows:

For first to beginne with the ministers, Miles Forest at sainct Martens pecemele rotted away. Dighton in ded walketh on a liue in good possibilitie to bee hanged ere he dye.7
3, Henry VII was claiming the throne and already planing to invade England and marry Elizabeth, Edward V's sister before the Princes were allegedly murdered. So it appears that the continued existence of the two Princes was not a complete bar in Henry’s mind to invading England.8

4, Regarding More’s hatred of Henry VII. This is obviously true from More’s writings yet tells us little about the reliability of More’s account; because regardless of More’s attitude to Henry VII he did not doubt the legitimacy of the Tudor claim to the throne of England. To present a positive account of Richard the Third, especially in relation to the “murder” of the Princes in the tower would have been to cast doubt on the Tudor claim to the throne, i.e., the claim of Henry VIII, More’s sometime patron to rule.9

5, Did More do detailed research? Since he failed to find a copy of the Titus Reglius that ruled Edward IV’s children illegitimate on grounds of a pre-existing valid pre-contract for marriage with another woman named Eleanor Butler, this is doubtful. The “research” is little more than an assertion. The claim his source may have been one or both of the Howards is little more than sheer speculation and proves nothing one way or another. We don’t know if the Howards were or were not one of More’s sources.10

6, Speculation of why Tyrell may have murdered the Princes i.e., that he may have told Henry VII for various reasons, for example Tyrell may have told Henry VII he killed them for him. That Tyrell may have confessed for the good of his soul. All this is once again sheer speculation. The fact is we do not have the “confession”. More admits he never saw it only that sources, unnamed, told him the contents. Vergil’s History of England, which contains a laudatory account of Henry VII and blames Richard III and Tyrell for the Princes death does not mention such a confession. Neither does the death sentence against Tyrell.11

7, The fact that More did not publish the manuscript in his lifetime adds nothing to the question of the veracity of his account of the life Richard III. This is an especially weak argument amounting once again to speculation. It is also possible that More did not publish it because he decided that his account was dubious. As it is this the failure to publish proves nothing. As for the idea it would have gotten More into serious trouble this is again speculation.

8, More’ delineation of Richard’s character shows a striking consistency, and it seems dubious that he manufactured this coherence out of whole cloth.12

Henry VII
The “consistency” of character that More gives Richard III along with the believability of that character prove nothing. Marius seems to be unaware that this may prove nothing but that More was a convincing writer. Also given his errors about Richard’s physical appearance why would More’s description of Richard’s character be any more accurate? The Historian Tacitus created a brilliant image of the Emperor Tiberius that the majority of modern historians believe is wrong. Consistency proves little one way or the other and like many other Historians he ignores the positive image in some contemporary chronicles about Richard III.13

More’s view of Richard’s character; it is a portrait of a dyed in the wool hypocrite, liar and dissembler. It is certainly consistent for what it is a one dimensional villain, not a human being. Neither Marius nor More seems to be worried about the contrast between Richard’s behavior before and after becoming King. Like Tacitus More seems to think that Richard, (like Tiberius), was hiding his real character all along.14

Its of interest that More for all of his so called research has praised by Marius manages to give Richard III a hunchback and a withered arm both of which are false.15

Other Problems

Marius repeatedly makes assertions instead of arguments with little or no evidence. For example his faith in More’s research and the reliability of More’s unnamed sources is curious given that More describes Richard III has a crippled hunchback which is manifestly false.16

Another serious mistake is Marius’ treatment of the whole precontract issue:
Elizabeth Lucy had a child by Edward IV. Edward’s mother, the dowager Duchess of York, was furious with him for marrying Elizabeth Woodville and claimed, so More says, that the marriage was invalid because Edward had promised to marry Elizabeth Lucy. Elizabeth Lucy was thereupon interrogated by a panel of judges and asked if the charge was true. Under oath she said that the king had never made such a promise explicitly.
"Howbeit, she said his grace spoke so loving words unto her that she verily hoped he would have married her, and if it had not been for such kind words she would never have showed such kindness to him to let him so kindly get her with child." (a quote from More)
More’s point was not mere comedy; it was to show that the charge had been made and refuted long before Richard and his cohorts brought it up. Yet the story does let him mock a foolish women.
Richard and Buckingham in some accounts accused Edward IV of making a marriage contract with one Eleanor Butler. More does not mention her but gives instead the humorous story of Elizabeth Lucy, who hoped that the king might wed her if she permitted him to bed her.17
This is really sloppy to put it mildly. Contemporary sources including the Titus Reglius, (Henry VII made great efforts to destroy every copy he could get his hands on), which was the legal basis for Richard III’s denial of his nephew’s right to the throne, only mention a precontract with Eleanor Butler. Elizabeth Lucy’s precontract claim is not known to any contemporary source. Since Eleanor Butler was of the nobility the claim of a precontract may have been valid whereas a precontract with Elizabeth Lucy an alleged whore would be ridiculous to More. Since More did not find out, apparently, about Eleanor Butler one wonders about the depth of More’s research. Marius seems to love a good story. It seems that, despite Marius comment, the alleged pre-contract was with Eleanor Butler not Elizabeth Lucy. It appears that More is simply repeating Tudor propaganda that replaced the respectable Eleanor Butler with the absurd Elizabeth Lucy. Marius second comment about “some accounts” refer to Eleanor Butler ignores the official document that excluded Edward IV children from the throne, (the Titus Reglius) only mentions Eleanor Butler. To quote it:
[A]t the time of … the same pretensed Mariage, and before and longe tyme after, the sed King Edward was and stode maryed and trouth plight to oone Dame Eleanor Butteler, Daughter of the old Earl of Shrewsbury, with whom the same King Edward had made a precontracte of Matrimonie, longe tyme before he made the said pretensed Mariage with the said Elizabeth Grey…18
The fact that this document was suppressed combined with the appearance of the Elizabeth Lucy story, which is only known from More would seem to indicate Tudor propaganda not truth.19

Regarding the repeated speeches that More put into his History of King Richard III, Marius states:
Obviously, too, the long speeches in the work were composed by More for rhetorical effect. He was following a tradition as old as Thucydides, allowing historians to put words to fit the occasion into the mouth of leading characters.20
Marius should then of course examine the very extensive literature about the reliability of those speeches. He would of course find out that those speeches are not reliable instead what people say in those speeches is what the author considered appropriate for those occasions. They tell us next to nothing about what was said and about the person in whose mouth the words are put, but it tells us an enormous amount about what the author believed and felt was appropriate. In those speeches the person uttering the speech is nothing more than a mouth piece for the author. So the speeches given to Richard III tell us nothing about Richard III but tell us a great deal about Thomas More and what he thought about Richard III.21

Instead we have the following bit of nonsense from Marius:
We should recall that he had had occasion to talk to a great many eyewitnesses of the events he reports and the underlying substance of the long speeches may be accurate. This is especially true of Buckingham’s speech in the Guildhall.22
It is of interest that Marius accepts wholly the idea that the Hastings “conspiracy” was a complete invention. Marius thus accepts the tradition of the falseness of the charge. Unfortunately the evidence is frankly entirely consistent with the charge of conspiracy being for real. Certainly the Richard treated the other alleged conspirators quite leniently. Not in keeping with his image of vicious ruthlessness.23

Then Marius’ critical faculties vanish entirely he says:
..the force and animadversions against sexual offences is striking. His attacks on his mother’s morals are more than striking they are shocking. He claimed that both Edward IV and George, duke of Clarence, Richard’s older brothers, were not sons of his father.24
Marius attempt to defend this absurd piece of idiocy by citing various people who allege that Richard’s mother supposedly said something similar. Marius then brings up the case of Isabeau of Bavaria in 1420 C.E., at the signing of the Treaty of Troyes of claiming that Charles VII was not Charles VI’s son but the son of one of her lovers; in this case Charles' brother Louis. The problem with that story is that it is a myth. Isabeau never did that and never denied Charles VII was Charles VI’s son.25

Marius’ further account that Joan of Arc restored Charles VII’s faith in his legitimacy is a nice hoary myth with no foundation and dates well after Charles VII’s lifetime.26

Marius then accepts has genuine all the out bursts of Richard III against sexual license. Marius thus completely abdicates from being a historian just why should we accept this view of Richard anymore than the withered arm or hunchback?

But Marius is in full throttle so he says, to repeat the quote used at the beginning:
But even if More’s interpretation is askew, the consistency of his portrait testifies to determined research, and willy-nilly he gives us a more satisfying and coherent image of Richard than the king’s many modern apologists have managed to create.27
If Marius wants to be take seriously the absurd one dimensional caricature that More gives us and to take More’s alleged detailed research seriously Marius is perfectly entitled to do so; but I for one cannot take Marius on Richard III seriously.

Marius then discusses the murder of the two princes in the tower.28 After going through the principal objections by Historians like Kendal he reluctantly admits that the Tyrell's confession is dubious in the extreme. Although Marius avoids the problem of one of the alleged regicides wondering around England well after the murder after Tyrell’s alleged confession! Marius then makes a whole series of fanciful speculations to rescue the story. I.E., Tyrell sent Henry word that the princes were dead and Henry covered up the confession because it would indicate that he and Tyrell were tainted by the crime. This is all fantasy on par with the most extreme Richardian’s about the death of the two princes in the tower.

The Two Princes Edward V and Richard Duke of York

Marius over and over again talks about the consistency of More’s version of Richard III’s character. Ignoring quite deliberately the historical record. The contrast between what the record shows us concerning Richard III’s character before his taking the throne and after is not consistent with the dyed in the wool one dimensional villain of More’s fantasy. Other interpretations of Richard III are possible and Marius by very consistently ignoring this evidence supports the cartoon of legend.

In the end Richard III remains an enigma, probably no more ruthless than other Kings at his time, but still the disappearance of the two Princes in the tower remains very strange. It remains very mysterious just how and why and stranger still if Richard III ordered them murdered why do they disappear into “night and fog”, why was no cover story concocted? In the past English Kings and others had been murdered and such stories created yet in this case the Princes just vanish. It all very hard to understand. It is of course also strange that Henry VII although married to Elizabeth never seems to have made any sort of search for Elizabeth's two brothers bodies or made any effort to find out what had happened to them. The result is a mystery that will probably never be solved. However it remains that Richard III is the most likely culprit for murdering the Princes.
1. Marius, Thomas More, Fount Paperbacks, London, 1984, p. 110, 112. For More’s book see, More, Thomas, The History of King Richard III, Here

2. Ridley, Jasper, The Statesman and the Fanatic, Constable , London,1982.

3. For example the play A Man for all Seasons.

4. Marius, Ch. 7 pp. 98-122.

5. Fields, Bertram, Royal Blood, HarperCollins, New York, 1998, pp.238-257.

6. This has not stopped many writers like Alice Weir, The Princes in the Tower, Ballantine Books, New York, 1995, and Seward, Desmond, Richard III: England's Black Legend, Franklin Watts, London, 1984. Kendal, Richard the Third, Garden City, New York, 1965. See Fields, pp. 230-237.

7. From More, Here.

8. Fields, pp. 133-134.

9. The Tudor claim to the throne was, to put it mildly, dubious, and there were in fact many better claimants in terms of legitimacy. These individuals had a tendency to be executed by Henry VII + Henry VIII. See Fields, pp. 151-153, 197-198.

10. See Fields, pp. 84-87, 97-98, Marius, p. 112.

11. Tyrell was accused of treason against Henry VII the princes were not mentioned. See Fields, pp. 230-237.

12. Marius, p. 109.
13. See Fields, pp. 258-270, and Tacitius, The Annals of Imperial Rome, Penguin Books, London, 1976.

14. IBID, Tacitus, Introduction, pp. 16-22.

15. Fields, pp. 277-278.

16. Fields, pp. 92-93, 277-285.

17. Marius, p. 107, 108, for More’s version see, Here

18. Fields, p. 287.

19. See Fields, pp. 162-163, 285-287.

20. Marius, p. 108.

21. Finley, Ancient History, Chatto & Windus, London, 1985, pp. 12-15.

22. Marius, p. 108 see More, Here

23. Fields, pp. 88-93.

24. Marius, p. 109 see More, Here for examples.

25. Warner, Marina, Joan of Arc, Penguin Books, London, 1981, pp. 58-59, Gibbons, Rachel, Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen of France (1385-1422): The Creation of an Historical Villainess, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th Ser., Vol. 6, pp. 51-73. 1996. In fact Isabella’s lawyers deprived Charles VII of the crown on the grounds of his involvement in the various crimes, especially the murder of Jean Duke of Burgundy. There was not a breath of talk of Charles VII being illegitimate. Henry V deliberately spread this rumour.

26. Warner, 56-60.

27. Marius, p. 110.

28. Marius, pp. 112-115.

Pierre Cloutier

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