What Stillington told the Council on that summer day in 1483 was, Grant learned, that he had married Edward IV to Lady Eleanor Butler, a daughter of the first Earl of Shrewsbury, before Edward married Elizabeth Woodville. ‘Why had he kept it to himself so long?’ he asked when he had digested the news.
‘Edward had commanded him to keep it secret. Naturally.’
‘Edward seems to have made a habit of secret marriages,’ Grant said dryly.
‘Well, it must have been difficult for him, you know, when he came up against unassailable virtue. There was nothing for it but marriage. And he was so used to getting his own way with women — what with his looks and his crown — that he couldn’t have taken very resignedly to frustration.’
‘Yes. That was the pattern of the Woodville marriage. The indestructibly virtuous beauty with the gilt hair, and the secret wedding. So Edward had used the same formula on a previous occasion, if Stillington’s story was true. Was it true?’
‘Well, in Edward’s time, it seems, he was in turn both Privy Seal and Lord Chancellor, and he had been an ambassador to Brittany. So Edward either owed him something or liked him. And he, on his part, had no reason to cook up anything against Edward. Supposing he was the cooking sort.’
‘No, I suppose not.’
‘Anyway, the thing was put to Parliament so we don’t have to take just Stillington’s word for it.’
‘Sure. Everything was open and above board. There was a very long meeting of the Lords at Westminster on the 9th. Stillington brought in his evidence and his witnesses, and a report was prepared to put before Parliament when it assembled on the 25th. On the 10th Richard sent a letter to the city of York asking for troops to protect and support him.’
‘Ha! Trouble at last.’
‘Yes. On the 11th he sent a similar letter to his cousin Lord Nevill. So the danger was real.’
‘It must have been real. A man who dealt so economically with that unexpected and very nasty situation at Northampton wouldn’t be one to lose his head at a threat.’
‘On the 20th he went with a small body of retainers to the Tower — did you know that the Tower was the royal residence in London, and not a prison at all?’
‘Yes, I knew that. It got its prison meaning only because nowadays being sent to the Tower has one meaning only. And of course because, being the royal castle in London, and the only strong keep, offenders were sent there for safe keeping in the days before we had His Majesty’s Prisons. What did Richard go to the Tower for?’
‘He went to interrupt a meeting of the conspirators, and arrested Lord Hastings, Lord Stanley, and one John Morton, Bishop of Ely.’
‘I thought we would arrive at John Morton sooner or later!’
‘A proclamation was issued, giving details of the plot to murder Richard, but apparently no copy now exists. Only one of the conspirators was beheaded, and that one, oddly enough, seems to have been an old friend of both Edward and Richard. Lord Hastings.’
‘Yes, according to the sainted More he was rushed down to the courtyard and beheaded on the nearest log.’
‘Rushed nothing,’ said Carradine disgustedly. ‘He was beheaded a week later. There’s a contemporary letter about it that gives the date. Moreover, Richard couldn’t have done it out of sheer vindictiveness, because he granted Hastings’ forfeited estates to his widow, and restored the children’s right of succession to them — which they had automatically lost.’
‘No, the death of Hastings must have been inevitable,’ said Grant, who was thumbing through More’s Richard III. ‘Even the sainted More says: “Undoubtedly the Protector loved him well, and was loth to have lost him”. What happened to Stanley and to John Morton?’
‘Stanley was pardoned — What are you groaning about?’
‘Poor Richard. That was his death warrant.’
‘Death warrant? How could pardoning Stanley be his death warrant?’
‘Because it was Stanley’s sudden decision to go over to the other side that lost Richard the battle of Bosworth.’
‘You don’t say.’
‘Odd to think that if Richard had seen to it that Stanley went to the block like his much-loved Hastings he would have won the battle of Bosworth, there would never have been any Tudors, and the hunchbacked monster that appears in Tudor tradition would never have been invented. On his previous showing he would probably have had the best and most enlightened reign in history. What was done to Morton?’
‘Or at least nothing to signify. He was put into gentlemanly detention under the care of Buckingham. The people who did go to the block were the heads of the conspiracy that Richard had arrested at Northampton: Rivers and Co. And Jane Shore was sentenced to do penance.’
‘Jane Shore? What on earth has she got to do with the case? I thought she was Edward’s mistress?’
‘So she was. But Hastings inherited her from Edward, it seems. Or rather — let me see — Dorset did. And she was go-between between the Hastings side of the conspiracy and the Woodville side. One of Richard’s letters existing today is about her. About Jane Shore.’
‘What about her?’
‘His Solicitor–General wanted to marry her; when he was King, I mean.’
‘And he agreed?’
‘He agreed. It’s a lovely letter. More in sorrow than in anger — With a kind of twinkle in it.’
‘“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”’
‘That’s it exactly.’
‘No vindictiveness there, either, it seems.’
‘No. Quite the opposite. You know, I know it isn’t my business to think or draw deductions — I’m just the Research Worker — but it does strike me that Richard’s ambition was to put an end to the York–Lancaster fight once and for all.’
‘What makes you think that?’
‘Well, I’ve been looking at his coronation lists. It was the best-attended coronation on record, incidentally. You can’t help being struck by the fact that practically nobody stayed away. Lancaster or York.’
‘Including the weather-cock Stanley, I suppose.’
‘I suppose so. I don’t know them well enough to remember them individually.’
‘Perhaps you’re right about his wanting a final end to the York–Lancaster feud. Perhaps his lenience with Stanley was due to that very thing.’
‘Was Stanley a Lancastrian, then?’
‘No, but he was married to an abnormally rabid one. His wife was Margaret Beaufort, and the Beauforts were the reverse side, so to speak — the illegitimate side — of the Lancaster family. Not that her by-blow side worried her. Or her son.’
‘Who was her son?’
Carradine whistled, long and low.
‘You actually mean to say that Lady Stanley was Henry’s mother.’
‘She was. By her first husband Edmund Tudor.’
‘But — but Lady Stanley had a place of honour at Richard’s coronation. She carried the Queen’s train. I noticed that because I thought it quaint. Carrying the train, I mean. In our country we don’t carry trains. It’s an honour, I take it.’
‘It’s a thundering great honour. Poor Richard. Poor Richard. It didn’t work.’
‘Magnanimity.’ He lay thinking about it while Carradine shuffled through his notes. ‘So Parliament accepted the evidence of Stillington.’
‘They did more. They incorporated it into an Act, giving Richard the title to the crown. It was called Titulus Regius.’
‘For a holy man of God, Stillington wasn’t cutting a very glorious figure. But I suppose that to have talked sooner would have been to compass his own ruin.’
‘You’re a bit hard on him, aren’t you? There wasn’t any need to talk sooner. No harm was being done anyone.’
‘What about Lady Eleanor Butler?’
‘She had died in a convent. She’s buried in the Church of the White Carmelites at Norwich, in case you’re interested. As long as Edward was alive no wrong was being done anyone. But when it came to the question of succession, then he had to talk, whatever kind of figure he cut.’
‘Yes. Of course you’re right. So the children were proclaimed illegitimate, in open Parliament. And Richard was crowned. With all the nobility of England in attendance. Was the Queen still in sanctuary?’
‘Yes. But she had let the younger boy join his brother.’
‘When was that?’
Carradine searched through his notes. ‘On June the 16th. I’ve put: “At the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Both boys living at the Tower.”’
‘That was after the news had broken. The news that they were illegitimate.’
‘Yes.’ He tidied his notes into some kind of neatness and put them away in the enormous pocket. ‘That seems to be all, to date. But here’s the pay-off.’ He gathered his train from either side of him on to his knees with a gesture that both Marta and King Richard might have envied. ‘You know that Act, that Titulus Regius.’
‘Yes; what about it?’
‘Well, when Henry VII came to the throne he ordered that the Act should be repealed, without being read. He ordered that the Act itself should be destroyed, and forbade any copies to be kept. Anyone who kept a copy was to be fined and imprisoned during his pleasure.’
Grant stared in great astonishment.
‘Henry VII!’ he said. ‘Why? What possible difference could it make to him?’
‘I haven’t a glimmer of an idea. But I mean to find out before I’m much older. Meanwhile, here is something to keep you amused till the Statue of Liberty brings your British tea.’
He dropped a paper on to Grant’s chest.
‘What is this?’ Grant said, looking at the torn-out page of a note-book.
‘It’s that letter of Richard’s about Jane Shore. I’ll be seeing you.’
Left alone by himself in the quiet, Grant turned over the page and read.
The contrast between the sprawling childish hand-writing and the formal phrases of Richard’s imagining was piquant in the extreme. But what neither the untidy modern script nor the dignified phrases could destroy was the flavour of the letter. The bouquet of good humour that came up from the page as a bouquet comes up from a good-humoured wine. Translated into modern terms it said:
I hear to my great astonishment that Tom Lynom wants to marry Will Shore’s wife. Apparently he is infatuated with her, and is quite determined about it. Do, my dear Bishop, send for him and see if you can talk some sense into his silly head. If you can’t, and if there is no bar to their marriage from the Church’s point of view, then I agree to it, but tell him to postpone the marriage till I am back in London. Meanwhile this will suffice to secure her release, on surety for her good behaviour, and I suggest that you hand her over for the time being to the care of her father, or anyone else who seems good to you.
It was certainly, as young Carradine had said, ‘more in sorrow than in anger’. Indeed, considering that it was written about a woman who had done him a deadly wrong, its kindness and good temper was remarkable. And this was a case where no personal advantage could come to him from magnanimity. The broadmindedness that had sought for a York–Lancaster peace might not have been disinterested; it would have been enormously to his advantage to have a united country to rule. But this letter to the Bishop of Lincoln was a small private matter, and the release of Jane Shore of no importance to anyone but the infatuated Tom Lynom. Richard had nothing to gain by his generosity. His instinct to see a friend happy was apparently greater than his instinct for revenge.
Indeed, his instinct for revenge seemed to be lacking to a degree that would be surprising in any red-blooded male, and quite astonishing in the case of that reputed monster Richard III.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01