The letter lasted Grant very nicely until The Amazon brought his tea. He listened to the twentieth century sparrows on his window-sill and marvelled that he should be reading phrases that formed in a man’s mind more than four hundred years ago. What a fantastic idea it would have seemed to Richard that anyone would be reading that short, intimate letter about Shore’s wife, and wondering about him, four hundred years afterwards.
‘There’s a letter for you, now isn’t that nice,’ The Amazon said, coming in with his two pieces of bread-and-butter and a rock bun.
Grant took his eyes from the uncompromising healthiness of the rock bun and saw that the letter was from Laura.
He opened it with pleasure.
Dear Alan (said Laura)
Nothing (repeat: nothing) would surprise me about history. Scotland has large monuments to two women martyrs drowned for their faith, in spite of the fact that they weren’t drowned at all and neither was a martyr anyway. They were convicted of treason — fifth column work for the projected invasion from Holland, I think. Anyhow on a purely civil charge. They were reprieved on their own petition by the Privy Council, and the reprieve is in the Privy Council Register to this day.
This, of course, hasn’t daunted the Scottish collectors of martyrs, and the tale of their sad end, complete with heart-rending dialogue, is to be found in every Scottish bookcase. Entirely different dialogue in each collection. And the gravestone of one of the women, in Wigtown churchyard, reads:
Murdered for owning Christ supreme Head of his Church, and no more crime But her not owning Prelacy And not abjuring Presbytry Within the sea tied to a stake She suffered for Christ Jesus sake.
They are even a subject for fine Presbyterian sermons, I understand — though on that point I speak from hearsay. And tourists come and shake their heads over the monuments with their moving inscriptions, and a very profitable time is had by all.
All this in spite of the fact that the original collector of the material, canvassing the Wigtown district only forty years after the supposed martyrdom and at the height of the Presbyterian triumph, complains that ‘many deny that this happened’; and couldn’t find any eyewitnesses at all.
It is very good news that you are convalescent, and a great relief to us all. If you manage it well your sick leave can coincide with the spring run. The water is very low at the moment, but by the time you are better it should be deep enough to please both the fish and you.
Love from us all,
P.S. It’s an odd thing but when you tell someone the true facts of a mythical tale they are indignant not with the teller but with you. They don’t want to have their ideas upset. It rouses some vague uneasiness in them, I think, and they resent it. So they reject it and refuse to think about it. If they were merely indifferent it would be natural and understandable. But it is much stronger than that, much more positive. They are annoyed.
Very odd, isn’t it.
More Tonypandy, he thought.
He began to wonder just how much of the schoolbook which up to now had represented British history for him was Tonypandy.
He went back, now that he knew a few facts, to read the sainted More again. To see how the relevant passages sounded now.
If, when he had read them merely by the light of his own critical mind, they had seemed to him curiously tattling, and in places absurd, they now read plain abominable. He was what Laura’s small Pat was in the habit of calling ‘scunnered’. And he was also puzzled.
This was Morton’s account. Morton the eyewitness, the participant. Morton must have known with minute accuracy what took place between the beginning and end of June that year. And yet there was no mention of Lady Eleanor Butler; no mention of Titulus Regius. According to Morton, Richard’s case had been that Edward was previously married to his mistress Elizabeth Lucy. But Elizabeth Lucy, Morton pointed out, had denied that she was ever married to the King.
Why did Morton set up a ninepin just to knock it down again?
Why the substitution of Elizabeth Lucy for Eleanor Butler?
Because he could deny with truth that Lucy was ever married to the King, but could not do the same in the case of Eleanor Butler?
Surely the presumption was that it was very important to someone or other that Richard’s claim that the children were illegitimate should be shown to be untenable.
And since Morton — in the handwriting of the sainted More — was writing for Henry VII, then that someone was presumably Henry VII. The Henry VII who had destroyed Titulus Regius and forbidden anyone to keep a copy.
Something Carradine had said came back into Grant’s mind.
Henry had caused the Act to be repealed without being read.
It was so important to Henry that the contents of the Act should not be brought to mind that he had specially provided for its unquoted destruction.
Why should it be of such importance to Henry VII?
How could it matter to Henry what Richard’s rights were? It was not as if he could say: Richard’s claim was a trumped-up one, therefore mine is good. Whatever wretched small claim Henry Tudor might have was a Lancastrian one, and the heirs of York did not enter into the matter.
Then why should it have been of such paramount importance to Henry that the contents of Titulus Regius should be forgotten?
Why hide away Eleanor Butler, and bring in in her place a mistress whom no one ever suggested was married to the King?
This problem lasted Grant very happily till just before supper; when the porter came in with a note for him. ‘The front hall says that young American friend of yours left this for you,’ the porter said, handing him a folded sheet of paper.
‘Thank you,’ said Grant. What do you know about Richard the Third?’
‘Is there a prize?’
‘No, just the satisfaction of intellectual curiosity. What do you know about Richard III?’
‘He was the first multiple murderer.’
‘Multiple? I thought it was two nephews?’
‘No, oh, no. I don’t know much history but I do know that. Murdered his brother, and his cousin, and the poor old King in the Tower, and then finished off with his little nephews. A wholesale performer.’
Grant considered this.
‘If I told you that he never murdered anyone at all, what would you say?’
‘I’d say that you’re perfectly entitled to your opinion. Some people believe the earth is flat. Some people believe the world is going to end in A.D. 2000. Some people believe that it began less than five thousand years ago. You’ll hear far funnier things than that at Marble Arch of a Sunday.’
‘So you wouldn’t even entertain the idea for a monument?’
‘I find it entertaining all right, but not what you might call very plausible, shall we say. But don’t let me stand in your way. Try it out on a better bombing range. You take it to Marble Arch one Sunday, and I’ll bet you’ll find followers aplenty. Maybe start a movement.’
He made a gay sketchy half-salute with his hand and went away humming to himself; secure and impervious.
So help me, Grant thought, I’m not far off it. If I get any deeper into this thing I will be standing on a soapbox at Marble Arch.
He unfolded the message from Carradine, and read: ‘You said that you wanted to know whether the other heirs to the throne survived Richard. As well as the boys, I mean. I forgot to say: would you make out a list of them for me, so that I can look them up. I think it’s going to be important.’
Well, if the world in general went on its humming way, brisk and uncaring, at least he had young America on his side.
He put aside the sainted More, with its Sunday-paper accounts of hysterical scenes and wild accusations, and reached for the sober student’s account of history so that he might catalogue the possible rivals to Richard III in the English succession.
And as he put down More–Morton, he was reminded of something.
That hysterical scene during the Council in the Tower which was reported by More, that frantic outburst on Richard’s part against the sorcery that had withered his arm, had been against Jane Shore.
The contrast between the reported scene, pointless and repellent even to a disinterested reader, and the kind, tolerant, almost casual air of the letter that Richard had actually written about her, was staggering.
So help me, he thought again, if I had to choose between the man who wrote that account and the man who wrote that letter I’d take the man who wrote the letter, whatever either of them had done besides.
The thought of Morton made him postpone his listing of the York heirs until he had found out what eventually became of John Morton. It seemed that, having used his leisure as Buckingham’s guest to organise a joint Woodville–Lancastrian effort (in which Henry Tudor would bring ships and troops from France and Dorset and the rest of the Woodville tribe would meet him with what English malcontents they could induce to follow them) he escaped to his old hunting ground in the Ely district, and from there to the continent. And did not come back until he came in the wake of a Henry who had won both Bosworth and a crown; being himself on the way to Canterbury and a cardinal’s hat and immortality as Morton of ‘Morton’s Fork’. Almost the only thing that any schoolboy remembered about his master Henry VII.
For the rest of the evening Grant pottered happily through the history books, collecting heirs.
There was no lack of them. Edward’s five, George’s boy and girl. And if these were discounted, the first through illegitimacy and the second through attainder, there was another possible: his elder sister Elizabeth’s boy. Elizabeth was Duchess of Suffolk, and her son was John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln.
There was, too, in the family, a boy whose existence Grant had not suspected. It appeared that the delicate child at Middleham was not Richard’s only son. He had a love-child; a boy called John. John of Gloucester. A boy of no importance in rank, but acknowledged and living in the household. It was an age when a bend sinister was accepted without grief. Indeed the Conqueror had made it fashionable. And conquerors from then on had advertised its lack of disadvantage. By way of compensation, perhaps.
Grant made himself a little aide mémoire.
EDWARD Edward, Prince of Wales Richard, Duke of York Elizabeth Cicely Anne Katherine Bridget
ELIZABETH John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln
GEORGE Edward, Earl of Warwick Margaret, Countess of Salisbury
RICHARD John of Gloucester
He copied it out again for young Carradine’s use, wondering how it could ever have occurred to anyone, Richard most of all, that the elimination of Edward’s two boys would have kept him safe from rebellion. The place was what young Carradine would call just lousy with heirs. Swarming with focuses (or was it foci?) for disaffection.
It was brought home to him for the first time not only what a useless thing the murder of the boys would have been, but what a silly thing.
And if there was anything that Richard of Gloucester was not, beyond a shadow of a doubt, it was silly.
He looked up Oliphant to see what Oliphant had to say on this obvious crack in the story.
‘It is strange,’ said Oliphant, ‘that Richard does not seem to have published any version of their deaths.’
It was more than strange: it was incomprehensible.
If Richard had wanted to murder his brother’s sons then he most certainly would have done it expertly. They would have died of a fever, and their bodies would have been exposed to the public gaze as royal bodies habitually were, so that all men would know that they were in fact departed from this life.
No one can say that a man is incapable of murder — after long years on the Embankment Grant knew that only too well — but one can be sure to within one degree of the absolute when a man is incapable of silliness.
Oliphant had no doubts about the murder, nevertheless. Richard according to Oliphant was Richard the Monster. Perhaps when an historian was covering a field as large as the Middle Ages and the Renaissance he had no time to stop and analyse detail. Oliphant accepted the sainted More, even while he paused in flight to wonder at an oddity here and there. Not seeing that the oddities ate away at the very foundations of his theory.
Having Oliphant in his hand, he went on with Oliphant. On through the triumphal progress through England after the coronation. Oxford, Gloucester, Worcester, Warwick. No dissentient voice was recorded on that tour. Only a chorus of blessing and thanksgiving. A rejoicing that good government was to be the order of the day for a lifetime to come. That after all, Edward’s sudden death had not condemned them to years of faction and a new civil struggle over the person of his son.
And yet it was during this triumph, this unanimous acclamation, this universal hosanna, that (according to Oliphant, riding in the pocket of the sainted More) Richard sent Tyrrel back to London to make away with the boys who were doing lessons in the Tower. Between July 7th and 15th. At Warwick. In the very summer of his safety, in the heart of the York country on the borders of Wales, he planned the destruction of two discredited children.
It was a highly unlikely story.
He began to wonder whether historians were possessed of minds any more commonsensical than those Great Minds he had encountered, who had been so credulous.
He must find out without delay why, if Tyrrel did that job in July 1485, he wasn’t brought to book until twenty years afterwards. Where had he been in the meantime?
But Richard’s summer was like an April day. Full of a promise that came to nothing. In the autumn he had to face that Woodville–Lancastrian invasion which Morton had cooked up before leaving these shores himself. The Lancastrian part of the affair did Morton proud: they came with a fleet of French ships and a French army. But the Woodville side could provide nothing better than sporadic little gatherings in widely separated centres: Guildford, Salisbury, Maidstone, Newbury, Exeter, and Brecon. The English wanted no part of Henry Tudor, whom they did not know, nor any part of the Woodvilles, whom they knew only too well. Even the English weather would have none of them. And Dorset’s hopes of seeing his half-sister Elizabeth queen of England as Henry Tudor’s wife were washed away in Severn floods. Henry tried to land in the West, but found Devon and Cornwall up in indignant arms at the idea. He therefore sailed away to France again, to wait for a luckier day. And Dorset went to join the growing crowd of Woodville exiles hanging round the French court.
So Morton’s plan was washed away in autumn rain and English indifference, and Richard could be at peace for a little; but with the spring came a grief that nothing could wash away. The death of his son.
‘The King is said to have shown signs of desperate grief; he was not such an unnatural monster as to be destitute of the feelings of a father,’ said the historian.
Nor of a husband, it seemed. The same marks of suffering were reported of him less than a year later, when Anne died.
And after that there was nothing but the waiting for the renewal of the invasion that had failed; the keeping of England in a state of defence, and the anxiety that that drain on the Exchequer brought him.
He had done what good he could. He had given his name to a model Parliament. He had made peace at last with Scotland and arranged a marriage between his niece and James III’s son. He had tried very hard for a peace with France, but had failed. At the French court was Henry Tudor, and Henry Tudor was France’s white-headed boy. It would be only a matter of time before Henry landed in England, this time with better backing.
Grant suddenly remembered Lady Stanley, that ardent Lancastrian mother of Henry. What part had Lady Stanley had in that autumn invasion that had put paid to Richard’s summer?
He hunted through the solid print until he found it.
Lady Stanley had been found guilty of treasonable correspondence with her son.
But again Richard had proved too lenient for his own good, it seemed. Her estates were forfeit, but they were handed over to her husband. And so was Lady Stanley. For safe keeping. The bitter joke being that Stanley had almost certainly been as knowledgeable about the invasion as his wife.
Truly, the monster was not running according to form.
As Grant was falling asleep a voice said in his mind: ‘If the boys were murdered in July, and the Woodville–Lancastrian invasion took place in October, why didn’t they use the murder of the children as a rallying call?’
The invasion had, of course, been planned before there was any question of murder; it was a full-dress affair of fifteen ships and five thousand mercenaries and must have taken a long time to prepare. But by the time of the rising the rumours of Richard’s infamy must have been widespread if there were any rumours at all. Why had they not gone shouting his crime through England, so that the horror of it brought men flocking to their cause?
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01