The Rose of Raby proved to be fiction; but it was at least easier to hold than Tanner’s Constitutional History of England. It was, moreover, the almost-respectable form of historical fiction which is merely history-with-conversation, so to speak. An imaginative biography rather than an imagined story. Evelyn Payne–Ellis, whoever she might be, had provided portraits and a family tree, and had made no attempt, it seemed, to what he and his cousin Laura used to call in their childhood ‘write forsoothly’. There was no ‘by our Ladys’, no ‘nathelesses’ or ‘varlets’. It was an honest affair according to its lights.
And its lights were more illuminating than Mr Tanner.
Much more illuminating.
It was Grant’s belief that if you could not find out about a man, the next best way to arrive at an estimate of him was to find out about his mother.
So until Marta could provide him with the sainted and infallible Thomas More’s personal account of Richard, he would make do very happily with Cecily Nevill, Duchess of York.
He glanced at the family tree, and thought that if the two York brothers, Edward and Richard, were, as kings, unique in their experience of ordinary life they were no less unique in their Englishness. He looked at their breeding and marvelled. Nevill, Fitzalan, Percy, Holland, Mortimer, Clifford and Audley, as well as Plantagenet. Queen Elizabeth (who made it her boast) was all English; if one counted the Welsh streak as English. But among all the half-bred monarchs who had graced the throne between the Conquest and Farmer George — half-French, half-Spanish, half-Danish, half-Dutch, half-Portuguese — Edward IV and Richard III were remarkable in their home-bred quality.
They were also, he noted, as royally bred on their mother’s side as on their father’s. Cecily Nevill’s grandfather was John of Gaunt, the first of the Lancasters; third son of Edward III. Her husband’s two grandfathers were two other sons of Edward III. So three of Edwards III’s five sons had contributed to the making of the two York brothers.
‘To be a Nevill,’ said Miss Payne–Ellis ‘was to be of some importance since they were great landowners. To be a Nevill was almost certainly to be handsome, since they were a good-looking family. To be a Nevill was to have personality, since they excelled in displays of both character and temperament. To unite all three Nevill gifts, in their finest quality, in one person was the good fortune of Cicely Nevill, who was the sole Rose of the north long before that north was forced to choose between White Roses and Red.’
It was Miss Payne–Ellis’s contention that the marriage with Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, was a love match. Grant received this theory with a scepticism bordering on scorn until he noticed the results of that marriage. To have a yearly addition to the family was not, in the fifteenth century, evidence of anything but fertility. And the long family produced by Cicely Nevill to her charming husband augured nothing nearer love than cohabitation. But in a time when the wife’s rôle was to stay meekly at home and see to her still-room, Cecily Nevill’s constant travellings about in her husband’s company were surely remarkable enough to suggest an abnormal pleasure in that company. The extent and constancy of that travel was witnessed to by the birthplaces of her children. Anne, her first, was born at Fotheringhay, the family home in Northamptonshire. Henry, who died as a baby, at Hatfield. Edward at Rouen, where the Duke was on active service. Edmund and Elizabeth also at Rouen. Margaret at Fotheringhay. John, who died young, at Neath in Wales. George in Dublin (and could it be, wondered Grant, that that accounted for the almost Irish perverseness of the ineffable George?). Richard at Fotheringhay.
Cecily Nevill had not sat at home in Northamptonshire waiting for her lord and master to visit her when it seemed good to him. She had accompanied him about the world of their inhabiting. There was strong presumption in favour of Miss Payne–Ellis’s theory. At the very canniest reckoning it was patently a very successful marriage.
Which perhaps accounted for the family devotion of those daily visits of Edward to his small brothers in the Pastons’ lodgings. The York family, even before its tribulations, was a united one.
This was borne out unexpectedly when, spurting the pages from under his thumb, he came on a letter. It was a letter from the two elder boys, Edward and Edmund, to their father. The boys were at Ludlow Castle, undergoing their education, and on a Saturday in Easter week, taking advantage of a courier who was going back, they burst out in loud complaint of their tutor and his ‘odiousness’ and begged their father to listen to the tale of the courier, William Smyth, who was fully charged with the details of their oppression. This S.O.S. was introduced and ended in respectful padding, the formality of which was a little marred by their pointing out that it was nice of him to send the clothes but that he had forgotten their breviary.
The conscientious Miss Payne–Ellis had given the reference for this letter (one of the Cotton manuscripts, it appeared) and he thumbed more slowly, in search of more. Factual evidence was a policeman’s meat.
He could not find any, but he came on a family tableau which held him for a moment.
The Duchess moved out into the thin sharp sunlight of a London December morning, and stood on the steps to watch them go: her husband, her brother, and her son. Dirk and his nephews brought the horses into the courtyard, scattering the pigeons and the fussing sparrows from the cobbles. She watched her husband mount, equable and deliberate as always, and thought that for all the emotion he showed he might be riding down to Fotheringhay to look at some new rams instead of setting out on a campaign. Salisbury, her brother, was being Nevill and temperamental; a little conscious of the occasion and living up to it. She looked at them both and smiled in her mind at them. But it was Edmund who caught at her heart. Edmund at seventeen, very slender, very untried, very vulnerable. Flushed with pride and excitement at this setting-out to his first campaigning. She wanted to say to her husband: ‘Take care of Edmund,’ but she could not do that. Her husband would not understand; and Edmund, if he were to suspect, would be furious. If Edward, only a year older, was commanding an army of his own on the borders of Wales at this very minute, then he, Edmund, was more than old enough to see war at first-hand.
She glanced behind her at the three younger children who had come out in her wake; Margaret and George, the two solid fair ones, and behind them, a pace in the rear as always, her changeling baby, Richard; his dark brows and brown hair making him look like a visitor. Good-natured untidy Margaret watched with all the moist-eyed emotion of fourteen; George in a passionate envy and wild rebellion that he was only eleven and of no consequence to this martial moment. Thin little Richard showed no excitement at all, but his mother thought that he vibrated like a softly tapped drum.
The three horses moved out of the courtyard in a clatter of slipping hooves and jingling accoutrements, to join the servants waiting for them in the roadway, and the children called and danced and waved them out of the gate.
And Cicely, who in her time had seen so many men, and so many of her family, go off to went back to the house with an unaccustomed weight at her bosom. Which of them, said the voice in her unwilling mind, which of them was it who was not coming back?
Her imagination did not compass anything so horrible as the fact that none of them was coming back again. That she would never see any one of them again.
That before the year was ended her husband’s severed head, crowned for insult with a paper crown, would be nailed above the Micklegate Bar in York, and the heads of her brother and her son on the two other gates.
Well, that might be fiction, but it was an illuminating glimpse of Richard. The dark one in a blond family. The one who ‘looked like a visitor’. The ‘changeling’.
He abandoned Cicely Nevill for the moment, and went hunting through the book for her son Richard. But Miss Payne–Ellis seemed not to be greatly interested in Richard. He was merely the tail-end of the family. The magnificent young creature who flourished at the other end was more to her taste. Edward was much to the fore. With his Nevill cousin Warwick, Salisbury’s son, he won the battle of Towton, and, with the memory of Lancastrian ferocity still fresh and his father’s head still nailed to the Micklegate Bar, gave evidence of that tolerance that was to be characteristic of him. There was quarter at Towton for all who asked. He was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey (and two small boys, home from exile in Utrecht, were created respectively Duke of Clarence and Duke of Gloucester). And he buried his father and his brother Edmund with great magnificence in the church at Fotheringhay (though it was Richard, aged thirteen, who convoyed that sad procession from Yorkshire, through the bright glory of five July days, to Northamptonshire; nearly six years after he had stood on the steps of Baynard’s Castle in London to watch them ride away).
It was not until Edward had been King for some time that Miss Payne–Ellis allowed Richard to come back into the story. He was then being educated with his Nevill cousins at Middleham, in Yorkshire.
As Richard rode into the shadow of the keep, out of the broad sunlight and flying winds of Wensleydale, it seemed to him that there was an atmosphere of strangeness about the place. The guards were talking in loud excitement in the gatehouse and seemed abashed at his presence. From their sudden silence he rode on into a silent court that should have been bustling with activity at this hour of the day. It would soon be supper time, and both habit and hunger brought all the inhabitants of Middleham home from their various occupations, as they were bringing him back from his hawking, for the evening meal. This hush, this desertion, was unusual. He walked his horse to the stables, but there was no one there to give it to. As he unsaddled he noticed a hard-ridden bay in the next stall; a horse that did not belong to Middleham; a horse so tired that he had not eaten up and his head hung in a despondent beaten way between his knees.
Richard wiped his horse down and rugged him, brought him some hay and fresh water, and left him; wondering about that beaten horse and the uncanny silence. As he paused in the doorway he could hear voices in the distance of the great hall; and debated whether he should go there and investigate before going upstairs to his own quarters. As he hesitated a voice from the stairs above him said: ‘Z-z-zt!’
He looked up to see his cousin Anne’s head peering over the banisters, her two long fair plaits hanging down like bell-ropes.
‘Richard!’ she said, half whispering. ‘Have you heard?’
‘Is something wrong?’ he asked. ‘What is it?’
As he moved up to her she grabbed his hand and dragged him upwards towards their schoolroom in the roof.
‘But what is it?’ he asked, leaning back in protest against her urgency. ‘What has happened? Is it something so awful that you can’t tell me here!’
She swept him into the schoolroom and shut the door.
‘Edward? Is he ill?’
‘Oh,’ said Richard, relieved. Scandal and Edward were never far apart. ‘What is it? Has he a new mistress?’
‘Much worse than that! Oh, much, much worse. He’s married.’
‘Married?’ said Richard, so unbelieving that he sounded calm. ‘He can’t be.’
‘But he is. The news came from London an hour ago.’
‘He can’t be married,’ Richard insisted. ‘For a King marriage is a long affair. A matter of contracts, and agreements. A matter for Parliament, even, I think. What made you think he had got married?’
‘I don’t think,’ Anne said, out of patience at this sober reception of her broadside. ‘The whole family is raging together in the Great Hall over the affair.’
‘Anne! have you been listening at the door?’
‘Oh, don’t be so righteous. I didn’t have to listen very hard, anyhow. You could hear them on the other side of the river. He has married Lady Grey!’
‘Who is Lady Grey? Lady Grey of Groby?’
‘But he can’t. She has two children and she is quite old.’
‘She is five years older than Edward, and she is wonderfully beautiful so I overhear.’
‘When did this happen?’
‘They’ve been married for five months. They got married in secret down in Northamptonshire.’
‘But I thought he was going to marry the King of France’s sister.’
‘So,’ said Anne in a tone full of meaning ‘did my father.’
‘Yes; yes, it makes things very awkward for him, doesn’t it; after all the negotiating.’
‘According to the messenger from London he is throwing fits. It isn’t only the making him look a fool. It seems she has cohorts of relations and he hates every one of them.’
‘Edward must be possessed.’ In Richard’s hero-worshipping eyes everything Edward did had always been right. This folly, this undeniable, this inexcusable folly, could come only from possession.
‘It will break my mother’s heart,’ he said. He thought of his mother’s courage when his father and Edmund had been killed, and the Lancastrian army was almost at the gates of London. She had not wept nor wrapped herself in protective veils of self-pity. She had arranged that he and George should go to Utrecht, as if she were arranging for them to go away to school. They might never see each other again, but she had busied herself about warm clothes for their winter voyage across the Channel with a calm and dry-eyed practicality.
How would she bear this; this further blow? This destructive folly. This shattering foolishness.
‘Yes,’ said Anne, softening. ‘Poor Aunt Cecily. It is monstrous of Edward to hurt everyone so. Monstrous.’
But Edward was still the infallible. If Edward had done wrong it was because he was ill, or possessed, or bewitched. Edward still had Richard’s allegiance; his heart-whole and worshipping allegiance.
Nor in after years was that allegiance — an adult allegiance of recognition and acceptance — ever less than heart-whole.
And then the story went on to Cicely Nevill’s tribulation, and her efforts to bring some kind of order into the relations between her son Edward, half-pleased half-ashamed, and her nephew Warwick, wholly furious. There was also a long description of that indestructibly virtuous beauty with the famous ‘gilt’ hair, who had succeeded where more complaisant beauties had failed; and of her enthroning at Reading Abbey (led to the throne by a silently protesting Warwick, who could not but note the large array of Woodvilles, come to see their sister Elizabeth acknowledged Queen of England).
The next time Richard turned up in the tale he was setting out from Lynn without a penny in his pocket, in a Dutch vessel that happened to be in the harbour when it was needed. Along with him was his brother Edward, Edward’s friend Lord Hastings, and a few followers. None of them had anything except what they stood up in, and after some argument the ship’s captain agreed to accept Edward’s fur-lined cape as fare.
Warwick had finally decided that the Woodville clan was more than he could stomach. He had helped to put his cousin Edward on the throne of England; he could just as easily unseat him. For the achievement of this he had the help of the whole Nevill brood; and, incredibly, the active assistance of the ineffable George. Who had decided that falling heir to half the lands of Montague, Nevill, and Beauchamp, by marrying Warwick’s other daughter Isabel, was a better bet than being loyal to his brother Edward. In eleven days Warwick was master of a surprised England, and Edward and Richard were squelching through the October mud between Alkmaar and The Hague.
From then on, Richard was always in the background of the story. Through that dreary winter in Bruges. Staying with Margaret in Burgundy for that kind moist-eyed Margaret who had stood on the steps of Baynard’s Castle with himself and George to watch their father ride away was now the very new Duchess of Burgundy. Margaret, kind Margaret, was saddened and dismayed as many people in future were to be saddened and dismayed — by George’s inexplicable conduct, and set herself to missionary work while she got together funds for her two more admirable brothers.
Not even Miss Payne–Ellis’s interest in the magnificent Edward allowed her to conceal that the real work of outfitting the ships hired with Margaret’s money was done by Richard; a Richard not yet eighteen. And when Edward with an absurd handful of followers found himself once more camped in an English meadow, facing George with an army, it was Richard who went over to George’s camp and talked the Margaret-weakened George into alliance again and so left the road to London open to them.
Not, Grant thought, that this last was any great achievement. George could obviously be talked into anything. He was a born missionee.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01