An excellent biography on one of the middle ages greatest kings, Edward III of England. What makes this biography different from others is that it offers a new perspective on Edward without the need of being condescending to other historians and biographers.
Ormrod acknowledges that many of Edward’s policies were innovative, and praises his maverick nature but he points out that much of the former were nothing new. He simply built on what his predecessors had done, altering some of their statues and regulations to ensure a more stable government.
The Edward that emerges from Ormrod’s biography is ambitious, scheming (plotting with the pope and other councilors to get rid of Mortimer) but also pragmatic and a great military commander who had a great team of administrators and above all, a man not afraid to compromise when the occasion called for it. Ormrod also puts his flaws, while a careful administrator and able leader, his taxation crippled many and there were times when he was forced to submit to Parliament’s rule and the commons’ representatives. This is not a sign of weakness, as Edward was a great negotiator and nothing he did came without a price.
The last years of his reign however after his wife and eldest son died, became decadent and this is seen through the demands of the Good Parliament that Ormrod goes over in various sections. I like the narrative, and that he went step by step explaining how each group was relevant in medieval society and how much it influenced or was affected by Edward’s policies. I only wish it had more details, it seemed as if each part was a short summary and he kept repeating himself at times. Nonetheless, it was still a good book.
The Plantagenet dynasty will never cease to fascinate us. With the recent explosion of novels and TV shows, people have become more interested in them.
In spite of this, historians are careful not to treat their subjects as modern day celebrities. Many insist in treating them as we would any other historical subject, by being as objective as we can be. However, bias will always exist and as much as I enjoyed this biography, I found that the author perpetuates a lot of the old Victorian myths and stereotypes about these kings and queens.
Desmond Seward subscribes to the view that the celebrated heroes of this dynasty who continued to be revered as national icons, only became famous because of their success in battle and being surrounded by good councilors.
He is quick to tear down through the myths of the most famous of them all, Henry V, by pointing out that he was a far cry from the noble and reluctant hero of Shakespeare’s play of the same name when he invaded France. For this, I was grateful. I partly agree with him. When Henry V invaded France, he ordered his men to leave civilians alone but his soldiers being desperate, and to avoid them turning against him, he turned a blind eye to their crimes. When one town refused to open its doors to him, he charged against his inhabitants. The survivors fled to a fortress where it ended up capitulating to Henry V who had little qualms about the fate of the townspeople.
This is cruel behavior but it is the type of behavior you’d expect from a fifteenth century monarch. Classifying him as a murderer, zealot, power-hungry, and amoral while turning a blind eye to similar atrocities other monarchs engaged in, makes little sense
I also noticed that when it comes to searching for evidence to support his views, he engages in confirmation bias by heavily relying on secondary sources. While I can see the value in these, to place them in higher regard than primary sources is problematic. This is largely in part because they come from a later period where the social and religious background had changed, making this person(s) views quite different from someone living in that era.
Do not get me wrong. This is not a bad book. Not at all! But it is not great either. History buffs looking for a good book on the Plantagenets might be disappointed in this one. It is entertaining and accessible for newcomers; something you could consider giving to your students if you are an educator or to a friend if you want to introduce him or her to this era.
On the 7th of December 1484, Richard III issued a thunderous proclamation against Henry Tudor (then) Earl of Richmond. Richard had sworn to protect his nieces and welcomed the eldest two (the once Princesses, now Ladies) Elizabeth and Cecily of York to court. Henry Tudor had been a nuisance to Richard ever since the Christmas of ’83 when he pledged to take the crown and marry Elizabeth of York, thus uniting both Houses. But for the first time during his reign, after the death of his son, Prince Edward of Wales, Henry had become a serious threat.
Those who criticize Elizabeth Woodville and her eldest daughters for accepting Richard III’s offer of peace, ignore the fact that when he did this, his son was still alive and as far as everyone knew, his reign could go on for many years. The death of his son changed all of this. With no heir and a sickly wife, the threat of Henry Tudor became greater. He had with him not only staunch Lancastrians but Edwardian Yorkists as well supporting his claim.
The proclamation not only attacked Henry but his allies, including Peter Courtenay (Bishop of Exeter), Jasper Tudor (Henry’s uncle), the notable Lancastrian loyalist John, Earl of Oxford (who was one of the greatest strategists of the age and ally Henry could count on), Thomas Grey (Marquis of Dorset), Sir Edward Woodville, and others as well, stating that “rebels and traitors disabled and attainted by authority of the high Court of parliament” also being accused of being “open murderers, adulterers, and extortioners contrary to truth, honour and nature” in addition to abusing “and blind the commons of this said realm of the said rebels and traitors have chosen to be their Captain one Henry late calling himself Earl of Richmond which of his ambitious and insatiable covetousness stirred and excited by the confederacy of the King’s said rebels and traitors encroacheth upon him the name and title of the Royal estate of this Realm of England. Whereunto he hath no manner, interest, righ or colour as every man well knoweth. And to the intent to achieve the same by the aid, support and assistance of the king’s said ancient enemies and of this his Council of France to give up and release in perpetuity all the title and claim that Kings of England have had and ought to have to the Crown and Realm of France.”
This last part is extremely serious because not only was Richard calling Henry ever nasty name in the book, but he was also accusing him of making a secret deal with the French of giving up England’s claim to the “the crown and realm of France” in order to have that country’s support.
The solution to Henry’s “insatiable covetousness” was supporting Richard who as “our sovereign lord” was a “well-willed, diligent, and courageous prince” who would put “his most royal person to all labour and pain necessary for the resistance and subduing of his enemies.”
Richard and Henry’s armies would meet the following year, not long after his wife’s death in that same year. The end result would be Richard dying battle and Henry becoming King of England, fulfilling his promise of marrying Elizabeth of York whose parents’ marriage was once again validated.
This is why history will always be a major triumph over every fantasy and sci-fi it inspires. It is way more violent and filled with more surprises than fiction can ever come up with. It shows us that the impossible can often become possible, and that as Varys told Tyrion in “Game of Thrones” a small man can cast a “very large shadow”. In the show’s seventh season, Cersei took on the role of Richard III when she issued a thunderous proclamation of her own against Daenerys Targaryen. Like Henry, she was exiled across the narrow sea and come to reclaim the Iron throne, but unlike the Welsh dragon, it is unknown whether she will ever achieve her goal given that the show and the books are amalgams of different eras. Nevertheless, it shows how the past continues to be relevant and serve as a major inspiration.
But whereas Cersei was posh and delicate before the lords, Richard III did not mince his words. As it was pointed out, he didn’t pull back any punches and continued to attack Henry’s character, reminding everyone that the last time someone had a Lancastrian king, England had lost all of its prized possessions in France, and that aside of that, Henry descended from a lowly branch of that house that albeit being legitimized, in the eyes of many, it was seen as a bastard branch of the Plantagenet dynasty.
Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
Penn, Thomas. Winter King and the Dawn of Tudor England. Simon & Schuster. 2012.
Skidmore, Chris. The Rise of the Tudors: The Family that Changed English History. Martin’s Press. 2014.
de Lisle, Leanda. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
Porter, Linda. Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots. Martin’s Press. 2014.
On Christmas day, 1483, Henry VII solemnly swore that he would marry Elizabeth of York at Vannes Cathedral, among many of his fellow exiles in Brittany. Other sources say it was Rennes. According to Polydore Vergil (who placed it at Rennes), the event went as follows:
“The day of Christ’s nativity was come upon, which, meeting all in the church, they ratified all in the church, they ratified all other things by plighting of their troths and solemn covenants and first of all Earl Henry upon his Oath promised, that so soon as he should be King he would marry Elizabeth, King Edward’s daughter; then after they swore unto him homage as though he had already been created King, protesting that they would lose not only their lands and possessions, but their lives, before they would suffer, bear, or permit, that Richard should rule over them an heirs.”
Henry knew that time was running out. Earlier that year, his mother had sent a messenger telling him about the state of affairs in England and Buckingham had written to him, telling him he would switch sides, plan an insurrection so Henry could become King. The full details of what motivated Buckingham to switch sides is still unclear and isn’t likely to be solved anytime soon. But failure to destabilize Richard III’s reign, was a massive halt to Henry Tudor’s plans. After the Duke’s execution in October, Henry was ready to set sail with a great fleet that was funded by his ally and jailor, the Duke of Brittany, but they were quickly blown away by “a cruel gale of wind” which drove them back to Brittany. Which was the more reason why he made this pledge in front of all his fellow exiles, among them staunch Lancastrians and Edwardian Yorkists. With this vow he secured the latter’s support. And they paid homage to him as if he were already king, and declared him so less than a month later in November 3 at Bodmin.
“…in addition to the Duchess of Brittany herself. The premier minister, Pierre Landais, was also present and through him Henry obtained Duke Francois’ solemn promise to support and assist in the cause. Henry had entered into a pledge which he could not turn back from. If his invasion of England was successful, he would marry Elizabeth of York. It was in effect a marriage by proxy.” (Breverton)
When Richard III heard of this, he acted quickly. Parliament passed a bill entitled “Titulus Regius” on January the 23rd which officially declared the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville null and void under the assumption that he had been betrothed to one Eleanor Butler months before. Not surprisingly, nobody in his regime could dispute that given that both of the three people in question were dead. Henry Tudor, acted quickly as well, obtaining a papal dispensation on March the 27th and moving out of Brittany that summer after one of his spies at Richard’s court told him that the King was hot on his trail.
Four months after his triumph at Bosworth Parliament would remind him of his pledge, and he would swear one more time that he would honor that pledge and marry the Princess Elizabeth.
The couple were married a month later in January of 1486, after the papal dispensation was signed, sealed and delivered, making their union official. And just as he promised, their union would come to represent the union of two houses, Lancaster and York, symbolized in the new device Henry had created to embody this: the Tudor Rose.
Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
On the 25th of November 1487, over a year after her marriage to Henry VII, Elizabeth of York was crowned Queen of England at Westminster Abbey. Her ceremony superseded that of her husband’s. It began two days before on Friday, the twenty third when she and a select number of ladies and courtiers traveled by barge to the Tower of London. Elizabeth received a great reception and was greeted by almost every Londoner who had come out to see their beloved princess. Her father was greatly remembered after his many victories and regaining the throne, following the Lancastrian Readeption; not to mention that the Commons also remembered her mother’s passive response during that time. She hadn’t asked them to rise up in arms, or disobey their new overlords. Instead, she sought sanctuary at the Abbey and lived off the charity of the Abbot and others nearby.
Furthermore, Elizabeth was widely loved in the North as the eldest Princess of York. And her marriage to Henry symbolized the union of the two warring branches of the Plantagenet House from which they both descended: Lancaster & York. It was important that Henry gave his wife a ceremony to be remembered in years to come. Image was everything and the Tudor Dynasty was new, and it needed this kind of splendor and rhetoric to convince the people of its legitimacy in order to survive.
One of the many symbols that would have graced the palaces and the Tower would be the Tudor rose, a white rose in the middle of the red. The white symbolized the House of York. The red stood for Lancaster. Roses were very popular symbols during the middle ages. They symbolized the Virgin Mary, in the case of the red rose as Leanda de Lisle explains:
“The simple five-petal design of the heraldic rose was inspired by the wild dog rose that grows in English hedgerows. As a symbol it had a long association with the Virgin Mary, who is sometimes called the ‘Mystical Rose of Heaven.’ But although the King’s grandfather, Henry IV, had once used red roses to decorate his pavilion at a joust, their use as a Lancastrian royal badge was not widespread before the advent of the Tudors.”
Or (in the case of the white rose) the five wounds inflicted on Jesus Christ when he was nailed to the cross. After Edward IV’s victories, the white rose became one of his personal symbols. It was soon associated with his House, and although there is record of some using the red rose as a form of opposition to the Yorkist House, it was not the official symbol of said house. Nonetheless, it became popular that Henry took it as a symbol for Lancaster and because it was also easy and very iconic, used it to create this new symbol for his dynasty. One which would also give the people a new narrative in which the war was over thanks to him, who had come to save the day and whose marriage had stopped the bloodshed.
Besides this, according to John Leland’s “Collectanea” (which is based on old notes he’d taken from monks’ books that included important events such as coronations), “the mayor, sheriffs, aldermen and many out of every craft attended [the Queen] in a flotilla of boats freshly furnished with banners and streamers of silk richly beseen with the arms and badges of their crafts” and rowed by liveried oarsmen. Alongside Elizabeth’s barges were others “garnished and appareled, surpassing all others”, containing the model of the “great red dragon” –which was none other than Cadwaladr, the same red dragon that he took as his personal standard during the Battle of Bosworth and that was no part of the royal arms- that “spouted flames of fire into the Thames.” Everything else from “music of trumpets, clarions, and other minstrelsy” formed part of the entertainment that accompanied the Queen on her road to the Tower of London which had housed so many of her predecessors, and was the traditional destination before their coronation.
The following day, on the twenty-fourth, she made her state entry into London. Dressed splendidly, wearing a kirtle “of white cloth of gold of damask, and a mantle of the same suit furred with ermine, fastened before her breast with a great lacel curiously wrought of gold and slik and rich knots of gold at the end, tasseled.” Her hair was set loose with only a “caul of pipes over it.” This, biographer and novelist Alison Weir explains, consisted of a coif “cross-barred with a network gold cords, a fashion popular in France and Italy.”
Emerging from the Tower, with her sister [Cecily] carrying her train, she climbed into a litter richly hung with white cloth of gold damask. Eight horses pulled the litter and new Knights of the Bath carried a large canopy above her. As before, Elizabeth toured the city of London, only this time on land. Crowds showed the same enthusiasm as seeing their queen-to-be and beloved Princess, as the day before. And that joy would be doubled the day after when she was finally crowned.
The day was no mere coincidence as it fell on St. Catherine’s day who as Elizabeth had been a King’s daughter, and was widely revered for her intellectualism and her piety. It is known that Elizabeth was educated as expected of a lady of her station, with a love for chivalry and a strong piety which no doubt was instilled by her mother and her paternal grandmother, the Duchess of York –Cecily Neville aka “Queen by Rights”. According to Tudor chronicler, Edward Hall –writing in the sixteenth century- Henry did this as proof of his “perfect love and sincere affection” for his consort.
“Elizabeth went to her coronation on sumptuously attired in a kirtle, gown, and mantle of purple velvet,furred with ermine bands, and the same circlet of gold garnished with pearls and precious stones that she had worn the day before. This circlet was probably a gift from Henry; from the late fourteenth century at least, it had been customary for the crown worn by a queen in her coronation procession to be given to her by the King.” (Weir)
With her sister carrying her train once more, Elizabeth traveled to the Abbey dressed in a mantle of purple velvet, furred with ermine brands. And as was customary for queens on their coronation, her hair was loose with only a circlet of gold with pearls and other precious stones on it. Above her was a canopy that followed her all the way to the church. With her, were also her aunts the Duchesses of Bedford and Suffolk, and her cousin Margaret Pole. Notably missing was her mother, the Queen Dowager. Some historians take this as evidence that Henry suspected her involvement in the Lambert Simnel rebellion, others –like biographer and novelist, Susan Higginbotham- take a middle approach and point out her eldest son’s (the Marquis of Dorset, Thomas Grey) arrest which “soured her relations with the King.”
Elizabeth was anointed twice on the breast and head, then had the ring placed on her fourth finger, followed by a golden crown on her head, a scepter and rod of gold on each hand. Following this event, she and her party traveled to Westminster Hall where a great banquet awaited her.
“An observing herald recorded the arrangements and menu of the occasion. First, onlookers were cleared away by horseback riders, to make way for the guests: lords, bishops and abbots; barons, knights and nobles, beside London’s mayor, aldermen, merchants and distinguished citizens, were seated either side of the dais on which Elizabeth would be served, flanked by the Archbishop of Canterbury, her aunt the Duchess of Bedford and paternal grandmother Cecily Neville. Another two noblewomen sat under the table at her feet the whole time to assist her discreetly.” (Licence)
Following tradition, like her father during her mother’s coronation, her husband was not visibly present for hers. He and his mother, the Countess of Richmond, watched the event from a private spot.
As for the courses: Dishes such as hart, pheasant, capons, lamprey, crane, pike, carp, perch and custard were served *“followed by an elaborate ‘subtlety’, decorative dish that was as much a feast for the eyes as it was for the mouth.” Furthermore, the seating arrangements were as followed: Her maternal grandmother, Katherine Woodville, the Dowager Duchess of Buckingham and Bedford was seated at her left hand with her uncle’s widow, the Countess Dowager of Rivers and the Countess of Oxford kneeling at either side of her. The new Queen of England would have also been entertained by music and ballads made for this occasion.
Elizabeth of York remains an elusive character. Some historians and novelists have taken her actions during the Ricardian regime out of context to convey a sinister and manipulative aspect that is neglected by their predecessors; but by doing this they are doing the same mistake. You can’t judge Elizabeth of York by modern standards. She was a woman of her times, and one who was born a Princess. She believed it wasn’t only her right, but her divine right to marry someone of her same station or above her. In case of the latter, this depended largely on what would benefit her family. During her uncle Richard III’s reign, after he vowed that he wouldn’t harm her, her mother and her sisters, she and Cecily were invited to court where they attended Anne Neville. Some have taken her actions during that Christmas, when she and her aunt wore similar clothing as proof of her scheming –so like her mother- to snatch Richard from Anne so she could be Queen and her family would be back in favor. But this narrative follows the same myths regarding her mother and the rest of her maternal family –the Woodvilles- that they were power-grasping and didn’t think things through. Elizabeth’s actions as that of her maternal family might seem so to us at first, but in an era of uncertainty, it was very common for people, especially the high-born, to change allegiances. Elizabeth and her mother had already risked too much, and who knew how long Richard would last in power? There was no guarantee that Henry Tudor (then) Earl of Richmond would come back to defeat Richard. The odds were not in his favor; Elizabeth and her family had to do what was best for them. There is no evidence however that Elizabeth lusted after her uncle or vice-verse. Richard III was already planning a dual marriage for the both of them to Portuguese royals so whatever you might have seen on TV or read in fiction, take that out of your minds.
Elizabeth’s marriage to Henry had the advantage that the two had come to know during that five month interim, from late August to January.
Elizabeth of York’s affected Henry. After he died in 1509, he was buried alongside her. Elizabeth of York remained a model for perfect queenship, a model which her son would judge all of his queens.
Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family by Susan Higginbotham*
Tudor: Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
On the 18th of August Henry’s army did a detour, heading south east instead. Richard III feared he would be heading through London so he quickened his army’s pace. Leaving Nottingham for Leicester on August 19, he reached Leicester on the twentieth. Richard III’s forces now surpassed 60,000 (according to the French Chronicler Molinet). Richard III had issued proclamations threatening every man of property on pain of death and loss of his lands if they did not march with him, he also issued proclamations ordering every town to close their doors to their invader, Henry Tudor’s forces.
“Leicester had been important since Roman times, with the Normans building a castle, around which it developed into a medieval market town with an abbey and three friaries, as well as a number of active guilds. The city had Lancastrian connections earlier in the century; Henry IV had passed through it on his way to claim the throne … In Richard’s short reign, he had already paid two visits there, staying in the castle, from where he had mustered loyal troops to defeat Buckingham in 1483. Vergil relates that on that August day, he marched into the city at dusk, as the sun was setting over the town’s spires and rooftops.” (Licence)
This did not deter Henry however. He kept on marching and so did Richard. Spending the night at the Blue Boar Inn, bringing his own bed with him, he resumed his journey the following day. Richard III’s last night on this earth was uneasy. According to Shakespeare’s play he saw the ghosts of those he had killed. There is no evidence that he poisoned his wife or that he was the mustache twirling villain in his play and many other versions that came during the Tudors’ regimes. But given that he knew that the battle was only days away, he must have felt some dread. Though he was the more experienced fighter, Richard III was a soldier first and foremost. He knew that nothing was certain when it came to battle. It could swing both ways. One sixteenth century chronicler said that there was a tale about somebody from Henry Tudor’s camp pinning a jest on Norfolk’s tent mocking him and Richard, and warning of their impending doom. “Jack of Norfolk be not to bold, for Dickon they master is bought and sold.” Polydore Vergil (another sixteenth century chronicler) said that Richard also slept badly and that the following morning, hours before the battle, he complained of “a multitude of demons” making his face “even more pale and deathly.” The Crowland Chronicle reported that his ill dreams made him rise up early and search for his chaplains for an early Mass.
It is hard to make assumptions on this subject when most sources are from much later, however given that Richard III was a very pious man who had previously expressed interest in going on a crusade and had forced his brother’s mistress Jane Shore to do harsh penance –by walking on the streets barefoot wearing only a chemise and carrying a lamp- it is very possible that he spent his last night praying to God for victory. A Spanish mercenary commander named Salazar returned to his native country after the battle was over to report what the last words spoken to him by the King to the Catholic Kings (Ferdinand and Isabella). When he warned Richard that his men would betray him, Richard told him: “God forbid that I yield one step. This day I will die as a king or win.”
With his men assembled near Fenn Lane, between the villages of Dadlington, Sutton Cheney and Shenton, Richard III prepared to meet his enemy. Henry, Vergil also says, was “somewhat appalled” and worried that Stanley would not make true on his promise, but appearing as stoic as the Plantagenet King, he marched on. The fight would be over in two hours. As Richard III had predicted, he would die a King or win. And Henry would gamble everything as well. But in the end, it would be Henry who would be left standing, taking Richard’s crown and becoming the founder of a new Dynasty that would eclipse the once powerful Plantagenets.