‘Loyalty binds me’.
The History of the Life and Reigne of
Richard The Third.
Composed in five Bookes By Geo:Buck Esquire
This frontispiece portrait of King Richard III (1452-1485) is a copy of the famous portrait of Richard III in the Royal Collection. It is perhaps ironic that this book, the first textual defence of the reign of Richard III, states that it is the ‘true portraiture’ of Richard III, for the painting on which it was based was by no means a contemporary portrait. The Royal Collection painting had, in fact, been painted early in the reign of Henry VIII (1491–1547, and was subsequently altered to emphasise a hunchback (in line with Tudor propaganda of the period). It is this image, with its many copies, which has become the accepted image of the last of the Plantagenets – in spite of the presence of earlier depictions, such as the portrait of Richard III in the Society of Antiquaries. The motto underneath this portrait ‘Royaulte me Lie’ is a corruption of Richard III’s well-known motto ‘Loyaulte me Lie’: Loyalty binds me.
Loyalty is something that the author, Sir George Buck (c. 1560-1622), emphasises as his rationale for writing his work: the well-known loyalty of Richard III to his brother King Edward IV (1442–1483), and the loyalty of the Buck family to the Yorkist cause. Loyalty too might also be implied in the dedication of the book in its manuscript form to Thomas Howard (1585–1646), fourteenth Earl of Arundel, a direct descendant of John Howard (d. 1485), the first Duke of Norfolk, who had fought and died for Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Buck’s great-grandfather, John Buck, had, likewise, fought and died for Richard III at Bosworth and the family only survived the inevitable attainder through the patronage of the Howard family.
By 1619, the time of writing of the earliest manuscript version of the text, the Bucks had climbed back up the social ladder. Buck himself had been educated at Cambridge and subsequently went on to the Inns of Court. He served with Lord Admiral Charles Howard (1536–1624), and was recommended by him to Queen Elizabeth I. In 1588 he was appointed esquire of the body and on James I’s accession he became a gentleman of the privy chamber and was knighted. As master of the revels (appointed in 1603), he was responsible for censoring plays and arranging court entertainments, including a number of plays by Shakespeare such as ‘The Tempest’, ‘The Winter’s Tale’, ‘Twelfth Night’ and the ‘Second Part of Henry IV’. He was not involved in the staging of Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’, which had popularised Sir Thomas More’s account of the reign of Richard III.
Buck may well have been a member of the Society of Antiquaries since he was closely connected (and highly thought of) by eminent contemporary historians such as William Camden (1551–1623). Much of Buck’s work prior to his History of the Life and Reigne of Richard III had concentrated on Latin poetry, such as his Daphnis Polystephanos (1605), and genealogy, but he also incorporated some social criticism of contemporary universities in his Third Universitie of England (1612). It was, however, his revisionist history of Richard III that made him famous.
The earliest manuscript of Buck’s History of the Life and Reigne is dated 1619 and is now in the British Library as part of the Cottonian collection: MS Tiberius E.X. The timing of its composition, during the reign of James I, is not surprising given that its central message undermined the Tudor propaganda campaign against Richard III. Under the Stuarts it was easier (and safer!) to reassess both the reign of Richard III and his opponent, Henry VII (1457–1509). Just as Buck investigated the reign of Richard Plantagenet, so did Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626), present an acerbic reassessment of that of Henry VII (a work which is also in the Worth Library). But where the printing history of Bacon’s life of Henry VII was relatively straightforward, the journey of Sir George Buck’s manuscript into print proved a tortuous one. As Arthur Kincaid (1979), has demonstrated in a definitive work on the redaction of the text, the printed version bore little relation to the original work as conceived by Sir George Buck. Much of the confusion was the result of the actions of his grand-nephew (the George Buck Esquire of the title page), who ‘edited’ the work to such an extent that less than half of it remained. Buck junior’s reasons for this were plain – he was trying to pass off the magnum opus of his grand-uncle as his own work. He had attempted the same thing with some of Sir George Buck’s other publications, with little success since they had been already published, but with the Life and Reigne he struck gold. Carefully waiting until the primary dedicatee, Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel had died, Buck junior re-positioned the work and dedicated it to Philip Herbert, the fourth Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery (1584-1650) in a bid to secure patronage. Unfortunately, it is the printed version with which most historians have engaged – a version which does not do justice to the scholarship of Sir George Buck.
The printed version follows the arrangement of the manuscript in the main: five books in all which were roughly divided as follows. Books I and II examine Richard III’s life and lineage; Book III concentrates on the charges made against him and attempts to refute them; Book IV examines his title to the throne and, finally, the fifth book concludes with a rendition of his achievements. Given Buck’s legal training, there is a strong emphasis on the legality of his claim to the throne (i.e. the arguments set out in Titulus Regius, which had been ratified by parliament and which established the illegitimacy of the children of Edward IV and Richard III’s subsequent legal right to succeed him). The arrangement of the printed version (and the manuscript it must be said), is somewhat haphazard, utilising what might be called a scattergun approach to historical debate. Undoubtedly this approach was adopted because Buck was trying to refute the Tudor version which in itself had applied the same strategy to Richard III, accusing him of a range of crimes, including the murders of Edward, Prince of Wales (the son of Henry VI); of Henry VI; of William Hastings, first Baron Hastings; of the sons of Edward IV (Edward V and Richard, Duke of York) and of Richard’s own wife, Queen Anne Neville.
Most of these charges (which had been outlined in Sir Thomas More’s account of Richard III’s reign) Buck easily dealt with as they were demonstrably false. Indeed the only murder he could not deny was the execution of William Hastings without trial on the charge of treason, following a council meeting on 13 June 1483. The set piece of More’s account was however, the murder of the Princes in the Tower, the twelve year old Edward V and his ten year old brother, Richard, Duke of York, the sons of Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth Woodville (c.1437–1492). It was to this charge that Buck applied most of his effort.
The disappearance of the princes in the Tower has puzzled historians ever since they disappeared from public view circa September 1483. To date, no one actually knows what happened to them. The official Tudor account was that the princes had been killed in the late Summer of 1483 on the orders of their uncle, Richard III, who had usurped the throne. This account, immortalised by Sir Thomas More (1478–1535), and popularised by Shakespeare’s play, was ultimately based on a ‘confession’ by Sir James Tyrell, who was executed in 1502 (though not, strangely enough, for that crime).
Buck’s successors in defending Richard III from this charge have concentrated on demolishing More’s account. They point to the fact that Tyrrell was not charged with their deaths; that no charges were made against the conspirators named in Tyrell’s confession; that the confession (surely a crucial document for the Tudor state), does not survive; that the full account was not made public at the time. They likewise argue that Richard III did not have a motive for killing the princes since he had already declared them illegitimate. They point to the continuing existence (and flourishing) of the daughters of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, who would have inherited their brother’s claims to the throne had the boys pre-deceased them. In all of this Ricardians follow the lines of argument of the first of their line, Sir George Buck. But in one area most deviate substantially: instead of arguing, as Sir George Buck did, that no murder took place, the vast majority accept that the boys were killed but point to other suspects. The arguments for and against the various contenders are ably summarised by Maurer in her 1983 article: she outlines the four main suspects: Richard III, Henry VII, Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham (1455–1483), and, finally, Henry VII’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort (1443–1509).
This focus on providing ‘another murderer’ is undoubtedly connected to the discovery in 1674 of the bones of two children underneath a staircase in the Tower of London – just where Sir Thomas More’s account said they had been buried. Ricardians have, of course, drawn attention to the various problems of identifying the bones and undoubtedly until DNA testing has taken place a doubt remains over the identification of the skeletons as those of the princes. More importantly, Ricardians can point to the fact that Sir Thomas More goes on to say that the bodies were subsequently moved from their position under the staircase to an unknown spot. In other words, far from confirming More’s account, the location of the unidentified bones flatly contradicts it.
Disentangling truth from error is particularly fraught in this case. The only thing that is clear is that the last recorded sighting of the princes was c. September 1483. From then on there were rumours that they had been killed. The October 1483 rebellion which involved a medley of conspirators (Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, Lady Margaret Beaufort, Henry Tudor himself, and, possibly, the boys’ mother, Queen Elizabeth Woodville) had initially called for the restitution of the princes only to switch in Henry Tudor’s favour, following rumours of their death. But how true these rumours were is difficult to judge. Tudor historians made much of them but many of the rumours were contradictory. By March 1484 Queen Elizabeth Woodville had evidently changed her mind about her alliance with Henry Tudor. She and her daughters emerged from their sanctuary at Westminster Abbey, and went back to the royal court – hardly the action of a mother who knew that their uncle, Richard III, had murdered her sons. And, as Sir Francis Bacon pointed out, there were rumours during the reign of Henry VII that at least one of the boys (the younger brother, Richard, Duke of York) had survived. It seems more than possible that Queen Elizabeth Woodville may have believed that her second son was still alive in 1487 for it was in that year that Henry VII effectively banished her from court and sent her to a nunnery on the bizarre charge that she had allowed her daughters out of sanctuary to attend Richard III’s court. Historians are agreed that this charge made absolutely no sense and have pointed to a possible link between the deprivation of the Queen Dowager and the rebellion of Lambert Simnel (b. 1476/7, d. after 1534). Simnel, an impostor who claimed to be Edward, Earl of Warwick (1475–1499) had, crucially, initially claimed to be none other than Richard, Duke of York. Had Queen Elizabeth Woodville risked all on the hope that her second son yet lived? If so, there was surely a doubt in her mind that they had been murdered on the orders of Richard III.
Queen Elizabeth Woodville was not the only one who doubted the rumours (for there was as yet no official account of the deaths of the princes). The actions of Henry VII demonstrate that he too simply did not know what had happened to them. Some Ricardians had pointed to either Henry VII or his mother Lady Margaret Beaufort as possible culprits, primarily on the basis that of all the candidates for the murder of the princes, Henry Tudor had the best motive: with a weak claim to the throne, he needed the boys to be dead because his ultimate security lay in the fact of his marriage to their sister, Elizabeth of York. It was this union of the House of York and Lancaster that would ensure the survival of his dynasty but as a union it could only work if her brothers were dead. However, by his actions Henry VII demonstrated that he was as much in the dark as everyone else concerning the true fate of the princes. His obsession with proving that the man known as Perkin Warbeck was indeed Perkin Warbeck and not Richard, Duke of York as he claimed to be, in conjunction with Henry’s treatment of the bizarre ‘confession’ of Sir James Tyrrell to the murder of the princes (which formed the basis of More’s account), points to a king who was trying to construct a narrative that would, finally, lay to rest his fear that one of the princes had survived.
Buck avoids all the claim and counter-claim of the ‘murder suspect’ debate by arguing instead that Edward V died naturally and his brother Richard, Duke of York escaped and later re-emerged as the man who would later be called ‘Perkin Warbeck’. Buck gives us little information about the fate of Edward V, beyond a vague reference to his ill-health. His decision to concentrate on the younger boy does, however, mirror the preoccupations of the time, for the threat to Henry VII’s throne came not from anyone claiming to be Edward V, but rather his younger brother or his cousin, the ill-fated Edward, Earl of Warwick. Buck nails his colours firmly to the mast. For Buck, the man called Perkin Warbeck was, in fact, none other than Richard, Duke of York. In effect, Buck was attempting to solve a mystery with another mystery – and the mystery remains, for ‘Perkin Warbeck’ was either, as Buck says, ‘an Imposture of a miraculous Deception’ or, as the 1497 confession suggested, the son of a town official at Tournai.
‘Perkin Warbeck’s’ fascinating and ultimately tragic life continues to mystify historians. In the words of Thomas Gainsford, writing in 1618, it was difficult to know what to call him: ‘Whether I name [him] Peter, or Perkin, or Warbeck, or Prince, or Richard, Duke of York, or Richard the Fourth, all is one Man and all had one End.’ This difficulty remains implicit in the biographies of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. There, Richard Duke of York and Perkin Warbeck are separate, reflecting the general consensus that they were two separate men. Yet even here there is ambiguity: Horrox, writing of Richard Plantagenet, ends her account by saying that ‘Perkin Warbeck’s claims to be Richard, duke of York, gained considerable backing, not all of it factitious’, while Gunn’s life of ‘Warbeck’ is ‘according to the confession he made in 1497’. Everything depends on the veracity (or otherwise) of this confession. Warbeck’s most recent biographer, Ann Wroe, points to the inconsistencies within the confession – a confession which reads as a well-researched dossier by a young man who, in the accompanying letter to his ‘mother’ in Tournai doesn’t even get her name right. His campaign gained the support of the princes’ aunt, Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy (1446–1503), and the Emperor Maximilian (1459-1519), both of whom continued to support his claim long after his capture by Henry VII. If we discount the support of Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy as a given, the belief of Edmund de la Pole (1472?–1513), Richard, Duke of York’s cousin, that ‘Perkin Warbeck’ was no impostor, should give us pause for thought – not least because de la Pole had himself an impressive claim to the throne.
Even in the 1496 testimonies at Setubal which seemingly corroborated the confession, there was confusion over his name: Edward Brampton (c.1440–1508), who had brought him to Portugal, calling his ‘Piris Uberque’ while Tanjar Herald more closely followed the name of the confession ‘Piris Osbeque’. Exactly why Brampton and Tanjar, a herald at the Portuguese court, were offering depositions on the identity of this mysterious young man is a mystery in itself – though it may, perhaps, have something to do with Anglo-Spanish-Portuguese dynastic aspirations in the mid 1490s. The new king of Portugal, Manuel I (1469-1521) was eager to marry Isabella of Asturias, the heiress apparent of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, whose younger daughter Catherine of Aragon had been affianced to Prince Arthur, Henry VII’s ill-fated heir, since 1489. Portugal had played an important part in the history of ‘Perkin Warbeck’ – it was from there that he had sailed to Ireland on the fateful journey that would lead to his execution at Tyburn on 23 November 1499. Perhaps the last word on this tragic young man should be left to a contemporary of his at the Portuguese court: the poet Resende, writing in the 1530s, described the man he had known as follows:
‘We saw the White Rose acclaimed as King by many of the English, and it was a wonderful thing that in days, not in months, he gathered people of the highest birth to him. He called himself their natural King, and gave the King battle on the field, but he was defeated and sentenced to hanging, because they thought he was not such a man.’*
As for Richard III, George Buck Esquire summarises his grand-uncle’s view as follows:
‘To give you him in his equal Draught and Composition: He was of a mean or lowe compact, but without disproportion & unevenness either in lineaments or parts (as his several Pictures present him). His aspect had most of the Souldier in it; so his natural inclination (Complexions not uncertainely expounding our Dispositions) but what wants of the Court Planet, effeminate Censurers think must needs be harsh and crabbed (and Envie will pick quarrels with an hair, rather than want Subject.) The Judgment and Courage of his Sword-actions, rendred him of a full Honour and Experience, which Fortune gratified with many Victories; never any Overthrows through his own default, for lack of Valour or Policie. At Court, and in his general deportment, of an affable respect and tractable cleernesse. In his dispence, of a magnificent liberal hand, somewhat above his power (as Sir Tho. Moor sets down). And surely the many Churches, with other good works he founded, (more then any one former King did in so short a time) must commend him charitable and religious, as the excellent Laws he made, do his wisedome and strain of Government, which all men confesse of the best. So having (even from those his bitterest times) the esteem of a valiant, wise, noble, charitable and religious Prince, why should ours deprave him so much upon trust, & deny works their character and place?
*Translation from Wroe, Ann (2004) Perkin. A Story of Deception (London), p. 49.
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Text: Dr Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian of the Edward Worth Library.