Richard III: Bound by Loyalty?

What do you do if someone you love marries someone you think is, at best, deeply unsuitable, or at worst, deeply despicable?

The only answer, if you want to remain close to your loved one, is to put your feelings aside for their sake, and try to develop civilised relations with your unwelcome in-laws – especially if said loved one is an absolute monarch, and their unsuitable spouse your new queen.

Such was the situation in which the 12-year-old Richard, Duke of Gloucester, found himself in 1464, when news broke that his eldest brother, King Edward IV, had secretly married a Lancastrian widow, Elizabeth Grey (née Woodville). While other, older members of his family (with good reason) openly opposed the match, Richard was apparently wise, tactful, or perhaps simply devoted enough to Edward to keep his own counsel – history records no evidence of hostility between Gloucester and his Woodville in-laws prior to 1483, whereas his kinsman and erstwhile tutor Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, was killed in rebellion against the king in 1471, and his elder brother George, Duke of Clarence, was executed for treason (possibly at the queen’s instigation) in 1478.

Richard’s unswerving support throughout Edward’s life is entirely consistent with the famous motto he adopted as an adult, Loyaulté me lie. Most commonly translated as ‘Loyalty binds me,’ this has an alternative and less well-known translation: ‘Justice rejoices me.’ (See Sutton & Visser-Fuchs, p. 271 – 74, for a fascinating discussion of Richard’s mottoes). Both meanings fit well with Richard’s documented interest in the law, and his attempts to emulate his revered late father Richard, Duke of York, in meriting high honour through the exercise of good lordship, fulfilment of obligations to superiors and inferiors, maintenance of the king’s peace, and dispensation of impartial justice.

Richard may well have known and used Loyaulte me lie earlier than 1483 in sources either lost or yet to be discovered, but its known survivals all date to the period from Edward IV’s death through to Richard’s own reign  – including its appearance, bracketed with his signature, on a scrap of paper also bearing the signatures of his nephew Edward V, and his then ally Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham.

To me, this casts another, far more sinister light on an innocuous phrase, akin to the undertones of ‘A Lannister always pays his debts’ in Game of Thrones. Loyalty might have bound Richard to Edward – but it had also bound his hands, rendering him incapable of acting against the Woodvilles unless and until his brother died. Richard’s actions after this unexpectedly occurred on 9th April 1483 suggest that he had always hated and distrusted the queen and her large, acquisitive family, and longed to take revenge for their presumption, the attendant loss of prestige to the House of York, and the execution of his brother Clarence; he may also have blamed his brother-in-law Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, in particular, for hastening Edward’s death by encouraging him in debauchery. Certainly, within a few months of the latter’s demise, Richard had arrested and subsequently executed both Rivers and Richard Grey, a nephew from the queen’s first marriage; attempted to capture another brother-in-law, Edward Woodville (Lord Scales); deposed one nephew, and possibly disposed of him too, along with his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York.

So I find it hard to believe that Richard, a subtle and highly intelligent man, was not aware of, (and secretly amused by), the dark sub-text of his chosen motto – because clearly, the loyalty that bound him from April 1483 to the end of his life on 22nd August 1485 was not to his misbegotten nephew, the uncrowned Edward V. It was to the House of York and his own blood family, while the justice that rejoiced him was giving his rapacious in-laws their just desserts, and saving his country from the rule of an illegitimate Woodville king.

References: Anne Sutton & Livia Visser-Fuchs, Richard III’s Books, 1997, Sutton Publishing Ltd


History Matters: Richard III

I admit it – I’ve never got over 1066. I might love our Norman castles and cathedrals but I still wail and gnash my teeth over what they represent: the grinding of Anglo-Saxon England under William the Bastard’s boot-heel. Call it race-memory or barking madness, it still hurts… though I’m reconciled to the Norman kings by the 1400’s, a dyed-in-the-wool supporter of the House of York. Weird. When I started Wars of the Roses re-enactment, it wasn’t like choosing a football team to support; somehow, deep in my core, I just knew I was a Yorkist.

So recent events in Leicester have filled me with joy and amazement. Yes, from an obscure grave in a long-demolished friary under a car-park to global mega-stardom, it’s been a funny old week for Richard III – the last English king to die in battle and the first to be subjected to full analysis by modern forensic archaeology. Let’s hope it’ll put an end to the parade of ludicrous caricatures to lurch and hobble across the stage in Shakespeare’s notorious play. Richard III wasn’t a hunchback; he had scoliosis, which made his shoulders uneven but didn’t disable him – he was an active soldier from his late teens. And it’ll certainly end the ignominy of his resting-place – at last, he’ll join our other monarchs with a proper tomb we can visit to pay our respects.

But where should it be? Arguments wax hot and furious between re-interring him in Leicester versus ‘repatriating’ him to the old northern capital, York, where he was well-loved in his lifetime and deeply mourned at his death. Naturally, Leicester want to keep him. He’s been there for 528 years; he was the most famous casualty of the history-changing Battle of Bosworth that took place on the city’s doorstep in 1485; and now he’s the British archaeological find of the century, excavated and analysed by staff from Leicester University. No wonder the mayor and council are rubbing their hands in unconcealed and rather tasteless glee: Richard III has put their city on the map in a BIG way, and will boost local tourism tremendously. Well, hell, these are hard times, and as a former heritage professional I can see where they’re coming from. Even as I sympathise with the other camp – the folk for whom King Richard means far more than filthy lucre. Folk for whom his death, the dishonour of his physical remains and the trashing of his memory by the bloody Tudors remain an open wound; folk who want him back in Yorkshire for love, rather than his tourist-pulling-power. Folk who still mourn, half a millennium later – and that includes me.

So, what’s the answer? Well, it’s a pretty safe bet King Richard wouldn’t have chosen to lie in Leicester, a city with which he had no particular connection except the negative one of having died nearby. But the argument for York Minster is pretty thin: he made provision for a chantry chapel there. Big fat hairy deal. Endowing chantries where masses would be said for their souls was something kings and noblemen routinely did at that time; Richard made benefactions to many religious houses including the lost chapel of St Mary at Towton, and made provision for a collegiate church at Middleham, where perpetual masses would be said for his family – so the chantry at York is no proof of his wish to lie there. The truth is, without a will or definite statement of intent, we’ve got no idea where Richard III wanted to be buried (I suspect Westminster Abbey, alongside his wife Anne and fellow-monarchs). And I’m torn. My head says, keep him in Leicester near the battlefield where he fell and where, against all odds, the University archaeologists have rediscovered him to the great interest of many local people. But my heart says, please give the North back our late lamented King, and re-inter him in York where we love him…