Friday, February 20, 2015

Pollution And Privies: Medieval Delights


The question of hygiene in past eras is a fascinating one. It is a subject which seems to invite a feast of different assumptions – and I have heard everything from “They were filthy – never washed because the church said it was sinful – and stank the place out,” through to: “No, they were regular bathers, washed their clothes frequently and smelled no worse than we do today.” The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but during the period that interests me which is the late 15th century, I veer more towards a belief in cleanliness rather than the opposite. However – nothing is ever quite that simple.

We have it on record, for instance, that in one large noble household all linen, including the intimate apparel of the nobility themselves, was thoroughly washed every three days. We are given to assume
from this that bedding was changed often, also shifts and sweaty shirts, whilst the gentlemen changed their braies (underpants) that frequently. But of course this information, although fascinating, is as deceptive as most of the rest.

Since wealthy gentlemen would certainly have owned more than one pair of braies, it is perfectly possible that they put on a clean pair every morning rather than waiting for wash-day, and the three day wash cycle would therefore be irrelevant in that respect. On the other hand, some men might have refused to keep such hygienic habits. Washing whatever was passed to the laundry girls every three days does not prove everyone discarded their dirty underwear that often. Nor can we be sure that other establishments carried out laundry duties with the same regularity. Some may have been even more diligent. Others may have been far more lax.

I also imagine that having been jousting for most of the day, or after having spent several days in the saddle, (not an unusual practise) the clothes would be sweaty and grimy, however often they were usually washed at home. So cleanliness was considered advisable up to a point – but what probably did not happen was the sort of shocked disgust at dirt and smells which we now experience. They would all have been far more accustomed to grime.  So his grubby knickers might not be the worst of your problems when your gallant knight came riding home.

Bed and table linen was regularly washed and then spread out on the hedges to dry in the sun. However, the nobility’s outer clothes were rarely washed. The great sweeping velvets and heavy brocades with their golden laces, fur trimmings and satin ribbons were kept clean by extensive brushing and wiping, and with the use of steam and Fuller’s Earth. More personal hygiene was considered equally important. Teeth were cleaned with specially cut birch twigs, and soap came in various different qualities from the cheap brown liquid available for the poor, up to the expense of solid white Spanish soap.

On the other hand, human waste was an accepted part of the everyday experience and was used as part of normal manure spread as fertilizer on country crops. Urine was considered a useful ‘crop’ in itself and was used in the process of tanning hides and in dying fabrics amongst others. Animal blood and brains were generally allowed to disappear into the shallow central gutters around the butchers’ quarters in any township, the animals that roamed most streets (dogs, goats, pigs and others) would add their own contributions, and most mornings the average housewife would empty the family chamber pots into the gutters as well. Much of this muck would remain until washed away by the rain, although large towns employed ‘raykers’ to clear the gutters on a regular basis, while diligent shopkeepers cleaned the gutters directly outside their own premises – sweeping the filth down to the next shop along!

In medieval times, privies were not an entirely wholesome affair, although they certainly existed, both in private homes and for public use (though public privies were men only). They were usually small cubicles tucked away in dark and quiet areas of the house, but invariably without any enclosing door.

Some public privies were built on London Bridge, not exactly private at all. These would take the form
of a long polished wooden bench with several neat holes in a row. You would therefore be sitting in extremely close and undivided proximity to the next man. It was generally considered bad manners to talk directly to someone who was seated upon the privy. These ‘jaykes’ or ‘seats of ease’ as they were often known, usually opened directly down into the river, the cess pit or the moat below. Plumbing was unknown. One precarious set of London privies built to jut out with direct access to the Thames beneath, unfortunately collapsed after much use. They and their occupants hurtled into the river, and that is a picture I just cannot bear to visualise.

I have an idea that the general public went about their daily business with a constantly full bladder, suffering from the continuous discomfort of having very few opportunities to empty it. Certainly men urinating in public is mentioned as a fairly normal occurrence, (the gutters again) though surely only in some areas. Women, I imagine, found the situation even more inconvenient. Later this problem was overcome with several ingenious and hilarious methods, but during the late medieval it was a matter of suffering in silence until able to hurry home.

There were communal cess pits and these would be emptied from time to time by the busy gong-farmers, but I imagine the stench was fairly strong. Many busy waterways became almost clogged with general waste; The Fleet, for instance. The pollution, however unpleasant, was, of course, of a natural kind and not in any manner chemical – so the fish did not object. The Thames continued to be heavily fished for many years in spite of what else floated there.

So no wonder the water was, in general, unsafe to drink, although it was accepted for use in washing and cooking. It was safer when boiled, whilst ale, beer and wine were for drinking. In country areas, however, there would be fresh streams where the water would be drinkable, and usually deep wells would also be uncontaminated. 

Bathing was certainly a generally accepted necessity and quite luxurious baths were known to exist in all great houses. Wooden and barrel shaped for the most part, they could be linen lined and cushioned
with head rests. Hot water was carried in bucketfuls by the servants, with water boiled in cauldrons over the kitchen fires. The water could be perfumed with herbs, towels were warmed, and apart from condensation dropping from the ceiling beams, this would be a hygienic and very cosy affair.

Of course, the poorer folk had far fewer advantages. Few if any would have a private privy within the house or even outside it (a chamber pot would be the best they could do) and would be unlikely to own their own bath. There were public wash-houses however, which sometimes had a reputation for other activities apart from simply getting clean – but bathing and the washing of clothes and household linen still took place.

Naturally, it was hundreds of years before a scientific knowledge of hygiene and its connection with health was understood. Germs were undiscovered, and the cause of infectious diseases unknown. Even polluted water was avoided not because it could cause dysentery, typhoid or at least diarrhoea, but simply because it looked and tasted vile. Therefore the disposal of waste directly into the waterways continued and increased as the population grew. Vegetables and salads would be washed to remove the earth still attached before cooking but for no other reason, contact with animals was not thought in any manner unhealthy, and I doubt that hand washing after using those doubtful privies was considered imperative either.

These conditions naturally encouraged parasites and the poor could rarely escape the problems of lice, fleas and intestinal worms. Indeed, the habits of farmers, the use of manure, and the accepted behaviour of cooks and scullions even in the most illustrious establishments, ensured that although the nobility might avoid fleas and lice, (although Henry VII’s father, Earl of Richmond, died from the plague, and that meant a flea bite).they would certainly suffer frequent if not continuous infestations of intestinal roundworms. This actually continued up until and including the 2nd World War – so hardly a matter of wonder or concern. The roundworm was virtually universally tolerated until less than a hundred years ago, and unless these parasites accumulated in unusually huge numbers, they gave few if any symptoms. The recent over-dramatic reaction on this score is absurd, since the roundworm remains virtually undiagnosed, unnoticed and unimportant, yet flourishes almost worldwide to this day.

Conduits existed, and water carriers supplied the households of larger towns and cities but this often came directly from those same contaminated rivers, so on the whole it is surprising that the population managed to avoid disease as well as it did. There is another point to consider, of course. Our natural bodily immunity is often enhanced after becoming much habituated, and we are now told that our compulsive cleanliness only adds to our vulnerability, weakens our immune systems and brings about endless allergies. But I cannot imagine this means we would in any manner benefit from returning to the chamber pot and the use of medieval gutters.

So during the late medieval there were few standards we’d wish to copy today, indeed the smell of the cities was certainly rank, dysentery was common – and usually fatal. However, a desire for cleanliness was an accepted part of life at that time and considerable effort went into bathing and keeping clean.

It was many years later when the grosser behaviour, the overcrowding, the increased filth, cholera and typhoid became almost unbearable. After the Puritan horror of nakedness (dirt was holier, it seems) we then hear of the great balls and parties of the nobility during the 16th to 19th centuries, with their incredible luxury and sumptuous clothes. But our romantic fiction rarely tells us that the crush of a ballroom would have been overheated and noxious with the stench of old stale sweat and the cloying sickly smell of the perfume attempting to disguise it, the rampant lice in the unwashed wigs, and the fleas visibly leaping on some of the bodies. 17th century gentlemen were known to urinate in the fireplace, though hopefully not in female company, and the licentious habits of the Restoration era included some other unsavoury habits. So it got worse before it got better.

But at least I can imagine my late 15th century characters without having to hold my nose! The desire for cleanliness was both determined and accomplished within most 15th century households and considerable trouble was exercised in order to accomplish a standard of cleanliness which in those days was none too easy.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Is History All Around Us?

History is, quite simply, what we of the present time can make of past times. Yet time, they say, is an illusion.


Those who know more about physics than I do, also say that time and space are the same thing. Space and Space-time are certainly overlapping dimensions. Speed of light creates both. No, I’m not going to quote Einstein nor Hawking. I am naturally summarising here, partly because of my own ignorance, and partly because of the huge subject matter and its enormous complications. Yet even to summarise more fully would be difficult since sufficient space and time are not available to me. Yes – that’s it. Those two definitely go together.

After all, Quantum Physics takes a life-time to study. There goes time again, connecting moments into life-spans – and that means history!

And yet time appears to remain immovably linear while space is manoeuvrable. We can move freely and can play within space, but time plays with us. Certainly the division of the hours follows its rules, and the rolling speed of our ever spinning globe controls the passage of light into night’s darkness as recorded by our clever and careful clocks. But that is not what I mean by time. Real time is the prison of linear direction somehow combined with the lunacy of the watched kettle taking twice as long to boil, and the minutes feeling like hours when you are waiting for something important, while the sad days are never-ending. Yet those delightful times of light-hearted diversion, the fun, the love-making and the holidays from self-imposed duty – those whizz by like little sparks in our hearts. Illusion, then. But time is an illusion that traps us within it.

So is history all around us? Everything, after all, is the present. It was the present during the invasions of the Romans and the Norman usurper William, during the Hundred Years War and the Battle of Bosworth, during the massacres of Tudor times and the English Civil Wars – deaths in their thousands – all taking place in the brief and bitter NOW. Time of course is the actual division between life and death. Life means counting time until time finishes and slips from NOW into NEVER.

But this is not an article about dying. It is simply a pondering puzzle concerning the treatment time meets out to us. It is rarely kind. Space is a friend, but time is not. Indeed the NOW is always a snap and then gone – and we have not yet discovered the power to bring it full circle.

So can time ever be something more that the straight line in which we view it? We dream of time travel, with the power to go back and see what we call history. We are intrigued with the Sci-Fi ideas of black holes, worm tunnels, and all the scientific jargon which appears, even without our full understanding, to offer hope of time-travel. After all, playing with time is a perennially delightful idea – even if the possibility is always in what we call – the future!!

So we think time is a predictable business, and we think we know the rules, whether we like them or not. Look at the clock! Already half past nine? Bed time! Time for work. Time to catch the bus, to make dinner, to phone your sister. We let time rule our lives. Yet time is none of these things and we don’t understand it at all.

Synchronicity – a word adopted by Jung – introduces us to the malleability of time – or perhaps once more to the illusionary nature of its barriers. So, Jung says, different things happening at the same moment are linked and therefore the right thing will happen at the right time. No – that’s not right. NOW is all there is, so I should say – the right thing IS happening at the right time!  

Stephen Hawking
We invariably live in the past, with memories controlling what we think we have learned. In fact, many of us seem to believe that the wake we leave behind us somehow rules our futures.  Others live in the future with only hope to inspire our present moments as we endlessly plan for something to come. Yet none of that actually exists. Neither past nor future are real. Only NOW has ever been, or ever will. And the NOW is so brief that we cannot notice it at all. So is the only truth of time something we cannot even claim to know? Is it beyond us to even live it?

Energy comes from the light and light is governed by speed. Speed is time. So time is energy. If we travelled back, would we forfeit our energy and therefore our life force? Would we glimpse – collapse – and even fail to return? Would splitting the NOW leave us bereft of breath or life? Now much as I yearn to see the truth of medieval life in England during the late 15th century, I have not the slightest desire to be trapped there.

Alright, so we recognise that NOW means energy, for indeed the only time we choose to live fully in the NOW and recognise the present moment, is when we are excited, fully involved in what the NOW brings us and when we are delighted with what we are actually doing. Otherwise the NOW spins unnoticed and blinks its death into the past. So is history really a part of the present anyway? In which case, is history all around us and are we time travelling all the time quite unconsciously?

But if we can escape the trap of One-Directional Time (no, nothing to do with the British boy-pop-group – sorry!) – by travelling backwards then surely we could manage both forwards and sideways. Now, I wonder where sideways would lead me!!

I am just finishing a book based around time travel, with someone coming back from the distant future. (It’s a pleasant change from medieval history, and I’ve enjoyed writing it.) FUTURE TENSE – but heaven only knows when it will become history itself. I wrote a previous book (FAIR WEATHER) in which time travel played a part – but that involved going backwards. This new book involves going forwards. I have an idea for the sideways as well. Time holds hands with astronomy and so I have dark matter and worm holes. Nothing one-directional at all.

As I am almost constantly involved in historical research, I am inevitably faced with one
Enrico Fermi
repetition – where is the proof? Even when some existing contemporary document is found, we have to contend with the writer’s bias, his possible ignorance due to distant or non-existent involvement, or his desire to make himself sound knowledgeable by repeating rumour as if it is fact. All three such situations are more common than the really trustworthy contemporary sources. So have we much hope of properly understanding history? And that leads me to ask – what is truth? We often quote the cliché of history being written by the winners. No concept of reality then? But does truth still seem like the obvious incontrovertible fact? And yet it isn’t, for truth, as noted above, is something quite different to different people. We each have our own truths. Like time, truth is actually a very personal affair. As Blake said, “Everything that is now, was once imagined.” I like that and it seems true enough. Does this also make everything an illusion? Or does it make imagination the ultimate truth?

So what does all this come down to? Perhaps that’s all a part of personal choice as well! But writing FUTURE TENSE has taken me on a delicious trip into quantum physics. Which brings up all that confusion about whether light travels in waves or particles – and how we do not know which it actually is until afterwards (once the NOW is over and so truth no longer exists anyway) – and the ‘afterwards’ implies time – so does time itself travel in different ways – ways which cannot be quantified until ‘after’ the event? And if nothing is concrete until we see it, in other words until the NOW, then do we ourselves make the choice of what we see, what can be seen, how we see it and when we can see it? Do we control time and space ourselves? Is truth really our own, existing only as an individual and subjective choice?

Which brings me personally to the conclusion that nothing and everything is real – time moving only in one direction is a limit of our own imagination – space is conditional on our own choices – and truth is entirely illusionary.

And therefore if we can see it differently, making our decisions within the illusion, can we also make the choice to travel backwards? Can we dispense with the Tardis, and travel within our own minds? Do tunnels exist in dark matter? And if time is an illusion, are we trapped within that illusion – or is the illusion trapped within us?

Excuse me, my Time is up – and I’m off back to medieval England, to discover another NOW. Waves or particles, anyone?


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Richard III: Elected Monarch or Usurper?


 Very little reliable documentary evidence survives from the Middle Ages. The life and times of Richard III therefore remain a period of frustration and fascination for historians, scholars and interested amateurs alike. So why is it – when one very clear contemporary document survives from that period – that so many people choose either to ignore it, or disbelieve it?

This one original and incontrovertible document dates from 1484. It sets forth in plain language (of the time) the entitlement to the throne of the man crowned Richard III, and states that, after certain facts were brought to light which made it clear that King Edward IV’s sons were now considered illegitimate and young Warwick, Clarence’s son, was debarred by his father’s attainder, Richard, at that time Duke of Gloucester, stood next in line.

After lengthy investigation and consideration of the newly disclosed situation by the Royal Council and the members of Parliament originally called to London for the expected coronation of the young prince, (most of whom were present) the agreed conclusion was that the crown should be offered to Richard, who was already ratified as Protector of the Realm. He was petitioned by the three estates, being the Lords Temporal, the Lords Spiritual, and representatives of the Commons who included a good many leading citizens of London. He was officially and legally asked to take the throne. It could actually be said that he was elected. Indeed, the wording of Titulus Regius includes the words ‘this Eleccion of us the Three Estates’, And yet he is consistently accused of being a usurper, and of having ‘seized’ the throne.

The accepted modern meaning of the verb ‘to usurp’ according to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, is simply: “To take a position of power illegally or by force.  Using this definition alone, it is perfectly clear that a man who was asked after due deliberation by England’s government to accept the throne, a right which was then ratified by the full parliament, did not in any manner usurp that position.

However, the modern definition of usurpation does not always sit easily in history. After the initial
tyranny of kings was firmly established in 1066 with the unarguable usurpation of William I, over subsequent reigns England gradually began to modify and moderate her attitude to the royal rights of inheritance and the power of both kings and lords of the realm. Unlike the French model which continued doggedly with absolute power resting in the hands of royalty, England changed, adapted, and finally adopted a system of government by which an alternative administration could substitute for the rule of her monarch in certain matters when he was considered incapacitated either by age or health.

The Plantagenet line continued to uphold the right of kings to pass down the crown to their sons or grandsons, but clearly this was not always possible and under such circumstances, suitable but less direct heirs were necessarily sought within the bloodline. With this in mind, accusations of usurpation have been levelled against the first Lancastrian king, Henry IV who took the throne in 1399 and even against King Edward IV (1461). This went to the heart of the Wars of the Roses, but it is important to remember that in both cases, i.e. the enforced abdication of Richard II and the crowning of Henry IV as monarch in his place, and later the official acceptance of Edward IV’s father Richard, Duke of York, as the heir to Henry VI, these were actions carried out in circumstances where the monarch of the day had forfeited confidence and support by showing himself to be dangerously unfit to rule. And, of course, both these irregular successions were enacted and confirmed by Parliament. The term ‘usurpation’, therefore, now depends on whose side the speaker is on. Clearly the succession rights of kings were not inviolate and the later opinion (of Tudors and Stuarts, for instance) that an anointed monarch held an unarguable God-given right to absolute power, did not at all apply in the 15th century.

In 1483 following the death of Edward IV, it was expected that his eldest son would inherit the throne as Edward V. Yet shortly before his coronation, Robert Stillington (Bishop of Bath and Wells) announced that Edward IV’s marriage to the mother of the heir to the throne had been, to state it simply, bigamous, and that therefore all his children were illegitimate.  Stillington was an important and respected ecclesiastical figure, and a previous Lord Chancellor of Edward IV, so his word would have been taken very seriously indeed. It is hard to see what possible benefit he would have gained from lying. Indeed, a good deal of detriment was the far more likely result had his story been false. His announcement, however, would never have been accepted without enormous investigation. Whatever proofs he offered we can no longer know. There is no surviving record of his exact report, nor of any witnesses called or other evidence shown at the time. But the lady who was named as Edward IV’s first wife was the Lady Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury and sister to the Duchess of Norfolk, a widow and member of a noble and highly important family. Not someone to make the subject of ludicrous and improper rumours. The Lady Eleanor was now deceased, but she had been very much alive when Edward married Elizabeth Woodville, the mother of his children. Many close and high-powered members of Lady Eleanor’s family were still alive and would certainly not have stood silent if they knew the lady was being wrongfully slandered.

Some now choose simply to disbelieve Stillington’s claim. Yet they have not one shred of evidence to support this, nor one hint that this first marriage never took place. Certainly direct proofs that it did take place are also lacking. A few bewildered souls ask where’s the marriage certificate? But no such thing existed in 15th century and you could, for instance, take a lady’s hand, vow to wed her, and if she accepted, you then tumbled her into bed to consummate the match – and lo and behold – you were legally man and wife. The church was naturally not happy with this sort of clandestine affair without banns being called and often without witnesses – but it happened all the time and it was legally binding.

That King Edward IV favoured this type of thing was blatantly obvious, because that’s also exactly what happened the second time around. He wed Elizabeth Woodville in secret, in exactly that same manner. Indeed, he is often said to have ‘married for love’ – an unusual thing for a king in those days. But it was a very strange sort of love – for he made no mention of his secret wedding for 5 whole months. During those months the lady was never invited to the palace, she was entirely unacknowledged, her existing sons (she was a widow), instead of being taken in and elevated by the king, were given elsewhere as wards, and the king even sent his courtiers off abroad to start negotiating for a foreign princess to become his wife. But then, quite suddenly after those long silent months, to the bewilderment of almost the entire country and the dismay of most of the lords. King Edward announced the marriage. He brought his suddenly admitted queen to court, and that was that. A clandestine wedding led to a new queen and eventually a parcel of royal children.

So had he done this on other occasions in the past, yet never acknowledged it? Certainly Lady Eleanor Talbot came into some unusual bequests for which there is no known explanation, nor clear manner in which they could have been acquired. She then retired into permanent religious seclusion.

It does seem strange to many that this wronged and misused lady did not complain, did not announce her legal status as queen, nor denounce her legal husband, even when he took another wife. I have no answer to this beyond pointing out the logic of the situation. This was a high-born lady, and ladies, especially of a religious nature, did not whine or openly humiliate themselves by publicising the fact that they had been used, bedded, ravished, and then abandoned. Nor did they try to cause rebellion and unease (in a land so recently returning to peace) by accusing the king of dishonesty and immorality. She also ran the risk, if she made public announcements, that the king might deny the marriage and thus humiliate her further. Instead she accepted his apology and his gifts (my assumption), though continued to act (as in the manner of making her last will and testament) as a married woman with a living husband. And after all, while the king lived, it was a personal matter anyway and did not yet affect government or the people. It was not until he died and his eldest son’s legitimacy was in question, that the truth of this situation became politically imperative.

So with Edward V no longer considered of legitimate royal descent, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, stood as the one direct and legally legitimate heir.

The document itself (Titulus Regius) states clearly that incontrovertible evidence existed and could be forthcoming if and when required. It was later stated that proofs had already been brought before the Council “authentic doctors, proctors and notaries of the law, with depositions from divers witnesses.Lady Eleanor Talbot’s powerful family surely stood witness. Certainly none of these relatives came forward to deny the claim, or to defend the lady’s honour by refuting the existence of this clandestine marriage. So why doubt such proofs existed? People were no more stupid at that time than they are now and it is highly ridiculous to presume that they would have accepted such a dramatic and inconvenient fact on the eve of the new young king’s coronation, unless they were well and truly convinced.

The frequent modern assumption that Stillington’s claim of bigamy was not only untrue but a clear manipulation by the evil and ambitious Richard III to usurp and seize the throne, is not only a leap of huge unproven prejudice, but it completely and naïvely overlooks the known power and position of the Royal Council and Parliament of the day. Ignoring the delightful genius of Shakespeare’s dramatic fiction, and the less delightful fiction of Tudor chroniclers who supplied the stories he told, we should at least respect the experience and intelligence of the lords, remembering also the obvious precedent of parliamentary decision regarding Richard II and Henry VI as mentioned above.

Stillington’s announcement must have been made during the latter half of May 1483. It is clear that in the following weeks the Royal Council and those representatives of Parliament present in London met in discussion many times.

The supposition  that Richard of Gloucester had the power to threaten and bully all those poor cringing medieval lords is frankly laughable. For a start, Richard’s troops were miles away in Yorkshire, whereas most of the lords had their own armed retinues, not to mention huge private armies on which they could call. Many held particular powers and all were men of substance. These were not lords to be easily bullied, nor convinced without very good reason. A figure of 32 lords temporal, 66 knights, 44 lords spiritual with access to the Pope should they feel obliged to call on him, and 30 members of the Commons have been recorded during meetings of four hours or more, although the Royal Council itself was smaller in number.

Are we now arrogant enough to suppose that these were all corrupt fools to be duped or bribed, incompetent cowards to be frightened into compliance, or men without the slightest interest in the future of the land in which they lived and which supported them and their families and property? It appears that many of us completely underestimate the power of the lords, council and parliament during the 15th century and are happy to ignore the legal precedent for the lords and parliament to debate and determine the situation when the king’s rule was, for whatever reason, in question.

Some now argue that even if proved illegitimate, Edward V could still, with parliamentary agreement, have been accepted as king. But it is clear that parliament rejected any such compromise, since the lords logically and clearly preferred the proven competency of a grown man already ratified as Protector of the Realm and known for his leadership quality.

We also need to remember that King Edward IV had several illegitimate children by various mistresses. Making one illegitimate child legally able to inherit the throne, could even possibly have opened a chain of claims by others. Besides, bastardy called into question not only the capability of the bastard himself to inherit, but looking ahead down the generations, even if overlooked in Edward V himself, it invited later questions as to his dynasty.

The often repeated cries of “Bigamy? A pre-contract? No. It couldn’t be true. It was too convenient,” or “Too much of a coincidence,” can come only from those who already assume Richard guilty of ambitious connivance and malicious manipulation.  Only by assuming his guilt and duplicity before the fact, can these accusations be made. This is why we cannot take at face value the handful of hostile narratives from those times, because their preconceptions are evident to even the most cursory scrutiny. And significantly, there are no surviving records from the governing council that supported Richard.

Once you set aside any existing bias, it is clear that this was highly inconvenient, and there was no coincidence at all. It threw everybody into chaos. We cannot even be sure if Richard wanted the throne. Perhaps he didn’t. Perhaps he did. It doesn’t matter. He was the remaining heir and he was asked to accept the throne. Thant’s on record. The matter was put to the three estates of English government who decided that Richard of Gloucester had a clear duty to take the throne. Richard accepted. Actually he had little choice.

Conflicting loyalties and self-interest produced protestors as always, but no one at the time actually refuted the accusation of bigamy posthumously directed against Edward IV. Even Elizabeth Woodville, the mother of the ‘princes’ now declared illegitimate, apparently placed no objection.  She was now living within the precincts of Westminster sanctuary, comfortably in the Abbot’s house, where she had direct access to the considerable higher authority of ecclesiastical power (her own brother was Bishop Lionel Woodville) and could easily have made a direct plea to the Pope for a church ruling and intervention. She did none of these things. She accepted the ruling, just as if she had already known the truth of the matter.

Therefore whether you like the sound of King Richard or not – one thing is entirely clear. He was officially and legally petitioned to accept the throne of England, and contemporary legal documentation proves this. He did not usurp nor seize anything. He could be said to have been legally elected by Parliament. He was fully acknowledged and anointed as monarch when his coronation was duly attended by virtually every peer in England, even those whose families supported the Lancastrian dynasty.

So those, including those claiming to be ‘open-minded,’ but who begin their articles by calling Richard III a usurper, or stating that he ‘seized’ the throne, are either proclaiming their secret bias, or they should enlarge their area of research.

With thanks to many, and to various sources, but with particular gratitude to Annette Carson and her books “A Small Guide to the Great Debate,” and “Richard III: The Maligned King.”