The Crowland Chronicles and 1483
The Crowland Chronicles give one of the two most authoritative sources for the events of 1483 and indeed the reign of Richard III. Below is a super brief summary about Crowland, the chronicles, who wrote them – and then the text from the death of Edward IV to the coronation of Richard III, so you can read what they for yourself.
Crowland and its Chronicles
Crowland was founded by St Guthlac in 655; though it was sacked by the Vikings, and had to start all over again in the 10th century. The Abbey was remote, and back in the 15th century was on an island on the edge of the Fens; but don’t let that fool you that the chronicles were ill-informed. The Chronicles were started by a monk called Ingulph, and they were continued through various authors to 1486; one of those included the excellent (if slightly gloomy) Peter of Blois. The Abbey was dissolved in 1539.
The Chronicles that cover 1459-1486 were written in 1486; so, in close living memory but after Henry VIIth’s victory. This text comes from the Second Continuation, from an edition translated by Thomas Riley in 1854. Why so old you ask? Well, it’s copyright free on the quite excellent site, Internet Archives. The Second continuation was written in two chunks – up to Bosworth in the Autumn of 1485 and then to April 1486 by that same month; and the third continuation immediately follows.
The manuscript appears to have been first used by Sir George Buck (1560-1622) and was the last to use the manuscript before it was printed and then largely burned in a fire. George gets a roasting by some historians for his style, but it was George who started to raise questions about whether the Tudor view of Richard III, and the chain of events recorded by the likes of Polydore Vergil, was absolutely fair; and used the Crowland Chronicles to raise those questions, despite the fact that it is largely hostile to Richard.
Who was the Chronicler?
The writer was quite clearly well informed; he tells us that he was a doctor of law and a member of the Royal Council. In a number of places, his writing reflects what looks like first-hand experience. At one stage it was thought the writer was John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln; but now the view seems to be that it could have been a senior civil servant, a man with access but not necessarily a driver of the events – potentially Henry Sharp, Head of the Exchequer. Alternatively, it could have been a monk of Crowland who had access to a secular source.
As Dr Cusak notes (her lecture is very useful for both Crowland and Dominic Mancini – you can see it here – the Continuation is a brave piece of writing; it was written when Henry VII was on the throne, and was recalling all copies of the Titulus Regis to erase any record that Richard III had been confirmed as king by parliament; and the chronicle includes the Titulus Regis in full.
The Chronicle is deeply critical of Richard III, is written when Henry VII had taken the throne, and the author may very well have been influenced by Tudor propaganda. Indeed, he refers to Henry as ‘an angel sent from heaven through whom God had deigned to visit his people and set them free from the evils which had hitherto afflicted them beyond measure’. Nonetheless, it is contemporary, and exceptionally well informed. The author set out his claim to give ‘a truthful recital of the facts without knowingly intermingling therewith any untruthfulness, hatred or favour whatsoever’, and his courage in including the Titulus Regis, suggests he may have gone at least part way to achieving that.
What does the Crowland Chronicle say?
(The Subtitles are mine, by the way to break up the text. Numbers refer below to the sections I have added)
The chronicle gives a summary of Edward IV and his character, which is interesting to read anyway in (1)
The meeting of the council (2) is interesting for the Chronicler’s attitude. It becomes clear later that the Chronicler does not approve of Gloucester’s actions, to put it mildly. But nor is he a great fan of the Woodvilles – ‘The more prudent members of the council, however, were of opinion that guardianship of so youthful a person, until he should reach the years of maturity, ought to be utterly forbidden to his uncles and brothers on his mother’s side’.
It’s at this meeting that we see the conflicts between Hastings and the Woodvilles confirms Hasting’s fear of the Woodvilles and the dangers to him of their dominance – and his support therefore for Gloucester
In (5), the Chronicler paints a picture of Hastings as happy with the position where Gloucester is in control, and seemingly supporting Edward V; it presents Hastings purely as a victim, no mention even of Gloucester’s claim of a plot. Unequivocal in condemning Gloucester’s actions.
In (7), unlike both Mancini and Vergil, Crowland makes no mention of Gloucester suggesting that Edward IV himself is illegitimate; he purely presents the case given in the Titulus Regius. But he is again unequivocal in his disbelief of Gloucester’s claim. It could be that his view is retrospective, impacted by Henry VII’s propaganda; but in the light of the fact that he’d also included the Titulus Regis, it seems likely that Crowland represents at least a section of public opinion sceptical of the validity of the claim. Another interesting wrinkle is the antipathy for the north and northerners clear from the text.
(8) The death of Rivers – Crowland, in common with Mancini, makes it clear there was no trial. John Rous, a contemporary chronicler is the only one to suggest any kind of trial, describing the earl of Northumberland ‘as their main judge’.
The Crowland Chronicle, Part VII
Second Continuation of the History of Crowland Abbey
1483 – June, 1483
(Remember that the subtitles are mine not original)
(1) Edward IV and his death
For, shortly after the events already stated, and when the Parliament had been dissolved, the king, neither worn out with old age nor yet seized with any known kind of malady, the cure of which would not have appeared easy in the case of a person of more humble rank, took to his bed. This happened about the feast of Easter; and, on the ninth of April, he rendered up his spirit to his Creator, at his palace of Westminster, it being the year of our Lord, 1483, and the twenty-third year of his reign.
This prince, although in his day he was thought to have indulged his passions and desires too intemporately, was still, in religion, a most devout Catholic, a most unsparing enemy to all heretics, and a most loving encourager of wise and learned men, and of the clergy. He was also a most devout reverer of the Sacraments of the Church, and most sincerely repentant for all his sins. This is testified by those who were present on the occasion of his decease; to whom, and especially to those whom he left as executors of his last will, he declared, in a distinct and Catholic form, that it was his desire that, out of the chattels which he left behind him in such great abundance, made voluntarily, and without extortion on their part, to all those persons to whom he was, by contract, extortion, fraud, or any other mode, indebted. Such was the most beseeming end of this worldly prince, a better than which could not be hoped for or conceived, after the manifestation by him of so large a share of the frailties inherent to the lot of mankind. Hence, too, very strong hopes were afforded to all his faithful servants, that he would not fail to receive the reward of eternal salvation. For after Zaccheus, he had expressed his wish that one half of his goods should be given unto the poor, and that if he had defrauded any one of aught, the same should be returned to him fourfold… there can be no doubt that, through this intention on his part, salvation was wrought for his soul, because he was a son of Abraham, predestined to the light which God had formerly promised unto Abraham and his seed. For we read that it was not the works of Zaccheus which Christ regarded, but his intentions. Probably, however, this intention on the part of Zaccheus, though he was not then on a bed of sickness, was afterwards carried out; while the king, fully deserving the reward of these his good intentions, was carried off immediately [perhaps] in order than evil thoughts, supplanting them, might not change his designs.
I shall here be silent upon the circumstance upon which might have been mentioned above, in a more befitting place, that men of every rank, condition, and degree of experience, throughout the kingdom, wondered that a man of such corpulence, and so fond of boon companionship, vanities, debauchery, extravagance, and sensual enjoyments, should have had a memory so retentive, in all respects, that the names and estates used to recur to him, just as though he had been in the habit of seeing them daily, of nearly all the persons dispersed throughout the counties of this kingdom; and this even, if, in the districts in which they lived, they held the rank only of a private gentleman. Long before his illness he had made his will, at very considerable length, having abundant means to satisfy it; and had, after mature deliberation, appointed therein many persons to act as his executors, and carry out his wishes. On his death-bed he added some codicils thereto; but what a sad and unhappy result befell all these wise dispositions of his, the ensuing tragedy will more fully disclose.
(2) The first meeting of the royal council after Edward’s death
For while the councillors of the king, now deceased, were present with the queen at Westminster, and were naming a certain day, on which the eldest son of king Edward (who at this time was in Wales), should repair to London for the ceremonial of his coronation, there were various contentions among some of them, what number of men should be deemed a sufficient escort for a prince of such tender years, to accompany him upon his journey. Some were for limiting a greater, some a smaller number, while others again, leaving to the inclination of him who was above all laws, would have it to consist of whatever number his faithful subjects should think fit to summon. Still, the ground of these differences was the same in each case; it being the most ardent desire of all who were present, that this prince should succeed his father in all his glory. The more prudent members of the council, however, were of opinion that guardianship of so youthful a person, until he should reach the years of maturity, ought to be utterly forbidden to his uncles and brothers on his mother’s side. This, however, they were of opinion, could not so easily be brought about, if it should be allowed those of the queen’s relatives who held the chief places about the prince, to bring him up for he solemnization of the coronation, without an escort of a moderate number of those. The advice…of the lord Hastings, the Captain of Calais, at last prevailed; who declared that he himself would fly thither with all speed, rather than await the arrival of the new king, if he did not come attended by a moderate escort. For he was afraid lest, if the supreme power should fall into the hands of the queen’s relations, they would exact a most signal vengeance for the injuries which had been formerly inflicted on them by that same lord; in consequence of which, there had long existed extreme ill-will between the said lord Hastings and them. The queen most beneficiently tried to extinguish every spark of murmuring and disturbance, and wrote to her son, requesting him, on his road to London, not to exceed an escort of two thousand men. The same number was also approved for the before-named lord; as it would appear, he felt fully assured that the dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham, in whom he placed the greatest confidence, would not bring a smaller number with them.
(3) Richard of Gloucester and the events at Stony Stratford
The body of the deceased king being accordingly interred with all honor in due ecclesiasitical form, in the new collegiate chapel of Windsor, which he had erected of the most elaborate workmanship, from the foundations; all were most anxiously awaiting the day of the new king’s coronation, which was to be the first Lord’s day of the month of May, which this year fell on the fourth day of the month. In the meantime, the duke of Gloucester wrote the most soothing letters in order to console the queen, with promises that he would shortly arrive, and assurances of all duty, fealty, and due obedience to his king and lord, Edward the Fifth, the eldest son of the deceased king, his brother, and of the queen. Accordingly, on his arrival at York, with a becoming retinue, each person being arrayed in mourning, he performed a solemn funeral service for the king, the same being accompanied with plenteous tears. Constraining all the noblity of those parts to take the oath of fealty to the late king’s son, he himself was the first of all to take the oath. On reaching Northampton, where the duke of Buckingham joined him, there came thither for the purpose of paying their respects to him, Antony, earl of Rivers, the king’s uncle, and Richard Grey, a most noble knight, and uterine brother to the king, together with several others who had been sent by the king, his nephew, to submit the conduct of everything to the will and discretion of his uncle, the duke of Gloucester. On their first arrival, they were received with an especially cheerful and joyous countenance, and, sitting at supper at the duke’s table, passed the whole time in very pleasant conversation. At last, Henry, duke of Buckingham, also arrived there, and, as it was now late, they all retired to their respective lodgings.
When the morning, and as it afterwards turned out, a most disastrous one, had come, having taken counsel during the night, all the lords took their departure together, in order to present themselves before the new king at Stony Startford, a town a few miles distant from Northampton; and now, lo and behold! when the two dukes had nearly arrived at the entrance of that town, they arrested the said earl of Rivers and his nephew Richard, the king’s brother, together with some others who had come with them, and commanded them to be led prisoners to the north of England. Immediately after, this circumstance being not yet known in the neighbouring town, where the king was understood to be, they suddenly rushed into the place where the youthful king was staying, and in like manner made prisoners of certain others of his servants who were in attendance on his person. One of these was Thomas Vaughan, an aged knight and chamberlain of the prince before-named.
The duke of Gloucester, however, who was the ringleader in this outbreak, did not omit or refuse to pay every mark of respect to the king, his nephew, in the way of uncovering the head, bending the knee, or other posture of the body required in a subject. He asserted that his only care was for the protection of his own person, as he knew for certain that there were men in attendance upon the king who had conspired against both his own honor and his very existence. Thus saying, he caused proclamations to be made, that all the king’s attendants should instantly withdraw from the town, and not approach any place to which the king might chance to come, under penalty of death. These events took place at Stony Stratford on Wednesday, on the last day of April, in the year above-mentioned, being the same in which his father died.
(4) Gloucester becomes Protector and the Queen heads for sanctuary
These reports having reached London on the following night, queen Elizabeth betook herself, with all her children, to the sanctuary of Westminster. In the morning you might have seen there the adherents of both parties, some sincerely, others treacherously, on account of the uncertainty of events, siding with one party or the other. For some collected their forces at Westminster in the queen’s name, others at London under the shadow of lord Hastings, and took up their position there.
In a few days after this, the before-named dukes, escorted the new king to London, there to be received with regal pomp; and, having placed him in the bishop’s palace at Saint Paul’s, compelled all the lords spiritual and temporal, and the mayor and aldermen of the city of London to take the oath of fealty to the king. This, as being a most encouraging presage of future prosperity, was done by all with the greatest pleasure and delight. A council being now held for several days, a discussion took place in Parliament about removing the king to some place where fewer restrictions could be imposed on him. Some mentioned the Hospital of Saint John, and some Westminster, but the duke of Buckingham suggested the Tower of London; which was at last agreed to by all, even those who had been originally opposed thereto. Upon this, the duke of Gloucester received the same high office of Protector of the kingdom, which had been given to Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, during the minority of king Henry. He was accordingly invested with this authority, with the consent and good-will of all the lords, with power to order and forbid in every matter, just like another king, and according as the necessity of the case should demand. The feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist being appointed as the day upon which the coronation of the king would take place without fail, all both hoped for and expected a season of prosperity for the kingdom. Still, however, a circumstance which caused the greatest doubts was the detention of the king’s relatives and servants in prison; besides the fact that the Protector did not, with a sufficient degree of considerateness, take measure for the preservation of the dignity and safety of the queen.
(5) The fall of Hastings and events of June 13th
In the meanwhile, the lord Hastings, who seemed to wish in every way to serve the two dukes and to be desirous of earning their favour, was extremely elated at these changes to which the affairs of the world are so subject, and was in the habit of saying that hitherto nothing whatever had been done except the transferring of the government of the kingdom from two of the queen’s blood to two more powerful persons of the king’s; and this, too, effected without any slaughter, or indeed causing as much blood to be shed as would be produced by the cut of a finger. In the course, however, of a very few days after the utterance of these words, this extreme of joy of his supplanted with sorrow. For, the day previously, the Protector had, with singular adroitness, divided the council, so that one part met in the morning at Westminster, and the other at the Tower of London, where the king was. The lord Hastings, on the thirteenth day of the month of June, being the sixth day of the week, on coming to the Tower to join the council, was, by order of the Protector, beheaded. Two distinguished prelates, also, Thomas, archbishop of York, and John, bishop of Ely, being out of respect for their order, held exempt from capital punishment, were carried prisoners to different castles in Wales. The three strongest supporters of the new king being thus removed without judgment or justice, and all the rest of his faithful subjects fearing the like treatment, the two dukes did thenceforth just as they pleased.
(6) The Duke of York removed from sanctuary
On the Monday following, they came with a great multitude by water to Westminster, armed with swords and staves, and compelled the cardinal lord archbishop of Canterbury, with many others, to enter the sanctuary, in order to appeal to the good feelings of the queen and prompt her to allow her son Richard, duke of York, to come forth and proceed to the Tower, that he might comfort the king his brother. In words, assenting with many thanks to this proposal, she accordingly sent the boy, who was conducted by the lord cardinal to the king in the said Tower of London.
(7) The illegitimacy of Edward V
From this day, these dukes acted no longer in secret, but openly manifested their intentions. For, having summoned armed men, in fearful and unheard-of numbers, from the north, Wales, and all other parts then subject to them, the said Protector Richard assumed the government of the kingdom, with the title of King, on the twentieth day of the aforesaid month of June; on the same day, at the great Hall of Westminster, obtruded himself into the marble chair. The colour for this act of usurpation, and his thus taking possession of the throne was the following: — It was set forth, by way of prayer, in an address in a certain roll of parchment, that the sons of king Edward were bastards, on the ground that he had contracted a marriage with one lady Eleanor Boteler, before his marriage to queen Elizabeth; and to which, the blood of his other brother, George, duke of Clarence, had been attainted; so that, at the present time, no certain and uncorrupted lineal blood could be found of Richard duke of York, except in the person of the said Richard, duke of Gloucester. For which reason, he was entreated, at the end of the said roll, on the part of lords and commons of the realm, to assume his lawful rights. However, it was at this time rumoured that this address had been got up in the north, whence such vast numbers were flocking to London; although, at the same time, there was not a person but what very well knew who was the sole mover at London of such seditious and disgraceful proceedings.
(8) The death of Rivers
These multitudes of people, accordingly, making a descent from the north to the south, under the especial conduct and guidance of Sir Richard Ratcliffe; on their arrival at the town of Pontefract, by command of the said Richard Ratcliffe, and without any form of trial being observed, Antony, earl of Rivers, Richard Grey, his nephew, and Thomas Vaughan, an aged knight, were, in presence of these people, beheaded. This was the second innocent blood which was shed on the occasion of this sudden change.