Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Hannah Lightfoot, “The Fair Quakeress”- Historical Hoax?

by Lauren Gilbert

Portrait of A Lady-Attributed to Sir Joshua Reynolds,
this may be a portrait of Hannah Lightfoot.

Historical hoaxes crop up from time to time. Examples ranging from the Piltdown Man in England (here) to Francis Drake’s Plate (here) in the US and others abound. Some are found to be pranks, some deliberate hoaxes. Then there are stories about people and personal relationships. They start with whispers, then printed hints and finally, hey presto! We now have full blown “history”. Gossip? Undoubtedly. True? No one really knows. Sometimes there simply aren’t enough known facts to determine the answer. A case in point is the story of Hannah Lightfoot and the very young Prince of Wales who became George III.


Young George, Prince of Wales, saw Hannah Lightfoot’s beautiful, unblemished face through a window (or maybe at a masquerade) and fell immediately in love with her sometime in 1753, and she with him. At some point, they began a passionate affair. She married Isaac Axford in December of 1753, and was snatched from the doors of the church (or maybe 6 weeks later) by the prince (or by the prince’s mother’s orders), who took her to live in one of the royal residences or another residence connected with the royal family. One particularly lurid account has the prince and Hannah in a coach pursued up the turnpike by Mr. Axford. George cleared the tolls by shouting “Royal Family”(1) at the tollkeepers, while poor Mr. Axford had to stop and pay each toll, ultimately losing the couple.

There is also an account that George was married to Hannah in the spring of 1759 by James Wilmot. They had at least one child (some accounts list 3, and the story has grown to a point where there seems to have been many children). When King George II died in October of 1760, Prince George’s mother and Lord Bute convinced him of the need to make a marriage of state to a royal princess, and he bigamously married Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Hannah and her child(ren) left. Some accounts place her in South Africa, others in America. Some sources indicate that Charlotte found out about this previous marriage; she insisted on being married again to George III in 1765 (again by James Wilmot), supposedly after the death of Hannah in 1764.



George III as Prince of Wales by Jean-Etienne Liotard, painted 1754

George was born June 4, 1738, the second child and oldest son of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and his wife Augusta, Princess of Saxe-Gotha. He was the grandson of King George II and Queen Caroline. He was born two months prematurely and tended carefully so that he became a healthy child. Prince Frederick was interested in the arts, sciences, writing and sports, and was quite involved with his children’s education. George and his younger brother Edward studied with Rev. Ayscough, learning to read and write both English and German well. It is likely that, thanks to Prince Frederick’s interests, they had exposure to literature, including Jonathon Swift and Alexander Pope, music, including the work of Bononcini and Handel, and fine art, thanks to Frederick’s personal collection, which included works by Van Dyck, Rubens and Breughel. Frederick also played with his children when he was available.

When he was age 11, a new tutor, George Lewis Scott, was assigned to George. He and his brother also were appointed a governor, Lord North. Their schedule expanded to include Latin and Greek, with a work day that started at 8:00 in the morning and continued until bedtime (between 9:00 and 10:00 at night), 6 days per week. On Sundays, they attended church multiple times and studied religion with Dr. Ayscough in the time available. (This schedule is outlined in Christopher Hibbert’s biography of George III.) This schedule was maintained, wherever they were in residence, until Prince Frederick died suddenly on March 31, 1751. George became the heir apparent at age 12.

Because of the antipathy George II had felt for Frederick, changes were made in the children’s household to get rid of those appointed by Frederick. Lord Harcourt replaced Lord North and Dr. Thomas Haytor. George’s studies continued, including Latin, mathematics, trigonometry, algebra, history, sciences, etc. He had a music master, drawing master, dancing master, fencing master, riding master, and went to outside lectures as well. He was shy, reserved and somewhat melancholy. Still living with his mother Princess Augusta, George came under the influence of Lord Bute, who had many political enemies. When George turned 18 in 1756, George II offered George his own household, but George refused, choosing to stay with his mother. His education continued, with interests expanding into agriculture, architecture and international trade. He received input from conflicting sources regarding current affairs and politics, but placed a lot of trust in Lord Bute.

Prince George turned 21 in June of 1759, at which point (according to Stella Tilyard in Aristocrats), he was still a virgin(2). In November 1759, Prince George took his seat in the House of Lords. Also in November of 1759, Sarah Lennox (one of the famous Lennox sisters) arrived at Holland House in London. She was almost 15 years old. She was presented at court in late November and met Prince George again. Sarah was known to the King and the royal family. She had participated in Protestant Irish society, so was more socially sophisticated than the Prince. Prince George apparently fell in love with Sarah immediately. Sarah was much admired at court. In addition to coping with his passion for Sarah, Prince George was also trying to convince his grandfather George II to give him something more to do politically. Somewhere around this time, he confessed to Lord Bute that he was interested in girls, Sarah in particular. Since Prince George was expected to marry for state reasons, his interest in Sarah was not encouraged.

Although Prince George yearned for Sarah, and it appears he asked her to marry him at least once, nothing came of this romance. On October 25, 1760, King George II died, making George king. Meetings with Lord Bute, William Pitt, Cabinet ministers and government business dominated the new king’s time. George III ultimately married Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on September 8, 1761. They were crowned king and queen together on September 22, 1761. In spite of his passion for Sarah Lennox, George III was devoted to his wife almost from the beginning, and to their family (they had 15 children.)


Hannah Lightfoot was the daughter of Matthew Lightfoot, a shoemaker by some accounts, and Mary Wheeler his wife, and was born in approximately 1730. Matthew died in 1732 or 1733. The Lightfoots and Wheelers were members of the Society of Friends. Mary’s brother Henry Wheeler, a linendraper, took Hannah and her mother into his home at some point. Accounts indicate he had a shop in St. James’s Market that was apparently not far from the Opera House and Pall Mall. Most accounts indicate Hannah was expected to work for or with her uncle in the family business. On December 11, 1753, Hannah married Isaac Axford, a grocer, in Dr. Keith’s marriage chapel in Mayfair. Isaac’s parents were Baptists (although other family members may have been members of the Society of Friends). The records of the Westminster Society of Friends indicate Hannah was expelled from the society in 1756 for being married by a priest to a non-member. Data indicates she had left and could not be contacted.

In 1757, a man named Robert Pearne of Isleworth left a will leaving Hannah (Mrs. Hannah Axford, formerly Miss Hannah Lightfoot) an annuity of 40 pounds per year. Mr. Pearne was reportedly a wealthy, single man with property in England and Antigua.  He may, or may not, have been known to Hannah's family.  No one really knows why he left her the annuity.  (I saw nothing to indicate anyone has discovered if it were claimed.)  Isaac Axford, claiming to be a widower, remarried in December of 1759. Hannah’s mother, Mary Wheeler Lightfoot, made a will in January of 1760 leaving her property to Hannah, stating she had not heard from her daughter in 2 years and did not know if she were alive or dead. Mary died in May of 1760. By all accounts that I have read indicate Hannah disappeared shortly after her marriage in December of 1753. To date, there is no indication that a date, place or cause of death has been established for her.


In 1753, George, Prince of Wales, was 15 years old and engaged with studies 6 days a week under the supervision of a governor, tutors and multiple masters, as well as his mother and Lord Bute, with Sundays equally occupied with multiple church attendances and religious studies. In 1753, Hannah would have been somewhere between approximately 23 years old, a member of a conservative and devout religious sect, and probably working in her uncle’s shop. There is no indication of any contemporary gossip of the prince being involved with any girl at this time in his life. Frankly, I don’t know when he would have had the time or the opportunity. It also does not seem likely that a young woman working for her keep in her uncle’s shop would have had much spare time to carry on a flirtation with passing royalty.

There is no contemporary record indicating a meeting between George and Hannah or of Hannah’s presence in any of the royal residences or of any gossip concerning the prince’s romance with Hannah. (One would think that someone would have noticed, given the intense supervision to which the prince was subjected.) I think that a mad flight up the turnpike would have been noted somewhere. The idea that a 15-year old Prince of Wales could organize such an event without getting caught by one or more of his many minders also seems wildly improbable.

We do know that by the end of 1759, George was madly in love with and wanted to marry Sarah Lennox. This seems completely out of character if he were in fact happily ensconced in a family relationship with Hannah and a child or children. After his grandfather’s death October 25, 1760, he was occupied with matters of state and forming a government as king, working closely with Lord Bute and his mother. He was married to Charlotte September 22, 1761. A letter was written by Lady Sophia Egerton to her uncle William Bentinck (who became the Duke of Portland) in December of 1759 that indicated that George had kept a beautiful Quaker, had a child by her, and she was dead. The Quaker in question was not named. There is nothing to indicate where she got the story, and there is no indication of similar stories in other sources. The timing is certainly odd, given the then-Prince’s known feelings for Sarah Lennox. I have not been able to find the full text of this letter, and I’ve seen no discussion regarding the existence and the validity or otherwise of this letter.

Subsequently, no rumors concerning a romance between Hannah and the Prince of Wales surfaced until the 1770’s, when an account was published that the prince had had this relationship, after which they popped up occasionally. By this time, George had been king and a contented family man for at several years. While it has been noted that George III was aware of and respected the Society of Friends, no evidence indicates this viewpoint on a personal relationship with an affair with a young woman. From 1779 until 1820, the story did not appear to be in circulation. In 1817, a woman named Olive Wilmot Serres contacted the Prince of Wales, claiming to be the daughter of the Duke of Cumberland.  After the death of George III, she revised her story to say she was the legitimate daughter of the Duke of Cumberland.  Such documentation of the relationship between George and Hannah that has been located include marriage certificates indicating that a marriage was performed between George and Hannah by James Wilmot in Curzon Street Chapel in either April or May of 1759 (apparently there are 2 certificates, each with a different date) and a will signed in 1762 by Hannah Regina appeared in a case filed by the illegitimate daughter of Olive Serres in a last attempt to establish that her mother was Princess Olive, daughter of the Duke of Cumberland and petitioned King George III for a pension. (For Princess Olive’s story go HERE and HERE  and in THE GREAT PRETENDERS shown in Sources below). The royal family contested Olive's allegations and, after Olive's death, her daughter Lavinia took the case to court in 1866. The documents (including those related to Hannah Lightfoot and George III) were finally pronounced at best suspicious, probably forgeries. (There are indications that George III’s oldest son, George IV, spread the story, using it to tease Queen Charlotte about the legitimacy of her marriage to his father.(3))  It is worth noting that the chapel where the wedding of George and Hannah allegedly occurred in 1759 was closed in 1754.(4)   The story grew throughout the Victorian era. There is also no evidence linking the portrait shown, attributed to  Joshua Reynolds, to Hannah Lightfoot Axford.  It is a portrait of a woman in an elegant gown, not in Quaker attire.  (There is a similar portrait, painted in 1756 by Joshua Reynolds, hanging at Knole, titled "Miss Axford, "The Fair Quakeress", also in fashionable garb.)  Either or both portraits could be portraits of Miss Ann Axford, who was not a Quaker but a member of a well-to-do family of grocers in Ludgate Hill. 

While Hannah Lightfoot Axford did exist, and did disappear sometime after her marriage to Isaac Axford on December 11, 1753, there is nothing linking her disappearance to the then-Prince of Wales. The inheritance of an annuity in 1757 from Robert Pearne would indicate other possibilities. Is it completely impossible that, at some point, she may have met George? No. I do however, feel a relationship of any kind between the two would not have gone unnoticed and undocumented, and a passionate romance that included living together and producing a child (or several) without any contemporary record does seem impossible to me.


(1) Bondeson, Jan. THE GREAT PRETENDERS The True Stories behind Famous Historical Mysteries. P. 175.

(2) Tilyard, Stella. ARISTOCRATS. P. 112

(3) Hampden, John Jr. THE ARISTOCRACY OF ENGLAND A History for the People. P. 204.

(4) Bondeson, Jan.  Op. Cit. P. 181


Bondeson, Jan. THE GREAT PRETENDERS The True Stories behind Famous Historical Mysteries. 2004: W. W. Norton & Co., New York.

Hibbert, Christopher. GEORGE III A Personal History. 1998: Viking of Penguin Books. Reprinted by Basic Books, a Member of the Perseus Books Group, New York.

Pendered, Mary Lucy. THE FAIR QUAKER Hannah Lightfoot and Her Relations with George III. 1911: D. Appleton and Co., New York. Kessenger Legacy Reprint.  (historical book reprint including imperfections) in my possession.

Tilyard, Stella. ARISTOCRATS. 1994: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.

Archive.org. Doran, Dr. LIVES OF THE QUEENS OF ENGLAND. Second Edition in Two Volumes. Vol. II. . 1855: Richard Bentley, London. HERE

Chest of Books. “True Love Stories of Famous People-29. King George III and Hannah Lightfoot” from EveryWoman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-1912.  HERE

GoogleBooks. Ashdown-Hill, John. ROYAL MARRIAGE SECRETS: Consorts & Concubines, Bigamists and Bastards. 2013: History Press. (Preview)  HERE

GoogleBooks. Hampden, John Junior (annotated William Howiitt). THE ARISTOCRACY OF ENGLAND A History for the People. 1856: Chapman Brothers, London.   HERE
Wikipedia.  "Olive Serres"(last edited 30 June 2017). No author or date provided. HERE
Joshua Reynolds' Portrait of Hannah: HERE
Liotard's portrait of George: HERE
Imaginary portrait of Hannah is the frontispiece from Mary Lucy Pendered's THE FAIR QUAKER Hannah Lightfoot, and Her Relations with George III (1911) as reprinted by Kessinger Legacy Reprints, p. vii. in my possession.  (THE MYSTERIES OF THE COURT OF LONDON by G. W. M. Reynolds, from which she obtained this portrait, was a "penny dreadful" published in 1849 by J. Dicks.)


Lauren Gilbert lives in Florida and is a long-time member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. An obsessive reader, she has been writing since childhood, and achieved her dream of publishing a book with HEYERWOOD: A Novel in 2011. She is working on her second novel A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT. Visit her website HERE for more information.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Wealth, Land, and Titles – Little Guarantee for a Happily Ever After

by Charlene Newcomb

Ranulf de Blundeville (or Blondeville), sixth earl of Chester, was born in 1170 during the reign of Henry II. Ranulf was the oldest son of Hugh, earl of Chester, and Bertrada de Montfort, a cousin of the king. When Ranulf’s father died in 1181, the young heir became a royal ward of Henry II. With his mother and four sisters, he was sent to the king’s court in Normandy. Little is known of Ranulf’s early life, but he became one of England’s most powerful and wealthy magnates who served four kings: Henry II, his sons Richard I and John, and John’s son, Henry III. The Chester family’s extensive holdings stretched from England and across the channel. Ranulf later became Earl of Lincoln and of Leicester. He was hereditary Viscount of the Bessin in central and western Normandy, encompassing the Viscounties of Bayeux and of Avranches; he was also Viscount of St Sauveur-le-Vicomte, Viscount of the Val de Vire and Baron of St Sever. At the time of his death, he had 138 manors. He had it all, or so one would think.

Ranulf was four years younger than King Henry’s son John. They may have been companions at court, but Ranulf avoided entanglement in the bitter battles between the king and his sons in the 1180s likely due to his age. Interestingly, his own father Hugh had sided with the young Angevins in the rebellion a decade earlier. Hugh had been imprisoned and eventually was restored his lands when he gave his allegiance to Henry. But Ranulf is not mentioned in the contemporary chronicles during his teenage years, until he reached his majority and was knighted by King Henry II in 1188 (some records say 1189) and assumed control of his estates.

The nineteen year old was thrust into the limelight when, in that same year, Henry arranged for his marriage to Constance, duchess of Brittany. She and her Breton lords had been fond of Geoffrey, her first husband - son of Henry II — but they disliked the Plantagenets and their interference in Brittany and often leaned toward supporting the French king as Geoffrey had. Henry and Richard saw the union between Ranulf and Constance as a way to keep Brittany aligned with the Angevins, which was critical to maintaining the open sea lanes between England and the continent. And in negotiations in 1190 with King Tancred of Sicily, Richard had acknowledged Constance’s three-year-old son Arthur as his heir in a marriage arrangement with Tancred’s daughter.

Constance of Brittany
Through Constance, who was nine years his senior, Ranulf added Earl of Richmond and Duke of Brittany to his titles. For a young man with wealth, titles, and extensive lands on both sides of the Channel he certainly was in a position to take a leadership role not only in Brittany, but also in England. Based on the scant information of Ranulf’s life in the years 1189-1194 he did not. Unlike many nobles, he did not accompany King Richard on crusade. He wasn’t involved in running the realm like William Marshal, Hubert Walter, and others. He appears to have issued a few charters but nothing his contemporary, the chronicler Roger de Hoveden, felt worthy of national note. In The Annals, De Hoveden does record the marriage of Ranulf’s sister Matilda in 1190 to David, the brother of William, King of Scots. Ranulf finally reappears in those chronicles in 1194 when, with his brother-in-law David “and the earl of Ferrers, with a great army, [they] laid siege to Nottingham castle.” Recently released from captivity in Germany, King Richard arrived with more men to deal with the traitors there on 25 March. It is likely Ranulf fought at the king’s side when the outer bailey of the castle was taken by Richard and his men that day.

Nottingham Castle, 2010
Following the castellans’ surrender on the 28th day of March, Ranulf was present as Richard convened the four-day Council of Nottingham. To affirm his control of the realm, the king had been counseled to hold a formal crown-wearing ceremony. Ranulf may have accompanied the king as he made his way to Winchester. On the 17th day of April, the young Earl carried one of three swords from the treasury, standing with the King of Scots and the Earl of Warenne before the king. It must have been quite an honor and privilege.

King Richard turned his attention to the French incursion against his continental lands and left for Normandy in May 1194. Ranulf followed, but unlike the king, he would set foot in England again.

Ranulf should have had a joyful reunion with his wife after months apart. Surely they should be getting about the whole purpose of marriage – siring an heir or two. And Ranulf’s position as a strong supporter of King Richard implied that as Duke of Brittany he would influence Breton solidarity against King Philip of France. But Ranulf’s role as Duke was in name only. Ranulf hardly appears in Breton records and his wife Constance continued to rule, as she had since Geoffrey’s death. Was this due to Ranulf’s young age and inexperience? Apparently, this marriage was not a match made in heaven. Ranulf’s biographer Soden claims the couple loathed each other. He spent virtually no time in Brittany and supposedly was run out of the duchy by Constance’s supporters.

In ten years of marriage the couple had no children together, but by virtue of the marriage Ranulf was stepfather to Constance’s children by Geoffrey. There is no evidence that he was ever close to Eleanor (born 1184) or Arthur (born 1186) not that he was given much opportunity to be a father to them. Constance might have missed an opportunity to have her husband influence King Richard in her favor. Her arranged marriage was not the only chain* tying Brittany to the Angevins: Richard also held Constance’s daughter as a royal hostage to ensure Breton loyalty while he was on crusade. Constance saw very little of her daughter during this time and nine-year-old Eleanor became a political pawn. Richard’s ransom included terms stipulating that Eleanor marry the son of his enemy, Leopold, Duke of Austria. She was on route to Austria in 1194 when word arrived that the duke had died. Eleanor returned to Richard’s custody. Known as the ‘pearl of Brittany’, Eleanor holds a royal record: when her brother was captured by King John, she was held in captivity for 39 years until her death in 1241.

As Richard began his campaign to restore lands King Philip had conquered, Ranulf may have been directly involved in sieges, assaults, and skirmishes. He obviously had other things on his mind: an awful marriage, being thrown out of Brittany, no power to rule as duke. Ranulf’s ego must have been badly bruised. So what’s a young man to do? Kidnap and imprison your wife of course!

Constance had been commanded to meet with King Richard in Normandy. As she crossed the River Couësnon from Brittany into Normandy, Ranulf and his knights waylaid her ducal train. She was ‘escorted’ to St. James de Beuvron, one of Ranulf’s castles east of the Breton border town Pontorson.

Some of the histories claim the scheme to kidnap Constance in March 1196 was hatched between King Richard and Ranulf. Even the Bretons believed this, and we can be assured French propaganda exploited the idea.

Arthur of Brittany
What is fact is that Richard wanted Constance’s son Arthur to be raised at his court and away from French influence. Given the bitter fighting with France, this is understandable. After all, Arthur was a legitimate heir to Richard’s throne.

Was King Richard the instigator? If the Bretons had been so inclined to exchange Arthur for Constance's release, the scheme might have worked. The Bretons responded by swearing fealty to Arthur and allying themselves with France. They hid Arthur until he could be stealthily whisked to King Philip’s court in Paris. In April 1196, Richard attacked Brittany, “not even pausing for Good Friday” per chronicler William the Breton. According to De Hoveden, Richard, “collecting a large army, entered Brittany in a hostile manner, and laid it waste.” In negotiations, Richard agreed to Constance’s release in August 1196, but Ranulf would not comply. The Bretons attacked Richard’s forces in Normandy, and counterattacks in Brittany furthered devastated their forces.

Constance’s two year imprisonment did nothing to endear her to Ranulf. If he had concocted the plot on his own, surely it was the impetuous act of a young, spurned man who wanted to assert his control as her husband and as Duke of Brittany. Was that his intention? Did he want to raise his stature by securing Arthur for King Richard?

Richard recognized the critical importance of having Brittany in his camp in the war against France. He received concessions and allegiance from Brittany in a negotiated peace, but he did not get Arthur.

And Ranulf? Was he merely an agent of King Richard? There appeared to be no repercussions against the young duke. The records for 1196-1198 place him at Château Gaillard, Richard’s massive castle building project on the River Seine. Soden notes that Ranulf provided protection for men and materials being moved upstream for the project.

Château-Gaillard, 2005

Constance eventually was released by Ranulf, but the circumstances are vague. She returned to Brittany and ruled as Arthur’s regent. When King Richard died as a result of a crossbow wound at Chalus in April 1199, Constance turned to France to support her son’s claim to the English crown. King Philip turned the tables on Brittany and recognized John as king. Ranulf joined a council of nobles that August and swore fealty to John.

Constance apparently had sought a divorce from Ranulf on the grounds of consanguinity. At least once source claims that though the Pope had not ruled, she remarried in October 1199 without the king’s permission. (There are some who argue Ranulf had sought the annulment.) Ranulf also remarried in the Fall of 1200. His career and life took serious twists and turns during John’s reign as he fell in and out of favor with the king, but that is a story for another day.


*Arthur’s betrothal to King Tancred’s daughter was a moot point after Sicily was conquered by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI (Richard’s gaoler) in 1194.


De Hoveden, R. (1853). The Annals of Roger de Hoveden, comprising the history of England and of other countries of Europe from A. D. 732 to A. D. 1201. (Henry T. Riley, Trans.). London: H. G. Bohn. (Original work published 1201?)

Eales, R. "Ranulf (III) , sixth earl of Chester and first earl of Lincoln (1170–1232)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/2716]

Everhard, J.A. (2000). Brittany and the Angevins: Province and Empire, 1158-1203. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gillingham, J. (2002). Richard I. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Soden, I. (2013). Ranulf de Blondeville: the First English Hero. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Amberley Publishing.

Image Credits

Images are in the public domain unless otherwise noted.

Nottingham Castle gatehouse, which dates back to 1250, not Ranulf's time. Photo taken by the Author in 2010, CC BY-SA.

Château-Gaillard by Urban 2005 CC BY-SA 3.0.

This article was selected as an Editor's Choice and was originally published October 10, 2016.


Charlene Newcomb (aka Char) will be publishing Book III of her Battle Scars series in May 2018. Swords of the King is set during the final years of Richard the Lionheart’s reign. Books I & II of the series are B.R.A.G. Medallion honorees, and For King and Country was a finalist in the Chaucer Award for pre-1750 historical fiction.

Find Char on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, February 25, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Join us on the blog every week for wonderful posts on various aspects of British history. Enjoy our weekly round-up:

by Kim Rendfeld

Friday, February 23, 2018

Did he or didn't he? Of a hangman and the royal blood on his hands

by Anna Belfrage

Being an executioner has never been a career choice to endear you to your neighbours. While our ancestors may have liked to witness a good hanging or two, they were wary of bonding with the man responsible for this gruesome entertainment. After all, one never knew if, someday, it would be you on the receiving end of the brutal justice dispensed by the executioner. It didn’t take much to be condemned to death—steal a horse and you’d swing. I imagine it would make an already uncomfortable situation quite unbearable if the man arranging the noose around your neck also was the man with whom you'd shared a number of pints...

However, being an executioner came with some perks, like a steady income. Plus, someone had to do the dirty deed, right? Very often, the job passed from father to son. This was the case with Richard Brandon, the common hangman in London in the 1640s. His father, Gregory Brandon, had been the hangman before him, and had somehow managed to acquire a coat of arms to go with his name and chosen profession. Gregory does not come across as a nice cuddly person. At one point he was even accused of murder but somehow wiggled out of by claiming benefit of clergy. This, of course, makes one wonder how he could do that – were executioners also priests?

Rumour had it that Gregory was the grandson of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. The duke had sired an illegitimate son who purportedly was Gregory’s father, but the timing was wrong, as Brandon’s illegitimate son died well before Gregory was born. Still, Gregory Brandon had no reason to refute the rumour. Being descended from someone as well-known as Charles Brandon was not exactly bad for business and added a je-ne-sais-quoi to Gregory’s (probably rather dull) ancestral tree.

James I & VI
Gregory was kept busy during James I’s reign. And once he retired, he passed the baton to his son. Did Richard dream of another life? No idea. Maybe wielding a head-axe appealed to him. Supposedly he spent his childhood practising his axe-work on stray cats and dogs, and as his father grew older, Richard helped him with his duties, thereby perfecting his noose-tying skills. But it was the axe that was Richard’s favourite implement, and so good was his eye, so steady his arm, that most of the people he executed had their head severed by the first blow. Something to be grateful for, I suppose.

By 1639, Richard had replaced his father as common hangman. The first few years of his tenure were marred by an accusation of bigamy, and for a while Richard lingered in Newgate before being released and allowed to return home to Whitechapel and his wife Mary. (Whether she was his “real” wife or the one for which he was accused of bigamy is unclear)

In 1641 our Richard stepped into the limelight when he executed Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford. Thomas was a loyal servant of the king whom Charles I abandoned when parliament turned against him. He could have refused to sign the death sentence—but he didn’t. To be fair to Charles, he had a very volatile situation on his hands, and it didn’t help that the bishops were divided on the issue, some urging the king to refuse to sign, others insisting he should. Still, Wentworth’s death for being loyal to his king would weigh heavily on Charles’ conscience. As it should.

As we all know, the coming years were turbulent. People died in the battlefield, of wounds and injuries. Some died because of their crimes, and if they were sentenced in London, it is likely Richard did the killing—oops, execution.

In January of 1645, Brandon added another famous scalp to his belt when he executed the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud. I have little time for Laud, whom I consider to have fanned the flames of religious intolerance and thereby contributed to the outbreak of the English Civil War, but beheading an infirm old man seems a bit harsh. In Laud’s case, Charles I issued a royal pardon, but by that time Charles’ word carried little weight in England.

Charles I
In January of 1649, Charles I himself was tried for treason by Parliament. Charles refused to plead, informing the so-called court that they had no right to try their king. The men in charge of the proceedings proceeded anyway, and on January 29, fifty-nine men, now commonly known as the Regicides, signed Charles’ death sentence. It was time to call in the services of Richard Brandon, and this time he’d be spilling royal blood.

Apparently, Brandon was not that keen on beheading the king. In fact, he refused. This did not help. A company of troopers was dispatched to fetch him, and on January 30 a disguised Richard Brandon was standing on the scaffold, wearing a false beard and periwig. He had to wait a long time for the king to appear, as Parliament was rushing through an Ordinance making it treason to claim the throne after Charles I was dead. Finally, the legalese was done and Charles was ordered to present himself on the scaffold which had been erected beside the Banqueting House. The king, famously wearing two shirts so as not to shiver, was calm and collected. He spoke his piece, kneeled, and at his signal the axe came down. A perfect blow, it severed the king’s head neatly.

An hour or so later, Richard was back home in Whitechapel, 30 pounds richer. He had also received one of the king’s handkerchiefs in recognition of his services. And an orange, studded with cloves, which he sold for ten shillings. At the time, Richard kept a low profile. Bragging about being the one who lopped off the king’s head was not the smart thing to do, not when so many were appalled by the killing of the king. Besides, Richard was not proud of what he’d done. Rather the reverse.

In March of 1649, Richard did some more axe work. This time, he dispatched the Earl of Holland, the Duke of Hamilton and Lord Capel with the same axe that had ended the king’s life. But he was not his usual self and complained of headaches, saying he’d been afflicted by relentless pain ever since that day in January. Richard Brandon, common hangman and axeman extraordinaire, was plagued by remorse for his part in the king’s death. Or maybe he was worried about the consequences for his immortal soul: spilling the blood of an anointed monarch could probably be something he'd pay a heavy price for in the hereafter.

Richard died in June of 1649. Prior to expiring, he had confessed that he’d been the executioner wielding the axe when Charles died. The identity of the man who’d severed the royal head was not exactly a secret. After his death, various pamphlets circulated naming Brandon as the man on the scaffold. Some time after his death, a note was added to the burial register, identifying “R Brandon out of Rosemary Lane” as the man who lopped off the king’s head. However, royalist propaganda spread a different story, stating the common hangman was a man of integrity who had refused to do the foul deed, thereby obliging two troopers to handle the axe themselves.  Nothing points to this being the truth.  Instead, Richard Brandon, accused bigamist and proud inheritor of his father’s job as London’s hangman, is the likely candidate for the man who brought down the blade that so expertly ended Charles Stuart’s life. At least it only took one blow...

All pictures in public domain and/or licensed under Wikimedia Creative Commons


Had Anna Belfrage been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. And yes, Edmund of Woodstock appears quite frequently. The first book, In The Shadow of the Storm was published in 2015, the second, Days of Sun and Glory, was published in July 2016, and the third, Under the Approaching Dark, was published in April 2017. The fourth instalment, The Cold Light of Dawn, was published in February 2018.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she's probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex(andra) and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him. The ninth book, There is Always a Tomorrow, was published in November 2017.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Queen Ælfflæd: A Bride Worth Killing Over

By Kim Rendfeld

Today we know little about Ælfflæd, except that kings wanted to her to marry their sons.

She was the daughter of deposed Mercian King Ceolwulf, who claimed to descend from the legendary Penda’s brother. Apparently, that pedigree made her a desirable bride.

Ælfflæd’s birth and death dates are unknown. Not a surprise consider the dearth of information about 9th century Mercia. She lived in turbulent times. In a span of 54 years, there were 10 kings. The realm faced danger from Viking raids and power struggles within.

Her uncle Cenwulf succeeded Offa’s son, Ecgfrith, who died in December 796, maybe not of natural causes. Offa had a reputation for ruthlessness, but Cenwulf was no Mr. Nice Guy. Early in his reign, he suppressed a rebellion in Kent and had its leader blinded and his hands chopped off. He released his crippled rival to Winchcombe, an abbey and center of power. His daughter, Cwenthryth, was abbess of Winchcombe and Minster in Thanet in Kent. (Rumors of Cwenthryth ordering the murder of her brother, later revered as a martyr, are likely apocryphal.)

Cenwulf died without male heirs in 821, passing the throne to Ælfflæd’s father, Ceolwulf. If she was at court as a child, it was not for long. Although anointed in 822, Ceolwulf was deposed only a year later, and we don’t know why.

Coins from Ceolwulf's reign (The Portable
Antiquities Scheme/The Trustees of
the British Museum, CC BY-SA 2.0,
via Wikimedia Commons}

His successors fared no better. Beornwulf, perhaps a descendant of rival family to Offa, died in 826, at the hands of East Angles. Then Ludeca died the next year, also in battle against the East Angles.

Wiglaf ascended to the throne in 827. He was deposed by Wessex King Ecgberht in 829 but resumed his reign in 830. After that scare, Wiglaf might have realized he needed some help if he didn’t want to wind up like the last two rulers. Beornwulf, Ludeca, and Wiglaf might have been regional rulers—they could seize the throne but couldn’t secure the support of all Mercian factions. Wiglaf needed an alliance, and marriage between noble families was one way to forge that. His son Wigmund was the eligible bachelor and the father looked to Ælfflæd.

Why Ælfflæd, the daughter of a deposed king? For one thing, she might have been wealthy and controlled a lot of land. She was the sole heiress for her father and, after Cwenthryth passed, her uncle. Perhaps, Mercians still held a high regard for her ancestors, and she had friends through the kingdom.

History is silent on whether Ælfflæd immediately supported the union and her family’s return of power or required persuasion. It’s not too much of a stretch to think she welcomed the offer. Medieval women were expected to manage assets and wield influence in Church and secular politics. I suspect Ælfflæd, much like another woman with the same name, was quite capable.

We don’t know how well Wigmund and Ælfflæd got along. They had a son, Wigstan. Whether they had another son, Ceolwulf, is uncertain. If there was a second child named after his maternal grandfather, that says a lot about Ælfflæd and her importance.

You might have noticed part of the father’s name often appears in the names of his children, both sons and daughters. Ælfflæd seems to be an exception. There’s no way to know for certain, but it is possible she had been named for Saint Ælfflæd, an influential abbess of Whitby who had died in the previous century. Ceolwulf’s parents might have wanted to remind the people of another king, either Ælfflæd’s father or an 8th century saint who was king of Northumbria.

Wiglaf ruled for another 10 years, a long time in this period. Exactly who succeed him and when is in dispute, but here’s what I suspect. The crown passed to Wigmund, who ruled another nine years until his death.

Crypt at Repton (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

According to legend, Wigmund’s son Wigstan preferred the religious life to ruling the kingdom and appointed his mother regent. If Ceolwulf was his brother, why didn’t the crown pass to him? Was Ceolwulf too young?

Wigstan’s kinsman Beorhtfrith wanted to wed the widowed Ælfflæd. Politically, this would have made sense. The marriage would reconcile two noble families who had been at odds. (Given the similarity of names Beorhtwulf and Beornwulf, it is likely the two were related.) It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine Ælfflæd still young enough to bear children.

But Wigstan forbid the marriage—or persuaded his mom to refuse the offer—because of consanguinity. Beorhtfrith and a servant murdered Wigstan on June 1, 849. Interred with his father at Repton, Wigstan would later be canonized as a martyr.

We know Beornwulf, Beorhtfrith’s father, was the next king. What happened to Ælfflæd is unclear. She might have retired to Winchcombe and become its abbess. History is silent on Ælfflæd’s grief. Nor does it tell us if she prayed for Beorhtwulf’s downfall.

Beorhtwulf’s reign lasted only three years. Burgred succeeded him after a Mercian defeat at the hands of the Vikings. Then Burgred himself was ousted by Vikings in late 873 or early 874.

Ceolwulf II succeeded him. Perhaps an older man when he became king, he’s been called a puppet of Vikings, but because of his royal descent, he was acceptable to Mercians. The Vikings and the people of Wessex accepted him as the ruler of Mercia. We don’t know if Ælfflæd was alive to witness this. But if she were around, and if this Ceolwulf was his son, perhaps she felt some triumph to see royal power back in her family’s hands.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, including:
“Cenwulf” by M.K. Lawson
“Cwenthryth” by S.E. Kelly
"Beornwulf" by S.E. Kelly
"Wiglaf" by S.E. Kelly
"Wigstan [St Wigstan]" by David Rollason
"Berhtwulf [Beorhtwulf]" by S.E. Kelly
"Burgred [Burhred]" by S.E. Kelly

A Biographical Dictionary of Dark Ages Britain: England, Scotland, and Wales, C. 500-c. 1050 by Ann Williams, Alfred P. Smyth, D.P. Kirby

The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley

Kim Rendfeld has written two novels set in 8th century Europe. In The Cross and the Dragon, a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband (available on Amazon). In The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, a Saxon peasant will fight for her children after losing everything else (available on Amazon). Her short story “Betrothed to the Red Dragon,” about Guinevere’s decision to marry Arthur, is set in early medieval Britain and available on Amazon.

Connect with Kim at on her website kimrendfeld.com, her blog, Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, February 18, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Never miss a post - British history across the centuries, with our round up for the week ending February 17 featuring:

Friday, February 16, 2018

In Search of Bannockburn

By Annie Whitehead

On a recent trip to Scotland I had, as is my wont, attempted to see as many historical sites as possible, and, looking at the map as we left Doune Castle (filming location for Outlander, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail) it seemed to me that a short drive would take us to Bannockburn, and since the place was marked clearly on the map, we'd be there in a matter of minutes.

I'll say no more about that, except that the words lost, minor roads, and divorce were uttered.

But, a roadside sign showed how close we were, for we had inadvertently found ourselves at the very edge of the battle site.

We had arrived on the eastern slope of Gillies Hill, where the servants, cooks, smiths - essentially the non-combatants - of Robert Bruce's army were placed for safety before the battle. It is assumed that at some point they went down the hill, nearer the fighting, but perhaps only to loot, sensing that the battle was all but won.

Bannockburn was a major engagement between the forces of King Edward II of England and Robert Bruce, thenceforth Robert I of Scotland. A short distance from Gillies Hill we could see the monument to Bruce, and we set off. Eventually we found the Visitors' Centre, down in the valley but not, necessarily, on the site of the battle.

For, although it is known that the battle commenced on 23rd and continued into 24th June, 1314, it has never been established exactly where the main fighting took place.

On 22nd June, Bruce had moved his men to the New Park, two miles south of Stirling Castle. There were trees beside the road to the castle which would make it hard for Edward II's cavalry to be deployed, while to the southwest, a place named Halbert's Bog, and rolling hills, would be protection from attack.

Stirling Castle, seen from Bannockburn
On the morning of 23rd, Edward's troops marched from Falkirk towards Stirling (a matter of some fourteen miles). Edward received word that Robert had blocked the road through the Park. Edward commanded his army to stop for a break, but, either through disobedience or confusion, the vanguard pressed on, only to be pushed back by the Scots.

Later in the day, two of Edward's knights attempted to take 300 cavalry to higher ground, but they were met by a schiltron*, which pushed them back.

Mindful of a possible night-time attack by the Scots, that night Edward decided to cross the Bannock Burn and set up camp on the far side, on the 'Carse', an area of lower ground.

This was no easy feat. They needed to erect makeshift bridges to get the horses across the water. It took a long time, with some having to wait until nearly dawn to cross.

Meanwhile, at dawn, Robert Bruce ordered an advance, as close to Edward's line as possible. First to engage were the archers, but it was the Scots who were forced to pull back first. The English cavalry lined up, as best they could in the unfavourable terrain.

The English cavalry could not get past the schiltron, led by the Earl of Moray. Unable to present more than a limited front, they could not take advantage of their superior numbers, and were further hindered by those who began to retreat, pushing them back. Sir Robert Keith successfully led the Scottish cavalry against the English archers, depriving Edward of his deadliest resources.

Hand-to-hand combat ensued, with many English soldiers being pushed back to drown in the Bannock Burn.

After the battle, Edward fled to Dunbar, and thence to Berwick. The fighting did not end there, with Scots harrying into England and Robert Bruce facing opposition still from the Balliols, in the form of John Balliol's son, Edward, but a plot against Robert in 1320 failed.

Edward II meanwhile, refused to accept Robert as king of Scotland, but in 1320 the Declaration of Arbroath , a letter (sealed by the nobles of Scotland) to Pope John XXII, asserted Robert's right to rule Scotland.

So, that's a potted history of the battle itself. But while the Visitors' Centre has a wealth of information about it, it cannot provide the answer to the question: where was the battle?

There is hardly any archaeological evidence for the battle. No human remains, no pieces of military or personal equipment, and no mass graves have been found. The fighting took place over a huge area, and this was subject to wholesale looting. The sources refer vaguely to 'the wood', the 'kirk', 'the great ditch' and even a 'dry field', hard to identify now without specific place-names.

It seems to have been agreed that the first day's fighting occurred round New Park, which roughly equates to the site of the Visitors' Centre, but argument continues about the second day, with many topographical features, such as the 'great ditch' still unidentified. Up to eight potential sites have been identified from written sources. These sources include: 
The Lancercost Chronicle, The Chronicle of Andrew of Wynton, Liber Pluscardensis, Chronica gentis Scotorum, Vita Edwardi Secundi, The Brut, or Chronicle of England, and The Anonimalle Chronicle
This is not even a complete list, yet still the site cannot be pinpointed with precision. One theory contends that the battlefield was specifically on the Carse, between the Pelstream Burn and the Bannock Burn. Another potential site is under a school and a modern housing estate. The Visitors' Centre was set up to preserve the general area, rather than commemorate a specific site, and there is a magnificent monument to Robert Bruce there.

In 2012 and 2013 an archaeological survey of the Carse was undertaken, yielding some medieval pottery which was of roughly the date of the battle, which suggests human settlement and thus reduces the weight of one argument which contends that the area was too boggy to be a battle site.

The best hope for identification lies in a technique known as LiDAR, a system of recording the landscape using lasers to create a computer model of the landscape, and then studying the possible routes taken by Edward's army.

Ironic, then, that we had initially been unable to find Bannockburn, for it transpires that there is nothing really to find.

As an Anglo-Saxonist, I am used to relying on written and archaeological evidence. Rarely am I able to visit a known battle site, or see a building which dates from the period. So it still surprises me that such a major battle as Bannockburn, one which marks, to all intents and purposes, Scottish independence from the Plantagenet kings, should have left so little trace of itself. A huge impact on history, yes, and a wealth of written material, too. But for the visitor to Bannockburn, all that awaits is - an admittedly impressive - 3D visual 'experience', a chance to view the monument, but no insight at all into where the fighting actually took place.

*Schiltron - a formation of tightly-packed spearmen (around 500-1000)

[all illustrations are photographs taken by and copyright of the author, except the Declaration of Arbroath, which is a Public Domain image via Wikipdedia]


Annie Whitehead is an author and historian, and a member of the Royal Historical Society. Her first two novels are set in tenth-century Mercia, chronicling the lives of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, who ruled a country in all but name, and Earl Alvar who served King Edgar and his son Æthelred the Unready who were both embroiled in murderous scandals. Her third novel, also set in Mercia, tells the story of seventh-century King Penda and his feud with the Northumbrian kings. She is currently working on a history of Mercia for Amberley Publishing, to be released in 2018.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Common Myths of the Wars of the Roses: Richard III: Victim of Tudor Propaganda? Part 1

by Derek Birks

In the past year, while writing my sixth novel set during the Wars of the Roses, I’ve had to confront directly in my research the legend that is Richard III. So much has been written about this king that it is in danger of simply deteriorating into ‘white noise’. Over a period of decades of examining the sources and reading the historians, I am still astonished not only by what is said but also the vehemence with which many assertions are made.

There are so many myths about Richard that it’s difficult to know where to start, but one view which endures is that Richard’s reputation was destroyed by Tudor propaganda.

The fragmentary evidence we have about Richard is often seriously flawed. So when we talk glibly about Richard, or Henry Tudor for that matter, being ‘popular’ or ‘unpopular’ we are basing our assessment on tiny shards of evidence. That alone is reason enough to question our conclusions.

In this post, I am focusing on how Richard’s actions were perceived by others in 1483.

Richard III [Wikimedia Commons]
Before 1483, even most of the political classes would never have met Richard, Duke of Gloucester – or any other important lord. Their world was their manor, or perhaps at most, their county. They would know the leading men of the land only by reputation – by stories of what they were said to have done. It was wholly subjective and unreliable, but it was pretty much all they had.

There were no newspapers or social media, so they must glean snippets out of personal letters from friends at court, or others they knew. Everything was hearsay – informed hearsay - from the tiny few who witnessed any events of importance. News was spread by word of mouth and opinion filtered downwards since every lord in each stratum of society would have his own clients – his political, social and economic dependents.

You can imagine how the information received – and passed on - by these clients, changed with the telling and retelling. What started out as: “did Richard have a hand in the death of the ‘Princes’?” might well end up as: “Richard murdered them!”

But surely this is a case of a man whose reputation was tarnished after his fall by a vengeful victor?

There is no question that before the summer of 1483, Richard was generally held in high regard as: the loyal brother of the late king, a brave soldier, the successful general of the recent Scottish war, the good lord and supporter of his clients and tenants.

That Richard was still revered even at the end of his reign by many in the north is suggested by an entry in the York Records for 23rd August 1485 – the day after Bosworth: “King Richard, late lawfully reigning over us, was… piteously slain and murdered to the great heaviness of this city.”

Nevertheless, the battle over Richard III’s reputation began well before 1485. 

Richard’s image with some folk was pretty tarnished long before Bosworth. In a matter of months during summer 1483, the good opinion of Richard changed drastically. By October 1483 there was an unsuccessful rebellion against Richard which alone is evidence of discontent among at least some the ruling classes of the southern counties. Since it also involved the betrayal of Richard by his closest ally, the Duke of Buckingham, it could not have given people much confidence.

More striking still is that those who supported Henry Tudor’s first bid for the throne formed a rather unholy alliance of die-hard Lancastrian exiles and loyal servants of the Yorkist Edward IV. In fact most came from the latter group who should have been Richard’s natural supporters.

Such a significant shift in opinion could not have been caused by Henry Tudor alone – or his mother, Lady Margaret Stanley, née Beaufort. Indeed few men in England were in direct contact with Henry when the first rebellion occurred.

So, why did some Yorkists choose to support Henry Tudor rather than Richard III? The answer lies not in Tudor propaganda, but in the events between April and July 1483.

In April 1483, en route to the coronation in London, Richard arrested Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, and several other members of Edward V’s household. This caused some political shockwaves and did not promote an atmosphere of calm. Though the Woodvilles are usually presented, rightly or wrongly, as unpopular, Anthony Woodville, the queen’s brother, might be seen as among the best of them.

I have seen it written countless times that Rivers “hated” Gloucester, so let me be clear on this point: there is no evidence whatsoever that Rivers and Gloucester resented, or disagreed with, or were hostile to - each other before the moment of Rivers’ arrest.

Nor is there any credible evidence that Rivers was plotting against Gloucester, who expected to be confirmed as Protector by the King’s Council when he arrived in London. As the maternal uncle and governor of the Prince of Wales, Rivers was closer to the new boy king than any other leading nobleman. Rivers was not arrested because of what he had done, but because of what he might do. It was a pre-emptive strike and pre-emptive strikes unsettle people.

Gloucester might, in part at least, have been responding to letters from Lord Hastings – the close ally of young Edward’s father – urging him to weaken the power of the queen’s family lest they should dominate the new reign. Hastings, though rightly viewed by many - both then and since - as a ‘reliable pair of hands’, panicked in April 1483. Why? Because he, unlike Gloucester, was wary of the queen and especially hostile to her eldest son, Thomas, Marquis of Dorset.

All the same, when Gloucester arrested Rivers and the others, many in the Council, and beyond, accepted his explanation that there was a Woodville plot against him, though they had no intention of allowing Gloucester to take complete control of the government. In the ensuing weeks councillors worked in two groups: one discussed arrangements for the coronation, while another met separately with Gloucester.

What little evidence we have hints that this division of the council caused mutterings. What, some wondered, was Gloucester discussing with his small group of councillors? Though such thoughts do not constitute opposition to the Protector, they do at least suggest some unease.

Few could have been aware that in mid- June Richard sent letters north calling urgently for troops.

If they had been, they might have been more concerned, because in London they would have seen little evidence of the continuing plot which Richard claimed as the justification for it. The queen was in sanctuary at Westminster, so hardly ‘on side’ but she had little opportunity and no resources to challenge Gloucester.

Then, on 13th June 1483, a singular event occurred: Lord Hastings, loyal stalwart of the previous regime, and apparent ally of the Protector, was dragged from the council chamber and brutally beheaded at Gloucester’s command.

Also, John Morton, Bishop of Ely and Lord Thomas Stanley, among others, were summarily arrested. Lord Stanley, like Hastings, was a key figure in the kingdom and not to be trifled with lightly.

It is often suggested that opinion hostile to Richard was confined to the southern counties where the October rebellion broke out, but the power base of Lord Thomas Stanley – released by Gloucester on good behaviour – was in the north-west. Whatever views Lord Stanley, or his many clients, held about Gloucester before 13th June, I doubt he was their best friend afterwards.

This is the pivotal event of the summer. Why? Because if William Hastings, staunch Yorkist and close supporter of Gloucester, could be treated thus, then no man could feel safe.

From that moment on, there was an atmosphere of suspicion and fear at court. When it did become known that Gloucester had sent for a northern army, that only accentuated the alarm. Since the death of Edward IV, Gloucester had imprisoned or executed three of the half dozen most influential magnates in the kingdom and a fourth, Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, appeared to be his most trusted ally. What conclusion would any experienced courtier draw from that?

This, remember, is before any suggestion of Gloucester taking the throne, let alone killing his nephews, but we can be pretty sure that the question on everyone’s mind at court was: what is Gloucester going to do next?

Then, as if by magic, several claims were made questioning the legitimacy of King Edward V. People at court were not stupid – influenced by rumour and self-interest, yes – but not stupid. The fact that these allegations surfaced only days after Hastings’ execution was not lost on anyone. Let us not forget that there were far more men of influence in London than usual because of the impending coronation. Such men wrote letters to their relatives, or to their clients in the country which support the conclusion that opinion of Gloucester was shifting. Where there had been confidence, now there was, at best, confusion and at worst, suspicion.

Then there was the coronation...
The royal arms of Richard III [Creative Commons license
in the Public Domain]
When Gloucester first postponed the king’s coronation, most would have agreed with him. Time was too short for the arrangements to be made and a delay until June 22nd seemed sensible. But when the coronation was postponed for the second time, it caused only consternation and confusion. The accusations that the new king was illegitimate might need to be investigated but that did not mean that Richard had to be crowned king at once in his nephew’s stead. But the momentum was with Gloucester and he pushed ahead regardless of opinion amongst the political classes.

Opinion was shifting amongst many who had served Edward IV.

Some wondered about the reason for Hastings’ death – few at court could have taken seriously the allegation that he was plotting with the queen against Richard. They watched Richard take the throne and they joined the dots. When the sons of the late king ceased to be seen in the Tower gardens, they joined the dots again.

It matters little now – as it mattered little then - whether Richard was guilty or not. Enough men of substance were incensed by the events of the summer of 1483 and the likelihood [unproven, of course] that the sons of Edward IV were dead.

Many did nothing, preferring – in the light of bitter past experience – to see where events took them - but others wanted action and very likely it was a distraught and embittered dowager queen, Elizabeth Woodville, who fanned the flames.

The strength of their opinion is shown by their willingness to support an exile about whom they knew nothing and whose claim to the throne could not have been weaker.

Their outrage was a lifeline for Henry Tudor languishing, penniless, in Brittany. His mother, Margaret Beaufort, was determined to engineer his return to England and lost no time in apprising him of the changed situation. Thus, even before his 1485 invasion, Henry was referring to Richard as an “unnatural tyrant” and an “enemy of nature”.

Were these phrases propaganda? Yes, for such words made the assumption that Richard was guilty of having the ‘Princes’ killed. But they were also the sort of remarks routinely flung out to rally potential supporters and Richard delivered comparable slurs about Henry as a would-be ‘usurper’.

The shift in opinion in the summer of 1483 did not ensure that Henry Tudor would be successful but it did mean that Richard’s regime, which depended on a small number of very powerful men, lacked a groundswell of support. Rumours circulated – not only in England, but abroad – which undermined Richard’s credibility.

Although many might not, in the end, take up arms against Richard III, they might not fight for him either.

In the next post on this theme, I shall address the issue of Tudor propaganda after 1483.


Derek Birks was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties.

For many years he taught history in a secondary school but took early retirement to concentrate on writing. Apart from his writing, he spends his time gardening, travelling, walking and taking part in archaeological digs at a Roman villa. Derek is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the late medieval period. He writes action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history.
His debut historical novel was Feud, which is set in the period of the Wars of the Roses. Feud is the first of a now complete four-book series, entitled Rebels & Brothers, which follows the fortunes of the fictional Elder family from 1459 to 1471.
A new series, The Craft of Kings, picks up the story of the Elders in 1481 in its first book, Scars from the Past. In February 2018, the violent events of 1483 are played out in the sequel, The Blood of Princes.

Connect with Derek through his Website, Twitter (@Feud_writer), and his author sites through Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, February 11, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Every week, visit English Historical Fiction Authors for posts on various aspects of British history. Enjoy this week's round-up!

Hugh O'Neill - The First Irish Nationalist
by Arthur Russell

Ælfgyva: The Mystery Woman of the Bayeux Tapestry
Part VI - Part VII
by Paula Lofting

by Maria Grace