Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Where was Francis?

Edward IV`s death on 9th April 1483 set in motion a series of events. Over the next months, those who survived him found themselves locked in a power struggled which eventually ended with Edward`s brother Richard of Gloucester taking the throne as Richard III.

The exact events of these months, plus all possible motives behind them for all those involved, have been detailed and explored elsewhere by people smarter than me. I do not intent to go into them in any detail here, other than where it concerns the question of where Francis was during all of it.

It is recorded that he did attend Edward`s last Christmas court, during which he was elevated to viscouncy on 4th January 1483, and his last Parliament, which ended on 20th February 1483. However, despite owning an inn in London and some lands nearby, it seems he did not stay after Parliament had closed. Perhaps he returned to his ancestral manor of Minster Lovell Hall, or went to visit a relative. We have no way of knowing, but since he was not noted to have attended Edward`s funeral on 19th April, it is most likely he was not nearby in London nor anywhere else in the south where, upon hearing of the death of the king, he could have arrived in time.

We have no knowledge when Francis learnt of Edward IV`s death and when he arrived in London after it, and no mention of him in any of the contemporary or quasi-contemporary reports of what went on there after Edward`s death. Despite this, however, there are some indications he was present at least when the council took up its work, so he probably arrived in late April or early May.

As J.M.Williams points out, he was appointed to several commissions of the peace during the months of May and June. The first of these were for East Riding of Yorkshire and Northamptonshire, which were dated to the 14th of May, the last for Essex and Oxfordshire, dated to 28th June, the day Francis was named the new king Richard III`s lord chamberlain.

Often, being on such commissions was nominal, and clearly Francis could not have been physically present for all of them, so that they do not give a hint to his whereabouts. Nor do his appointments to them have to mean he was present in London. However, while it was far from unheard of to have the appointee not present when such decisions were made, there are other indications that Francis was in London at the time.

For one, he was notably favoured at the time. This was presumably due to his friend Richard of Gloucester`s influence, but could not have gone ahead without the council`s approval. On 19th May, he was given the imprisoned Anthony Woodville`s job as Chief Butler, and on 21st May, he was given the "Rule & Keping" of the manor of Thorpe Waterville and "alle the Landes & tenements belonging to the same", which in Edward IV`s last Parliament had been granted to Richard Grey, but which Francis had been in a dispute over with him.

Both these grants were almost certainly Richard`s idea, but both were officially made in the name of Edward V and would have formally been made by the council, suggesting that Francis was there at the time. While Richard may have trusted Francis implicitly, it is unlikely most of the council would have agreed to bestow a job in the government and a grant of land to a new viscount who had previously not made much if any impact on Edward IV´s reign,, would have been a largely unknown factor to most and could, moreover, not even bothered to come to the capital to do what he could to help a smooth transition from the old to the new government.

In the light of this, his complete absence from any report of what went on in London during May and June is fascinating. There is no indication he was in any way involved in anything controversial, which sets him apart from almost anyone else of any standing who was there at the time. Even if Francis`s relative unimportance at the time prevented people from noticing him, hostile sources from some years later could have easily read his importance in Richard`s reign back unto that stretch of time. In fact, this is what happened to both Sir Richard Ratcliffe and William Catesby, who were of far lesser standing than Francis and became important in Richard`s reign.  Writing in 1486, the Croyland Chronicler reports that the two men opposed the supposedly planned marriage of Richard to his niece Elizabeth of York because they were afraid of her becoming queen and wanting revenge on them for their part in the execution of her uncle Anthony and half-brother Richard Grey.

The holes in this story, especially concerning Richard`s marital plans, are obvious, but it still shows that men who rose to prominence under Richard, even if they were not very notable before, were included in the events of June 1483 in hostile rumours of the time, whether they were in essence truthful or not. Francis, however, never was. No source, neither contemporary ones nor even hostile ones written in Henry VII`s reign or clearly opposed to Richard`s accession, ever mentioned Francis as involved in any of the scheming, plotting and counterplotting that was rife in London in the summer of 1483.

There is no mention of him in connection with the quarrels of the different factions, with any troops brought to London, with those counselling Richard, with Hastings` summary execution, with the executions for treason of Anthony Woodville, Richard Grey and Thomas Vaughan, with the preparations for Richard taking the crown or any of the other events, up until he was made Richard`s lord chamberlain on 28th June.

What makes this especially strange is that especially in later and hostile sources, there would have been no need to make sure any accusations levelled against him were particularly truthful. Mere rumours would have sufficed, especially to darken the name of an enemy of Henry VII`s when he was king. Actually, the very fact that Francis profited from the Woodville faction`s fall from grace during that time alone should have sufficed to speculate on his part in this and the accession of his friend and benefactor Richard, yet no one did.

This suggests that either, for some reason, Francis somehow managed to stay clear of all the plotting and all sources decided to remain truthful on it and not even comment on the fact that even so, he certainly profited handsomely from it, or he was seen as an unlikely candidate to be involved in plotting, or else there was some widely known reason as to why he did not become involved in all of it.

The second possibility, that he was seen as unlikely to be involved in the plotting, would throw an interesting light on his reputation and character, but it is hard to imagine what could have possibly made hard-headed medieval chroniclers, and moreover hostile chroniclers, think this of a man who had been a soldier and clearly profitted from the new situation. In addition to that, those whose actions were inconvenient to a point being made or seemed not to fit what was known about them - for example, that John Howard, who had always been loyal to Edward IV, was on Richard`s side throughout - were usually said in such hostile sources to have been motivated by fear or greed. The latter of which would have, given the grants Francis received, made a good motive to explain any of his actions, real or invented to make a point.

Given that also more objective sources make no mention of him actually becoming involved, it does seem that he genuinely did not, and there was some obvious, well-known, reason for him not to. Excluding the idea that he was not present in London, as discussed above, there are some other possibilites. One is that he sat on the fence, waiting which side would win, but this is unlikely, for as mentioned, he was favoured by Richard and showed time and again during his life his love for and loyalty to Richard and upon Richard`s accession, the new monarch showed clear trust and affection to him.

Another possibility is that he was physically unable to become involved, perhaps due to some illness, though his apparent good health by the time of Richard`s coronation on 6th July may be evidence against that, and an illness at just the time of crisis would perhaps be too much of a coincidence.

Perhaps the most likely possibility is that Francis, who did not seem to have hold much if any political sway before Edward IV`s death and, as has been noted by Rosemary Horrox and J.M.Williams among others, even during Richard`s reign held power that was "personal rather than formal" (Williams) and was not involved in intrigues, conspiracies or large political schemes, simply was not a plotter by nature and if he was at all involved, was more concerned with personal networking which could have escaped chroniclers` notice. His exclusion from hostile sources at the time may well have been for the same reason, and it is possible that later retellings of these months, written to suit Henry VII, went by those and decided it was better to mention Francis as little as possible rather than give him a larger role as a clever conspirator - which given his actions in Henry`s reign could have made him seem a more formidable enemy.

However, it is all guesswork and must probably remain so. What evidence there is suggests Francis was in London in those critical months of May and June 1483, but that he did not have any significant part at all in the events that happened. Why this was so, we can only guess.

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