Monday, 27 November 2017

Francis`s political power

Almost exactly 534 years ago, on 9th December 1483, Francis Lovell was among the people appointed to proclaim Parliament. Given Francis`s closeness to Richard and importance in his government, this appointment can`t have been surprising to anyone, but it is still notable, in that it was only the second Parliament Francis, then twenty-seven, even was invited to, and he had only attended his first Parliament in the beginning of 1483.

Why he did not attend and was apparently not invited to Edward IV`s only Parliament before 1483 that happened when Francis was of age - at the beginning of 1478 - is up for debatte, but it seems that at the time, despite the fact he was incredibly rich and had vast possessions all over England, he was of very little, if any, political importance. In January 1478, four months after coming of age, he was, for the first time, appointed to a commission of peace, in Oxfordshire. He received two more appointments for the same, in May 1479 and May 1480, but was not otherwise involved in Edward IV`s government until the age of nearly 24. As J.M.Williams points out, on 20th June 1480, "he received an appointment that was somewhat more than routine, when he became a commissioner of array in North Riding, Yorkshire". It seems, however, that apart from this one, no more challenging or less "routine" appointments were forthcoming for Francis for the next years.

Francis fought under his friend Richard of Gloucester in the campaigns against Scotland in 1481 and 1482, and, perhaps as a reward for bravery there, and/or because he had impressed Edward IV in some way, he was made a viscount by Edward IV on 4th January 1483. This was quite a big honour, and Francis was one of only two men elevated to viscouncy by Edward IV.

It seems that it was only then, when Francis was 26, that he was given some attention by the government and started gaining some political influence. A little more than two weeks after becoming a viscount, he was made a trier of petitions for England.

It could well be that had Edward lived longer, he would have started giving Francis more responsibility and influence, but naturally, this is guesswork. A it was, with his death and Richard of Gloucester`s first becoming lord protector and then king, Francis rose rapidly in importance during the year 1483. From the first moment of Richard`s protectorship, Francis was granted jobs, honours and lands. Curiously, though, despite this, he was never accused of plotting with Richard, not even in the most hostile of sources. There is no indication he had any part in the conflicts of summer 1483, and no indication he was ever thought to be in any way involved.

This might be so because despite of his sudden rise and importance in the government, Francis continued showing no sign of being a political heavyweight or even being particularly interested in the government. Despite being made a Speaker of Parliament, a Knight of the Garter and a Privy Councillor by Richard and of course being his Lord Chamberlain, he made no impression on any chroniclers, was never accused of abusing what power he held, nor of using it for good. As has been pointed out before, by historians such as Rosemary Horrox, what power Francis held was due to his close relationship with the king, not any political know-how or even any political ambition.

We do know that he used his new power to get some lands he had an at best extremely shaky claim to, but again, there is no indication he used the lands he got that way, or the lands he was given by Richard after the so-called Buckingham rebellion, to enlargen his power base. In fact, there is some evidence that he never even travelled to them. Curiously, despite his rise in power and influence, he seems to have kept a fairly low profile as far as the greater public noticing him was concerned.

Probably in consequence of this, there is also remarkably little evidence of Francis having enemies for a man of his standing. The only instance of hostility towards him found during Richard`s reign is in William Collyngbourne`s famous rhyme, in which he accuses William Catesby, Richard Ratcliffe and Francis Lovell ("the cat, the rat, and Lovell our dog") of "rul[ing] all England under a hogge [Richard III]". While this may have been an attack against these three men, Francis included. personally and show dislike against them, the Croyland Chronicle - not flattering to Richard III - mentions directly that the rhyme was simply meant to lambast the king and men he heavily/primarily relied on. It was a staple of criticism at the time, and long afterwards, to include the monarch`s councillors in any criticism of him/her, if not downright shift the blame on them, which is very much what Collyngbourne`s rhyme also implies.

This, of course, indicates that for all his apparent political disinterest, Francis was known to have a good bit of influence over the king. However, nobody but Collyngbourne is recorded to have complained about this. In fact, most chronicles which mention him are completely neutral about him, including the Croyland Chronicle, which does not even mention him by name in connection with his first rebellion of 1486 and does not at all condemn him for it.

In fact, even during his time as a rebel, no contempoary sources accused him of rebelling because he wanted to regain power and influence. It was not until Polydore Vergil that chronicles started speaking in unflattering terms of him, and even then, it refered to his supposed cowardice for fleeing after his failed rebellion of 1486 - Vergil neglects to mention his assassination attempt - and not to any motives he had for it or a supposed thirst for power.

All in all, it seems that Francis was not particularly interested in political power. What influence he held, which seems to have been substantial in Richard`s reign, he seemed to practise mostly in informal ways and due to his personal relationship to the king. Nobody ever seemed to think he wanted more than that and none of his actions suggest so. 

Monday, 20 November 2017

Where, oh where, is my Francis Lovell? Not in The White Princess, definitely.

Usually, I am writing articles on this blog about aspects of Francis`s life, about the people in his life, and about who Francis was.

This article here, however, will be about who he was not, namely the character bearing his name featuring in the Starz show "The White Princess".

Naturally, the show is not meant to be a documentary, and it does admit to making changes to people and events for drama. There is nothing wrong with that in itself; a TV show is meant to entertain, not to teach.

However, if the characters in the show are not just meant to have the names of historical figures by accident, there has got to be some kernel of truth to their representation of these people. And there is nothing at all that even vaguely resembles Francis in the character called Francis Lovell in "The White Princess".

I have already complained once that this happens in many fictional depictions of the time, but in "The White Princess" it is particularly jarring. The character does not seem to have any opinions of his own. Most of his actions are because someone else tells him to act, and there is no indication given what he even thinks about them. Moreover, he is shown to be a complete failure at doing whatever he does, and gets mocked for it.

The first mention of him in the show is in the beginning of the second episode, when Elizabeth of York and her mother discuss potential ways to stir up a rebellion. His name is mentioned, and Elizabeth of York says Richard told her he was the "purest, whitest York in England" and therefore suited to the job, despite the fact he accepted Henry VII as king and apparently did not show the slightest bit of discontent with this decision.

Not that this character has any reason to, because apart from the one reference by Elizabeth of York, neither he nor anyone else mention he had any sort of relationship with Richard, and he does not show at any time why he was praised so much as the "purest, whitest York", since he shows no interest in the actual Yorkists. The only person he seems to have a vague interest in is Elizabeth Woodville.

It is not explained why he is prepared to risk his life to rebel because she told him to, or how they even became so close that she is ready to ask him to do so. This is particularly weird since it was her daughter who even assured her he was the man to contact, which does not suggest a particularly close relationship between these two characters.

However, this character obligingly does what Elizabeth Woodville tells him, and tries to stab Henry VII when he arrives in York, in a scene presumably inspired by his real-life assassination attempt as Henry was approaching York and attempted kidnap when Henry was in York. He fails, however, only stabbing his arm, and flees, never to be seen again in the episode. Nor does either Henry or anyone else even think he has any importance; everyone immediately knows that it was either Elizabeth of York or Elizabeth Woodville who made him do this. The show very clearly presents Francis as no danger once the person pulling his strings is exposed. Everyone knows for certain that he can`t think for himself.

His next appearance is in the third episode, at the court of Margaret of York (which is, rather weirdly, said to be in "Burgundy, France", which I am sure Margaret would not agree with). He is standing by, awkwardly, while Margaret, Cecily Neville and Mary of Burgundy discuss if they are going to accept the peace envoy from Henry VII or not. Naturally, Cecily Neville was in England in real life at that point, and Mary of Burgundy had been dead for nearly four years, but since the peace envoy they are talking about also never happened, that is perhaps fitting.

Francis is not asked for his opinion nor does anyone even care to hear it when he shares it. He argues to fight so they can "stand with Elizabeth" - presumably Woodville, not her daughter, though this is never explicitly said - and is mocked by Margaret that maybe he should have managed stabbing Henry VII to death if he was so keen on rebellion. Francis looks awkward, everyone gets to laugh at him for being stupid and a failure, and then he leaves again, without trying to argue his case or trying to defend his honour, presumably because he realised his screentime for the episode was up.

The forth episode is the last one in which he has a part, and even though it is meant to chronicle the Simnel Uprising, which in real life Francis had a large part organising, he is not in it for more than maybe three minutes. Elizabeth Woodville writes letters to rally the Irish lords - her (supposed) unpopularity because of rumours as to how the Earl of Desmond died is not referenced - freeing Francis up to make inane comments showing how much he does not understand how to organise a rebellion and what the rebellion is even about, and being chided by Cecily Neville for being an idiot. Francis looks awkward, everyone gets a laugh in at him being stupid, and he disappears again until it is time for battle

He appears for some seconds then, in the front line next to a beggar boy called Lambert Simnel he somehow brought to Burgundy in ways completely unexplained, where he was trained to fail dismally at Stoke, and John de la Pool [sic], who manages the feat of being even more devoid of personality than Francis. Francis then dies, having his throat slit in battle, bleeding all over Simnel, then falling over without saying a word. His death is never spoken about after that, no one seems to care or even think about him and his demise, his character forgotten as befitting one that had no real impact on anything, had no thought of his own, and whose main purpose seems to have been showcasting how laughable and wrong the rebels were.

This, then, is what the show made of Francis Lovell.

In real life a man who was so well-liked that not the most hostile of sources written in Tudor times ever connected him with any of his best friend Richard III`s alleged crimes, so calm and uncontroversial he was never said to be involved in any plotting, who was so loyal and loving he literally gave up everything for Richard III after his death, who despite having never shown any interest in conflict his entire life masterminded one assassination attempt and one kidnap attempt on Henry VII as well as two rebellions.

In real life, also a man who likely faced abuse from his father in the first years of his life, lost his mother before his tenth birthday, had to see his guardian and his father-in-law rebel against the king and fight against others such as Richard of Gloucester, whom he had grown up with, quite likely had to suffer ill-health during his life, the knowledge he could not have children, who lost his (twin?) sister before she was 26, lost the man he clearly loved most to a horrid death, who fought and fought again to avenge Richard, who survived the Battle of Stoke only to most likely die within the year, only thirty years old.

This show makes him a clueless, witless puppet of others who did not care for what he was doing, had no motivation for doing what he did, no connection to the Yorkist cause except an unexplained need to listen to whatever Elizabeth Woodville told him, who is unintelligent, not capable of understanding other people`s hardships like Margaret of York`s wrongly-timed loss of Mary of Burgundy, whose death is a logical consequence of his silly actions and completely avoidable had he settled for a problem-less life under Henry VII.

It is not just changing a bit about his character for drama. It is an insult to the real man and everything he was, and, moreover, a completely inexplicable insult, for it would have in no way made for worse drama and entertainment to show even a bit of what he was in the show, rather than the bland, uninteresting character they showed.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

A letter from Sir Edmund Bedingfield to John Paston (1487)

On 16 May 1487, John Paston received a letter from Sir Edmund Bedingfield, a man who had been in favour with Richard III but after Richard`s death, had then managed to work his way into Henry VII`s favour as well. The letter was written just a month before the battle of Stoke, and it is very much concerned with the actions taken against the rebellion:

Un to my ryght wurshypfull cosyn, John Paston, Esquyer, for the Body.

Ryght wurshypfull cosyn, I recomawnd me un to you as hertly as I can, letyng you wytte I was with my Lorde Stuarde as on Munday laste paste, by the desyir of them that I myght not sey ney to. I herde all that was seyd there, but they gaate non avawntage, wurde, nor promyse off me; but they thought in asmoche as they ware the beste in the shere, that every man owghte to wayte and go with them. Wherto yt was answerd that oure master, nexte the Kynge, havynge hys commysshon, muste nedys have the jentylmen and the contre to a wayte up on hym by the vertu of the same; but yt was thought I owght not to obeye no copy of the commisshon, withoute I had the same under wexe, where in hathe ben gret argument, whyche I understoode by reporte a fortnyte paste, and that causyd me to sende unto my lorde to have the very commysshon, whyche he sente me, and a letter, where off I sende you the copy here in closyd.
As for you, ye be sore takyn in sum place, seying that ye intende swyche thynges as ys lyke to folow gret myscheffe. I seyd I undyrstood non swyche, nor thynges lyke it; and yt ys thoughte ye intende nat to go forthe thys jorneye, nor no jentylman in that quarter but Robert Brandon that hath promysyd to go with them, as they seye.
I understonde Sir Wylliam Bolen and Sir Harry Heydon ware at Thetforde in to Kente ward, but they returnyd in to Norffolk a geyne; I thynke they wull not goo thys jorney, yff the Kynge nede. Ser Harry was at Attylborow on Saterday. I wene he had a vyce there to turne a zen; wher for, cosyn, yt ys good to understonde the sertente what jentylmen intende to goo, and be assuryd to go together, that I may have wurde; my cosyn Hoptun hathe promysyd that he wull be oon. As fore Wysman, he seythe he wull be off the same, but I can have no holde.
Furthermore, cosyn, yt ys seyd that after my lordys departyng to the Kynge ye ware mette at Barkwey, whyche ys construid that ye had ben with the Lady Lovell, but wrathe seyd never well; and in asmoche as we understonde my lordys plesur, yt ys well doon we dele wysly therafter. And, nexte to the Kynge, I answerd pleynly I was bownde to do him service, and to fullfylle hys comaundment to the uttermest off my powere, by the grace off God, Who ever preserve you to Hys plesur.
Wretyn at Oxburgh, the xvj. day of Maye. Your cosyn, E. Bedyngfeld.

Put into modern English, it says:

"Unto my right worshipful cousin, John Paston, Esquire for the Body.
Right worshipful cousin, I recommend me unto you as heartily as I can, letting you (know?) I was with my Lord Stuart as on Monday last past, by the desire of them that I may not say no to. I heard all that was said there, but they gained no advantage, word, or promise of me; but they thought inasmuch as they were the best in the share, that every man ought to wait and go with them.
Whereto it was answered that our master, next the king, having his commission, must needs have gentlemen and the country to await upon him by virtue of the same, but it was thought I ought not to obey no copy of the commission, without I had the same [without having] under wax, wherein has been great argument, which I understood by report a fortnight past,and that cause me to send unto my lord to have the very commission, which he sent me, and a letter, whereof I send you the copy here enclosed.
As for you, you be sore taken in some place, saying that you intend such things as is like to follow great mischief. I said I understood no such, nor things like it, and it is thought you intend not to go for this journey, nor no gentleman in this quarter but Robert Brandon that has promised to go with them, as they say.
I understood Sir William Boleyn and Sir Harry Heydon were at Thetford in Kent, but they returned into Norfolk again, I think they will not go on this journey, if the king need. Sir Harry was at Attleborrow on Saturday, I ween he had a vice (?) there to return again, wherefore, cousin, it is good to understand the certain what gentlemen intend to go, and be assured to go together, that I may have word; my cousin Hopton has promised that he will be one. As for Wysman, he says he will be of the same, but I can have no hold [certainty].
Furthermore, cousin, it is said that after my lord`s departing to the king you were met at Barkwey, which is construed that you had been with the Lady Lovell; but wrath says never well; and inasmuch as we understand my lord`s pleasure, it is well done that we deal wisely thereafter. And, next to the king, I answered plainly I was bound to do him service, and to fulfill his commandment to the utmost of my power, by the grace of God, who ever preserve you to his pleasure.
Written at Oxburgh, the 16th day of May. Your cousin, E.Bedyngfeld.

Naturally, the letter gives a good insight into the confusion and the difficulties of organisation while dealing with a rebellion such as that which would become known to history as the Simnel rebellion. It references the journeys which have to be made, the uncertainty who is reliable, and, most notably, the rumours that inevitably spring up during tense situations.

Edmund Bedingfield is clearly sympathetic to John Paston and on friendly terms with him, but it becomes obvious from his letter that Paston was himself the target of rumours which cast him in a bad light and presumably threw doubt on his loyalty to Henry VII. Bedingfield does not spell out what it is that is being said, presumably secure that Paston would be able to know or guess what he meant by "such things as is like to follow great mischief". He mentions having himself spoken against such allegations, and seems to have been quite certain Paston was not intending to go against the king, which turned out to be true.

Bedingfield then goes on to detail other men`s movements and what they mean to him and will likely mean to the king, before stating, in the last paragraph, that there has been gossip Paston`s recent stay at Barkwey meant he was staying with Francis`s wife, Anne Lovell. He does not connect this to what he says above about deeds that are "like to follow great mischief" nor does he even say that this is where those rumours come from, but he makes it clear they are to Paston`s disadvantage.

On the face of it, this is perhaps not too surprising. Anne Lovell was an attainted traitor`s wife, who was at the head of the rebellion that king and country were preparing for at the moment of the letter being written. It could be argued that because of this, association with her at that moment in time was seen to be suspicious. However, this was not something that held true for all wives of attainted or even currently rebelling traitors, who were often regarded as innocent victims. In Anne`s case, it is also notable that her husband had planned his rebellion from Burgundy and she would not have seen him for at least several months, possibly almost two years, and could not have been involved in the plotting. Furthermore, as James Gardiner points out in his annotated version of the Paston letters, and as is evidenced by a letter written by Anne`s mother Alice FitzHugh to him a year later, Paston was close to Anne`s family, so that there could have been any number of perfectly innocent reasons for him to visit her.

That a possible visit was therefore apparently used against him and that Bedingfield outright dismisses the possibility as invention by those trying to harm Paston, stating that "wrath says never well", is intriguing in itself. That he then also reports that "my lord" - whom James Gardiner identifies, presumably correctly, as John de Vere, Earl of Oxford - advised to "deal wisely thereafter", suggesting that such a visit could have been truly damaging, suggests that despite all said above, Anne Lovell was seen at least as a potential threat and helper of her husband.

Perhaps viewing her as such was simply caution by those in charge. After all, Henry VII knew from experience that even under watch, women could organise rebellions, contact rebels and be involved in invasions. His own mother, the formidable Margaret Beaufort, had done so for him, and he might simply have wanted to prevent Anne Lovell from doing the same for her husband. On the other hand, it is possible that it was not just a prevention measure, but that she was actually suspected of doing so. The fact that three quarters of a year later, Anne committed treason to try and find her then vanished husband suggests that this is a real possibility, or at the very least was a justified fear by Henry VII and his government.

It is even possible that Anne actually was in contact with Francis, but if so, it seems it was never proven, for there was no punishment enacted against her after the Simnel rebellion. While, as a woman, she would not have been executed even had she been found to have committed treason, nor would she have escaped unpunished. Anything she may have done to help her husband is therefore unknown.

Nor is it known if John Paston actually did visit her shortly before the Battle of Stoke took place. If so, it is unlikely that, as was probably the reason the idea of him doing so was feared, he passed on any information about the king`s plans on to her, which she could in turn write to Francis about. Paston fought on the king`s side at Stoke, and while he might have wished to have a foot in the Yorkist camp just in case they won, passing on information of that sort would have been extremely dangerous to him.

The letter does not give any answers to the question of John Paston`s whereabouts or Anne Lovell`s actions. It just reports the rumours and gives a short glimpse into the situation in England just a month before the Battle of Stoke and the confusion, fear and uncertainty of the time.