Monday, October 15, 2012

Richard III and the Lost World of Greyfriars

Author Nancy Bilyeau shares a fascinating history.
The benefits' bestowed by the Franciscans are beyond question. They espoused the importance of fresh water and built conduits to their friaries, shared by citizens in half a dozen cities. In 1256, they intervened along with the Dominicans to protect a group of Jews who were accused of crucifying a Christian child. As a result, a chronicler said, Londoners gave the Franciscans less alms.

What is interesting is how often the Franciscans interjected themselves into politics. Simon de Montfort, the founder of Parliament and thorn in the side of Henry III, was advised by Franciscans. In a later reign, the friars based in Leicester got into even more serious trouble. They openly supported the deposed Richard II instead of the new king, Henry IV. When word got out, a group of nine were brought to London, tried, and executed. It would not be the last time the Franciscans paid a terrible price for being on the losing side.

But these episodes were nothing compared to what happened after the creation of the Observant Friars of Greenwich. A movement had sprung up in Europe calling for greater asceticism in the Franciscan Order.  King Edward IV, despite his devotion to wine, women and the latest fashions, approved, and  in 1480 Pope Sixtus IV sanctioned the foundation of a friary specifically for the Observants in Greenwich. "The proximity of the Observant Franciscans to what was a much-used royal palace gave them an influence and a prominence far beyond what might have been expected," wrote G.W. Bernard in The King's Reformation.

There is no record of what Richard III thought of the Franciscans, Observant or otherwise, but considering that they braved a ferocious political climate to give him Christian burial, the relationship could only have been good. His successor, Henry VII, rather surprisingly, held the friars of Greenwich in the high esteem as well. He confirmed their grant, arranged for the installment of stained glass in their church, and left them 200 pounds in his will as he "knew that they had been many times in peril of ruin for lack of food."

But perhaps the greatest sign of Henry VII's regard for the Observant Franciscans is that he chose to have his second son, the future Henry VIII, baptized in their chapel at Greenwich. (Read entire post.)

A Nevill Feast features a summary of her studies on Richard III. To quote:
At fourteen, I might have been enthralled by the portrait of a young man, deeply loyal to his family, deeply faithful to the woman he loved and married (and kind to the young girl who was once his mistress), strong in war, soft in love… But the older I get, the less that satisfies me. He was a man who married his wife at least in part for her property, who connived in the financial ruin of his mother-in-law in the process, who took his nephew’s throne (whatever the pretext, and however valid this pretext was), who ordered the executions of several men without trial, whose loyalty to Edward IV didn’t survive his death, who faced rumour, rebellion and invasion during his short reign… a man I want to get to know better, and not through biassed sources (one way or the other). I’d also love to discuss all this without feeling that I’m stepping outside received dogma. I was likened to an atheist not that long ago, someone who comes into a church and announces loudly that God is Dead. Apart from the disturbing image of an interest and support of Richard III as a religion, I don’t know enough to announce anything except: I don’t know.

I don’t know if Edward IV’s relationship with Eleanor Butler included a marriage, or precontract; I don’t know if this was enough to have his children declared illegitimate; I don’t know what happened to the boys. I’m reliably informed that, one night, a barge came up the Thames and the boys were taken aboard and sent to safety in Flanders. Without anyone knowing except those involved, and without any of them telling anyone else about it. Ever. And without either of the boys resurfacing in adulthood. (Perkin Warbeck, in my considered opinion, wasn’t the young Richard Duke of York. And, even if he was, he said that his brother had been murdered on Richard’s orders. This is not good news in light of Richard’s reputation. I’ve never understood how anyone can reconcile these two things: wanting Perkin to be young York, yet dismissing his own words regarding the fate of his brother.) I don’t know if they were spirited away to Flanders. On balance of evidence, it would seem not, and those who favour this theory have no evidence of it. I’m equally reliably informed, on an equal lack of evidence, that sir James Tyrell slipped into their quarters one night and smothered them both with a pillow, after which they were buried in the Tower, under a staircase. I don’t know if that happened, either.

I do know that William Hastings, Anthony Wydeville, Richard Grey and Thomas Vaughan were executed without trial. I do know that the young princes disappeared on Richard’s watch. I do know that he colluded with his brothers and his wife to have his mother-in-law financially ruined and declared dead. I also know he was a good soldier, that he and his queen seemed to have a good marriage, that he took care of his illegitimate children and loved his only legitimate child, that he had the makings of a pretty good king. And I want to know more. (Read entire post.)

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