Canon Law, Duke of Gloucester, Elizabeth Woodville, King Edward IV of England and Lord of Ireland, King Richard III of England and Lord of Ireland, Lady Eleanor Butler Talbot, Parliament, Prince Richard, Richard III Society, Titulus Regius, Usurper
When I began examining whether or not King Richard III was a usurper it seemed pretty cut and dried given the fact that Richard’s reputation as a usurper is well known. I’d even go as far to say that Richard III is the best known super in history.
As I’ve researched this topic I’ve realized that it’s isn’t as cut and dried as generally thought. I actually could drag this topic out over many more entries. In this entry I will examine the “pro-Richard III” stance. Then in the following entry next week I will examine the “anti-Richard III” stance. After that I will give you my assessment.
As I said in previous entries the legality of Richard III’s reign, as mentioned in the Titulus Regius document, rests on the core claim that when Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville, he was already promised in marriage to Lady Eleanor Butler. This pre-contract, according to the laws of the day, would make his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville null and void.
However, the issues that Titulus Regius outlines which make King Edward IV’s reign illegal stretch beyond the pre-contract with Lady Eleanor Butler (Talbot). The issues which Titulus Regius claims makes Edward IV’s reign illegitimate are:
1) The kingdom was badly ruled and the laws and customs of the land flouted
2) The Queen (Elizabeth Woodville) was guilty of witchcraft
3) Edward got married secretly against the customs of the church
4) Edward was already bethrothed – so the marriage and its offspring were illegitimate
5) George, Duke of Clarence was attainted by parliament- so his son is also illegitimate
And so in conclusion, Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester and his line has the only rightful claim to the throne.
Were these claims valid? If based on fact, the petition had a case to be answered.
In my research I’ve read a considerable amount of information from the Richard III Society.
The Richard III Society was founded in 1924 by Liverpool surgeon Samuel Saxon Barton (1892-1957) as The Fellowship of the White Boar, Richard’s badge and a symbol of the Yorkist army in the Wars of the Roses. Its membership was originally a small group of interested amateur historians whose aim was to bring about a re-assessment of the reputation of Richard III.
The Fellowship of the White Boar was renamed The Richard III Society in 1959.
In 1980, Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, became the society’s Patron. (Richard III was Duke of Gloucester before ascending the throne, therefore he was before his accession (Prince) Richard, Duke of Gloucester).
In 1986, the society established the Richard III and Yorkist History Trust, a registered charity, to advance research and publication related to the history of late medieval England.
The society publishes a scholarly journal, The Ricardian.
The Richard III Society supports the Titulus Regius document along with validity of the pre-contract. However, the Society does admit that the historical accuracy of the pre-contract cannot be proven:
“The fact of the pre-contract cannot now be proved, although it could have been known to many persons in 1483, but there is no doubt that Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth was clandestine.”
Marriage and betrothal was easy in the middle ages – no need for priests, banns all the rest of it – you just had to tell each other you married each other. So, secret or not, a pre-contract was valid. However, the process of banns being proclaimed did work in favor of those that supported Richard III.
Despite that, Edward’s secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was held against them; because it suggested bad faith by the king and/or Queen – they went ahead and got married without the light of publicity that might have exposed the existence of an impediment, namely, the pre-contract.
Although Lady Eleanor Butler was dead by the time the Queen Elizabeth gave birth, that didn’t matter back then; for if Edward IV was in fact a bigamist, this stain on his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville could have been cleared and forgiven if reviewed in some way by an ecclesiastical court, which hadn’t happened.
The fact that an ecclesiastical court did not address the marriage could help the pro-Richard III” stance with their claim that the pre-contract remained was valid. The fact that an ecclesiastical court did not address the marriage could help the pro-Richard III” stance by claiming there was no need for the examination of the Royal marriage because the pre-contract was a work of fiction.
The Richard III Society also states that the fact that the marriage between King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville was Clandestine is another factor in the establishment of the illegality of the union.
Although a clandestine marriage (a marriage conducted in secret) was deemed legal in many cases and the children born of such a marriage were considered legitimate; what made a clandestine union like the marriage between King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville suspect was because it blocked the legal repercussions in case there were pre-existing impediments such as the aforementioned pre-contract which would mean any such marriage was made in error and would be considered fraudulent.
If such a clandestine union that covered up legal impediments occurred any children produced by the union would be illegitimate.
Back in the day pre-contractual unions had the ritual of the “calling of banns” which aimed to publicise a proposed marriage and prevent such misfortunes, and to proclaim the good faith of the contracting parties. Edward’s hasty and secret marriage to Elizabeth proclaimed his bad faith: if the banns had been called and his councillors informed, the impediment of the pre contract might have been revealed and circumvented.
It is theorized that had their marriage obeyed the church’s laws and had not been clandestine, their many years which Edward IV and Elizabeth lived together openly as man and wife would have been in favour of the legitimacy of the children of their union.
But because of the Clandestine nature of their union, Canon Law allowed questions of legitimacy to be raised after the parent’s deaths. Immoral or wrong behavior, such as adultery or bigamy, was not excused by the passage of time. Medieval Canon Law allowed Richard, Duke of Gloucester to raise the question of the children’s legitimacy as late as 1483.