Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lionel Woodville, Bishop of Salisbury

In his biography Richard the Third, Paul Murray Kendall praises Anthony Woodville (as far as Kendall could bring himself to praise a Woodville) by first cataloging his family’s supposed vices. He writes, “Anthony Woodville’s father was a rapacious adventurer . . . His brother Lionel was a type of their father in the gown of a bishop.” Elsewhere in the book, he describes Lionel as “haughty.”

As is often the case when Kendall writes about the Woodvilles, he offers no evidence to support his assessment of Lionel’s character, and indeed there seems to be none. For Lionel, Bishop of Salisbury, is a rather obscure person, despite the high office he obtained.

Most of what is known about Lionel has been summarized by John A. F. Thomson in two publications, one an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the other an article in the Bulletin of Historical Research (1986) entitled “Bishop Lionel Woodville and Richard III.” In an article originally published in The Ricardian and reprinted in Richard III: Crown and People, “Oxford University and the Life and Legend of Richard III,” Robert C. Hairsine adds a bit more to the picture.

Thomson estimates Lionel’s birth as being between 1450 and 1455. He notes that the Pope granted him the right to receive any benefice when he was over twelve and that Lionel received a canonry at Lincoln in 1466 as his first benefice. Lionel was educated at Oxford, which elected him as its chancellor in 1478 or 1479 and offered to award him a doctoral degree in canon law (he already held a bachelor’s degree). This is said to be the first honorary degree offered by Oxford. Lionel was also made Dean of Exeter Cathedral.

Lionel was not created Bishop of Salisbury until 1482, eighteen years after becoming the king’s brother-in-law. He was consecrated in April 1482. Although he undoubtedly owed his advancement to his royal connections, bishoprics were common enough destinations for well-connected younger sons, including George Neville, who as the youngest son of the powerful Earl of Salisbury and the brother of the immensely rich Earl of Warwick rose to be Archbishop of York. No controversy seems to have surrounded Lionel’s elevation to bishop, and nothing indicates that he was considered incompetent to hold his office. Records of his tenure are scant: according to Thomson, his episcopal register did not survive. Unlike George Neville, who played a leading role in the political controversies of his day, Lionel seems to have taken little part in his royal brother-in-law’s reign. Thomson suggests that his main interest, even after he became bishop, might have been in the affairs of Oxford University.

Following Edward IV’s death on April 9, 1483, Lionel apparently attended his funeral services, according to Anne F. Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs, who have collated the various manuscripts describing the ceremonies. By April 26, 1483, however, Lionel was back at Oxford. On June 9, 1483, Simon Stallworth reported that Lionel had entered sanctuary with his sister the queen; Thomson speculates that he had traveled there for his nephew’s coronation and fled into sanctuary upon hearing of the arrest of his brother Anthony at the hands of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and Harry, Duke of Buckingham (the latter married to Katherine Woodville, Lionel’s sister). Gloucester evidently was wary of Lionel, for on June 3, 1483, he removed Lionel’s name from a commission of the peace for Dorset. Later in June, however, Lionel appears to have reconciled with Richard and left sanctuary, for Richard restored Lionel to the Dorset commission on June 26, 1483, and appointed him to a Wiltshire commission on July 20, 1483. Lionel, however, is not recorded as being at Richard’s coronation on July 6, 1483.

In late July, Richard III set off on a royal progress, visiting Oxford’s Magdalen College on July 24 and 25, 1483. The college register records that the new king was greeted by the university’s chancellor—who, of course, was Lionel Woodville. Since Richard had recently executed Lionel’s older brother Anthony, this must have been a rather awkward occasion, but ceremony presumably carried the day.

On September 22, 1483, however, Lionel issued letters from Thornbury—a manor belonging to Lionel’s brother-in-law Harry, Duke of Buckingham, who by that time had joined those in rebellion against the king. The letters, which concerned the appropriation of a benefice, were harmless enough, but Lionel’s residence at Thornbury, as Thomson points out, is intriguing. Was he there as a guest of Buckingham or Katherine, or had he been arrested like Bishop Morton, who was also in Buckingham’s charge? Was Buckingham, with an eye to rebellion, attempting to reconcile with his Woodville kin? Richard clearly was suspicious of Lionel, for on September 23, 1483, he ordered the seizure of the bishop’s temporalities (i.e., his revenues). Richard III apparently still trusted Buckingham himself; Thomson suggests that at this stage Richard may have suspected some sort of treasonous communication between Lionel and Bishop Morton, whose nephew Robert was dismissed from his post as Master of the Rolls on September 23 as well.

Whatever the nature of Lionel’s residence at Thornbury, he had certainly become involved in the rebellion by October, when he, Walter Hungerford, Giles Daubenay, and John Cheyne planned an uprising at Salisbury. The rebellion, of course, failed, and Lionel fled to sanctuary at Beaulieu Abbey, where Queen Anne’s mother, the Countess of Warwick, had taken shelter years before following the Battle of Barnet. According to Louise Gill in Richard III and Buckingham's Rebellion, Lionel was joined in sanctuary by Robert Poyntz, who was married to the natural daughter of Lionel’s deceased brother Anthony. (Poyntz fought for Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth and was knighted after the battle.)

Oxford quickly moved to elect a new chancellor to replace Woodville, now a political liability to the university, while Richard III made inquiries in December 1483 as to the sanctuary rights of Beaulieu. In February 1484, he sent two chaplains to bring Lionel, who had been attainted, into his presence. These attempts to prise the bishop out of sanctuary failed, however.

In March 1484, in letters dated from Beaulieu Abbey, Lionel nominated a candidate to a vacant vicarage. Lionel is again referred to in a writ dated July 22, 1484, that was issued after a rival candidate challenged the nomination. By December 1, 1484, when the dean and chapter of Salisbury were allowed to elect a successor, Lionel had died. His cause of death is unknown, as is his burial place. Thomson notes that one manuscript from the seventeenth century states that he was buried at Beaulieu, though there is apparently another tradition that has him being buried in the north transept of Salisbury Cathedral.

In the sixteenth century, a tradition arose that Lionel Woodville was the father of Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester. This claim can still be found in older books available on the Internet, but James Arthur Muller, a biographer of Gardiner, weighed the evidence and rejected it in 1926. He noted that Gardiner’s enemies never accused him of illegitimate birth and that Gardiner was probably not born until the 1490’s, eliminating Lionel as a father. More recently, C. D. C. Armstrong, writing in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, estimated Gardiner’s birth date as being between 1495 and 1498. It seems safe to say, then, that the Bishop of Salisbury was not the sire of the Bishop of Winchester.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Academic Articles I Can't Wait to Read

I was going to do something special for my 300th post today, but I was distracted from that greater purpose when I read abstracts of these articles, to be published in the Summer 2008 issue of The English Historical Research Journal. It's truly exciting how discoveries like these come in clumps sometimes, isn't it? Here are the abstracts:

Isabella’s Scottish Lover: New Evidence

For centuries, it has been assumed that Edward II was the father of Edward III. Now a recently discovered cache of documents, buried deep beneath the site where once stood Hanley Castle, has established irrefutably that—as long suspected by filmmakers and historical novelists—Edward II’s infamous queen did indeed enjoy a brief liaison with a Scottish warrior and that Edward III was the product of this extramarital affair.

The evidence, which comes in the form of a letter from Isabella intended to be given to her son when he came of age, notes by Edward II’s physician, and a fragment of a kilt that Isabella saved as a remembrance of her lover—as well as Edward III’s well-known and hitherto unexplained taste for haggis—indicates that when Isabella was staying in York, the warrior, injured and delirious, wandered south and was taken in by Isabella, who nursed him back to health, with extremely successful results. Meanwhile, Edward II himself had fallen ill and was being cared for daily by his physician, making his own paternity of Edward III an impossibility. When the warrior—known only as “Robert”-- returned north, Isabella, discovering she was pregnant, confessed her secret to her husband, who was so concerned about the situation of his own lover, Piers Gaveston, that he agreed without argument to treat the child as his.

The location of the documents beneath Hanley Castle, home to Hugh le Despenser the younger and his wife, Eleanor de Clare, suggests that Eleanor, Isabella’s lady-in-waiting and favorite niece to Edward II, secreted them there, possibly with the idea of blackmailing Isabella or Edward III, or possibly to protect the Plantagenet dynasty from revelation of this secret.

In light of this discovery, it appears that research into the paternity of Isabella’s other children will be a fruitful endeavor.

Elizabeth Woodville and the Princes in the Tower: New Light on an Old Mystery

Historians have long puzzled over the question of the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. Was it murder? Were they smuggled north or abroad by Richard III? Now a recently discovered document, buried deep beneath the site where once stood Bermondsey Abbey, Elizabeth Woodville’s last home, has revealed the startling truth: Elizabeth Woodville herself ordered the murder of her sons.

The document, which takes the form of a written confession and which has been established by handwriting experts as matching the queen’s handwriting, explains that Elizabeth, who turns out to have detested the male sex and small boys in particular, believed that by eliminating her boys, she could put her favorite daughter, Elizabeth of York, on the throne, either as wife to Richard III or as wife to Henry Tudor (“if it had to be a man, one was as good as another,” writes Elizabeth).

This discovery solves many other riddles about Elizabeth as well. Her hatred of men—attested here by explicit comments such as, “I hate men” —readily explains why she arranged good marriages for her sisters, but not for her brothers, why she sent young Edward to live far away from the court at Ludlow, why she acceded so willingly to Gloucester’s and Buckingham’s demand that her son Richard join his brother in sanctuary, and why she agreed to leave sanctuary in 1484 and place herself under the protection of Richard III. (Indeed, Richard III appears to have been one of the few men Elizabeth tolerated. “Richard wasn’t nearly as bad as the rest of them,” she writes. “At least he gave me more money to live on than Tudor.”)

Further research into the issue of Elizabeth Woodville’s sexuality, formerly not an issue among academics, may well be warranted by this discovery.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Post Number 299: My New York Trip

I spent this Easter weekend in the very un-medieval atmosphere of New York City:

Friday, though it got off to a bad start when my daughter's suitcase went missing, was notable for a nice lunch I had with Susan A.

On Saturday, I made a visit to the booklovers' paradise, The Strand. That's me in the gray coat in front. You don't want a close-up, trust me, it was a bad hair day:

I actually acted with great restraint at the Strand, only buying three books (Antonia Fraser's biography of Marie Antoinette, Chris Given-Wilson's Chronicles, and Compton Reeves' Pleasures and Pastimes in Medieval England).

Most of the time, we just walked around the different neighborhoods, taking a long subway ride now and then just to get off our suburb-accustomed feet. (I'm a subway aficionado.) Just before we went to the airport on Sunday, we stopped by St. Paul's Chapel in lower Manhattan. As I'm fond of old tombstones, I took a picture of this rather portly winged head:

Now, back to work, and back to thinking of post 300!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Bit About Jean Plaidy

It's been ages since I've mentioned Jean Plaidy here, hasn't it? Well, I'll make up for it a little tonight.

Last year, I wrote an article for the Historical Novel Society's Solander magazine about Crown's reissue of some of her novels. The article's now available on my website (with permission).

Second, I finally got hold of the first two volumes in Plaidy's French Revolution series: Louis the Well Beloved and The Road to Compiegne. (These have been reissued in the UK, but I have the old Pan paperback versions.) These two books are about Louis XV, grandfather of Louis XVI, and his many mistresses. I finished Louis the Well Beloved a few days ago and am about a third of the way through with The Road to Compiegne. I'm really enjoying them--it's a period of history I don't know much about, having encountered Louis XV only in his final days in various novels about Marie Antoinette, so they've been both entertaining and illuminating reads. They were also written fairly early in Plaidy's career; they don't have the rushed feel that some of the later novels do. After these are finished, if I can't find the third in the series, I may have to break down and get it from the UK.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Anne Neville, Queen to Richard III, and Happy Birthday to My Daughter

Poor Anne Neville! I've been looking around the Web today to find a mention that today is the 523rd anniversary of her death on March 16, 1485, but haven't found anything, not even on Ricardian sites. So I thought I'd give her at least a quick mention here.

Perhaps the reason the anniversary of Anne's death received so little attention is that so little is known of Anne herself. Unlike her predecessors, Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville, she has come in for little criticism; unlike her successor, the well-liked if not particularly influential Elizabeth of York, she has come in for little praise. Almost nothing is known of her personality. Nonetheless, she has been the heroine of numerous historical novels. Perhaps it's because so little is known about her that she makes for such fertile material: an author can make of her what he or she wishes. Her life, of course, is also stuff for the imagination. What did she think of her father's grand ambitions, her marriage to Margaret of Anjou's son, her mother's disinheritance, her marriage to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, her husband Richard's seizure of the crown? Probably we shall never know.

March 16, though, is a happy day in our household, because it's on that day fifteen years ago that I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Happy birthday, Bethany!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Review: The Woodville by S. R. Bridge

I'm always up to reading a historical novel about the Wars of the Roses, especially when I can find the elusive one that doesn't deal in the usual stereotypes (Good Yorkists, Bad Lancastrians. Saintly Richard III, Evil Woodvilles). So I was pleased to read this novel by S. R. Bridge, published by Hale in 1976.

The Woodville covers Elizabeth Woodville's life from the death of her first husband until shortly after Edward IV's victory at Tewkesbury in 1471. It's told in the third person. Although Elizabeth is the focus, the action is often seen from the point of view of others as well: her brothers John and Anthony and Edward IV and his companions in exile.

What I liked best about this novel is what it's missing. Instead of relying solely on sources hostile to Elizabeth, Bridge has taken the trouble to read widely. The result is that the usual slurs about Elizabeth--her supposed role in the execution of the Earl of Desmond, her supposed involvement in witchcraft, her supposed greed and haughtiness--aren't regurgitated here. The rest of her family is also portrayed sympathetically, though not romantically. (And Bridge gets the age of Elizabeth's sister Catherine right! She's portrayed here as a somewhat bratty little girl.)

This novel does have its faults. Like some other Hale novels I've seen from this era, proofreading seems lacking. The characterizations don't go very deep, and the narrative sometimes feels rushed, as in one chapter where several years pass by in the flash of a couple of paragraphs. The events behind the turmoil of 1469 to 1471 could have been explained a lot better for the reader. On the other hand, there's some good dialogue and some vivid scenes, such as when Edward IV and his companions flee overseas.

The young Richard, Duke of Gloucester, makes a few appearances in the novel but doesn't have much to say for himself. It's a pity the novel stops in 1471; it would have been interesting to see what Bridge made of him (though the epilogue suggests it wouldn't have been a favorable portrait).

All in all, if you're fond of reading novels set in this period, this is a worthy addition to your library--if you can find a copy, which may be difficult outside of the UK. Mine came on loan from the American Branch of the Richard III Society; I don't see a copy for sale anywhere on the Internet.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Blogs, Blogs, Blogs

While I work on my next post, I wanted to mention that Brian Wainwright, author of Within the Fetterlock and The Adventures of Alianore Audley, has joined blogland with The Yorkist Age, focusing on the House of York. Within the Fetterlock, in case you haven't read it, is the story of Constance of York (married to Thomas le Despenser, a descendant of Hugh le Despenser and Eleanor de Clare), who lived during the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV. The Adventures of Alianore Audley is that rarity--a humorous novel set during the Wars of the Roses.

Lady D. has been around since January with her blog, Lady Despenser's Scribery, but if you haven't come across it yet, now's the time to do so!

And Carole has joined the world of fourteenth-century blogs with The Age of Treason. (Carole is 18. When I was 18 I was listening to Top 40 radio, hanging out with a guy who was obsessed with nuclear power plants, and still writing the occasional dreadful bit of poetry. If we'd had blogs back then, I hate to think what mine would have looked like, so it's just as well we didn't have them.)

Finally, I see that this blog is coming up on its 300th post soon. I really ought to do something special to celebrate, so I'll be pondering the matter.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Hero

From Booking Through Thursday

You should have seen this one coming … Who is your favorite Male lead character? And why?

First, Eugene Wrayburn in Dickens's Our Mutual Friend. He's troubled, witty, intelligent and (I've always thought) quite sexy. I tried to find one of Marcus Stone's illustrations of him, but I couldn't, so here's a drawing by Denise Rajauski of Eugene as played by Paul McGann in the BBC adaptation a few years back.

Isn't he handsome?

Others: Mr. Knightley in Emma ("If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more") and Captain Wentworth in Persuasion ("I must learn to brook being happier than I deserve"). Need I say more?

I'm also fond of two of Anne Tyler's male leads in particular: Ian Bedloe in Saint Maybe and Barnaby Gaitlin in A Patchwork Planet. Neither is Mr. Knightley material--Ian is searching for redemption after a hasty remark of his leads to the death of two people; Barnaby is an ex-juvenile delinquent in rebellion against his wealthy Baltimore family--but they're lovable in their own right.

Historical fiction? I'm a sucker for any historical novel with Edward II & Co. in it, as regulars here well know (and I'm right fond of Hugh le Despenser the even younger, as Alianore has dubbed him, the hero of my own Hugh and Bess). I loved Jude Morgan's portrayal of James of Monmouth in The King's Touch. And I'm fond of Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities.

Name That Novel!

I'm a little tired of referring to "the novel I'm writing set during the Wars of the Roses," which features Henry Stafford, the second Duke of Buckingham, and Katherine Woodville, his wife. What I really need, then, is a working title. Here are a few possibilities.

Harry Loses His Head

The Woodvilles: Not So Bad After All

A Few Weddings and a Whole Lot of Funerals

Down and Out at Weobley

Richard III: The Real Dirt

The Dastardly Duke

Katherine (has someone used that already?)

Love and Consequences (why let a perfectly good title go to waste now that all of those books have been recalled?)

So which should it be? You decide!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Review: Through Tempest Forged by Barbara Passaris

Through Tempest Forged, a historical novel set in Virginia in 1775, is the story of the Rogers family and how they cope with their changing world as they and their neighbors must choose between the crown and the patriot resistance. Passaris portrays the rancor caused by these dueling loyalties, and the brutality that sometimes erupts, vividly and sometimes terrifyingly.

This novel, however, is as much as a story of the personal as the political. Paul and Elizabeth’s sons and daughters are of marriageable age, and the book follows their heartaches, joys, and tragedies as they mature. The characters, particularly the male ones, are complex and flawed, and Passaris brings them to life deftly. The dialogue is lively and realistic, and appropriately coarse at times. (And lines like “Virginia is what North Carolina would like to be” shows that some things haven’t changed over the years!)

Though this novel isn’t a romance novel, there are plenty of love stories here, including a very moving, unconventional one between John Peter Rogers and the prostitute’s daughter he befriends.

At times, I did think that the novel could have used a little more tightening. Sometimes, for instance, Passaris unnecessarily comments on what the characters are thinking and feeling when it’s readily apparent from their dialogue and their actions. This, however, is a decidedly minor flaw in an excellent first novel. I’m looking forward to the sequel.

You can find an interview with Barbara here.