Dominic Mancini and ‘The usurpation of Richard III’
Not much is known about Dominic Mancini’s life; but he was probably born before 1434, and therefore somewhere around 50 when he visited London. He may have been an Augustinian hermit – elsewhere he described himself as ‘dedicated to the faith’. Mancini was a competent Latinist and poet, and had some reputation; his qualities as an author and moralist were recognised by his contemporaries.
Mancini was in London for a short period; maybe from the end of 1482, until he left shortly before Richard’s coronation on 6 July 1483. His account is called ‘De occupatione regni Anglie per Ricardum tertium libellus’ – ‘A little book about the taking of the realm of England by Richard III’, which is usually translated as ‘The usurpation of Richard III’. Though it seems to me usurpation is a more loaded word than occupation, but hey. His account survives in a unique, sixteenth-century copy, and its contents remained unknown to modern scholars until it was discovered by C. A. J. Armstrong, who edited it in 1969. That’s the source of all the snippets below, and it’s well worth buying and reading.
His eyewitness account of the events of 1483 is a critical source; and there are a few reasons for that. Mancini wrote clearly and simply – like the Crowland Chronicle, it’s really easy to read. And for the most part Mancini stays away from general moralizing. His account agrees very often with other sources of information and therefore seem reliable – with the caveats about some few inconsistencies or differences. He was to a large degree an outsider, and therefore less obviously biased; though his Patron for whom he wrote, Angelo Cato, was Archbishop of Vienne and therefore maybe likely to want to hear a negative story of England’s new ruler, Richard III.
Having said that, there are clearly some weaknesses; he probably knew no English, though he was fluent in French, Italian, and Latin and would therefore have been able to speak with many; he didn’t know England and its customs well, and doesn’t name sources.
But, he appears to strive for objectivity; so for example he admits his ignorance and doubts in some places, and uses statements like “men say” or “it is commonly believed” to make it clear the validity of his information.
But, Mancini pretty clearly concludes that Richard was guilty of planning and executing a usurpation. What I’ve done here is to give as many snippets around key events in the timeline as I can, with subtitles to break them up and signpost them, and the odd note to explain why I’ve included them; original text in blue italics; but do read Armstrong’s book if you can!
Extracts from the Text of ‘The Usurpation of Richard III’ by Dominic Mancini
Edward IV’s wishes
‘At his death Edward left two sons; he bequeathed the kingdom to Edward the eldest…The king wished that his second son called the duke of York should be content with his apanage within his brother’s realm. He also left behind daughters, but they do not concern us. Men say that in the same will he appointed as Protector of his children and realm his brother Richard duke of Gloucester, who shortly afterwards destroyed Edward’s children and then claimed for himself the throne.’
‘An important factor in this revolution appears to have originated in the dissention of these two [Dorset and Hastings]; and although at the command and entreaty of the king, who loved each of them, they had been reconciled two days before he died, yet, as the event showed, there still survived a latent jealousy.’
Cecily Neville and Edward’s legitimacy
One of the differences between Mancini’s account and the Crowland Chronicle is where Mancini suggests that Gloucester not only claimed that Edward’s children were illegitimate, but also that Edward himself was illegitimate. This is quite a claim, of which Vergil makes much, because it’s quite a son that goes that far! Given that Gloucester sets up house at Baynard Castle with his mother, and receives the lords there to be offered the throne, and given Cecily Neville, I personally really find this difficult to believe. But then, who am I?
‘Edward, they said, was conceived in adultery and in every way was unlike the late duke of York, whose son he was falsely said to be’
‘Even his [Edward IV] mother [Cecily Neville] fell into such a frenzy, that she offered to submit to a public inquiry, and asserted that Edward was not the offspring of her husband the duke of York, but was conceived in adultery, and therefore in no wise worthy of the honour of kingship’
One of Mancini’s themes about why Gloucester acted as he did was the story that the Queen and Woodvilles actively persuaded Edward IV to kill his brother, the Duke of Clarence; and that Gloucester was livid, and swore vengeance. Again, it seems to me Clarence earned his own downfall, the evidence of enmity between Gloucester and the Woodvilles is almost invisible before 1483, so I choose not to go for this-but again, who am I? Just a bloke in a shed….
‘At that time Richard duke of Gloucester was so overcome by grief for his brother [Clarence]… but that he was overheard to say that he would one day avenge his brother’s death.’
Richard’s reputation & Character
Mancini records one of the extraordinary things about the whole affair, and maybe one of the reasons it is such a compelling event; that a man with such a strong reputation before 1483 should have been the one to take the throne.
‘The good reputation of his private life and public activities powerfully attracted the esteem of strangers. Such was his renown in warfare, that whenever a difficult and dangerous policy had to be undertaken, it would be entrusted to his discretion and his generalship. By these arts Richard acquired the favour of the people, and avoided the jealousy of the queen, from whom he lived far separated. ‘
He suggests Gloucester is impulsive:
‘Therefore the Protector rushed headlong into crime…’
Bit comes down pretty firmly on the ‘Gloucester is guilty of ambition:
‘…Richard duke of Gloucester, who shortly after destroyed Edward’s children and then claimed for himself the throne.’
‘But whom will insane lust for power spare, if it dares violate the ties of kin and friendship?’
Mancini is less than complimentary about the Woodvilles, and gives colour to the view that Gloucester felt quickly exposed and threatened on his brother’s death. And that while antagonism before 1483 between Gloucester and the queen is hard to find, this is not so for Hastings and the Woodvilles.
‘…the queen ennobled many of her family. Besides, she attracted to her party many strangers and introduced them to court, so that they alone should manage the public and private businesses of the crown, surround the king, land have bands of trainers, give or sell offices, and finally rule the king himself.’
‘Although he had many promoters and companions of his [Edward IV] vices, the more important and especial were three of the afore mentioned relatives of the queen, her two sons and brothers’
‘…Hastings was not only the author of the sovereign’s public policy, as being one that shared every peril with the king, but was also accomplice and partner of his privy pleasures. He maintained a deadly feud with the queen’s son, whom we said was called marquis, and that because of the mistresses whom they had abducted, or attempted to entice from one another. The suborned informers of each had threatened a capital charge against the other.’
The Council meeting on the death of Edward IV
Mancini agrees with the Crowland Chronicle in the essentials of the meeting; and points to the two factions, Hastings and Woodville, that divided the council.
‘Two opinions were propounded. One was that the duke of Gloucester should rule, because Edward in his will had so directed, and because by law the government should devolve on him. But this was the losing resolution; the winning was that the government should be carried out by many persons among whom the duke, far from being excluded, should be accounted the chief. By this means the duke would be given due honour, and the royal authority greater security.’
‘All who favoured the queen’s family voted for this proposal, as they were afraid that, if Richard took unto himself the crown or even governed alone, they, who bore the blame of Clarence’s death, would suffer death or at least be ejected from their high estate.’
‘To this the Marquis [Dorset] is said to have replied, ‘We are so important that even without the king’s uncle we can make and enforce these decisions’
Some historians have noted that Hastings shouldn’t necessarily be seen as an innocent victim. He was a man who had operated at the highest levels of power successfully for many years. He was not a passive player.
‘…it was reported that he [Hastings] had advised the duke [Gloucester] to hasten to the capital with a strong force, and avenge the insult done to him by his enemies. He might easily obtain his revenge if, before reaching the city, he took the young king Edward under his protection and authority, while seizing before they were alive to the danger those of the king’s followers, who were not in agreement with this policy’
Gloucester’s view of his rights, talents, and accusations against the Woodvilles
Gloucester firmly believed he had a right to lead the country as Protector, and that he was the right man for the job:
‘He asked the councilors to take his desires into consideration, when disposing of the government, to which he was entitled by law and his brother’s ordinance. Further, he asked them to reach that decision which his services to his brother and to the state a like demanded: and he reminded them that nothing contrary to law and his brother’s desire could be decreed without harm.’
‘He said that he himself, whom the king’s father had approved, could better discharge all the duties of government, not only because of his experience of affairs, but also on account of his popularity. He would neglect nothing pertaining to the duty of a loyal subject and diligent protector’
Gloucester’s speech to Edward V at Stony Stratford laid out his objections to the queen and her family:
- They ruined the Edward IV’s health and honour
‘…they were accounted the companions and servants of his vices, and had ruined his health’
- They conspired to kill Gloucester
‘…Gloucester himself accused them of conspiring his death and of preparing ambushes both in the capital and on the road, which had been revealed to him by their accomplices. Indeed, he said it was common knowledge that they had attempted to deprive him of the office of regent conferred on him by his brother’
- They were a danger to Edward V himself:
‘these ministers should be utterly removed for the sake of his own security, lest he fall into the hands of desperate men, who from their previous licence would be ready to dare anything’
The attitude of Edward V
Once he’d taken the plunge at Stony Stratford, Gloucester would have been worried about the king’s attitude towards him when he achieved his majority in 3 short years, given Edward V’s reply to Gloucester’s speech. It’s not a ringing endorsement for Gloucester:
‘The youth…replied to this saying that he merely had those ministers whom his father had given him; and, relying on his father’s prudence, he believed that good and faithful ones had been given to him. He had seen nothing evil in them, and wished to keep them unless otherwise proved to be evil. As for the government of the kingdom, he had complete confidence in the peers of realm and the queen .’
Attitudes in London
As Mancini’s story progresses, attitudes in the capital change. Initially, before Gloucester’s coup of 13th June, the folks of London appear to agree with Gloucester, though some doubt.
‘…they perceived that men’s minds were not only irresolute, but altogether hostile to themselves. Some even said openly that the youthful sovereign should be with his paternal uncle.’
‘Some however, who understood his ambition and deceit, always suspected whither his enterprises would lead’
After 13th June Mancini claims everyone could see where this was leading:
‘When he exhibited himself through the streets of the city he was scarcely watched by anybody, rather did they curse him with a fate worthy of his crimes, since no one now doubted at what he was aiming’
Gloucester and his motivations for the removal of Hastings on 13th June
Mancini clearly believes Gloucester had a plan at least by this stage to take the crown:
‘Then he set his thoughts on removing, or at least undermining, everything that might stand in the way of him mastering the throne’
‘…he considered that his prospects were not sufficiently secure, without the removal or imprisonment of those who had been the closest friends of his brother, and were expected to be loyal to his brother’s offspring. In this class he thought to include Hastings the king’s Chamberlain; Thomas Rotherham…and the Bishop of Ely’
Some have suggested that Gloucester moved on Hastings and his colleagues because they were plotting against him; Mancini is the source for this:
‘…for he had sounded their loyalty through the duke of Buckingham, and learned that they sometimes foregathered in each other’s houses.’
This could be evidence of plotting; though Mancini does seem to have thought so, holding Hastings blameless…:
‘thus fell Hastings, killed not by those enemies he had always feared, but by a friend whom he had never doubted’
…and thought Gloucester was just making it up:
‘…that the plot had been feigned by the duke so as to escape the odium of such a crime.’
The announcement on 22nd June of Edward V’s illegitimacy
Mancini’s account says initially at least that Edward IV himself was illegitimate; though he later goes on to record the same accusations as the Titulus regius, and those recorded by the Crowland Chronicle.
‘After that he took a special opportunity of publicly showing his hand; since he so corrupted preachers of the divine word [Ralph Shaw – and others?] that in their sermons to the people they did not blush to say, in the face of all decency and religion, that the progeny of Edward IV should be instantly eradicated, for neither had he been a legitimate king, nor could his issue be so. Edward, they said, was conceived in adultery, and in every way was unlike the late duke of York, whose son he was falsely said to be’
Why the lords offered Gloucester the throne
‘…the lords consulted their own safety, warned by the example of Hastings, and perceiving that the alliance of the two dukes, whose power, supported by a multitude of troops, would be difficult and hazardous to resist’.