The super summary
“Therefore, at the request and by assent of the Three Estates of this Realm…be it pronounced, decreed, and declared that our said Sovereign Lord the King was, and is, truly and undoubted King of this Realm of England”
The Titulus Regius is a statute of parliament, issued in Richard’s only official parliament, opened in January 1484. It represents the basis on which Richard claimed the throne in June 1483, and set aside the right of the young princes – the princes in the tower.
His argument was that Edward IV’s children were illegitimate; because he was already promised in marriage when he married the Queen. Clarence’s children are debarred by Clarence’s attainder for treason. Which left Richard as the heir.
Over the centuries, Richard’s claim has come in for a howling blizzard of scepticism, disbelief and downright fury. Chroniclers of the 15th and 16th century were universally critical; more modern historians have often taken the same approach. Charles Wood described the claim as ‘Wretchedly conceived…hasty, sloppy, and poorly explained’. Charles Ross described parts of the argument as ‘gross misrepresentation’ ‘far-fetched’ and ‘unconvincing’. A J Pollard concluded that it is ‘difficult to avoid the conclusion that Richard III Usurped the throne’. The sceptics note that the discovery of the pre-contract story was just too convenient for Richard to be credible; contemporaries were obviously suspicious; and surely Richard could have buried this if he’d wanted to.
But Riccardians have fought back. Since George Buck in the late 16th century showed how commentators such as Polydore Vergil and Thomas More were not to be trusted, Richard’s argument has had a voice. More recently, Paul Murray Kendall, Annette Carson and others, particularly the Richard III society website make the point that its convenience doesn’t make it not true – and look at Edward IV’s behaviour; the secret pre-contract is clearly possible and entirely in character! That the claim stands up in medieval canon law; that as a pious man Richard could hardly ignore the information, and if he had tried to bury it; and if he had, there would have been a dangerous question mark over the legitimacy of the Yorkist dynasty forever.
Below, then, is a description of the chain of events, a summary of the controversy, and the text of the Titulus Regius itself.
The Titulus Regius
The Act produces in full the petition presented to Richard, then Duke of Gloucester and Protector, by the assembled lords and commons in June 1483. This assembly had been called by Richard in the name of Edward V; since it sat without a recognized king, it didn’t have the standing of an official parliament. No copies from that time exist.
The chain of events, 1483: ‘Bastard slips shall not take root’
The Titulus Regius therefore gives Richard’s version of his claim to the throne.
9th June? Phillipe of Commine, a contemporary French observer, wrote that Robert Stillington, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, approached Richard with the news of Edward IV’s bigamy early in June 1483. The date is uncertain, and who Richard claims to have shared the information with is uncertain. Phillipe’s entry suggests a date as 9th June, and Richard is supposed to have shared in a council meeting. However, Simon Stallworth, a servant of the Chancellor John Russell, mentions nothing in the letter he wrote to William Stonor on 9th.
On 22nd June, Ralph Shaw, and noted preacher, presumably commissioned by Richard stoo d at St Paul’s Cross outside the cathedral, and delivered a sermon on the biblical text, ‘Bastard slips shall not take root’, laying out the bastardy of Edward IV’s children, because of the pre-contract with Eleanor Butler when Edward married Elizabeth. There is some confusion in the chronicles – Dominic Mancini and Polydore Vergil claimed that Ralph Shaw had also claimed the Edward IV himself was illegitimate. It’s difficult to credit that Gloucester, who was living with his mother at the time, would have been as brutal as this, without need.
On 24th June, the Duke of Buckingham spoke at the Guildhall to the Mayor of London and Aldermen
On 25th, the Lords and Commons assembled by writ met and discussed the petition;presumably also having the opportunity to quiz Bishop Stillington on his evidence for Edward’s pre-contract – and the following morning a delegation went to Gloucester at Baynard’s Castle and begged him to accept the throne.
On 26th, Gloucester signaled his acceptance by processing through the city to Westminster Hall, sitting on the marble throne and addressing the king’s justices.
What the petition claimed
The core of the claim was that when Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville, the Queen, he was already promised in marriage to Eleanor Butler. The petition however threw the kitchen sink at Edward IV. In summary it said:
- The kingdom was badly ruled and the laws and customs of the land flouted
- The Queen was guilty of witchcraft
- Edward got married secretly against the customs of the church
- Edward was already bethrothed – so the marriage and its offspring were illegitimate
- George, Duke of Clarence was attainted by parliament- so his son is illegitimate too
And so in conclusion, Richard of Gloucester and his line has the only rightful claim to the throne.
Was the claim valid?
If based on fact, the petition had a case to be answered:
- 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, the pre-contract was valid
- Despite that, Edward’s secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville told 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 – the pre-contract
- Although Eleanor was dead by the time the Queen gave birth, that didn’t matter back then; once a bigamist, always a bigamist – unless reviewed in some way by a ecclesiastical court, which hadn’t happened.
- There’s no problem theologically raising an objection many years later – if it was wrong, it was wrong
Views at the time
We face the traditional trouble of chroniclers hostile to Richard. The Crowland Chronicle included this passage:
“However, it was at this time rumored that this address had been got up in the north, whence such vast numbers were flocking to London; although, at the same time, there was not a person but what very well knew who was the sole mover at London of such seditious and disgraceful proceedings.”
Which pretty clearly suggests the Chronicle had no faith in the process or the ‘sole mover’ [Buckingham] – but doesn’t actually say the claims where not valid. Dominic Mancini, the other credible observer, describes Ralph Shaw’s sermon thus:
‘He [Gloucester] so corrupted preachers of the divine word 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…’
Richard’s defenders would point out that no correspondingly positive chronicles or commentators have survived.
The Anti Richard argument
- It’s all too convenient: There’s Edward V, all helpless and under age, there’s Gloucester in control – and suddenly along comes information that makes Richard the rightful king. There’s not been a sniff of this before. Sorry, just too easy.
- The people at the time didn’t believe it (as evidenced by Crowland Chronicle) – why should we? Ok, the assembly offered Gloucester the throne – but they were scared. They’d just seen what happened to Hastings.
- The judgment didn’t go before and ecclesiastical court – which is the right place to evaluate the objection rather than the secular assembly/parliament
- Parliament could have legitimized the Prince, just like the Beauforts all those years ago
- Gloucester could have buried this; just given the Bishop a nice cup of team, told him to forget it and go home
The pro Richard argument
- It might be convenient. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. And there was clearly a case to answer. Plus, there’s really no doubt Edward IV was not perfectly capable of seducing and tricking Eleanor Butler. And Stillington was there at the parliament – they could have grilled him. Plus, if you look at it the other way wrong and believe in Richard – it’s actually thoroughly inconvenient!
- This is exactly when you would expect such a claim to emerge; no one would have raised it while Edward IV was alive, and before the new king was crowned would seem the obvious time to bring this to the Protector’s attention.
- We don’t really know what people thought. The chronicles that come down to us are either biased against Richard (Crowland) or downright Tudor apologists (Vergil, More). Parliaments and assemblies have defied kings before – why not Protectors?
- It’s parliament & secular courts that ruled on cases inheritance. And there wasn’t time to go through the whole process
- What should Richard have done? Let’s assume for the moment it’s true. Richard was a pious man – was he to set aside the laws of God?
- To bury the story would have been to leave a worm in the Yorkist apple – a way for opponents always to question Edward V’s right, and those of his descendants. We need to do the right thing.
Plus Henry VIII did not make a fuss of the Yorkist illegitimacy – surely he would have done? [Though if he had it might have supported Richard’s claim, so not sure why he’d bother.]
The pro Richard argument makes the point that by going through due process with Parliament, Richard is probably the most thorough legitimised king ever!
The Richard III society has a good page on this, as you would expect – here’s the link: http://www.richardiii.net/2_5_0_riii_controversy.php#precontract
The Text of Titulus Regius
BE IT REMEMBERED that a certain bill was exhibited before our Lord the King, in the Parliament preceding, in these words.
Where late heretofore, that is to say, before the consecration, coronation, and enthronement of our Sovereign Lord the King Richard the Third, a roll of parchment, containing in writing certain articles of the wording underwritten, on the behalf and in the name of the three estates of this realm of England, that is to wit, of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and of the Commons, by many and diverse persons of the Commons in great multitude was presented and actually delivered unto our said Sovereign Lord the King, to the intent and effect expressed at large in the same Roll; to the which Roll, and to the considerations and present petition comprised in the same, our said Sovereign Lord, for the public well-being and tranquillity of this land, benignly assented.
Now forasmuch as neither the said three Estates, neither the said persons, which in their name presented and delivered, as is above said, the said Roll unto our said Sovereign Lord the King, were assembled in form of Parliament; by occasion whereof, diverse doubts, questions and ambiguities, being moved and engendered in the minds of diverse persons, as it is said:
Therefore, to the perpetual memory of the truth, and declaration of the same, be it ordained, provided and established in this present Parliament, that the wording of the said Roll, with the contents of the same, presented, as is above said, and delivered to our aforesaid Sovereign Lord the King, in the name and on the behalf of the said three Estates out of Parliament, now by the same three Estates assembled in this present Parliament, and by authority of the same, be ratified, enrolled, recorded, approved and authorised, into removing the occasion of doubts and ambiguities, and to all other lawful effect that shall and must thereof ensue; so that all things said, affirmed, specified, desired and remembered in the said Roll, and in the wording of the same underwritten, in the name of the said three Estates, to the effect expressed in the same Roll, be of like effect, virtue and force, as if all the same things had been so said, affirmed, specified, desired and remembered in a full Parliament, and by authority of the same accepted and approved.
The wording of the said Roll of Parchment, whereof above is made mention, follows and is thus:
To the High and Mighty Prince Richard Duke of Gloucester
Please it your Nobel Grace to understand the consideration, election and petition underwritten, to the benefit of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons of this Realm of England, and thereunto agreeably to give your assent, to the common and public well-being of this land, to the comfort and gladness of all the people of the same.
First, we consider how that heretofore in time past, this Land many years stood in great prosperity, honour and tranquillity; which was caused, forasmuch as the Kings then reigning used and followed the advice and counsel of certain Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and other persons of approved seriousness, prudence, policy and experience, dreading God and having tender zeal and affection to indifferent ministration of Justice, and to the common and politic well-being of the Land; then our Lord God was dread, loved and honoured; then within the Land was peace and tranquillity, and among Neighbours concord and charity; then the malice of outward enemies was mightily resisted and repressed, and the land honourably defended with many great and glorious victories; then the intercourse of merchandise was largely used and exercised: by which things above remembered, the Land was greatly enriched, so that as well as the Merchants and Artificers, as other poor people, labouring for their living in diverse occupations, had competent gain, to the sustenance of themselves and their households, living without miserable and intolerable poverty.
But afterwards, when those such as had the rule and governance of this Land, delighting in adulation and flattery, and lead by sensuality and carnal lust, followed the council of persons insolent, vicious, and of inordinate avarice, despising the council of good, virtuous and prudent persons, such as above remembered; the prosperity of this Land daily decreased, so that felicity was turned into misery, and prosperity into adversity, and the order of policy, and the law of God and Man, confounded; whereby it is likely this Realm to fall into extreme misery and desolation, which God forbids, without due provision of suitable remedy be had in this behalf in all goodly haste.
Over this, among other things, more specially we consider how that the time of the Reign of King Edward IV, late deceased, after the ungracious pretence of marriage, as all England has cause so to say, made between the said King Edward and Elizabeth, sometime wife to Sir John Grey Kt, late naming herself and many years heretofore Queen of England, the order of all politic rule was perverted, the laws of God and of God’s Church, and also the laws of Nature and of England, and also the laudable customs and liberties of the same, wherein every Englishman is inheritor, broken, subverted and condemned, against all reason and justice, so that this Land was ruled by self-will and pleasure, fear and dread, all manner of equity and laws laid apart and despised, whereof ensued many inconveniences and mischief, as murders, extortions and oppressions, namely of poor and impotent people, so that no man was sure of his life, land nor livelihood, nor of his wife, daughter nor servant, every good maiden and woman standing in dread to be ravished and defiled.
And besides this, what discords, inward battles, effusions of Christian men’s blood, and namely, by the destruction of the blood of this land, was had and committed within the same, it is evident and known through all this realm, unto the great sorrow and heaviness of all true Englishmen.
And here we consider how that the said feigned marriage between the above named King Edward and Elizabeth Grey (Elizabeth Woodville) was made of great presumption, without the knowing assent of the Lords of this Land, and also by Sorcery and Witchcraft, committed by the said Elizabeth and her mother Jacquetta Duchess of Bedford, as the common opinion of the people, and the public voice and same is through all this Land; and hereafter, if and as the case shall require, shall be proved sufficiently in time and place convenient.
And here also we consider how that said feigned marriage was made privately and secretly, without edition of banns, in a private chamber, a profane place, and not openly in the face of the Church, after the law of God’s Church, but contrary thereunto, and the laudable custom of the Church of England.
And how also, that at the time of contract of the same feigned Marriage, and before and a long time after, the said King Edward was and stayed married and troth plight to one Dame Eleanor Butler, Daughter of the old Earl of Shrewsbury, with whom the same King Edward had made a precontract of matrimony, a long time before he made the said feigned Marriage with the said Elizabeth Grey, in manner and form above said.
Moreover we consider how that afterward, by the three Estates of this Realm assembled in Parliament held at Westminster the 17th year of the Reign of the said King Edward IV, he then being in possession of the Crown and Royal Estate, by an act made in the same Parliament, George Duke of Clarence, Brother to the said King Edward now deceased, was convicted and attainted of High Treason; as in the same Act is contained more at large. Because and by reason whereof, all the children of the said George was and is disabled and barred of all Right and Claim, that in any way they might have or challenge by Inheritance, to the Crown and Dignity Royal of this Realm, by the ancient Law and Custom of this same Realm.
Over this we consider how that You be the undoubted Son and Heir or Richard late Duke of York, very inheritor to the said Crown and Dignity Royal, and as is in right King of England, by way of Inheritance; and that at this time, the premises duly considered, there is no other person living but You only, that by Right may claim the said Crown and Dignity Royal, by way of Inheritance, and how that You be born within this Land; by reason whereof, as deem in our minds, You be more naturally inclined to the prosperity and common well-being of the same; and all the three Estates of the Land have, and may have, more certain knowledge of your Birth and Filiations above said. We consider also the great Wit, Prudence, Justice, Princely Courage, and the memorable and laudable Acts in diverse battles, which as we by experience know You heretofore have done, for the salvation and defence of this same Realm; and also the great dignity and excellence of your Birth and Blood, as of him that is descended of the three most Royal houses in Christendom, that it to say, England, France and Hispania.
Wherefore, these promises by us diligently considered, we desiring effectively the peace, tranquillity, and well-being public of this Land, and the reduction of the same to the ancient honourable estate and prosperity, and having in your great Prudence, Justice, Princely Courage and excellent Virtue, singular confidence, have chosen in all that which in us is, and by this our Writing choose You, high and mighty Prince, into our King and Sovereign Lord et c., to whom we know for certain it belongs of inheritance so to be chosen. And hereupon we humbly desire, pray and require your said Noble Grace, that, according to this Election of us the Three Estates of this Land, as by your true Inheritance, You will accept and take upon You the said Crown and Royal Dignity, with all things thereunto annexed and belonging, as to You of Right belonging, as much by Inheritance as by lawful Election; and, in case You so do, we promise to serve and to assist your Highness, as true and faithful Subjects and Liegemen, and to live and die with You in this matter, and every other just quarrel.
For certainly we be determined rather to adventure and commit us to the peril of our lives and jeopardy of death, than to live in such thralldom and bondage as we have lived long time heretofore, oppressed and injured by Extortions and new Impositions, against the Laws of God and Man, and the Liberty, old Policy, and Laws of this Realm, wherein every Englishman is inherited. Our Lord God, King of all Kings, by whose infinite goodness and eternal providence all things being principally governed in this world, lighten your soul, and grant You grace to do as well in this matter as in all others, all that may be according to his will and pleasure, and to the common and public well-being of this Land; so that, after great clouds, troubles, storms and tempests, the Sun of Justice and of Grace may shine upon us, to the comfort and gladness of all true Englishmen.
Albeit that the Right, Title, and Estate, which our Sovereign Lord the King Richard the Third has to and in the Crown and Royal Dignity of this Realm of England, with all things thereunto within the same Realm, and without it, united, annexed and belonging, being just and lawful, as grounded upon the Laws of God and of Nature, and also upon the ancient Laws and laudable Customs of this said Realm, and so taken and reputed by all such persons as being learned in the Laws and Customs.
Yet nevertheless, forasmuch as it is considered, that the most part of the people of this Land is not sufficiently learned in the above said Laws and Customs, whereby the truth and right in this behalf of likelihood may be had, and not clearly known to all the people, and thereupon put in doubt and question.
And over this, how that the Court of Parliament is of such authority, and the people of this Land of such nature and disposition, as experience teaches, that manifestation and declaration of any truth or right, made by the Three Estates of this Realm assembled in Parliament, and by authority of the same, make, before all other things, most faith and certainty; and, quieting men’s minds, removes the occasion of all doubts and seditious language.
Therefore, at the request and by assent of the Three Estates of this Realm, that is to say, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons of this Land, assembled in this present Parliament, by authority of the same, be it pronounced, decreed, and declared that our said Sovereign Lord the King was, and is, truly and undoubted King of this Realm of England, with all things thereunto within the same Realm, and without it, united, annexed and belonging, as well by right of Consanguinity and Inheritance, as by lawful Election, Consecration and Coronation.
And over this, that, at the request, and by the assent and authority above said, be it ordained, enacted and established, that the said Crown and Royal Dignity of this Realm, and the Inheritance of the same, and other things thereunto within this same Realm, or without it, unite, annexed and now belonging, rest and abide in the person of our said Sovereign Lord the King, during his Life, and, after his Decease, in his heirs of his Body begotten.
And especially, at the request, and by assent and authority above said, be it ordained, enacted, pronounced, decreed and declared, that the High and Excellent Prince Edward, Son of our said Sovereign Lord the King, be Heir Apparent of the same our Sovereign Lord the King, to succeed to him in the above said Crown and Royal Dignity, with all things as is aforesaid thereunto unite, annexed and belonging to have them after the Decease of our said Sovereign Lord the King, to him and his heirs of his Body lawfully begotten.
This same Bill was carried to the general assembly of the Kingdom of England in the said current Parliament: To which Bill the Commons gave their consent in these words:
To this bill the Commons assented.
Which said Bill and Agreement before the King in Parliament aforesaid was read, heard and fully understood, the assent of the the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament similarly was given, and too the Commons aforesaid, as well as the authority of this Parliament, pronounced, decreed and declared that each and everything in the said Bill is beyond doubt true; the Lord King, with the assent of the three Estates of the Kingdom, and the authority aforesaid, each and every premise of the Bill was granted, and pronounced, decreed and declared as being the truth.