Horace Walpole.

Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third online

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L'histoire n'est fondee que sur le tomoignage des Auteurs qui nous
l'ont transmisse. Il importe donc extremement, pour la scavoir, de
bien connoitre quels etoient ces Auteurs. Rien n'est a negliger en
ce point; le tems ou ils ont vecu, leur naissance, leur patrie, le
part qu'ils ont eue aux affaires, les moyens par lesquels ils ont
ete instruits, et l'interet qu'ils y pouvaient prendre, sont des
circonstances essentielles qu'il n'est pas permis d'ignorer: dela
depend le plus ou le moins d'autorite qu'ils doivent avoir: et sans
cette connoissance, on courra risque tres souvent de prendre pour
guide un Historien de mauvaisse foi, ou du moins, mal informe.
Hist. de l'Acad. des Inscript. Vol. X.


First Published 1768


So incompetent has the generality of historians been for the
province they have undertaken, that it is almost a question,
whether, if the dead of past ages could revive, they would be able
to reconnoitre the events of their own times, as transmitted to us
by ignorance and misrepresentation. All very ancient history, except
that of the illuminated Jews, is a perfect fable. It was written by
priests, or collected from their reports; and calculated solely to
raise lofty ideas of the origin of each nation. Gods and demi-gods
were the principal actors; and truth is seldom to be expected where
the personages are supernatural. The Greek historians have no
advantage over the Peruvian, but in the beauty of their language, or
from that language being more familiar to us. Mango Capac,
the son of the sun, is as authentic a founder of a royal race, as
the progenitor of the Heraclidae. What truth indeed could be
expected, when even the identity of person is uncertain? The actions
of one were ascribed to many, and of many to one. It is not known
whether there was a single Hercules or twenty.

As nations grew polished. History became better authenticated.
Greece itself learned to speak a little truth. Rome, at the hour of
its fall, had the consolation of seeing the crimes of its usurpers
published. The vanquished inflicted eternal wounds on their
conquerors - but who knows, if Pompey had succeeded, whether Julius
Caesar would not have been decorated as a martyr to publick liberty?
At some periods the suffering criminal captivates all hearts; at
others, the triumphant tyrant. Augustus, drenched in the blood of
his fellow-citizens, and Charles Stuart, falling in his own blood,
are held up to admiration. Truth is left out of the discussion; and
odes and anniversary sermons give the law to history and credulity.

But if the crimes of Rome are authenticated, the case is not the
same with its virtues. An able critic has shown that nothing is more
problematic than the history of the three or four first ages of that
city. As the confusions of the state increased, so do the confusions
in its story. The empire had masters, whose names are only known
from medals. It is uncertain of what princes several empresses were
the wives. If the jealousy of two antiquaries intervenes, the point
becomes inexplicable. Oriuna, on the medals of Carausius, used to
pass for the moon: of late years it is become a doubt whether she
was not his consort. It is of little importance whether she was moon
or empress: but 'how little must we know of those times, when those
land-marks to certainty, royal names, do not serve even that
purpose! In the cabinet of the king of France are several coins of
sovereigns, whose country cannot now be guessed at.

The want of records, of letters, of printing, of critics; wars,
revolutions, factions, and other causes, occasioned these defects in
ancient history. Chronology and astronomy are forced to tinker up
and reconcile, as well as they can, those uncertainties. This
satisfies the learned - but what should we think of the reign of
George the Second, to be calculated two thousand years hence by
eclipses, lest the conquest of Canada should be ascribed to James
the First.

At the very moment that the Roman empire was resettled, nay, when a
new metropolis was erected, in an age of science and arts, while
letters still held up their heads in Greece; consequently, when the
great outlines of truth, I mean events, might be expected to be
established; at that very period a new deluge of error burst upon
the world. Cristian monks and saints laid truth waste; and a mock
sun rose at Rome, when the Roman sun sunk at Constantinople. Virtues
and vices were rated by the standard of bigotry; and the militia of
the church became the only historians. The best princes were
represented as monsters; the worst, at least the most useless, were
deified, according as they depressed or exalted turbulent and
enthusiastic prelates and friars. Nay, these men were so destitute
of temper and common sense, that they dared to suppose that common
sense would never revisit the earth: and accordingly wrote with so
little judgment, and committed such palpable forgeries, that if we
cannot discover what really happened in those ages, we can at least
he very sure what did not. How many general persecutions does the
church record, of which there is not the smallest trace? What
donations and charters were forged, for which those holy persons
would lose their ears, if they were in this age to present them in
the most common court of judicature? Yet how long were these
impostors the only persons who attempted to write history!

But let us lay aside their interested lies, and consider how far
they were qualified in other respects to transmit faithful memoirs
to posterity. In the ages I speak of, the barbarous monkish ages,
the shadow of learning that existed was confined to the clergy: they
generally wrote in Latin, or in verse, and their compositions in
both were truly barbarous. The difficulties of rhime, and the want
of correspondent terms in Latin, were no small impediments to the
severe nvarch of truth. But there were worse obstacles to encounter.
Europe was in a continual state of warfare. Little princes and great
lords were constantly skirmishing and struggling for trifling
additions of territory, or wasting each others borders. Geography
was very imperfect; no police existed; roads, such as they were,
were dangerous; and posts were not established. Events were only
known by rumour, from pilgrims, or by letters carried In couriers to
the parties interested: the public did not enjoy even those fallible
vehicles of intelligence, newspapers. In this situation did monks,
at twenty, fifty, an hundred, nay, a thousand miles distance (and
under the circumstances I have mentioned even twenty miles were
considerable) undertake to write history - and they wrote it

If we take a survey of our own history, and examine it with any
attention, what an unsatisfactory picture does it present to
us! How dry, how superficial, how void of information! How
little is recorded besides battles, plagues, and religious
foundations! That this should be the case, before the Conquest, is
not surprizing. Our empire was but forming itself, or re-collecting
its divided members into one mass, which, from the desertion of the
Romans, had split into petty kingdoms. The invasions of nations as
barbarous as ourselves, interfered with every plan of policy and
order that might have been formed to settle the emerging state; and
swarms of foreign monks were turned loose upon us with their new
faith and mysteries, to bewilder and confound the plain good sense
of our ancestors. It was too much to have Danes, Saxons, and Popes,
to combat at once! Our language suffered as much as our government;
and not having acquired much from our Roman masters, was miserably
disfigured by the subsequent invaders. The unconquered parts of the
island retained some purity and some precision. The Welsh and Erse
tongues wanted not harmony: but never did exist a more barbarous
jargon than the dialect, still venerated by antiquaries, and called
Saxon. It was so uncouth, so inflexible to all composition, that the
monks, retaining the idiom, were reduced to write in what they took
or meant for Latin.

The Norman tyranny succeeded, and gave this Babel of savage sounds a
wrench towards their own language. Such a mixture necessarily
required ages to bring it to some standard: and, consequently,
whatever compositions were formed during its progress, were sure of
growing obsolete. However, the authors of those days were not likely
to make these obvious reflections; and indeed seem to have aimed at
no one perfection. From the Conquest to the reign of Henry the
Eighth it is difficult to discover any one beauty in our writers,
but their simplicity. They told their tale, like story-tellers;
that is, they related without art or ornament; and they related
whatever they heard. No councils of princes, no motives of conduct,
no remoter springs of action, did they investigate or learn. We have
even little light into the characters of the actors. A king or an
archbishop of Canterbury are the only persons with whom we are made
much acquainted. The barons are all represented as brave patriots;
but we have not the satisfaction of knowing which, of them were
really so; nor whether they were not all turbulent and ambitious.
The probability is, that both kings and nobles wished to encroach on
each other, and if any sparks of liberty were struck out in all
likelihood it was contrary to the intention of either the flint or
the steel.

Hence it has been thought necessary to give a new dress to English
history. Recourse has been had to records, and they are far from
corroborating the testimonies of our historians. Want of authentic
memorials has obliged our later writers to leave the mass pretty
much as they found it. Perhaps all the requisite attention that
might have been bestowed, has not been bestowed. It demands great
industry and patience to wade into such abstruse stores as records
and charters: and they being jejune and narrow in themselves, very
acute criticism is necessary to strike light from their assistance.
If they solemnly contradict historians in material facts, we may
lose our history; but it is impossible to adhere to our historians.
Partiality man cannot intirely divest himself of; it is so natural,
that the bent of a writer to one side or the other of a question is
almost always discoverable. But there is a wide difference between
favouring and lying and yet I doubt whether the whole stream of our
historians, misled by their originals, have not falsified one reign
in our annals in the grossest manner. The moderns are only guilty of
taking-on trust what they ought to have examined more scrupulously,
as the authors whom they copied were all ranked on one side in a
flagrant season of party. But no excuse can be made for the original
authors, who, I doubt, have violated all rules of truth.

The confusions which attended the civil war between the houses of
York and Lancaster, threw an obscurity over that part of our annals,
which it is almost impossible to dispel. We have scarce any
authentic monuments of the reign of Edward the Fourth; and ought to
read his history with much distrust, from the boundless partiality
of the succeeding writers to the opposite cause. That diffidence
should increase as we proceed to the reign of his brother.

It occurred to me some years ago, that the picture of Richard the
Third, as drawn by historians, was a character formed by prejudice
and invention. I did not take Shakespeare's tragedy for a genuine
representation, but I did take the story of that reign for a tragedy
of imagination. Many of the crimes imputed to Richard seemed
improbable; and, what was stronger, contrary to his interest. A few
incidental circumstances corroborated my opinion; an original and
important instrument was pointed out to me last winter, which gave
rise to the following' sheets; and as it was easy to perceive, under
all the glare of encomiums which historians have heaped on the
wisdom of Henry the Seventh, that he was a mean and unfeeling
tyrant, I suspected that they had blackened his rival, till Henry,
by the contrast, should appear in a kind of amiable light. The more
I examined their story, the more I was confirmed in my opinion: and
with regard to Henry, one consequence I could not help drawing; that
we have either no authentic memorials of Richard's crimes, or, at
most, no account of them but from Lancastrian historians; whereas
the vices and injustice of Henry are, though palliated, avowed by
the concurrent testimony of his panegyrists. Suspicions and calumny
were fastened on Richard as so many assassinations. The murders
committed by Henry were indeed executions and executions pass for
prudence with prudent historians; for when a successful king is
chief justice, historians become a voluntary jury.

If I do not flatter myself, I have unravelled a considerable part of
that dark period. Whether satisfactory or not, my readers must
decide. Nor is it of any importance whether I have or not. The
attempt was mere matter of curiosity and speculation. If any man, as
idle as myself, should take the trouble to review and canvass my
arguments I am ready to yield so indifferent a point to better
reasons. Should declamation alone be used to contradict me, I shall
not think I am less in the right.

Nov. 28th, 1767.


There is a kind of literary superstition, which men are apt to
contract from habit, and which-makes them look On any attempt
towards shaking their belief in any established characters, no
matter whether good or bad, as a sort of prophanation. They are
determined to adhere to their first impressions, and are equally
offended at any innovation, whether the person, whose character is
to be raised or depressed, were patriot or tyrant, saint or sinner.
No indulgence is granted to those who would ascertain the truth. The
more the testimonies on either side have been multiplied, the
stronger is the conviction; though it generally happens that the
original evidence is wonderous slender, and that the number of
writers have but copied one another; or, what is worse, have only
added to the original, without any new authority. Attachment so
groundless is not to be regarded; and in mere matters of curiosity,
it were ridiculous to pay any deference to it. If time brings new
materials to light, if facts and dates confute historians, what does
it signify that we have been for two or three hundred years under an
error? Does antiquity consecrate darkness? Does a lie become
venerable from its age?

Historic justice is due to all characters. Who would not vindicate
Henry the Eighth or Charles the Second, if found to be falsely
traduced? Why then not Richard the Third? Of what importance is it
to any man living whether or not he was as bad as he is represented?
No one noble family is sprung from him.

However, not to disturb too much the erudition of those who have
read the dismal story of his cruelties, and settled their ideas of
his tyranny and usurpation, I declare I am not going to write a
vindication of him. All I mean to show, is, that though he may have
been as execrable as we are told he was, we have little or no reason
to believe so. If the propensity of habit should still incline a
single man to suppose that all he has read of Richard is true, I beg
no more, than that that person would be so impartial as to own that
he has little or no foundation for supposing so.

I will state the list of the crimes charged on Richard; I will
specify the authorities on which he was accused; I will give a
faithful account of the historians by whom he was accused; and will
then examine the circumstances of each crime and each evidence; and
lastly, show that some of the crimes were contrary to Richard's
interest, and almost all inconsistent with probability or with
dates, and some of them involved in material contradictions.

Supposed crimes of Richard the Third.

1st. His murder of Edward prince of Wales, son of Henry the Sixth.

2d. His murder of Henry the Sixth.

3d. The murder of his brother George duke of Clarence.

4th. The execution of Rivers, Gray, and Vaughan.

5th, The execution of Lord Hastings.

6th. The murder of Edward the Fifth and his brother.

7th. The murder of his own queen.

To which may be added, as they are thrown into the list to blacken
him, his intended match with his own niece Elizabeth, the penance of
Jane Shore, and his own personal deformities.

I. Of the murder of Edward prince of Wales, son of Henry the Sixth.

Edward the Fourth had indubitably the hereditary right to the crown;
which he pursued with singular bravery and address, and with all the
arts of a politician and the cruelty of a conqueror. Indeed on
neither side do there seem to have been any scruples: Yorkists and
Lancastrians, Edward and Margaret of Anjou, entered into any
engagements, took any oaths, violated them, and indulged their
revenge, as often as they were depressed or victorious. After the
battle of Tewksbury, in which Margaret and her son were made
prisoners, young Edward was brought to the presence of Edward the
Fourth; "but after the king," says Fabian, the oldest historian of
those times, "had questioned with the said Sir Edwarde, and he had
answered unto hym contrary his pleasure, he then strake him with his
gauntlet upon the face; after which stroke, so by him received, he
was by the kynges servants incontinently slaine." The chronicle of
Croyland of the same date says, "the prince was slain 'ultricibus
quorundam manibus';" but names nobody.

Hall, who closes his word with the reign of Henry the Eighth, says,
that "the prince beyinge bold of stomache and of a good courag,
answered the king's question (of how he durst so presumptuously
enter into his realme with banner displayed) sayinge, to recover my
fater's kingdome and enheritage, &c. at which wordes kyng Edward
said nothing, but with his hand thrust him from him, or, as some
say, stroke him with his gauntlet, whome incontinent, they that
stode about, which were George duke of Clarence, Richard duke of
Gloucester, Thomas marques Dorset (son of queen Elizabeth Widville)
and William lord Hastinges, sodainly murthered and pitiously
manquelled." Thus much had the story gained from the time of
Fabian to that of Hall.

Hollingshed repeats these very words, consequently is a transcriber,
and no new authority.

John Stowe reverts to Fabian's account, as the only one not grounded
on hear-say, and affirms no more, than that the king cruelly smote
the young prince on the face with his gauntlet, and after his
servants slew him.

Of modern historians, Rapin and Carte, the only two who seem not to
have swallowed implicitly all the vulgar tales propagated by the
Lancastrians to blacken the house of York, warn us to read with
allowance the exaggerated relations of those times. The latter
suspects, that at the dissolution of the monasteries all evidences
were suppressed that tended to weaken the right of the prince on the
throne; but as Henry the Eighth concentred in himself both the claim
of Edward the Fourth and that ridiculous one of Henry the Seventh,
he seems to have had less occasion to be anxious lest the truth
should come out; and indeed his father had involved that truth in so
much darkness, that it was little likely to force its way. Nor was
it necessary then to load the memory of Richard the Third, who had
left no offspring. Henry the Eighth had no competitor to fear but
the descendants of Clarence, of whom he seems to have had sufficient
apprehension, as appeared by his murder of the old countess of
Salisbury, daughter of Clarence, and his endeavours to root out her
posterity. This jealousy accounts for Hall charging the duke of
Clarence, as well as the duke of Gloucester, with the murder of
prince Edward. But in accusations of so deep a dye, it is not
sufficient ground for our belief, that an historian reports them
with such a frivolous palliative as that phrase, "as some say". A
cotemporary names the king's servants as perpetrators of the murder:
Is not that more probable, than that the king's own brothers should
have dipped their hands in so foul an assassination? Richard, in
particular, is allowed on all hands to have been a brave and martial
prince: he had great share in the victory at Tewksbury: Some years
afterwards, he commanded his brother's troops in Scotland, and made
himself master of Edinburgh. At the battle of Bosworth, where he
fell, his courage was heroic: he sought Richmond, and endeavoured to
decide their quarrel by a personal combat, slaying Sir William
Brandon, his rival's standard-bearer, with his own hand, and
felling to the ground Sir John Cheney, who endeavoured to oppose
his fury. Such men may be carried by ambition to command the
execution of those who stand in their way; but are not likely to
lend their hand, in cold blood, to a base, and, to themselves,
useless assassination. How did it import Richard in what manner the
young prince was put to death? If he had so early planned the
ambitious designs ascribed to him, he might have trusted to his
brother Edward, so much more immediately concerned, that the young
prince would not be spared. If those views did not, as is probable,
take root in his heart till long afterwards, what interest had
Richard to murder an unhappy young prince? This crime therefore was
so unnecessary, and is so far from being established by any
authority, that he deserves to be entirely acquitted of it.

II. The murder of Henry the Sixth.

This charge, no better supported than the preceding, is still more
improbable. "Of the death of this prince, Henry the Sixth," says
Fabian, "divers tales wer told. But the most common fame went, that
he was sticken with a dagger by the handes of the duke of Gloceter."
The author of the Continuation of the Chronicle of Croyland says
only, that the body of king Henry was found lifeless (exanime) in
the Tower. "Parcat Deus", adds he, "spatium poenitentiae Ei donet,
Quicunque sacrilegas manus in Christum Domini ausus est immittere.
Unde et agens tyranni, patiensque gloriosi martyris titulum
mereatur." The prayer for the murderer, that he may live to repent,
proves that the passage was written immediately after the murder was
committed. That the assassin deserved the appellation of tyrant,
evinces that the historian's suspicions went high; but as he calls
him Quicunque, and as we are uncertain whether he wrote before the
death of Edward the Fourth or between his death and that of Richard
the Third, we cannot ascertain which of the brothers he meant. In
strict construction he should mean Edward, because as he is speaking
of Henry's death, Richard, then only duke of Gloucester, could not
properly be called a tyrant. But as monks were not good grammatical
critics, I shall lay no stress on this objection. I do think he
alluded to Richard; having treated him severely in the subsequent
part of his history, and having a true monkish partiality to Edward,
whose cruelty and vices he slightly noticed, in favour to that
monarch's severity to heretics and ecclesiastic expiations. "Is
princeps, licet diebus suis cupiditatibus & luxui nimis intemperanter
indulsisse credatur, in fide tamen catholicus summ, hereticorum
severissimus hostis sapientium & doctorum hominum clericorumque
promotor amantissimus, sacramentorum ecclesiae devotissimus
venerator, peccatorumque fuorum omnium paenitentissimus fuit." That
monster Philip the Second possessed just the same virtues. Still, I
say, let the monk suspect whom he would, if Henry was found dead,
the monk was not likely to know who murdered him - and if he did, he
has not told us.

Hall says, "Poore kyng Henry the Sixte, a little before deprived of
hys realme and imperial croune, was now in the Tower of London
spoyled of his life and all wordly felicite by Richard duke of
Gloucester (as the constant fame ranne) which, to the intent that
king Edward his brother should be clere out of al secret suspicyon
of sudden invasion, murthered the said king with a dagger." Whatever
Richard was, it seems he was a most excellent and kind-hearted
brother, and scrupled not on any occasion to be the Jack Ketch of the
times. We shall see him soon (if the evidence were to be believed)
perform the same friendly office for Edward on their brother
Clarence. And we must admire that he, whose dagger was so fleshed in
murder for the service of another, should be so put to it to find

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