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The “Manly Gown”

When in Rome…
In an episode of “I Claudius,” the fortunes of Tiberius’ right-hand man Sejanus fall.  Everyone associated with him is captured and slain.  Among those captured are Sejanus’ children, a young girl and boy.  Although the emperor’s soldiers are ordered to kill these children, they are reluctant to do it for fear of punishment from their gods.  After all, the girl is a virgin and the boy is so young.  What to do?  The soldiers’ solution is to rape the girl and force the boy to put on his “manly gown,” a Roman ritual of a male’s “coming of age.”  Once that has happened, the soldiers’ consciences are cleared and they can then kill the children with impunity.

Edward V and “the Manly Gown”
Some Ricardians reason like those Roman soldiers.  They don’t want it to look as if they are defending Richard’s actions against a child.  So they try to force Edward V into his “manly gown,” hoping that they can convince people that Edward was not a child, and, therefore, Richard’s actions against him aren’t really as bad as they seem.

They try to draw comparisons between 12-year old Edward V and other youngsters of similar age who appear to be doing “grown-up” things, hoping that people will believe that Edward was pampered and over-protected “for his age,” and was considered almost a man by medieval standards.

However, the examples of young people assuming adult roles during the Middle Ages should not be misinterpreted.

Children as Military Leaders
Ricardians suggest that other children Edward’s age were commanding men in battle.  One example they use is Alfonso, Prince of Asturias, who was 13 when he “participated” in the Battle of Olmedo in 1467. However, Alfonso was not a “wonderkind” leading troops into battle.  He was the figurehead of the nobles opposing his half-brother Henry, and it was only his royal blood, NOT his military prowess, that made him so.

Another example Ricardians use is Richard II, who staved off rebellion at the age of 14 following the death of Wat Tyler during the Peasants’ Revolt.  However, it was his inspired comments (“You seek a captain?  I am your captain.  Follow me.”) and NOT his military leadership that saved the Crown.  This is much like the 18-year old Edward of March’s (later Edward IV) inspired interpretation of a parhelion at Mortimer’s Cross in 1461.  Intelligent though he was, and gifted though he was at military leadership, even Edward had experienced and well-seasoned advisors and soldiers to rely upon during the battle.

No adult who commands forces does it alone.  He has military advisors to assist him before the battle and the competent leadership of his generals during the battle.  We might expect that this is even more the case when one nominally at the head of a force is young.  History might not tell you how much hand-holding was involved, or how scrupulously the adults around these youths shielded them from the brunt of the battle, but to assume that a youth has the experience and wherewithal to do it alone is to assume too much.

Children Having Children
It is well-known that Margaret Beaufort was only 13 or 14, and a widow to boot, when she gave birth to the future Henry VII in January 1457.  Giving birth is no qualification for adulthood.  It only means that the girl has attained puberty, while saying nothing about maturity.  Further, one must not assume that Margaret Beaufort had no adult guidance or protection just because she was a widow and a mother at so young an age.

Child Marriage as a Common Event
When Ricardians mention 12-year-olds marrying as proof of adulthood, they are even more off-base than when raising the issue of childbirth.  Arranged marriages were common among all classes of society, and there are cases where children as young as 3 were married.  Edward V’s brother Richard was married at 4-1/2, and his bride was 6.  So, did that make them adults?  Would even a Ricardian consider a 4-year-old an adult?

Paul Murray Kendall’s engaging social history The Yorkist Age describes 15th century child marriages.  Citing a passage from “Child Marriages, Divorces, and Ramifications, etc.,” edited by F. J. Furnivall, he writes:

The business of marriage often began early, for a boy was considered to be of age at fourteen, a girl at twelve.  Child marriages were not uncommon. . . Mistress Elizabeth Bridge, thirteen, complained that her bridegroom, John Bridge, about thirteen, never used her “lovingly in so much that the first night they were married the said John would eat no meat at supper, and when it was bedtime, the said John did weep to go home with his father.”

As this brief passage about a very real 15th century boy illustrates, marriage in the 15th century was no proof of maturity.

Page, Squire, Knight
The silliness of thinking that 12-year-olds were considered adults during the Middle Ages is evident when one reflects upon the preparation high-born boys endured when preparing for knighthood (

At age 7, a boy became a page, learning courtly manners, as well as the use of weapons and horse-riding.

Around the age of 14, the boy became a squire, serving a knight and furthering his education in deportment and the use of weapons.

From age 18 through 21, the seasoned squire might be deemed ready for knighthood.

It is not for nothing that one is considered an adult, even now, when one attains the age of 18 or 21, and not twelve.  Modern society has taken its lead from this medieval tradition.  Twelve-year-old Edward V was not considered an adult by his contemporaries, just as he would not be considered an adult now.

Twelve As an Awkward Age — a Modern View
That is not to say that 12 is not an awkward age.  Even in our society, 12 remains that shadowy middle ground between childhood and youth.  The awkwardness of Edward V’s age does not escape the notice of historians such as Alison Hanham and Rosemary Horrox.  In Richard III and His Early Historians, Hanham writes: “He was 12, and while he would not yet be expected to reign unaided, there was not the prospect of a long minority…The capabilities of a 12-year-old youth were much more highly rated and extended in medieval times…”  In Richard III: a study in service, Horrox writes: “The Prince’s age could hardly have been more awkward.  Too young to rule effectively in person, he was too old to make a minority an attractive prospect.”

If he was not a baby, as Henry VI was when he became King at 9 months, he certainly was not considered an adult by any means, although at 12 he would be expected to have some voice in his government.

That much of Edward’s childhood was spent in the relative quiet of Ludlow is a testimony to his father’s good rule and the tranquility of England during his reign.  There was no need for young Edward to ride as a figurehead at the front of an army while Edward IV was on the throne.  But even Edward IV, at 12 years old, was at Ludlow doing his lessons and complaining about the Croft brothers, and his father’s position and England’s situation then were far from tranquil.  If 12 was nearly an adult by 15th century standards, why did Edward V need a Protector anyway, and why did his peer 13-year-old Charles VIII of France need a Regent?

Contemporaries Have Their Say
What did contemporaries say about Edward?  Mancini calls him a youth and adolescent and remarks that he was learned beyond his years.

John Russell’s proposed speech to open Edward V’s first Parliament makes many allusions to Edward’s youth, even while praising his intellect.  As if speaking for the young King, Russell writes:  “God hath called me in my tender age to be your King and sovereign” and “for God hath called me (unto the occupation of mine) office as a young creature coming out of the womb and (in the) midst of right weighty and busy charges.”  He more than once refers to Richard’s office of Protector, writing “of the tutele and oversight of the King’s most royal person during his the years of tenderness.”  Russell likens Edward V to the son of King Ptolemy of Egypt who “had great confidence that the people of Rome would provide for the good and honorable guiding of that child unto the time he were of ripe age.”

The Croyland Chronicler remarks that both of Edward IV’s sons had not yet attained puberty.  In the margin of his account, he writes the words “the rumors of the deaths of the children” at the section where he deals with the fate of Edward V and young Richard of York.

The Great Chronicle of London also contains a margin scribble referring to “the deaths of the Innocents,” in reference to both boys.

Welsh poet Dafydd Llwyd ap Llewelyn ap Griffid of Mathafarn compares Richard III to King Herod, who had murdered the Holy Innocents:

It is claimed that the poem “Babes in the Wood” was inspired by the Princes’ fate:

The plans that Edward IV drew up for his heir’s education were to be in effect until he was 14.  We don’t know what Edward planned next for his son, except to suppose that young Edward would have had a role in accordance with his advancing years.  As it was, Edward IV changed Edward’s bedtime from 8 o’clock to 9 o’clock when he was 11.

Ricardians Who Take Issue with Edward’s Young Age
From a Ricardian perspective, Edward V can never win.  If there are those who want to force Edward V into his “manly gown,” arguing that 12 was almost an adult by medieval standards, there are those, like Terry Jones (of “Monty Python” fame) and Varrel Smith, author of the unfunny “Their Majesties and Other Folk,” who want to disinherit Edward V for being too young.  It doesn’t matter that youth has not been a bar to succession to the English Crown since Saxon times.  It doesn’t matter that Edward was older than Henry III (age 8), Richard II (age 10), or Henry VI (age 9 month) upon his succession.  It doesn’t matter that there was never a word of criticism offered by contemporaries against Edward V’s character or intelligence (not even by Richard III, his allies, and his Parliament).  It only matters that excuses be made for Richard’s usurpation.  Here, the Ricardians can be very creative, inventing reasons and excuses that even Richard III didn’t use!

Best Man for the Job?
There are those who insist that Richard was the best man for the job.  There are a few problems with this approach.  First, it has been the excuse for tyrants throughout human history.  Second, the claim seems to trump rule of law.  If being the best man for the job justifies overturning tradition, convention, order, and the restraints between law and lawlessness, then the ends justify the means.  Why not use murder and deceit, and any other weapon at your disposal to get to the top?  As in Rome during the imperial age, when assassination of rivals became the preferred method of succession, who would argue that the best man for the job wasn’t the one who killed his way to the top?

“Such looters believe it safe to rob defenseless men, once they’ve passed a law to disarm them.  But their loot becomes the magnet for other looters, who get it from them as they got it.  Then the race goes, not to the ablest at production, but to those most ruthless at brutality.” — Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

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