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The Mysterious Writer of the Croyland Continuation

A primary source for the tragic reign of Edward V

Although the sources for this period leave much to be desired, there are two primary sources that are particularly noteworthy because they are contemporary, or near contemporary, accounts by people who either witnessed the events or were able to interact with people who did.

They are:

  • Dominic Mancini’s Usurpation of Richard III, written in December 1483
  • The Continuation to the Croyland Chronicles, written in April 1486

The Continuation is the preferable of the two because it was written by an Englishman who was a participant in the affairs of State.  Although he writes anonymously, his brief inclusion of biographical references informs us that he had been a member of Edward IV’s Council and had participated in diplomatic missions to the court of Burgundy.  As a court insider, his perspective is important.

The Croyland Author’s Weaknesses

an anonymous source……

That’s not to say that there aren’t issues with his account.  His anonymity invites controversy and speculation and dilutes the impact of his message.  Ricardians Clement Markham and Josephine Tey predictably argue that the author is John Morton because they cannot consider any criticism of their hero as being authentic and not cooked up by Henry VII and Morton, who apparently had nothing better to do eight months after Bosworth than develop a propaganda campaign to smear Richard’s “good name.”  That one of the most reticent, uncommunicative and secretive kings of England cooked up this alleged campaign that would be the envy of Joseph Goebbels and every 21st century pitchmen seems not to occur to them, despite the 15th century lack of television, newspapers, radio and the internet.

To add to the issue of the author’s anonymity, there is another anonymous writer describing events at Croyland during the same period.  This writer is of little interest to historians except that he makes this curious remark:  “While these commotions were still going on in the north (April 1486), there came to the house of Croyland the reverend man, John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln, and stayed there the space of a whole month, making payment every week for himself and a retinue of 20 persons.”

The author of the worldly portion of the Continuation claims to have written his account in ten days in April 1486, a period within the time of Russell’s visit.  If John Russell was the author, this is a grave indictment against Richard III, since Russell was his Chancellor.  It is just as likely, however, that the author was someone else in Russell’s party who also had close connections to Edward IV’s court.  The author describes himself as a Doctor of Canon Law, and a member of the King’s (Edward IV’s) council who was sent by Edward as an envoy to the Duke of Burgundy.  This suggests a person of some prominence, and Russell does qualify.

Despite Russell’s Chancellorship to Richard III, there is some evidence that Russell did not relish the appointment.  The Stallworth letters written during the summer of 1483 indicate that Russell was busy “with myche besynes and more then he is content with all, yf any other ways wold be tayn.”  Edgar De Blieck, author of Analysis of Crowland’s Section on the Usurpation of Richard III, infers by this that Russell was concerned that the troops that Richard was summoning from the north were called, not to keep the peace, but to “smooth the process of usurpation.”  He further quotes a Cely letter indicating that Russell was “dyssprowett (desperate) and nott content.”  We might also infer that Russell was not glad of his appointment to the Chancellorship in Thomas Rotherham’s stead.  There is some evidence that Richard might not have trusted Russell completely, or felt as if he could count on his support – a withdrawing of his authority during the October Rebellion in 1483 and before the battle of Bosworth.  However, this could be attributable to other factors: A. J. Pollard, who is no Ricardian, is one who counts Russell as one of Richard III’s supporters, but there is reason to suspect that his support was weak, at best.

Although Russell played a role in Richard’s Protectorate, he isn’t mentioned at all in Croyland’s historic account.  In describing William Hastings’ murder and the arrest of Stanley, Morton, Rotherham and Oliver King at a June 13 meeting at the Tower, the author does not indicate that John Russell was the facilitator of another meeting of the King’s Council held at the same time in Westminster for the purpose of planning the King’s coronation.  This was a cynical move, probably on the part of Richard and his allies, to split the Council so that the moderate members were with Russell while the King’s strongest supporters were meeting at the Tower.  This would have prevented any protest from the moderates and would have ensured that they would not have known about the murder and arrests until they were done deals.  Russell was also a member of the party that went to Westminster Abbey to strongly convince the Queen into releasing little Richard, Duke of York, from sanctuary and over to his uncle’s hands.

Alison Hanham in “Richard III and his Early Historians” deduces that, if Russell were indeed the author, he might have omitted his actions during the Protectorate out of shame.  This is not as outlandish as it might seem.  In the Continuation, the author makes several remarks that could lead us to that opinion.  The King’s Council had essentially given Richard power “just like another King,” as the Continuation reads.  Elsewhere, he stresses that it had been Council’s intention that Edward V succeed his father “in all his glory,” and that the oath to Edward upon his arrival in London was given with the greatest of pleasure.  The realization that they had placed Edward and his brother in the hands of their destroyer would have been met with the greatest chagrin by anyone who was sincere about his oath.  These phrases, ultimately unnecessary to an overview of the events and somewhat uncharacteristic of this annoyingly succinct author, smack of remorse.  As a member of the King’s Council, he and others had been honor-bound to protect the King and instead had smoothed the path toward his deposition and destruction.

his account is too succinct…

The succinctness of the Continuation is another shortcoming of the account.  We are hungry for an informed opinion, but often find the author dismissing a subject by stating that there is more that he could say, but why bother.  We get the impression that the author is trying to get something off his chest, but we only get a portion of the story he has to tell.

a bias against the North…

Another weakness in the Croyland narrative is his bias against northerners.  I do realize that Richard’s preference for the North and increasing distrust of the South spurred his counterproductive northern plantations following Buckingham’s Rebellion, a move that just increased southern hostility against him.  Well-seasoned southerners like the Croyland author would not forget the North’s march on London under Queen Margaret of Anjou over 20 years before.  To those who remembered, Richard’s call for northern troops, ostensibly against “the Queen and her affinity,” but really to “smooth the process of usurpation” (Edgar de Blieck, Analysis of Crowland’s Section on the Usurpation of Richard III), was uncomfortably like that other event.

A Valuable Resource

Despite what Ricardians would like to believe about the Croyland author and Dominic Mancini, both accounts are anti-Woodville.  The Croyland author writes that “the more prudent” in council thought that the guardianship of King Edward V should be forbidden to his maternal uncles and brothers, and by this we might infer that he was one of those “more prudent.”  However, the author goes no further in criticizing the Woodvilles.  In fact, he states that “detention of King’s relatives and servants in prison” was a matter of greatest doubt, as well as “the fact that the Protector did not…take measures for the dignity and safety of the queen.”  Upon the executions of Rivers, Grey and Vaughan, he writes that this was “the second innocent blood” that Richard and his supporters shed – Hastings, of course, being the first.

One trait that is admirable about the Croyland author is his effort to take the moral high ground whenever possible.  This gives the author’s account more credibility, especially since he doesn’t spare those whom he favors from criticism when criticism is due.  When dealing with Henry VI’s murder, for example, he states that the perpetrator justly earned the title of “tyrant.”  He doesn’t mention Edward IV by name, but there is no one else who could qualify, since he was the King in 1471 and would be the person who would give authority to such an action.

The Croyland author is the best source we have on the period following Edward IV’s death and leading up to the ascension of Henry VII.  The brevity of Edward V’s and Richard III’s reigns means that there is a paucity of records, even mundane household records, that could inform us, in little ways, of the state of the nation.  There was only one Parliament during that period, and much of the business then consisted of fortifying Richard III’s claim to the throne.  Richard himself communicated his perspective when Protector and when King.  There is little information about what others thought of Richard’s power grab and ascension.  As an insider, the Croyland author does history a valuable service.

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