Were the Tudors Document Shredders?
Ricardians like to portray the Tudors as wholesale document-shredders who ensured that documents approving of Richard III were destroyed after his death, leaving only those critical of him. We are then told that the Tudors filled the void with their own propaganda.
This is a convenient rationale for the rejection of contemporary sources that the Ricardians don’t like, which just happens to be most of them. Because it is known that Henry VII suppressed and destroyed copies of the “Titilus Regius” identifying his Queen as a bastard and recognizing Richard’s title, we are supposed to assume that other documents favorable to Richard were destroyed and thus indulge ourselves in a converse fallacy of accident.
It is likely that other documents besides the “Titulus Regius” were suppressed by the Tudors, just as we know that Richard suppressed the communications of his opposition and that his clerks altered documents during his reign. If Richard, his officers, and clerks began such a campaign against his opposition and the supporters of Edward V during the course of his brief 26-month reign, it would be naive to think that Henry Tudor didn’t indulge in similar actions during the course of his 24-year reign. However, it is one thing to point to one instance, or a handful of instances and then assume the likelihood of other instances, and another to declare as fact that wholesale document-shredding was a matter of Tudor policy.
Such a theory overlooks the fact that documents favorable to Richard do exist. The letter from Thomas Langdon, who declared that Richard pleased the people wherever he went managed to survive the Tudor dynasty, although this letter is often quoted as proof of Richard’s popularity without any mention that Richard III also made Langdon Bishop of St. Davids and, later, Bishop of Salisbury. Also, contrary to the contention that Richard’s supporters were harrassed and persecuted by the Tudors after Bosworth, Langdon later became Archbishop of Canterbury, and both of Richard’s clerical supporters the Bishop of Bath and Wells and Bishop of Durham officiated at Tudor’s coronation. Also, the City of York was never forced to expunge the favorable references to Richard from their city records.
It is possible that contemporary documents in Richard’s favor may still exist somewhere. It seems remarkable that this might be so, after five centuries, but new contemporary sources can arise anytime, just as Dominic Mancini’s December 1483 account The Usurpation of Richard III surfaced in the mid-1930’s. Should such documentation surface, it would be welcomed as a fresh perspective to our understanding of those times. It would not, however, diminish the importance of other contemporary records that show Richard in an unfavorable light. The two perspectives would coexist, and we would be all the better for it.
As for the argument that the Tudors were wholesale document-shredders, we have little evidence that this is true. Centuries of scholars of both the Yorkist and Tudor periods have not uncovered evidence that this was a matter of Tudor policy.
The argument that the Tudors embarked on a campaign to smear Richard’s good name rests on the assumption that Richard had a good name to smear and that Richard was generally held in high regard when he was killed at Bosworth. This requires that we reject every contemporary record that doesn’t support that position.
One of the most tired arguments for rejecting the contemporary records is the rationale that any source with a tie to France, Wales, Margaret Beaufort, Henry Tudor, John Morton, or the Woodvilles must be immediately discredited, even if the tie is weak, irrelevant, or non-existent. Thus, we have Ricardian scholars feverishly searching the biographies of Richard’s opposition for such ties. We are to accept that Morton and Tudor orchestrated a public relations campaign to smear Richard’s name that would have impressed Goebbels less than a year after Bosworth, since anti-Ricardian accounts and poetry started to surface as early as 1486. (Perhaps some of these were created during Richard’s time but were suppressed until his death?) We are expected to consider such critics liars, seduced by fear and self-interest to tow the Tudor line. We are expected to believe that Tudor was so powerful and established that he had nothing better to do in the year following Bosworth than to plant stooges to dream up propaganda. This from a King who was so poor that one of the first things he needed upon his ascension was some new clothes!