By Kenneth Hillier
Part 1 from The Ricardian, Vol.6, no. 78 (1972)
Part 2 from The Ricardian, Vol.6, no. 80 (1983)
Introduction: In his recent biography of Richard III, Charles Ross devotes an entire chapter to ‘The Rebellion of 1483 and its consequences’. He maintains that ‘the series of associated risings which broke out in the southern and western counties of England in the autumn of 1483 proved to be a key event in Richard’s political fortunes’. However, he feels that the label, ‘the Duke of Buckingham’s rebellion’ is very misleading, as the risings were planned before the duke’s adherence became known and few of those involved had any known connection with him. Moreover, his failure to raise a worthwhile army in the Marches and Wales ‘did nothing to assist and much to discourage a potentially powerful rebellion in England’. Who, then, rebelled against Richard in 1483, and why?
Most of my own interest and research into Richard’s reign has centred around this revolt – hence the series of articles in previous Ricardians. What I hope to do in this essay is to show where the sources are to be found for a study of this topic, both primary and secondary, making the minimum comment myself. In other words, I wish to present the mine rather than the miner on this occasion.
Before looking at the contemporary or near-contemporary sources available, it would be useful to mention two secondary works which are of great value to the researcher: George B. Churchill’s Richard III up to Shakespeare, first published as long ago as 1900, but more recently reproduced by Alan Sutton in 1976, and Alison Hanham’s Richard III and his Early Historians, published in 1976 by the Oxford University Press. Churchill set out to show what exactly was the nature and scope of the primary sources available to Shakespeare when he began to write his play Richard III. Here are extracts from the contemporary chronicles and memoirs and the early Tudor histories, as well as a useful section on ‘Richard III in Poetry and the Drama’. Hanham, of course, has had access to the fruits of the tremendous amount of research on the fifteenth century which has taken place since Churchill’s day, and her work is a scholarly approach to ‘the vexed question of Richard III’s political motives and … the problems of transmission, the connections between sources, and the character of accounts … ‘ I propose to divide this article into two, looking first at the contemporary or near-contemporary accounts, then at how commentators and historians since the early sixteenth century have used these sources to write their own versions of events.
C. L. Kingsford’s English Historical Literature in the Fifteenth Century is still important for the narrative sources. Although his opinions have been modified in the light of recent research, Kingsford is correct when he asserts that the city chronicle contained in the British Museum, Cotton MS. Vitellius A XVI, is ‘of special value as representing the type of chronicle which was used by Fabyan from 1440 to 1485.’ Here is the section covering the rebellion:
‘In this yere many knyghtes and gentilmen, of Kent and other places, gadred theym togider to have goon toward the Duke of Bokyngham, beyng then at Breknok in the March of Walis, which entended to have subdued kyng Richard; for anoon as the said kyng Richard had put to deth the lord Chamberleyn and other Gentilmen, as before is said, he also put to deth the ij childer of kyng Edward, for whiche cawse he lost the hertes of the people. And thereupon many Gentilmen entendid his distruccion. And when the kyng knewe of the Dukes entent, anoon he went Westward; and there raysed his people, wherof the Duke fled, becawse at that tyme his people were not come to hym. [Buckingham took refuge with Banaster, who betrayed him; the Duke was brought to Salisbury] ‘where the second day after his commyng, wtoute spekyng with kyng Richard, behedid … Then the Gentilmen which had entendid to have goon to hym, heryng of his takyng, fled sore dysmayed, ffor at this tyme, when the Duke tooke contrary part agayn kyng Richard, the more party of the Gentilmen of England were so dysmayed that they knewe not which party to take but at all adventure.’