Richard III: Friend of Womankind?

In a particularly hagiographic passage in Richard the Third, Paul Murray Kendall writes, “[O]ften Richard scattered small gifts like a benevolent agent of Providence . . . to Anne Caux, ‘once the nurse of Edward IV,’ he gave £20 yearly ‘in consideration of her poverty’; Katherine Vaux, the faithful lady in waiting to his old enemy Queen Margaret, received an annuity of 20 marks. He relieved the distress of wives of rebels whose property had been forfeited: he granted an annuity to the Duchess of Buckingham, ordered Lady Rivers’ tenants to pay her their dues, gave the Countess of Oxford a pension. ‘For her good and virtuous disposition’ he took Florence, wife of the rebel Alexander Cheney, into his protection and granted her the custody of her husband’s lands. For his times, Richard reveals a surprising sense of women as people in their own right.” Earlier in his biography, Kendall notes that following the execution without trial of William, Lord Hastings, Richard swore to take his widow, Katherine, under his protection and to defend her against “any attempt by intimidation or fraud to deprive her of her rights.”

Following Kendall’s lead, modern-day admirers of Richard have continued to praise his chivalry toward women. But is this reputation really deserved?

First, grants like the ones to Anne Caux and Katherine Vaux, though certainly praiseworthy, are hardly unique to Richard: other medieval kings–and even, horrors, the Tudors!–can be found making them. Edward II, for instance, gave his old nurse (who had cared for him only briefly) five pounds a year and 73 acres of land for life, as Alianore notes. Henry VII gave an annuity of 10 marks to Joan Hill, the mother of his bastard relation Charles Somerset. Katherine Vaux lived into Henry VIII’s reign and received an annuity of 20 marks from the new king.

As for the wives of rebels, Richard III did indeed give the Countess of Oxford, Margaret Neville, £100, but this was a continuation of a grant from Edward IV, who is not given any particular credit for generosity. In any case, as David Baldwin notes, Richard had been given the Earl of Oxford’s estates following the Battle of Barnet and could presumably afford to part with £100. (Back in the 1470’s, the young Richard had bullied Margaret Neville’s mother-in-law, Elizabeth de Vere, the dowager Countess of Oxford, into giving him her own estates for an inadequate consideration, but this inglorious episode doesn’t find its way into Kendall’s biography.)

Richard III did give Katherine Woodville, Duchess of Buckingham, an annuity of 200 marks in 1484, but as Katherine points out rather testily in The Stolen Crown, Buckingham had assigned her a jointure of 1,000 marks, and as both J.R. Lander and Anne Crawford have noted, a wife’s jointure was exempt from a husband’s attainder. Thus, by ignoring Katherine’s right to jointure from Buckingham’s confiscated lands, Richard with his gift of 200 marks was saving himself 800 marks.

Florence Cheney, as the wife of an attainted but living rebel, had no right to her husband’s lands, so here Richard can be credited with genuine generosity. But Lady Rivers (Mary FitzLewis, widow of Anthony Woodville)? The order in question, found in British Library Harleian Manuscript 433, Vol. 2, commands that the occupiers of “the lyvehood belonging unto the Lady Riviers by reasone of hure joynture” pay what they owed to Lady Rivers. In other words, by ordering that Lady Rivers’ tenants pay to her what she was owed by virtue of her jointure, Richard III was merely enforcing the law. It seems rather extravagant to praise Richard simply for doing his duty as king. In any case, Mary FitzLewis remarried George Neville, a natural son of the Earl of Westmorland. George was favored by Richard III, so Richard III might have had George Neville’s interests in mind when he was enforcing Mary’s rights.

Richard gets a great deal of credit for his generous treatment of Katherine Hastings (who as a Neville was a close relation of both Richard and his queen), which in the eyes of some of his admirers has more than compensated for what some might term his less generous treatment of beheading Hastings without a trial. (Whether Katherine would share this roseate view is doubtful.) Unfortunately, although Richard kept his promise not to attaint Hastings, he proved less than diligent in his role as Katherine’s protector and defender. As David Baldwin has pointed out, Richard took Katherine’s most valuable property, the manor of Loughborough, for himself at the same time he made his promise to her, and more troubles were to follow. Francis Lovell, Richard III’s close associate, soon set about claiming Katherine’s manors of Ashby and Bagworth, along with other properties, for himself. Lovell, in fact, had quitclaimed his interest to Ashby three years before, and his father had sold Bagworth to the Hastings family. To retain Ashby and Bagworth and the residue of the Beaumont inheritance claimed by Lovell (of which Lovell’s family had been deprived through an act of attainder of Viscount Beaumont during Edward IV’s reign), Katherine was obliged to give Lovell 200 marks in cash, plus Beaumont lands totaling a maximum 200 marks per annum. The settlement, reached through the mediation of unspecified friends, came with the caveat that it could not be final during the minority of Katherine’s eldest son, Edward Hastings. Lovell, as Baldwin points out, was probably planning to force an even more lopsided deal once Edward came of age. As it was, Lovell’s plans were upset by the Battle of Bosworth. In this transaction, there’s no evidence that Richard did anything to protect Katherine Hastings’ rights, despite his promise to her to do exactly that.

Finally, back in the 1470’s, Anne Beauchamp, widow of Warwick the Kingmaker, had been treated as if naturally dead so that her lands could be divided between her daughters, Isabel, Duchess of Clarence, and Anne, Duchess of Gloucester. The chief beneficiaries, of course, were the duchesses’ husbands, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard himself. The countess’s protests at being stripped of her inheritance went unheeded. When Richard became king, putting him into a position to treat his queen’s mother more generously, he gave the countess a whopping £80 per year. By contrast, Henry VII gave Anne Beauchamp 500 marks per year, granted her life estates in over two dozen manors and lordships, made her principal keeper of the forest of Wychwode, and appointed her principal keeper of the forest of Wychwood.

So all in all, while Richard certainly was capable of generosity toward women, his treatment of them hardly seems exceptional, and in the cases of the dowager Countess of Oxford, Katherine Woodvile, Lady Hastings, and his own mother-in-law hardly qualifies him as a paragon of chivalry.


Ian Arthurson, The Perkin Warbeck Conspiracy 1491–1499. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Alan Sutton, 1994.

David Baldwin, The Kingmaker’s Sisters: Six Powerful Women in the Wars of the Roses. Gloucestershire: The History Press, 2009.

Anne Crawford, “Victims of Attainder: The Howard and de Vere Women in the Late Fifteenth Century,” Reading Medieval Studies, 1989.

C. Given-Wilson et al., eds., The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England. CD-ROM. Scholarly Digital Editions, Leicester: 2005.

Michael Hicks, Anne Neville, Queen to Richard III. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus, 2006.

Rosemary Horrox, Richard III: A Study in Service. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Rosemary Horrox and P.W. Hammond, eds., British Library Harleian Manuscript 433. Richard III Society, 1979-83.

Michael K. Jones and Malcolm G. Underwood, The King’s Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

J. R. Lander, Crown and Nobility 1450–1509. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1976.

21 thoughts on “Richard III: Friend of Womankind?”

  1. Have you got it in for Richard, Susan? 😉

    Frankly, although like almost everybody, I too have a Ricardian novel, I'm not as completely sold on his "angelic" qualities as I was as a kid of 12 fresh from reading "The Daughter of Time."

    An interesting post, anyhow, so thank-you. (Trust Horrox to come up with something unflattering.)

  2. Got it in for Richard? 😉

    Can;t say I'm quite as enamoured of him as I once was, back in the days when I was writing fan mail to Paul Murray Kendall, who ever so kindly wrote back to me, a kid of fourteen, fresh from reading the Daughter of Time.

    A fascinating, but totally medieval human being, with plenty of kinks and secrets we'll never know the truth of.

    Interesting post; trust Horrox to tell us the unflattering details.

  3. Love this post on Richard III and his overly generosity(???)–well, in the end to me Richard III was a very just King and kinder than most Noblemans of his time. And being that he was kind of a mysterious man he totally becomes one my favorite Plantagenet Kings, specially after reading Sunne in Splendour, I must side with him and believe that he was a Friend of Womankind indeed (sigh).

  4. a benevolent agent of Providence?? Sheesh, that's sickeningly hagiographic even by Kendall's standards.

    I'm really enjoying your posts setting the historical record straight!

  5. Susan Higginbotham

    Glad you liked it, Muse!

    Juliet and 4everQueen, thanks for stopping by! He's not my favorite king by any means, but he is an interesting guy!

    Alianore, it is kind of sickening, isn't it? Glad you're enjoying the posts!

  6. When considering Richard's generousity, it's a matter of whom you're comparing him with, and what the circumstances were. I think he was better than some, but no medieval king behaved like Ivanhoe.

    I would argue that kingship (or its equivalent) corrupts even the best of persons. Political power is actually a form of poison for the soul.

  7. Richard III who couldn't even do the decent thing about his partner Anne Neville.

    The reason I call her partner is the fact she and Richard were never legally married owing to Richard's failure to provide the necessary papal dispensation.

    Ever heard of a lady called Roxane C Murph? Even she has admitted to that.

    Sonme bad news for Juliet. Like her and Isolde Wigram I started out the same way that novel by Tey.

    So how have I ended becoming Counsel for the Prosecution and why would a real life Scotland Year detective not even want to give Tey the time of day?

    A pity I shall never have the chance to meet Isolde. What a debate that could have been!

    On the other hand if Sherlock Holmes is to be believed perhaps it were better 'twas not so.

    1. Hi Trish, As for the papal dispensation I direst you to an article by Mary Barnfield. They indeed had papal dispensation for their marriage and it has been found in the Vatican archive.I can send you the whole article (with references) if you wish.

      1. The dispensation found in the archives covered only affinity. It is discussed by Peter Clarke (the researcher who found it) in an article in the English Historical Review. They also needed a dispensation for consanguinity, which has not been found. Barnfield speculates that it might have been obtained earlier, but that is only conjecture as one has never turned up.

      2. Thank you Ishita but I’ve already read the article by Dr Peter Clarke

        Only third and fourth degrees affinity and no mention of consanguinity

  8. Susan, You forgot to mention that Richard offered Countess of Oxford, mother of an attained rebel, a home at Middleham. You will probably construe this action as Richard imprisoning the Countess. But I see it as generosity. Also, Richard payed for Oxford’s younger brother’s education. Which he didn’t have to do.
    Countess of Warwick was indeed disinherited and the blame has to be shared among all three Yorkist brothers. By singling out Richard you are not being completely fair. And again the Countess lived with her son in law and spend money freely. Yeah $80 is paltry but again the countess was spending that much money on things like the Middleham jewels which costs over and above that 80. Henry Tudor did give Warwick’s lands back to the countess only to confiscate it at a future date……Biased it might be, but I enjoyed your post..

    1. boswellbaxter

      Richard wasn’t offering the Countess of Oxford a “home” at Middleham; he threatened to send her there if she didn’t sign her lands over to him. She herself was afraid of making the journey because of the frost and snow, a reasonable enough fear for an old lady. As for him paying for her son’s education, that was part of the bargain he eventually struck with the countess, not an extra act of kindness on Richard’s part.

      You’ll note that in the section about the Countess of Warwick’s disinheritance, I wrote, “The chief beneficiaries, of course, were the duchesses’ husbands, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard himself,” so I didn’t ascribe all of the blame to Richard.

      I’m not aware of any account stating how much the Countess of Warwick spent on the Middleham jewel, assuming that she was the one who had it made–do you have a source showing the cost? For all we know, she might have sold or refurbished some of her own jewels to meet the cost. There is evidence that she had a gold tablet made (possibly the Middleham Jewel) and that Richard wasn’t pleased–but we don’t know why he wasn’t pleased.

      Finally, Henry VII granted the countess an annuity of 500 marks in 1486. The countess was restored to her estates in 1487, after which she re-granted all of them to the crown except for the manor of Erdington, which she reserved for herself and her heirs. In December 1489, Henry VII granted the countess many of her former lands for life and appointed her principal keeper of the forest of Wychwood. So even after having to re-grant her lands to Henry VII in 1487, she still enjoyed an annuity of 500 marks, her manor of Erdlington, a life interest in a number of her former estates, and the income from her keepership, which was far more than she had ever had under Richard III.

      1. Isn’t it possible that the deal was agreed on condition that her elder son no longer actively tried to pull down the Yorkist monarchy? You state that there is no evidence that Richard honoured his payments but neither can you prove that he failed to do so or that he might have withheld the payment because Oxford attempted to land without consent in May and then took St Michael’s Mount the following September. If you were the brother of the king would you happily pay out money to someone who’s family was trying to bring down your House and destroy you?

        1. If that was a condition, it surely would have been important enough to be mentioned with the others.

          It’s possible that Gloucester did honor his end of the agreement, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was a very uneven one.

  9. Sue

    In fairness to Dr Peter Clarke I have to say he spent years researching the Vatican Archives. Rather odd then if he didn’t come across the petition for a dispensation based on consanguinity

  10. I’m confused about the dispensations. First, what is the difference between consanguinity and affinity? As I understand it, consanguinity refers to blood relationship and affinity would arise out of the marriage of George and Isabel … but according to an on line Catholic Encyclopedia, the Fourth Council of Lateran removed the bar to marriage based on second and third degree of affinity … would the affinity between Richard and Anne be the first degree? (What really confuses things is that, according to James Gairdner, Richard’s Victorian biographer, George claimed that the marriage was invalid because Richard had “kidnapped” Anne (when he took her to sanctuary before the marriage). How many would he need?

    Second, would all dispensations be kept together if they had been issued at different times? For example, I read in one biography of Henry VIII that, when he was claiming how he wanted his marriage to Catherine to be valid, the Pope offered a second dispensation to “clean up” any defects in the first … years after the first one was issued. If such a dispensation had been issued (or, if a later dispensation had been issued to Richard and Anne to “clean up any defects” in the first), would they have been found together with the earlier ones?

    Also, FWIW, Charles Ross’s biography of Edward IV seemed to do a good job of exculpating Richard for any part in stripping anyone of their estates and laying the blame squarely on Edward IV. What later books do you recommend on this issue?

  11. Made a mistake about the source … it wasn’t Gairdner who claimed that the alleged “kidnapping” was the basis for George’s attack on the validity of the marriage, but a blog, with a citation to the Calendar of Milanese State Papers

  12. I find some of your reasoning slightly odd especially regarding the treatment of the Countess of Oxford who was the wife and mother of traitors and who’s son was engaged in piracy and intrigues with Louis of France, George Neville and quite likely Clarence during his rebellion in 1471. Edward Iv needed to cut off funds to Oxford and would have been daft not to secure the person and property of his mother. Naturally he turned to Richard as the brother he could trust to do the unpleasant end of the business and get the Countess to hand over property which was held by her own affiliation. For a frail, elderly woman she did a pretty good job of holding out against the bully boy York brothers and managed to delay the case through chancery until 1474. It is also interesting that you omitted the fact that Edward had her come to court daily between March and July to answer certain matters pending against her which may have related to her property or to her alleged involvement with her son’s treasonous activities. The search of her coffers might have been to find incriminating evidence as much as loose change and she actually ended up being allowed to stay in the nunnery (although I would have had her under close surveillance) and was not imprisoned by either brother despite her son’s activities which might be seen as quite benevolent considering they had just fought their way back from exile and lost everything that their family had sacrificed so much to gain. Far from Richard’s actions being greedy and cruel, they were prompted by necessity and the realities of the situation he found himself in. He could hardly refuse his brother if he asked him to neutralise the Oxford threat and with Clarence back in the family fold he was probably feeling insecure about his share of the property portfolio given George’s ambitions and acutely aware of Edward’s attitude towards failure. Treat him as a rounded character with the same drives and motivations as anyone else in that situation rather than a pantomime villain and the picture becomes more rounded and the interpretation fairer.

    1. If Edward simply wanted to get hold of the countess’s property for security purposes, he could have simply taken it into the hands of the crown on the pretext that the countess was aiding her traitorous son. There was no need to use Richard as a middleman.

      It was Gloucester who brought the chancery suit (in the countess’s name) against the countess’s feoffees, not the countess herself.

      I’ve answered this comment and your other one because I’m sure if I hadn’t, I would find myself the subject of yet another Facebook thread, but don’t expect me to pay you the same courtesy again.

    2. The countess was confined to a nunnery, which was a common method employed by both Yorkists and Lancastrians to keep widows under surveillance. Her lands were in the hands of feoffees who were loyal to Edward, or at least firmly neutral — in fact, two of them were members of the royal council. It’s hard to see how income from her lands could be diverted to her son John de Vere without one or more of the feoffees being complicit in the matter. No one, even de Vere’s biographer, has found evidence that he received any funds from his mother. All feoffees remained in favor with the crown and none were accused of treasonably sending funds abroad, which they most certainly would have been if Edward thought they were in league with Oxford. In fact, several of the feoffees, including the two who were on the council, fought Richard’s chancery suit, saying that they believed the Countess was pressured to surrender her lands against her will. As royal councilors they would have known if Richard was only carrying out Edward’s wishes and would have been most unlikely to go to court to oppose them.

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