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Thomas More and Richard III

  • Elizabeth Story Donno


And yet beside all the faults that [Saint German] bringeth in under “some say” and “they say,” some that himself sayth without any “some say” be such as some say that he can never prove, and some, they say, be plain and open false.

Sir Thomas More, The Apology

Despite the attention that has been devoted in the last fifty years to Sir Thomas More's account of Richard III, both in terms of texts and interpretation, the difficulties that surround that baffling work continue to perplex and tease the reader—at least this reader. As A. F. Pollard observed in 1933, the problems relating to it are manifold: its authorship, its sources, the date of its composition, the circumstances of its publication, the relation of the English to the Latin versions, the absence of any original autograph, the variations in the printed texts, the motive of its conception, and the reason for its unfinished state and abrupt termination.



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1 “The Making of Sir Thomas More's Richard III,” Historical Essays in Honour of James Tait (Manchester, 1933), p. 223, abbreviated hereafter as Tait Essays.

2 A derivative text of this manuscript was published as the History of Richard III in 1646 by George Buck, Esq., Sir George's great nephew, in such an altered form that Frank Marcham has termed it “nearly worthless.” See Eccles, Mark, “Sir George Buc, Master of the Revels,” in Sisson, C.J., Thomas Lodge and Other Elizabethans (Cambridge, Mass., 1933) and Marcham, Frank, The King's Office of the Revels, 1610-1622 (London, 1925), p. 3.

3 Zeeveld, W. Gordon, “A Tudor Defense of Richard IIIPMLA 55 (1940), 946-57, and Richard S. Sylvester, The History of King Richard III in Complete Works, 2 (New Haven, 1963), cited hereafter as Works, p. lix. Both of these present material pertinent to the question of More's authorship, and the Sylvester edition has many valuable notes.

4 More's English Works, ed. W. E. Campbell et al (London, 1931), I, pp. 53, 190-91.

5 Richard III and His Early Historians, 1483-1335 (Oxford, 1975), pp. 206-213.

6 Tait Essays; see also his review of the first volume of the English Works, “Sir Thomas More's ‘Richard III’ ” in History, 17(1933), 317-23.

7 “Literary Problems in More's Richard III,” PMLA, 58 (1943), 22-41.

8 “The Dramatic Structure of Sir Thomas More's History of King Richard III,” in Essential Articles for the Study of Thomas More, ed. R. S. Sylvester and Germain Marc'hadour (Hamden, Conn., 1977), pp. 375-87, repr. from SEL, 12 (1972), 223-42.

9 Roger Ascham Stanford Univ. Press, 1963), Ch. 8 and p. 317 n. In view of Cicero's idealistic statements, it is important to note that they do not square with his pragmatic rationale. Writing in 56 B.C. to the historian Lucceius to request that he write a panegyrical history of his deeds, he asked, in fact, that he eulogize his achievements: “I frankly ask you again and again to eulogize my actions with even more warmth than perhaps you feel, and in that respect to disregard the canons of history… . If you find that such personal partiality enhances my merits even to exaggeration in your eyes, I ask you not to disdain it” (The Letters to His Friends in 3 vols., tr. W. Glynn Williams, N.Y., 1927, V. 122-23), cited in Burgess, T. C., Epideictic Literature, Studies in Classical Philology (Chicago, 1902), p. 196 n.

10 The Latin Epigrams of Thomas More, ed. and trans, by Leicester Bradner and C. A. Lynch (Chicago, 1953), #170.

11 The will is dated 24 Feb. 1527, Reynolds, E. E., Thomas More and Erasmus (N.Y., 1965), p. 20. To account for this loyalty, Reynolds observes that the senior More, the son of a baker, had also been granted a coat of arms during Edward's reign and somehow enabled to place his son in the household of Archbishop Morton at Lambeth Palace.

12 See Parks, George B., “Pico della Mirandola in Tudor Translation,” Philosophy and Humanism, Renaissance Essays in Honor of Paul Oskar Kristeller, ed. Mahoney, Edward P. (N.Y., 1976), pp. 352-69.

13 His daughter Margaret, for example, wrote two declamations in English which she and her father then turned into Latin and a third that has not survived. See Thompson, C. R., The Translations of Lucian by Erasmus and Sir Thomas More (Ithaca, N.Y., 1940), pp. 4041.

14 “Lucan and the Declamation Schools,” American Journal of Philology, 87 (1966), 273.

15 In 1596 Lazarus Piot or Pyott translated 100 examples of declamations from the French of Alexander van den Busche, which are specifically recommended as useful to students of law and divinity (The Orator, STC 4182). Some of these derive from ancient writers, the rest are topical. No. 95 gives the account of the Jew who demanded a pound of flesh from a Christian in payment for a debt (discussed by H. H. Furness in the New Variorum edition of the Merchant of Venice, Philadelphia, 1888, pp. 310-13 and by Baldwin, T. W., William Shakspere's Small Latine & Lesse Greeke Univ. of Illinois, 1944, II, 4549 ) and No. 22 (“Of him who after he had had his pleasure of a maid would have foresaken her and married her sister”) gives an amusing example of sophistical argument.

For an account of the earlier confusion of Piot with Anthony Mundy, see Turner's, Celeste Anthony Mundy: Elizabethan Man of Letters (Univ. of California Publications in English, 2), 1928, 100102.

16 The Correspondence of Erasmus, trans. Mynors, R. A. B. and Thomson, D. F. S. in Collected Works (Univ. of Toronto, Vols. 2, 4, 5, 1975, 1977, 1979), 2. 113 , abbreviated within the text as Corr.

17 See the Intro, to his edition of the Translations of Lucian in Vol. 3 of the Complete Works of St. Thomas More (Yale, 1974). It is interesting, as Thompson notes (p. lv), that after 1506 More does not again refer to his translations of Lucian, even, as it appears, he never ever referred to the Richard III.

18 Studies in Classicial Philology, pp. 162-66. Warner G. Rice gives a number of other examples out of Plato in the “Paradossi of Ortensio Lando” (Essays and Studies in English and Comparative Literature, Ann Arbor, 1932), p. 59 n.

19 See “Erasmus and the Tradition of Paradox,” SP, 61(1964), 41-63.

20 Madison, 1969. Grendler is concerned with critics other than Lando, so that his comments on him run throughout the book, but my discussion is based primarily on pp 21-33 and 148-50. His Appendix II gives a useful checklist of Lando's works.

21 “In eo Cicero odiosissime laceratur, frigide defenditur.” Elsewhere Lando attacks Cicero as one ignorant in philosophy, mistaken in history, and valueless as a teacher of rhetoric (see Grendler pp. 148-49 and nn.)

22 In 1593 Anthony Mundy translated twelve of these paradoxes as the Defence of Contraries, having earlier written a Defence of Poverty; seven of them appeared in 1613 in Milles, ThomasTreasury of Ancient and Modern Times (Warner G. Rice, pp. 6771).

23 See the Intro, by Bradner and Lynch, The Latin Epigrams.

24 Opus Epistolarum Des. Erasmi Roterdami, ed. P. S. & H. M. Allen (Oxford, 1913), III. 57. His modern translators do not refer to this letter, perhaps because of its even more “elastic” chronology.

More, as well as his close associates, seems to go long with this classicizing approach when in a letter, also of 1517, he mentions that the death of Erasmus’ friend Jacob Batt occurred when he, More, had “scarcely reached man's estate [vir], or in fact not even that.” Since Batt died in 1502, More was then twenty-four or twenty-five years old (Con. 5: 189). Another example of such flexible characterizing of chronological age is found in Roper's Life in the well-known reference to More's opposing a subsidy for Henry VII's daughter Margaret, following on her marriage to James IV of Scotland. This occurred in the Parliament of 1504, and the result, it was said, was the defeat of the king's intent by a “beardless boy” (cf. Horace's imberbis juvenis). At the time More would have been twenty-six or twenty-seven, and he would have come into his majority at the age of twenty-one.

25 SirMore, Thomas, Selected Letters, ed. Rogers, E. F. (Yale, 1961), p. 74 n. More responded to the publication of the Antinuarusby Brixius in 1520 with a biting rejoinder. For other instances of his use of invective in his correspondence, see the letters to Martin Dorp and Edward Lee, which were in defence of Erasmus.

26 Bradner and Lynch, p. xvi.

27 Nichols, F. N., The Epistles of Erasmus, 3 vols. (London, 1901, 1904, 1918), II, p. 243.

28 See Edward Surtz, S. J., “Richard Pace's Sketch of Thomas More,” JEGP 57 (1958), 3650 , particularly, pp. 41-49, noted in De fructu … (ed. and trans, by Frank Manley and Richard S. Sylvester, N.Y., 1967). The depiction of More occurs on pp. 103-107 of this edition.

29 Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, 2.2, No. 4421; 3.1, No. 413, cited in SirRouth, E. M. G. Thomas More and His Friends (Oxford, 1934), p. 114 n. In pre-reformation days, a cramp-ring was blessed on Good Friday by the ruling monarch.

30 See Sylvester, R. S., “The ‘Man for All Seasons’ Again: Robert Whittington's Verses to Sir Thomas More,” HLQ, 26 (1962-63), 147-54 and “John Constable's Poems to Thomas More,” PQ, 42 (1963), 525-31.

31 Allen, IV, p. 14 n.; Rhenanus’ preface appears in I, 56-71. For a modern emphasis on the “identity of spirit in More and Erasmus,” see the chapter of that title in Mason's, H. A. Humanism and Poetry in the Early Tudor Period (London, 1959).

32 Epideictic Literature, pp. 92, 116-18.

33 See Johnson, Francis R., “Two Renaissance Textbooks of Rhetoric: Aphthonius’ Progymnasmata and Rainolde's A booke called the Foundation of Rhetorike ,” HLQ, 6 (1942-43), 427-44.

34 For Dean's remark, see p. 27, cited n. 7; for Kincaid's, p. 378, cited n. 8; for Hardison's, seeThe Enduring Monument (Chapel Hill, 1962), pp. 93-94.

35 See Ad Herennium III. vi ff.; Quintilian III. 7.10 ff.

36 See Tait Essays, pp. 225-28; Sylvester's Intro., Works 2, pp. lxv-lxx.

37 Thomas More and Tudor Polemics (Bloomington, Ind., 1968), p. 169. Noting the related device of “some say,” discussed below, in the polemical writings, Pineas does not observe the appearance of both in Richard III, perhaps because he thinks of it as a “serious historical work” (p. 98).

38 More's text italicized; the first page reference is to the modernized version of Sylvester's edition (New Haven, 1976), the second to the old spelling edition, elsewhere labelled Works).

39 See Thomas More and Tudor Polemics, Ch. VI. The two quotations against Saint German are from More's Apology, cited in Pineas, pp. 203; 204.

40 The traditional date for his execution is June 13, three days before the young prince came out of sanctuary. Recently, Alison Hanham has argued, not to everyone's satisfaction, for the date June 20 which would be in accord with More's ordering of events. Though More gives the date of Hastings’ execution as June 13, he orders his events as follows: (a) the protector gets control of the younger prince but no date is specified; (b) he then tests the reaction of Hastings to his plans and finding him averse (c) arranges for his summary execution on June 13, More's point being that it was only after Richard has gotten both princes into his hands that he dared proceed against the Lord Chamberlain.

Hanham's first account, “Richard III, Lord Hastings and the Historians” is in English Historical Review, 87 (1972), 233-48; a rebuttal by Wolffe, B. P., “When and Why Did Hastings Lose His Head?” is in EHR, 89 (1974), 835-44, and Hanham's later response in her Richard III and His Early Historians, pp. 24-29.

41 For the suggestion that Shore's wife served as a connecting link between Lord Hastings and the queen's son, the Marquis of Dorset, who was later charged with holding her in adultery, see Wood, Charles T., “The Deposition of Edward V,” Traditio, 31 (1975), 265-68.

42 Thornley, Isobel D., “The Destruction of Sanctuary” in Tudor Studies Presented … to A. F. Pollard, London, 1924, pp. 182207 (followed by Pollard, , Tait Essays, p. 236 , and Sylvester, , Works, p. 195 ). She states in two notes (pp. 186, 195) that “all” (?) the points that Buckingham makes occur in a scholastic treatise preserved at Longleat.

43 It is instructive to compare his comments on Morton in the modern version of the Utopia with Robinson's sixteenth-century translation; an example with my italics:

The king placed the greatest confidence in his advice, and the commonwealth seemed much to depend upon him when I was there. As one might expect, almost in earliest youth he had been taken straight from school to court, had spent his whole life in important public affairs, and had sustained numerous and varied vicissitudes of fortune, so that by many and great dangers he had acquired a statesman's sagacity which, when thus learned, is not easily forgotten. Surtz, , Works IV, pp. 5961

The king put much trust in his counsel, the weal public also in a manner leaned unto him when I was there. For even in the chief of his youth he was taken from school into the court, and there passed all his time in trouble and business, being continually tumbled and tossed in the waves of divers misfortunes and adversities. And so by many and great degrees he learned the experience of the world, which so being learned cannot easily be forgotten. Robinson, 1551 (London, 1937), 42-43.

44 “De puerisstatim ac liberaliter instituendis” in Woodward, W. H., Desiderius Erasmus Concerning the Aim and Method of Education (Cambridge, 1904), pp. 191-92 and The Schoolmaster, ed. Ryan, p. 50.

45 For a survey of historical attitudes toward the traditional account of Richard, see Meyers, A. R., “Richard III and Historical Traditions,” History, 53 (1968), 181202 and the article by Charles T. Wood, cited in n. 41.

46 For a discussion of the text, see T. W. Baldwin II, 44 and F. R. Johnson, “Two Renaissance Textbooks of Rhetoric… . ” The text has been published in Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints, Ann Arbor, 1945.

47 “Angel with Horns: The Unity of Richard III,” Angel with Horns (N. Y., 1974, first pub. in 1961), pp. 1-22.

48 Kingsford, C. L., English Historical Literature in the Fifteenth Century (Oxford, 1913), pp. 270 , quoting from Sir George Buc; Speed, History of Great Britain (1614, first ed. 1611), p. 731; signatures are irregular.

49 See his “Tudor Defense of Richard III,” cited in n. 3, pp. 946-47.

50 In his edition of the Essays (Baltimore, 1946), D. C. Allen flatly declares (p. xvi) that the “Praise of Richard III” is not by Cornwallis but ventures no supporting evidence. All quotations in the text are from the 1616 edition.

Thomas More and Richard III

  • Elizabeth Story Donno


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