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Ricardus Tertius Dentatus: textual history and the king's teeth.

The midwife wondered and the women cried: / "O Jesu bless us, he is born with teeth!" (1)

These curious spy-faults impute as a great fault and a prodigious evil to King Richard that he was born with some teeth in his mouth--though I do not think that this prelate or the lawyer ever spake with the duchess his mother or her midwife about this matter. (2)

According to legend, when the infant who was to become the infamous King Richard III was born, he had sharp teeth. In Henry VI, part 3, these teeth "plainly signified / That [he] should snarl, and bite, and play the dog," and that "[he] cam[e] to bite the world." (3) Shakespeare's plays repeatedly raise the specter of Gloucester's natal dentition, more so than any of the other details from what was by the early seventeenth century a well-established tradition circulating in drama and historical chronicles about the last Yorkist king's monstrous birth. (4) The first extant version of this story appears quite soon after Richard's death at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, perhaps as early as 1486, and no later than 1490, in the Historia Regum Anglie, written by John Rous (d. 1491). The story next appears in Thomas More's History of King Richard III, composed ca. 1514-18. (5) So compelling was this legend that, since then, it has consistently been referred to, even in passing, in writings about Richard III through the twenty-first century. The common approach to it is usually similar to that of George Buck, above, who dismisses it offhand, and indeed uses the legend's transmission as grounds for the foolish credulity, or the mean-spirited bias of authors looking to ingratiate themselves with the Tudor monarchs. (6) Richard's teeth and abnormal birth have seen some critical attention in studies of Shakespeare's character, particularly in relation to physiognomy, bodies, and disability. However, the significantly older origins of this motif in medieval literature and folklore, and its appearance in two important texts for historical studies of Richard, have yet to be discussed.

I discuss here the origins of the myth of Richard's monstrous birth, with particular attention to these teeth, an anatomically minute, yet intensely resonant detail in the overall textual body that constitutes Richard's deformity in post-Bosworth writings. The appearance of this motif and its ongoing notoriety in Richard's story, I argue, marks a discursive crossroads where folklore and medieval popular culture intersect with changing conventions of historiography in the late medieval period. The tenacity with which the legend continues to adhere to historical research on Richard's career is a result of the paucity of contemporary or near-contemporary accounts of his reign, and of the fact that some of these documents, particularly Rous's Historia, are constituted from a rich hybridization of popular accounts of the legendary history of Britain and of much more recent political events in the last decades of the fifteenth century.

Richard, as Duke of Gloucester and later king of England, has--for better or worse--enjoyed a high profile in both popular historical writings and those of traditional academic circles. As Charles Ross observes, "something has been written about [Richard III] in every single generation since his death ... Nor does this quick-flowing stream show any signs of drying up; indeed, in recent times it has reached flood proportions." (7) Few detailed historical sources contemporary to the period of Richard's kingship survive. Because of this, the early accounts of the reign have frequently (if not exclusively) been seen as potential mines of the factual details about both the career and personality of the man himself. They have less often been considered as products of their complex textual and cultural frameworks, or as dialogic components of the dynamic and flexing discourses in medieval conceptions of historiography. This essay contextualizes the story of Richard's monstrous birth within three closely related cultural matrices: popular folklore, medieval chronicle history, and late medieval vernacular romance. Folklore and superstition about infants born with teeth positions the accounts of Richard Ill's infant dentition in the realm of orally transmitted, popular tales. This framework would seem, at first, to be a polar opposite to high culture Latinate historical accounts disseminated in writing in highly literate circles. However, the folklore of infant teeth has much older origins in chronicle history. I discuss medieval conceptions of historia so as to show how this earlier thinking clashes with later facticity-heavy expectations of historical writing. Appearances of natal teeth in vernacular romance, a loose genre closely related to and to an extent inextricable from medieval constructions of history, position us then to look at the early descriptions of Richard Ill's natal teeth with an eye towards the histories of the last Yorkist king as a kind of cultural fantasy. This framework, I hope, will demonstrate that the appearance of such a fanciful legend is neither especially surprising, nor grounds for reading historical texts (Rous in particular) as solely reflections on political expediency or gross cronyism, but rather as rich sources of cultural history and indicators of the unstable and dynamic notions of history itself in the late Middle Ages.


While Shakespeare is responsible for the most well-known descriptions of Richard III's natal teeth, these passages are frequently cited as the earliest examples of the motif of newborn teeth in folklore. A medically possible though rare phenomenon, natal or postnatal teeth are commonly explained in folklore and superstition as indicative of an infants inherently evil nature and future acts of destruction. (8) As such it is one among a plethora of augurs involving the eruption of teeth, loss of baby teeth, or other dentition-related phenomena surrounding childhood. (9) Natal teeth or abnormally early dentition in an infant could indicate a vicious and cruel nature or, at the very least, a foul temper. As late as the 1950s, a midwife reported that "I never speak of it ... and if anyone asks me I deny it, for the sake of the mother; but it means the child will grow up to be a murderer." (10) Jessie Bodenhoff and Robert J. Gorlin also list a number of popular proverbs about babies born with these sinister teeth, all ominous; a particularly haunting example in light of the Shakespeare tradition notes that "He who is born with teeth chews himself through everything and is violent and imperious." (11) Some association between infants born with teeth and other malicious, supernatural figures appears in folk tradition: Leo Kanner reports that these infants are sometimes suspected of being changelings, the offspring of witches or sorcerers who have been swapped for a normal infant, or that the infant is an evil, consumptive spirit or vampire. (12) These accounts of popular beliefs regarding natal teeth, especially in oral circulation, might easily explain the horror expressed by the women at Gloucester's birth in Shakespeare's account: "O Jesu bless us, he is born with teeth!" While Shakespeare's descriptions of Richards natal teeth are the earliest references to these superstitions in popular, oral culture, the motif has significantly older origins. Infant dentition, as well as other characteristics of monstrous births, also appear in medieval chronicles, texts that would have circulated in highly literate, latinate circles in the Middle Ages. (13)

Accounts of such monstrous births--unbelievable as they may be--in chronicle histories do not always detract from the usefulness of these texts as sources of history as the modern scholar thinks of it. In fact, the ready interweaving of fantasy and folklore in chronicles reveals much about the multifaceted, hybridized nature of medieval historiography. Imaginative elements--such as monstrous births--foreground the important dual role that history plays for medieval authors and their audiences: as a recounting of events from the past as reported by authoritative, reliable sources, and as imaginative cultural fantasies that support the medieval historians concept of the usefulness of history. Historical narrative in the Middle Ages, and to an extent in the early modern period, functioned as a didactic and salvific tool for readers, as well as instructive for the welfare of the public and common profit. (14) To fulfill these goals, medieval writers readily added imaginative elements to their histories, thus shaping narratives to conform with their own conventions of historiography in which the central goal was not solely to recount "true" accounts of past events, but to mold these pasts most appropriately to fit their purposes. (15)

Medieval historiography, then, is both factive and Active: material and imaginative. (16) This is the case in both the more clearly imaginative and/or polemical historiae, such as the Historia Regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth (1138) or Gerald of Wales's History and Topography of Ireland (1188), and in historical texts that feature occasional references to the supernatural or imaginary amidst historical accounts more in keeping with the facticity-heavy conventions of modern history. I discuss two examples of the latter here, specifically their descriptions of infants with either natal or postnatal teeth.

In his Historia Anglorum, Matthew Paris (d. 1259) records that in 1249, "puer a quodam daemone incuba, ut dicitur, generatus, in confinio Walliae apparuit. Qui infra dimidium annum plene dentatus, ad staturam ascendit adolescentis xvi. annos habentis. Cuius mater in puerperio miserabilitier." (17) [A boy, engendered, as it was said, by a certain incubus demon, was found on the border of Wales. In less than six months he had all of his teeth and grew to the height of a youth of sixteen. His mother died miserably in childbirth.] Early dentition, extraordinarily precocious growth, and trauma (or threatened trauma) to the body of the mother often appear as a cluster of characteristics accompanying the birth of a changeling with a supernatural or demonic father. The birth of such an unnatural infant can serve as a portent of the future, a monster or prodigy, or, as seems to be the case with Paris's example, a marvel or wonder marking the more factitious chronology of historical events. In the same entry, Paris also describes the discovery of a "homuncio, non autem nanus" [a little man, though not a dwarf] as a "quasi prodigium" [just like a prodigy]. (18) The entry preceding these prodigies describes a gift from King Henry III to Westminster Abbey (a piece of marble with an impression of Christs footprint on it), and the entry following notes the election of Walter of Kirkham as Bishop of Durham. Paris's chronicle, then, involves an element of fantasy in the birth of these prodigies along with credible historical events. (19)

A later vernacular chronicle, the Middle Irish Annals of the Four Masters, also features an infant with natal teeth in the midst of historical events. The chronicler reports the execution in 1488 of John Manntach, murderer of the Earl of Desmond, and the succession of Maurice Fitzgerald as the ninth Earl of Desmond. (20) The very next entry for 1488 records that "a wonderful child was born in Dublin, who had all his teeth from his birth. He grew to an enormous size soon after being born, and so large a child had not been heard of since the time of the heroes." (21) While this infant is born with teeth and, like Matthew Paris's example, undergoes supernaturally rapid growth, he does not bear the mark of demonic or supernatural parentage. However, this brief entry still intertwines fantasy and history: the birth of this prodigious infant occupies the progressing historical and political timeline at the same time that it gestures at a mythological ancient past, "o aimsir na ccurajdh]" [since the time of champions]. The "time of champions" in Gaelic history refers to the legendary period around the turn of the first millennium when the events of the Ulster Cycle, and the feats of the great warriors of the Ulaid (chief among them Cu Chulainn) are imagined to have taken place, in the several decades before and after the death of Christ. (22)


As we have seen, then, looking at the specific uses of the motif of natal or post-natal dentition in historical writing from the Middle Ages and folklore from later periods illustrates how medieval historians readily involved the fantastical and supernatural in narratives of history. Both broad narratives and the specific motifs contained therein moved easily back and forth, as well, between historical writings and the popular romances in the Middle Ages, and the discursive reciprocity, even inseparability, between history and romance is well attested. (23) Accounts of monstrous births as portents of disaster are numerous in romance sources; (24) here I discuss two examples where natal teeth, early tooth eruption, and concomitant monstrous birth characteristics of an infant bespeak that child's inherently devilish nature. Both Sir Gowther and the Prose Merlin are later Middle English romances that, as is typical, incorporate numerous folk tale motifs; both of these romances also spring from established traditions of mythological history: that of Arthur and the Matter of Britain, and that of Robert I, Duke of Normandy (d. 1035). (25)

A late Middle English romance of Breton origin, Sir Gowther is a version of the widely circulating tale of Robert the Devil, which appears in a number of vernacular romances in England and continental Europe. (26) Robert's (and Gowther's) vicious crimes and subsequent reformation present a kind of limit-case for a late medieval Christian audience, wherein even the worst imaginable sinner can achieve salvation through heartfelt penance. In all versions of this tale, the vicious knights brutality is a result of an inherently diabolical nature, one that starts at the moment of his conception. In most versions of the tale, a long-childless duchess, desperate to provide her husband with an heir, vows to dedicate her child to the devil should she conceive. Her son, Robert, is the result of this rash promise; his dedication to the devil suggests a kind of diabolical spiritual paternity. In Sir Gowther, however, a demon physically sires the knight by raping the duchess; Gowther's monstrous birth and violent infancy bespeaks his infernal paternity: the evil infant who is born from this rape "wax breme and brathe." (27) One of the first indications of his monstrosity is his predatory mouth: "He sowkyd [his wet nurses] so thei lost ther lyvys, / Sone had he sleyne three!" (28) After killing six more wet nurses, the Duke's knights refuse to offer the services of their remaining wives, and the Duchess herself suckles the baby, to disastrous result:
   His modur fell afowle unhappe,
   Upon a day bad hym tho pappe,
     He snalfulld to hit soo
   He rofe tho hed fro the brest--
   Scho fell backeward and cald a prest,
     To chambur fled hym froo.

Gowther's ability to bite the nipple from his mother's breast indicates that he has teeth, although the text is not clear as to whether he was born with them. The Duchess survives, and the infant Gowther's caretakers wisely switch him to solid food. (29) This oblique indication of teeth is explicit in the Middle English prose romance Robert the Deuyll printed by Wynkyn de Worde (30): "in short space he had longe teeth wherwith he bote the norshes pappes in such wyse, that there was no woman durst gyue hym souke, for he bote off the hedes of theyr brestes." (31) Instead of nursing him, his caretakers "brynge hym up with an home" (i.e., bottle-feed him). (32) In both texts the infant also demonstrates precocious growth. Young Gowther grows more in a single year ("In a twelmond more he wex") "Then odur chyldur in seyvon or sex"; meanwhile, "whan [Robert] was twelue moneth olde he coude speke and go allone better than other chylderne that were thre yere olde." (33) This loose cluster of characteristics accompanies these infants at their births: natal or postnatal teeth, extraordinary physical growth, a ferocious belly-appetite indicative of innate aggression, and trauma (or threat of trauma) to the body of the mother. As structural devices in the text, they attest to the hybridity, whether physical or spiritual, of each child's human origins and his demonic paternity.

At the heart of the Robert the Devil cycle lies a crisis of both heritage and lordship that manifests itself in the traumatic conceptions of Gowther and Robert. In Gowther, the Duchess has not conceived after ten years of marriage; her husband the Duke, after assuming she is barren, threatens to cast her off: "Y do bot wast my tyme on the, / Eireles mon owre londes bee." (34) Desperate, she prays to conceive a child "On what maner scho ne roghth"; the result is a terrifying experience in an orchard, where a man "As lyke hur lorde as he myght be" comes to her, copulates with her, and then rises from her revealing itself to be "a felturd fende." (35) The same anxiety of inheritance plagues Robert the Deuyll from the very beginning, and could even be said to serve as the generative force for the entire text. Here, the Duke of Normandy's "lordes and nobles with one assente besought hym to marye ... to thentente that his lygnage myghte multyplyed ... and that they myghte haue a ryght heyre to inheryte his londes after his dyscese." (36) After nineteen years of marriage and no heir, the Duke and Duchess go to bed: in great frustration he prays to God for a child, while she impulsively promises in her heart that any child she conceives that night is dedicated to the devil. In both romances, the resulting child's moral capacity is as aberrant as his spiritual paternity, the catastrophic result of anxiety-ridden, rash wishes for the birth of an heir whose heritage will be, ideally, a stable continuation of his father's rulership. (37)

Merlin, Sir Gowther's "halfe brodur" (38) in demonic bastardy, also springs from this concern over the legitimate generation of offspring, though the circumstances of his monstrous birth appear more as a commentary on proper governance of the soul in order to avoid the wiles of the devil. (39) Merlin's supernatural paternity constitutes a central component of his story as far back as the eighth century Historia Brittonum (where the analogous figure is named Ambrosius), and receives particular attention from Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose Historia Regum Britanniae effectively created the Matter of Britain for the first time as a coherent whole. King Vortigern, an ineffectual ruler of the Britons, particularly despicable because he has invited the Saxons to be his allies, sends messengers in search of a child without a father, whose sacrificial blood will supposedly make the king's newest fortification stand firm (or so his magicians tell him). Vortigern's men discover the young Merlin when they overhear his playmate Dinabutius slander Merlin's social status because he has no father. (40) Vortigern interrogates Merlins mother, who eventually admits that her child was fathered by a supernatural lover; the kings advisor identifies this creature as an incubus demon, "[a] spirit ... [that] ha[s] partly the nature of men and partly that of angels." (41) Merlins supernatural paternity saw increasing diabolicization in later accounts, wherein the mischievous spirit of the incubus developed into a satanic force; Robert de Boron's early thirteenth-century Merlin opens with a devils' parliament in Hell, where the demons lay a plot to bring the Antichrist to earth. This plot point remained in Merlin's story, and the mid-fifteenth century Middle English Prose Merlin begins with this parliament. Here, the devils make plans to prey on a vulnerable young woman and inseminate her with the Antichrist. (42) In a moment of anguish when she realizes that her sister has become a prostitute, the maiden goes to sleep in a state of anger and despair. One of the fiends rapes her in her sleep, and she subsequently gives birth to an odd and frightening child:

Thus was this childe born, of whom the wemen were sore afeerde, for they sye hym more roughe [hairy] than other childeren that they had seyn. And so they shewed [it] to the moder, and whan she it sough, she sayned her and sayd, "This childe maketh me to have grete feer." Quod the wemen, "So doth it to us." (43)

The infant is immediately baptized and returned to its mother and the nurses, but "ther was none othir women that durste norishe it but the moder, for it was so grysly to syght, and therfore was the moder suffred to norishe it tell it was ten monthes of age. And than it semed two yere age or more." (44) While this account does not specifically refer to teeth, a later version of the story of Merlin's birth explicitly features natal teeth in the aggregate of details that cluster around demonic birth. In William Rowley's comic play, The Birth of Merlin (ca. 1620), Merlin's mother, Joan Go-too't, introduces her newborn son to her brother, who exclaims "What, this hartichoke? A childe born with a beard on his face?" "Yes," Merlin replies, "and strong legs to go, and teeth to eat." (45)

In Merlin's case, the demonic forces are thwarted when his mother baptizes him in haste; he thus retains his supernatural powers and knowledge of the future, tokens of his demonic ancestry, but has a virtuous spirit. Both of these marks of paternity are brought into play when the young Merlin defends his mother in her trial for fornication, a crime for which she will be burned if convicted. It is Merlin's virtuous use of his supernatural power, a byproduct of his illegitimacy, that saves his mother from death. Thus Merlin's birth story resonates both in terms of its diabolical threat as well as, significantly, its undermining of traditional constructions of legitimate, stable paternity. From the moment of their births, Gowther, Robert, and Merlin display physical markers of their inherently aberrant natures, and of their capacity to become predatory, diabolical members of their communities. For each of them, monstrous birth characteristics indicate that there is something to be righted, corrected, a fragmented, deviant engendering of a human that must be rendered whole in order for the individual and his community to be saved. Gowther and Robert achieve this goal by converting, undergoing penance, and adopting God as their spiritual father. Only then can each of them be effective and just rulers of their lands. In Merlin's case, his hasty baptism not only gives him the capacity to be a good man, but it averts the coming of the Antichrist to end the world. We shall see that Richard III, while similarly aberrant, diabolical even, from the moment of his birth, does not get the benefit of conversion; his story is not a hagiographic one.


The motif of infant dentition as a component of monstrous, supernatural, and even demonic ancestry, then, has a complex and revealing history before it first appears as part of Richard Ill's story. It is in light of this history that I now turn to the earliest accounts of Richard's infant monstrosity as they appear in John Rous's Historia Regum Anglie and Thomas More's History of King Richard III.

The story of Richard's natal teeth and monstrous birth first appears in the late fifteenth-century Historia Regum Anglie, an odd and troublesome text purporting to be a history of the English kings from the settlement of Britain by the legendary Brutus through the accession of Henry VII, and written by John Rous (d. 1491). Rous, a cleric of the chapel of Mary Magdalene at Guy's Cliff in Warwickshire and longtime chaplain to the Earls of Warwick, is an example par excellence of the forces that contemporary political climate exert on the narration of history. He began the Historia in 1480 at the request of John Seymour and Edward IV, but it remained unfinished as of 1485. (46) Sometime before April of 1484, Rous completed an ancestry and history of the Earls of Warwick. In the English version (known as the Yorkist Roll), Rous affectionately eulogizes Queen Anne, daughter of the late Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, and praises King Richard for "ful commendabylly poneschynge offenders of hys lawes specyally Extorcioners and oppressors of hys comyns and chereschynge tho that were vertues by the whyche dyscrete guydynge he gat gret thank of god and love of all hys subiettys Ryche and pore and gret lavd of the people of all othyr landys a bowt hym." (47)

Sometime after Henry VII's victory at Bosworth, Rous returned to his earlier Historia, completing it sometime before his death in January of 1491. Here, he describes the former king in drastically different terms than in the Yorkist Roll: this Richard III is born a monstrous infant, has uneven shoulders, murdered his nephews, poisoned his wife, and was rightfully cast down by Henry of Richmond, just as the Antichrist will be cast down. For this reason Martin Lowry wryly notes that "It is not too surprising that John Rous has become the English historian whom all his successors love to hate." (48) This abrupt volte-face, and Rous's glaring inaccuracies and blatant manipulation of historical facts to support his demonization of the late king, have earned the scorn of historians who look to his account for reliable information about the turbulent events leading up to 22 August 1485. (49) The Historia nevertheless remains one of the few surviving near-contemporary texts that offers a detailed account of Richard Ill's short and turbulent reign. (50) Historians looking to reconstruct a factual narrative of his career are therefore to some extent dependent upon the Historia despite its unreliabilities, and prior studies of Rous's text have largely focused on its usefulness (or lack thereof) as a source for the years 1483-85.

Rous's fanciful account of Richard Ill's birth has consistently been understood as demonstrating the author's bumbling unreliability, mean-spiritedness, or ambitious cronyism. I suggest instead that Rous's account of Richard III's usurpation of the crown and eventual death at the Battle of Bosworth exemplifies the interweaving of folklore and motifs of vernacular romance within the framework of its project as history. No more than three years after he had praised the former king in the Yorkist Roll, Rous ascribes supernatural and demonic natal features to the infant Richard:

Thronum regium tunc ascendit occisorum, quorum Protector in minori aetate suisset / ipse, tyrannus rex Ricardus, qui natus est Fodrynghay in comitatu Northamptoniae, biennio matris utero tentus, exiens cum dentibus & capillis ad humeros; natus festo undecim milium virginum. (51)

[Then he ascended the royal throne of the slain (boys), whose Protector he himself should have been in (their) minority, (this) tyrant king Richard, who was born at Fotheringhay in the county of Northampton, was held in his mothers womb for two years, emerging with teeth and hair to the shoulders, born on the feast of the eleven thousand virgins.]

Like the devils' offspring described above, the Historia's King Richard is marked by an anatomy of evil: excessive hair growth and natal teeth, suggestive of an unnatural precocity and excessive appetite. Richard's malformed body is engendered in cultural history by means of its infant anatomy. The early timing of this account, especially in light of its abrupt turnabout from Rous's laudatory description of Richard in the Yorkist Roll, is remarkable in its creatively politicized hostility. Whereas the earlier Richard had "fill commendabylly poneschy[d] offenders of hys lawes specyally Extorcioners and oppressors," this monstrous figure has become one of those oppressors, an inversion of the virtuous king who protects "hys comyns" and "gat gret thank of god and love of all hys subiettys." (52) A tyrant, he thrives on the blood of innocents: blood shed for the purpose of seizing political power and shoring up temporal might, comparable to Herod and Malory's Arthur, who attempts to escape his own destruction by drowning every infant born on the first May Day of his reign. (53) Richard-as-monster is born literally from this moment: his emergence from his mothers body accompanies what was to become the signature crime in his destruction of the political and genealogical body of the house of York. (54)

Rous returns to the subject of the king's viciousness after Henry of Richmond's victory. Here, he describes Richard in even more excoriating terms, and makes explicit his earlier suggested association with the demonic:

Iste rex Ricardus diebus suis ultra modum crudelis triennio & parum ultra ad instar Antechristi regnaturi regnavit. Et sicut Antichristus in futuro in maxima sublimitate sua confundetur, sic & iste corona praesente cum thesauri copiosa multitudine subito in exercitu suo conglobato paucorum in comparatione tamen ferventi armorum fulmine ut miser extinctus est. (55)

[That king Richard, in his days cruel beyond measure, ruled for a period of three years and slightly longer, in likeness of the Antichrist who shall reign. And just as Antichrist in the future shall be defeated in his greatest pride, so that one, with his crown at hand as well as an abundant amount of treasure, was suddenly, in the middle of his crowded army, killed as a wretch by the crushing defeat of an army few in comparison yet fervent.]

Like Robert, Gowther, and Merlin, King Richard's infant body bears the marks of a Satanic genealogy, yet unlike these "halfe brodur[s]," the determinist nature of that genealogy maintains its inevitability through the end of the narrative, and an explicit link between his fate and diabolicism only appears at his death. In this respect Rous's account diverges from narratives like those in the Prose Merlin, Sir Gowther, and Robert the Deuyll. Merlin is saved by the quick thinking of his mother, who has him baptized immediately after birth. Sir Gowther and Robert both commit themselves to penance and are saved. In contrast, Richard's destruction is complete, and the subject that is saved is England itself through the intervention of Henry of Richmond. Rous grafts (though clumsily) biblical teleology onto the inevitability of past events to construct history as a linear, deterministic narrative, where the defeat of Richard as a kind of Antichrist is a logical endgame, one that is telescoped, in part, by his Satanic appearance in infancy.

While Rous's fictionalization of the chaotic political events of 1483-85 has attracted much scorn from historians looking for the facts of this period, (56) I suggest instead that in regard to this oft-cited blackening of Richard's character, Rous incorporates folk motifs present in popular romance and likely in oral circulation while he simultaneously composes an account in keeping with traditional conventions of medieval historiography. In doing so, this particular feature of the Historia, which was to become such a staple in literary renderings of Richard III's rise to power, reign, and death in battle, exemplifies the interweaving of discourses of popular culture with the construction of a historical narrative; the resulting discourse functions, in part, as broader cultural legitimization of social or political practice. This is, of course, a centuries-old historiographic tradition, of which the most famous example is Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia. For Rous, though, unlike Geoffrey, the need for this legitimizing narrative was far more urgent, as it would seek to respond to, or at least bring into discussion, the chaotic political events in the decades leading up to the close of the fifteenth century. Rous incorporates cultural fantasy, and in doing so transforms the disorder arising from rapid changes in England's political culture into an orderly, teleological narrative of the fulfillment of divine will in recent political events. (57)

Within twenty-five years of John Rous's death in January of 1491, a young Thomas More (d. 1535) began work on his History of King Richard III, a work that he would never finish. (58) More's Historia is considered both a product of early modern humanism in England as well as one of the handful of sources within the first three decades after Richard's death that offer a detailed account of the reign. (59) Mores sources for his History are numerous, and much of his material likely came from oral informants who relayed their eyewitness accounts of the events of 1483-85, the most well-known of whom was John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury (earlier Bishop of Ely under Edward IV and Richard III) and a bitter enemy of Richard III during his political career. (60) The turmoil of the Wars of the Roses was still within living and social memory, and More depended upon these participants' revisitation of their pasts. (61) These relayed memories often present as authentic in their vivid, living detail (such as in the famous description of Elizabeth Shore's past beauty), even though studies showing the unreliability of memory question the legitimacy of these details. (62)

Modern historians tend to consider More's History a more accurate source of information on Richard Ill's reign than Rous's Historia. In addition, the History regularly receives attention as a literary text and monument of cultural history from the early modern period. (63) However, like Rous and other medieval historical writers, More narrates history, and particularly the story of Richards birth, for a specific purpose. (64) It is with this in mind that I turn now to his account of Richard's monstrous birth and natal teeth:

He was malicious, wrathfull, enuious, and from afore his birth, euer frowarde. It is for trouth reported, that the Duches his mother had so much a doe in her trauaile, that shee coulde not bee deliuered of hym vncutte: and that hee came into the worlde with the feete forwarde, as menne bee borne outwarde, and (as the fame runneth) also not vntothed, whither menne of hatred reporte aboue the trouth, or elles that nature chaunged her course in hys beginninge whiche in the course of his lyfe many thinges vnnaturallye committed. (65)

In deliberately oblique fashion, More reports the details of Richard's birth here in full knowledge of its sensationalist polemic. In particular, the infant Richard's teeth receive a triple dose of rhetorical instability: parenthesized by phrases gesturing first at the temporality and unreliability of rumor ("as the fame runneth") and next at the partisanship inherent in the construction of historical narrative ("whither menne ... aboue the trouth"), and finally in the center, rendered uncertain by his use of the double negative ("not vntothed"). Its almost gossipy indirect phrasing suggests that the perceptive young More would have been well aware of the Active embellishments to this particularly sensitive historical narrative, as well as the political exigencies that made it perhaps unwise to express overt skepticism. Thus More retains the sensationalized folkloric elements of the story, interweaving them with his call to vigilance regarding the interpretation of rumor ("fame").

More frequently employs such indirect discourse in the History, often to indicate those moments when he relies on an individual oral source (such as Morton, or another), one whom he might be reluctant to name. However, this language also echoes the rhetorical device commonly employed medieval chronicles and histories; "as the fame runneth" thus might be akin to Matthew Paris's "ut dicitur" in his report of the infant born with teeth. Medieval chroniclers wrote in such terms for the same reasons many scholars have attributed to More. (66)

It is possible, though not certain, that Thomas More was at least indirectly aware of John Rous's account of Richard's reign and the legend of his birth, itself a rich medley of folk motif, romance, and historical writing. (67) More's version, though, found its way into the popular chronicles of history printed during the Tudor period, and thus became part of the medley of textual history behind Shakespeare's plays on Richard as Duke of Gloucester and later king of England. (68) The story of his monstrous birth became deeply entrenched in this tradition and has become an indelible part of what George Churchill aptly named "the Richard saga." (69) In particular, the detail of his natal teeth maintained so tenacious a hold that, aside from his hunched back, the legend of these teeth is the most often-referenced detail of Richard's anatomy of physically manifested evil in Shakespeare's plays.

"Marry," declares the young Duke of York in Richard III, "they say my uncle grew so fast / he could gnaw a crust at two hours old." (70) When the legend of Richard's monstrous birth appeared on the Tudor and Jacobean stage, it remained marked by signifiers of cultural fantasy and folk superstition: history rendered unstable and indirect. York's "they say," here, might be compared to Mores "It is for trouth reported" and Matthew Paris's earlier "ut dicitur." The Duchess of York dismisses the story as the product of imaginative, gossipy nurses, unreliable sources of information because of their absence at Gloucester's birth. The legend of Richard's birth and natal teeth continues to be referred to in similar terms when contemporary writers confront the difficulties of attempting to stabilize a factual account of the Wars of the Roses according to conventions of modern historiography while dependent on significantly earlier texts. This particular old wives' tale, however, originates not in fatuousness, gullibility, or malice, but in the project of narrativizing history, of shaping those fragmented stories into a teleological whole.

"Cultural fantasy," Geraldine Heng writes, "does not evade but confronts history." (71) Oddly grounded in the slim possibility of medical reality, the fantasy of Richard's natal teeth and monstrous, even demonic birth remains deeply entrenched in his historical narrative as a tool for repudiating a source as historically unreliable, as part of a continuous, even circular map of folk motifs in discourses serving both the elite and the popular, or as one among many devices binding fragmentary late medieval history into a cohesive, restorative narrative, as in John Rous's Historia. The detail provides a platform upon which Thomas More contemplates the unreliability of narrative accounts of history, even as he is, to an extent, dependent upon those very narratives. Likewise, the later transmission of that very account, adapted to the stage, provides Shakespeare the opportunity to contemplate the tangled, unstable relationships between and among history, memory, and fantasy. The textual history of Richard III continues to be based upon this very instability, and continues to serve as the troubled foundation that modern historians must confront when investigating the tumultous reign of the last of the Plantagenet kings.

Franklin and Marshall College


(1) William Shakespeare, The Third Part of King Henry VI, ed. Andrew S. Cairncross (London: Methuen & Co., 1964),

(2) Sir George Buck, The History of King Richard III, 1619, ed. Arthur Noel Kincaid (Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1979), 128.

(3) Shakespeare, 3 Henry VI,, 54. See also King Richard III, ed. Antony Hammond (London: Methuen, 1981), II.iv.27-30, where the Duke of York says that "Marry, they say my uncle grew so fast, / That he could gnaw a crust at two hours old. / 'Twas full two years ere I could get a tooth. / Grandam, this would have been a biting jest"; and Margaret Beaufort's speech to the Duchess of York: "From forth the kennel of thy womb hath crept / A hell-hound that doth hunt us all to death: / That dog, that had his teeth before his eyes, / To worry lambs, and lap their gentle blood" (IV.iv.47-50). Jessica Winston discusses the motif of Richard's teeth within the context of Shakespeare's broader references to teeth in his plays. See her helpful piece, "Richard Ill's Teeth," Rendezvous: Idaho State Journal of Arts and Letters 36.2 (2002): 43-48.

(4) Though see 3 Henry VI, for the detail of his breech birth ("I came into the world with my legs forward") and King Richard III, II.iv.27--28, for his precocious growth. The two other early modern plays about Richard III, Thomas Legge's Richardus Tercius (1579) and the anonymous True Tragedie of Richard the Third (1594), do not mention his birth; for other accounts of the teeth and monstrous birth, see below. Sir George Buck, the first known writer to mount a serious defense of Richard Ill's reputation, dismissed the significance of the legend: "But yet if it be a true tale, I am indifferent and I care not, for it importeth nothing. For there is no reason wh[y] those early or natalitious teeth should be turned t[o] his reproach, considering that there have been man[y] noble and good men who have had teeth imputed as a fault [to] them" (History of King Richard III, 1619,128).

(5) On the dating of Rous's Historia, see p. 321 -22; on that of Mores History, see note 58.

(6) For reasons that will be discussed below, Rous is most often the target of these kinds of accusations (for other scholars' comments, see note 49).

(7) Charles Ross, Richard III (U. of California Press, 1981), xix. Ross overviews historical sources contemporary to Richard's reign as well as those sources dating up to 1548 in his introduction (xix-liii). See George B. Churchill, Richard the Third up to Shakespeare (Berlin, 1900; reprint Goucester, 1976) for a detailed discussion of those texts that contributed to the "mythical Richard" tradition that Shakespeare would have inherited. More recently, Alison Hanham has reevaluated the early sources in her Richard III and His Early Historians, 1483-35 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975). For a discussion of writings about Richard III dating after Shakespeare, see A. R. Myers, "Richard III and Historical Tradition," History 53 (1968): 181-202. See also Philip Schwyzer's fascinating discussion on the several cycles of texts composed within living memory, social memory, and active or communicative memory over the course of the century following Richard Ill's death, all of which both contributed to the textual history of the myth of Richard III, and were in turn influenced by that textual history which had gone before ("Lees and Mooonshine: Remembering Richard III, 1485-1635," Renaissance Quarterly 63 [2010]: 850-83); and his Shakespeare and the Remains of Richard III (Oxford U. Press, 2013), 59-90.

(8) The prevalence of natal and neonatal teeth is between 1:2000 and 1:3000, though reported cases have varied widely depending on the study. See A. Kana, I. Markou, A. Arhakis, and N. Kotsanos, "Natal and Neonatal Teeth: A Systematic Review of Prevalence and Case Management," European Journal of Paediatric Dentistry 14 (2013): 27-32, and Robson Frederico Cunha, Farli Aparecida Carrilho Boer, Dione Dias Torriani, and Wanda Terezinha Garbeline Frossard, "Natal and Neonatal Teeth: Review of the Literature," Pediatric Dentistry 23 (2001): 158-62 (see Table 1, 159, for reported studies of the incidence of the condition from 1876 through 1996).

(9) See, e.g., Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud, Dictionary of English Folklore (Oxford U. Press, 2000), 354-55. Though natal teeth (also referred to as neonatal or congenital teeth) were usually read as omens of future misfortune, less often they presaged a life of fame or great acts; see Leo Kanner, Folklore of the Teeth (New York: MacMillan, 1928), 10.

(10) Christina Hole, "Notes on Some Folklore Survivals in English Domestic Life," Folklore 68 (1957): 413.

(11) Jessie Bodenhoff and Robert J. Gorlin, "Natal and Neonatal Teeth: Folklore and Fact," Pediatrics 32 (1963): 1088.

(12) Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury, eds., The Middle English Breton Lays (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Press, 1995), 299-300n130. See Kanner, Folklore of the Teeth, 10-13, as well as Joseph G. and William J. Carter, Dental Folklore: Myths, Superstitions, and Cultural Significance of the Teeth (U. of North Carolina Press, 1990), 5-7, including a description of a drude, an infant born with teeth that would suckle its mother dry of breast milk, a behavior curiously similar to that of Sir Gowther (for which see p. 318). The Japanese folk hero Benkei Monogatari (d. 1189) is reported in the fifteenth century to have been born, after a gestation of three years, with teeth and hair to his shoulders, was supposedly sired by a god, a demon, or a rapist monk, and was notoriously unruly as a child and young man; for this reason he was known as "Oniwaka" (devil's child). See Kumagusu Minakata, "Born with Teeth," Notes and Queries 10 (1908): 453-54, as well as Carter and Carter, Dental Folklore, 6.

(13) See Chris Given-Wilsons discussion of the difficulty of distinguishing between "chronicle" and "history" as the terms are thought of in the Middle Ages (Chronicles: The Writing of History in Medieval England [London and New York: Hambledon and London, 2004], xix-xxiii). Given-Wilson concludes that "By and large, however--with perhaps the odd exception--their authors would not have quibbled at being described as chroniclers, and there is no very good reason for us to desist from describing their works as chronicles" (xix). For this reason, I refer to the medieval historical writings cited here as "chronicles."

(14) See Chris Given-Wilson, Chronicles, 57-78. The early humanist historians in England, Polydore Vergil and Thomas More, bore some essential similarities to medieval constructions of "history" and its purpose, though one of their central departures from the medieval writers was that the humanist historians saw historical exempla more often as potential political and civic models than as moral or spiritual ones; see Antonia Gransden, Historical Writing in England: c. 1307 to the Early Sixteenth Century (Cornell U. Press, 1982), 2:427-28.

(15) On multiplicitous conceptions of "truth" in medieval historical narratives, see Given-Wilson, Chronicles, 2-3.

(16) See Patricia Clare Ingham, Sovereign Fantasies: Arthurian Romance and the Making of Britain (U. of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 1-2, on the function of the imaginary in the writing of history; responding to Jacques Le Goff, Ingham writes that "Imagination ... has the power to repair historical fragments, turning mutilated details into a coherent whole" (1). On the inaccurate but oft-repeated assumption that medieval historians were either indifferent to or incapable of distinguishing between fact and fiction, see Geraldine Heng, Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy (Columbia U. Press, 2003), 321n36. Heng also offers a useful overview of the many medieval rebuttals to the fantastical account of Britain's early legendary history first presented in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae (ca. 1138), 311n3. Polydore Vergil, an author of crucial importance for the events of Richard III's reign, notoriously rejected the Matter of Britain in his Anglica Historia (completed ca. 1514) as fiction. While he was far from the first skeptic of this material, he was perhaps the first author whose skepticism received significant backlash from his community of English readers, in part because Vergil himself was an Italian.

(17) Matthaei Parisiensis: Monachi Sancti Albani, Historia Anglorum, vol. 3, ed. Frederic Madden (London: Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer, 1869), 69. Eve Salisbury and Anne Laskaya, and J. A. MacCulloch briefly reference this passage in relation to children born of incubus demons and human women; see Laskaya and Salisbury, Middle English Breton Lays, 267; and MacCulloch, Medieval Faith and Fable (London: Harrap, 1932), 56.

(18) A prodigy might indicate a wonder or marvel, a monster, freak, giant, or other unnatural thing; the appearance of such creatures are common in Wonders of the East texts. See note 24 on a monstrous child as portent of disaster in the Alexander romance. A younger Richard is himself referred to as a prodigy in Shakespeare's 3 Henry VI, when Queen Margaret asks, "where is that valiant crook-back prodigy [?]" I.iv. 75.

(19) On the gifting of the relic to Westminster Abbey, Paris writes that on the marble "vestigium humani pedis, videlicet, ut a multis creditur et dicitur, Salvatoris ... apparebat" (Historia Anglorum, 3:69) [the imprint of a human foot was visible, clearly, as was believed and said by many, that of Christ]. It is possible to read his "videlicet, ut a multis creditur et dicitur" as a note of ironic skepticism, paralleled to an extent by the "ut dicitur" in his description of the monstrous infant.

(20) Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters, ed. and trans. John O'Donovan, 7 vols., 2nd edition (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1856), 4:1162-63. The chronicler is incorrect in reporting that Maurice Fitzgerald was the son of the previous earl; he was instead the brother. The earls of Desmond were traditionally part of the Yorkist affinity in the fifteenth century (though the seventh earl was executed by John Tiptoff under Edward IV); Maurice Fitzgerald revolted against Henry VII during the early stages of Perkyn Warbeck's rebellion, in 1495.

(21) Ibid., 4:1162-63. This example is indexed by Tom Peete Cross in the Motif-Index of Early Irish Literature (Indiana U. Press, 1952), 496, and cross-referenced in the second edition of the Aarne-Thompson Motif-Index of Folk Literature.

(22) O'Donovan, Annals of the Kindom of Ireland, 4:1162, note y.

(23) See Heng, Empire of Magic, especially chap. 1, 17-61, on history and romance (embodied in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia) as "effecting] ... cultural resue" from historical trauma (18); Ingham, Sovereign Fantasies, 1-17 and 21-50, on the generation of a legendary history of Arthur as a way of imagining English cultural identity and sovereignty; Given-Wilson, Chronicles, 142-43, on popular romances originating in historical texts, particularly those of Arthur, and their effect on the use of the vernacular in written histories in the Anglo-Norman period; and Robert W. Hanning, The Vision of History in Early Britain (Columbia U. Press, 1966), 1-43, on the conceptualization of history in the Middle Ages, particularly its scriptural and patristic influences.

(24) See, for example, the birth of Alexander the Great's monstrous son in the Historia de preliis: "From its head down to its navel the child resembled a human being and was dead, but from its navel down to its feet it resembled a variety of beasts and was alive." Alexanders soothsayers interpret the child as predicting Alexanders own death, and the ensuing dissolution of his empire (The History of Alexander's Battles: Historia de preliis, the J1 version, trans. R. Telfryn Pritchard [Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1992]), 118.

(25) See Francois Neveux, trans. Howard Curtis, A Brief History of the Normans, particularly page 97 and note 5 on the false (though persistent) identification of Robert I, Duke of Normandy as Robert the Devil.

(26) On the Robert the Devil cycle in French tradition, see Corinne Cooper-Deniau, "Le Diable au Moyen-Age, entre peur et angoisse: Le Motif de l'enfant voue au diable et la legende de Robert le Diable," Travaux de Litterature 16 (2003): 27-45, and Elisabeth Gaucher, Robert le Diable: Histoire d'une legende (Paris: Champion, 2003); see also Robert le Diable: Edition bilingue, ed. Elisabeth Gaucher (Paris: Champion, 2006), for the popular thirteenth-century verse romance with a translation into modern French.

(27) "Sir Gowther," in Middle English Breton Lays, ed. Laskaya and Salisbury, line 108.

(28) Ibid., lines 113-14.

(29) Middle English Breton Lays, 266-67, and 299-300n130.

(30) Wynkyn de Worde's printing of the romance is undated, but it must have been between 1492, following William Caxton's death, and 1535, when de Worde himself died.

(31) "The Lyfe of Robert the Deuyll," Early English Prose Romances, ed. William J. Thoms, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (London: Nattali and Bond, 1858), 8. Robert's teeth appear later on in the text as a reminder of his monstrosity: when his father the Duke declares him an outlaw and appeals to his nobles for his son's capture, Robert becomes so enraged that he "was almost out of his wyt for wode angre and wheted hys teeth lyke a bore" (ibid., 16). Comparison between an angry man such as Robert himself, a brutal tyrant, or a fierce warrior such as King Arthur (the Boar of Cornwall), and a boar is a common device in medieval literature; in addition, see Middle English Dictionary, ed. Hans Kurath and Sherman M. Kuhn (U. of Michigan Press, 1952-2001) "whetten" v.2a-c for analogies between a boar gnashing or sharpening its tusks and enraged men. Richard III himself is referred to by the epithet "boar" and "hog" based on his use of a white boar for his heraldic device: in William Colyngbourne's political satire, "The cat, the rat, and also the dog / Doth rule all England under the Hog," and in Guto'r Glyns praise-poem of Rhys ap Thomas, which describes the death of Richard III as "Lladd y baedd, eilliod ei ben" [killing the boar, he shaved his head]. See A. G. Prys-Jones, "Wales and Bosworth Field--Selective Historiography?" National Library of Wales Journal 21 (1979): 52, and Kenneth Hiller, Peter Normark, and Peter W. Hammond, "Colyngbourne's Rhyme," in Richard III: Crown and People, ed. J. Petre (Gloucester: Sutton, 1985), 107-8.

(32) "Lyfe of Robert the Deuyll," 8-9.

(33) "Sir Gowther," lines 145-46; "Robert the Deuyll," 9.

(34) "Sir Gowther," lines 58-59.

(35) Ibid., lines 66, 70, 74. When the fiend declares that he has gotten a child on her, the terrified Duchess flees to her husband; she tells him that an angel has appeared to her in the orchard and announced that the couple will conceive an heir that very night.

(36) "Robert the Deuyll," 3-4.

(37) For a discussion of "Sir Gowther" as a kind of nightmare account of a tyrannical aristocracy preying upon the Church and the vulnerable poor, see Alcuin Blamires, "The Twin Demons of Aristocratic Society in Sir Gowther" in Pulp Fictions of Medieval England: Essays in Popular Romance, ed. Nicola McDonald (Manchester U. Press, 2004), 45-62.

(38) "Sir Gowther," line 98.

(39) On the relationship between Robert the Devil and Merlin in the Robert de Boron tradition, see Robert le Diable, ed. Gaucher, 14-15.

(40) "I myself am of royal blood on both sides of my family," Dinabutius says. "As for you, nobody knows who you are, for you never had a father!" (Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, trans. Lewis Thorpe [New York: Penguin, 1966], 167).

(41) Ibid., 167-68.

(42) Prose Merlin, ed. John W. Conlee (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1998). I cite this version of the text. See also William Rowley, "The Birth of Merlin," in Arthurian Drama: An Anthology, ed. Alan Lupack (New York: Garland, 1991), 19-34; and Robert de Borons "Merlin," in Merlin and the Grail, Joseph of Arimathea, Merlin, Percival: The Trilogy of Prose Romances Attributed to Robert de Boron, trans. Nigel Bryant (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2001), 45-63. The devils target the maiden since the other members of her family have already fallen victim to suicide, adultery, and prostitution; the terrified girl, uncannily aware of her perilous position and vulnerability to devils, seeks the aid of a holy man, who advises her to guard herself with vigilant attention to her own heart and avoid anger and sorrow, as well as to pray to the Trinity and cross herself each night before she goes to bed.

(43) Prose Merlin, lines 252-55. Robert de Boron describes that when the women "set eyes on him they were filled with fear, for he had more and far longer hair than they had ever seen on other children" ("Merlin," 55).

(44) Ibid., lines 262-65.

(45) Rowley, "The Birth of Merlin," IILiv (39). I am grateful to Alan Lupack for bringing this passage to my attention.

(46) Thomas Hearne, the only editor of the Historia, assigned its name in his first edition of the full text, Historia Johannis Rossi Warwicensis de Regibus Angliae (Oxford, 1716, 2nd edition 1745). For an overview of the Historia's account of Richard's reign, see Alison Hanham, Richard III and His Early Historians, 1483-85 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 104-7. To date the only published translation of Rous's Historia is Hanham's partial translation (118-24). For a discussion of Rous as a historiographer, see Gransden, Historical Writing in England, 2:309-27; see 313-26 for Rous's Historia, and 313-14 for the dates and circumstances of its composition.

(47) John Rous, The Rous Roll, intro, by Charles Ross (Gloucester: Sutton, 1980), cap. 63. Two versions of this armorial roll survive: the version cited above is in English and was unmodified following the Battle of Bosworth. The Latin version of the roll (London, College of Arms, Warwick Roll) appears to have remained in Rous's possession; after the battle he removed all of the passages referring to Richard III. A lifelong associate of the Earls of Warwick, of whom he writes affectionately, Rous is also associated with the composition of the Beauchamp Pageant, though he is unlikely to have written it; see Gransden, Historical Writing in England, 312-13; and Alexandra Sinclair, ed., The Beauchamp Pageant (Donington: Richard III and Yorkist History Trust, 2003), 9-11.

(48) Martin Lowry, "John Rous and the Survival of the Neville Circle," Viator 19 (1988): 327.

(49) Paul Murray Kendall, for instance, writes that Rous's "testimony ... is in general of little worth," being "largely a tedious rigmarole" (Richard III [New York: Norton, 1955], 470, 497). Historians more critical of Richard III than Kendall are no less hostile to Rous. Hanham describes Rous as "an old-fashioned antiquary rather than a historian--a busy-minded man who loved gossip" and whose "detailed account of Richard's career suggests the fullness of malice" (Richard III and his Early Historians, 105-06); and Charles Ross writes that the Historic! is filled with "crude vituperations" and "poisonous and self-interested exaggerations" (Richard III, xxxviii, xlviii). The few exceptions to this take on Rous note that the central project behind the Historia was not the demonization of Richard III for the purposes of political advancement, as he was a very unlikely candidate; moreover, Rous's work must be situated within the context of his longtime association with the Earls of Warwick and the Beauchamp/Neville affinity, as well as his devotion to local politics of Warwickshire. See Gransden, Historical Writing in England, 2:315-21; Lowry, "John Rous and the Survival of the Neville Circle"; Velma Bourgeois Richmond, The Legend of Guy of Warwick (New York: Garland, 1996), 127-34; and Yin Liu, "Romances of Continuity in the English Rous Roll," Medieval Romance, Medieval Contexts, ed. Rhiannon Purdie and Michael Cichon (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2011), 149-59. Gransden notes the similarities between Rous's approach to history and that of Geoffrey of Monmouth, noting that " [Rous's] love of legend should not be allowed to detract from his reputation" (323).

(50) Two other contemporary sources survive that contain a sustained treatment of Richard's reign (though neither discusses his birth): the second continuation of the Croyland Chronicle, which covers 1459 through 1486, and Dominic Mancini's detailed account of the events from April through early July of 1483. See The Crowland Chronicle Continuations, 1459-1486, ed. and trans. Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (London: Richard III and Yorkist History Trust, 1986), and Mancini, The Usurpation of Richard the Third, ed. and trans C. A. J. Armstrong, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969).

(51) Rous, Historia Regum Angliae, 2nd ed., 214-15 (fols. 171r-71v), my translation. See Hanham, Richard III and His Early Historians, 118-24, for the full account of Richard's rise and fall in Rous's Historia, from British Library MS Cotton Vespasian. A. XII.

(52) Rous, Rous Roll, cap. 63.

(53) The "May Day Massacre" is Arthur's solution to Merlin's prophecy that a child born on May Day will eventually be Arthur's ruin. All of the infants born on May Day are placed in a rudderless ship and cast to sea; the ship grounds on a reef and is destroyed, but the infant Mordred is cast up on shore and fostered by a passerby who finds him. See Thomas Malory, The Works of Sir Thomas Malory, ed. Eugene Vinaver, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), 1:55-56. On the influence of the Herod figure on the Richard of Shakespeare's Richard III, see Scott Colley, "Richard III and Herod," Shakespeare Quarterly 37 (1986): 451-58.

(54) Rous's account of Richards birth does not reference any trauma on the part of the Duchess of York; this detail appears to be Mores invention, for which see p. 325, above. It is worth considering, though, as a further thematic development of the mythical Richard's destruction of those members of his family who are most vulnerable: children and women. These attacks on the most vulnerable members of society are worth comparing to Sir Gowther's crimes against the very people he should be protecting: women and members of the clergy.

(55) Rous, Historia Regum Angliae, 2nd ed., 218 (fol. 173r).

(56) See note 49 as well as Lowry, "John Rous and the Survival of the Neville Circle," 327-28 and 327n2.

(57) Ingham's comments on Ernst Kantorowicz's seminal work, The King's Two Bodies (Princeton U. Press, 1957) are of particular note in light of the emphasis on Richard's deviant body here: "Sovereign sempiternity stabilizes the sovereign's right to ule by imagining his place in an unbroken train of rulers stretching out of the distant past. Sempiternity offers an 'imagined community' of rulers through the ages, a fiction of sovereignty apparently unharmed by loss, death, or other 'natural defects.' It imagines a transcendent sovereign 'body politic' untouched by age or disability ... The King's Two Bodies ... is marked in part by the ease with which histories of British sovereignty, despite prodigious 'defects and imbecilities,' can nonetheless trace a genealogy from Britain's early days" (Sovereign Fantasies, 4, my emphasis). As an example, Ingham describes Henry VII's well-known use of the Welsh flag after the Battle of Bosworth, commonly interpreted as an attempt to emphasize his Welsh ancestry to suggest a link back to King Arthur. However, C. S. L. Davies, '"Information, Disinformation and Political Knowledge' under Henry VII and early Henry VIII," Historical Research 85 (2012): 228-53, has recently made a thoroughly convincing case against this interpretation, and pointed out that instead, Henry went to some lengths to de-emphasize or even obscure his Welsh connections, which Richard III had historically used as a way of suggesting the illegitimacy of Henry's claim to the throne.

(58) On the relationships between and among the texts of More's History, both the English and Latin versions, see Richard S. Sylvester's introduction to Thomas More, The History of King Richard III (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963), xvii-liv, and Hanham, Richard III and His Early Historians, 198-29.1 follow Sylvester's edition of the English text first printed by William Rastell, Mores nephew, in 1557. Rastell reports that More composed the History in 1513. Sylvester makes a convincing case for the writing of the Richard between 1514 and 1518 (introduction to History of King Richard III, lxii-lxv), which I have followed here. Gransden suggests More likely wrote it between 1510 and 1518 (Historical Writing in England, 2:443). On Mores possible reasons for never finishing the text of either the English or Latin version, see Gransden, 443-44. The Historia breaks off in the middle of Bishop Morton's exhortation to Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, to rebel against Richard III. On Buckingham's rebellion in October and November of 1483, see Ross, Richard III, 105-24.

(59) On humanist historiography, see Gransden, Historical Writing in England, 2:426-53; Joseph M. Levine, Humanism and History: Origins of Modern English Historiography (Cornell U. Press, 1987); and D. R. Woolf, Reading History in Early Modern England (Cambridge U. Press, 2000). Two other resources of significant import emerged in this second cycle of historical writing about Richard III: Polydore Vergil's Anglica Historia (Book 25 covers Richard's reign in detail) and the Great Chronicle of London.

(60) More himself was a ward living in Morton's household from 1490-92; for a discussion of his sources for the History, see A. F. Pollard, "The Making of Sir Thomas More's Richard III" in Historical Essays in Honour of James Tait (Manchester, 1933), 223-38, and see Sylvester's introduction to the History of King Richard III, lxv-lxxx, especially lxvi-lxxi on the numerous informants, including Morton, whom More likely knew and who could have relayed their memories of Richard's reign. The only named source is Mores own father, John, whom More identifies in the Latin version of the History (Sylvester, History of King Richard III, lxvii-lxviii).

(61) More was seven years old at the time of the Battle of Bosworth. On the function of memory in the recording of the history of Richard III, see Schwyzer, "Lees and Moonshine," 855-59 for his discussion of More.

(62) See More, History of King Richard III, 55-57, for the portrait of Elizabeth Shore. See Schwyzer, '"Lees and Moonshine'", 855-58, esp. 857-58 on the Shore description as a study of memory itself.

(63) See, among many others, A. F. Pollard, "Sir Thomas More's 'Richard III,"' History 17 (1933), 317-23; Hanham, Richard III and His Early Historians, 152-90; and Sylvester History of King Richard III, lxxx-civ.

(64) See Sylvester, History of King Richard III, xcviii-cii for a helpful discussion of the History as a commentary on the evils of tyranny, a stance that More maintained throughout his life.

(65) More, History of King Richard III, 7, lines 22-30.

(66) Given-Wilson explains that such devices may have been used in medieval chronicles to express skepticism, protect the specific identities of sources of information, or indicate a chronicler's avoidance of a particularly sensitive topic (Chronicles, 8-9).

(67) Sylvester argues that Thomas More either read John Rous's Historia at some point or had the details reported to him by his acquaintance Bishop Richard Foxe of Winchester, who had been friends with Rous during his lifetime; see History of King Richard III, lxviii-lxxii. Davies, on the other hand, suggests that More "derives from Rous, or, more likely, from the same oral tradition the story of Richard's monstrous birth" ("Information, Disinformation and Political Knowledge," 242).

(68) Hall integrates Mores and Polydore Vergil's accounts of Richard's reign into his "Union of the Two Noble and Illustrious Familes of Lancaster and York," first printed in 1548. Other Tudor chroniclers who incorporate More's text (always unacknowledged) are Richard Grafton (and subsequently Raphael Holinshed), John Stow, and the author of the Mirror for Magistrates (1559). See Keith Dockray, William Shakespeare, the Wars of the Roses and the Historians (Stroud: Tempus, 2002), 125-42, for an overview of the early modern chronicle tradition. It is important to note, as C. S. L. Davies points out, that Thomas Mores text was only circulating in elite circles prior to 1548; More's account of the events of 1483-85 would thus have been known to far fewer than is commonly assumed (see "Information, Disinformation and Political Knowledge").

(69) Churchill, Richard III up to Shakespeare, iii.

(70) Shakespeare, Richard III, II.iv.27-28.

(71) Heng, Empire of Magic, 14.
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Author:Huber, Emily Rebekah
Publication:Philological Quarterly
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 22, 2015
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