Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Sunday, 13 December 2020

Death of an imposter

This is a posting  I was going to make on this day last year had I been blogging at the time... so on the basis of better late than never...
601 years ago today the death occurred at Stirling of a man who claimed to be the deposed, and reputedly dead since 1400, King Richard II of England. Following his death he was buried in the Dominican friary in Stirling, a
 site which has recently been excavated. The standard view is that he was actually one Thomas Ward, from Trumpington near Cambridge, and may have been mentally handicapped. He had reached the Scottish court from that of the Lord of the Isles.

This story is recounted in a post from Weaving the Tapestry which can be read at Death of a Pretender: “King Richard II”

 It has one very surprising and obvious error - what it claims is a photograph of Pontefract Castle, where we are virtually certain the genuine King Richard died, is of course Goodrich Castle in Herefordshire - there is alas far less surviving at Pontefract. That apart the article is a good account of the story such as we know it. As an imposter Ward does not seem to have been of much value, but he was a resource the Scots - their own King James I being held as a detainee in England - could find of occasional value.

In 1399-1400 those who sought to restore King Richard to the throne had planned on using one of his clerks, Richard Maudelyn, to impersonate the imprisoned monarch until he could be released. That of course never came about, the deposed King died - conveniently or otherwise at Pontefract- and Maudelyn was executed.

The longstanding tradition of royal imposters was already established with Tile Kolup in Germany in 1285 who claimed to be the Emperor Frederick II,  False Margaret in Norway in 1301 and False Olav in Sweden in 1402, all of whom ended up being executed. In late fifteenth century England there were Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck as ‘Edward VI’ and ‘Richard IV’ respectively. The disappearance/death of King Sebastian of Portugal in 1578 produced four imposters, whilst in the early years of the seventeenth century Russia had three False Dimitrys, the first of whom actually briefly became Tsar. There were to be over 30 claimant King Louis XVIIs, and the twentieth century had seen numerous people asserting that they are one or other members of the Russian Imperial family murdered in 1918.

By comparison with many of these Thomas Ward was small fry and an imposter faineant and he has not even made it to 
Some but by no means all listed on this Wikipedia entry..., does not include Thomas Ward

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