LIC Blog

An intolerable little priest

John Rous was born around 1411 near Warwick. Having been education at Oxford he only left it in 1445 to enter the employ of the Beauchamp family. He became one of the two priests retained as Chaplain of St. Mary Magdalene at Guy's Cliff 2 miles from Warwick. Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick founded it for masses to be sung for himself, his wife, parents and friends. When Richard Neville succeeded to the earldom in 1449 by right of his wife Anne, Rous simply exchanged one patron for another. He remained totally loyal to the earls of Warwick and their descendents even after Richard Neville fell at Barnet in 1471.

The duties of his office must have left Rous with considerable time to pursue his obsessive interest in local history. From 1477 to 1485 he produced 2 picture-rolls showing the history of the earls of Warwick. Along the roll he depicts each earl and adds a brief life.

One roll was written in English, completed before Bosworth and never revised by Rous. Here is how he describes Richard III, who was married to Warwick's youngest daughter, Anne Neville:

all avarice set aside, ruled his subjects in his realm full commendably, punishing offenders of his laws, especially extortioners and oppressors of his commons, and cherishing those that were virtuous; by the which discreet guiding he got great thank of God and love of all his subjects rich and poor and great laud of the people of all other lands round about him.

Historical Writing in England II (p.315) by Antonia Gransden

 The other roll was written with a Latin text and Rous was able to "revise" it after Bosworth. He cut out the portrait of King Richard and refers to him as "the unhappy husband of Anne" (p.316). He also excised his portrait of Edward IV, who destroyed and defeated Warwick in 1471.

By comparison this is mild, when Rous' major History of the Kings of England is considered. Written in Latin between 1485 and his death in 1491 it has never been easily available. In her splendid monograph, Richard III and his early historians 1483 - 1535, Alison Hanham has given us the portion concerning Richard's reign.

Richard was born at Fotheringay in Northamptonshire, retained within his mother's womb for 2 years and emerging with teeth and hair to his shoulders.

Richard III and his early historians 1481 - 1535(p.120) Alison Hanham

Since he was the twelfth child Cecilly Neville had carried, you might have thought a pregnancy of 24 months would have caused her to ponder.

He was born on the Feast of the 11,000 virgins.


The Feast was on 21st October.

Richard's birthday was 2nd October.

Rous changes the date for astrological reasons. He continues:

At his nativity Scorpio was in the ascendant ... And like a scorpion he combined a smooth front with a stinging tail.


Sadly for Rous, Richard III was born under Libra.

But then Rous is not concerned with accuracy but spitefully attacking the last Yorkist Prince to revenge his fallen lord, Warwick.

 This King Richard, who was excessively cruel in his days, reigned for three years [sic] and a little more, in the way that AntiChrist is to reign. And like the AntiChrist to come, he was confounded at his moment of greatest pride.


Again our little poppin-jay cannot do his sums. Richard was king for slightly more than 2 years, not 3. His "3 years and a little more" comes from the Book of Revelation Chapter 13 verse 5, where the Monster of humanism reigns for 42 symbolic months. But we should expect no more from this infantile chantry-priest. Biblical exegesis was definitely not his strong suite. 

Having demonised Richard III, we should expect Rous to regard Henry Tudor as Christ himself. For does not Christ reign after the overthrow of AntiChrist? And indeed Rous does.

Fired by the 'ardour of love' Rous addresses himself in the last paragraph [of the History] to King Henry [the Seventh]. He describes him as sent by God, and asserts that in accordance with a prophecy [whose?] Henry would be remembered with great honour by future generations. He ends with a reference to Henry's eldest son and heir Arthur, "who will by divine providence inherit the worth of the other great Arther." (Gransden, p.316)

Considering the demise of young Arthur, providence clearly took another view!

So here is a sour septegenarian, who changes dates to suit his agenda, regnal years to suit his political Messiah. Here is a devotee of the House of Warwick, who writes warmly of a man, whilst he is alive, only to vilify him after death.

To expect such a one to tell the truth about Richard III is unbelievable. So how does he describe the King?

Small of stature, with a short face and unequal shoulders, the right higher and the left lower.

Richard III and his early historians 1481 - 1535 (p.121) Alison Hanham

Was the Leicester skeleton "small of stature"? Remember the feet, ankles and part of each leg are missing.

Did the facial reconstruction show a "short face"? Was it not more like Clare Balding, whom no one would describe as having a "short face"!

Ah, but the shoulders are "unequal"! And the right is the higher of the two.

Sadly, in the Latin manuscript the words "right" and "and the left" (dexter and sinisterque) have evidently been written in later, possibly with a different hand.

Full Plate 2 (opposite p.121 in Hanham):

Rous cannot be trusted.

His words mean nothing.

Towards the climax of Stanley Kubrick's film Spartacus, the Roman Patrician Crassus has the lanista, who trained the rebel-gladiator, brought into his command tent. The Legions and slave army are facing one another for the last time. Crassus tells the trembling lanista that he is to identify the corpse or living body of Spartacus after the battle.

Nervously the cowardly lanista inquires: "But suppose my all-conquering Marcus Lacinius Crassus, suppose it is Spartacus, who crosses the field in search of you. What then?" With a wry smile Crassus replies, "In which case I have no doubt that you will be identifying me to him!" Crassus understood men like John Rous and valued them for one thing.

We understand nothing, when we allow our views of Richard III to be blown hither and thither by a miserable lying little priest.