Shaw’s Sermon

(1483)
   The sermon delivered by Dr. Ralph Shaw (or Sha) from the open-air pulpit at Paul’s Cross in LONDON on Sunday 22 June 1483 was the first public exposition of the duke of Gloucester’s claim to the throne. After weeks of uncertainty as to the duke’s intentions, Shaw’s sermon signaled Gloucester’s decision to depose his nephew EDWARD V and take the throne himself as RICHARD III (see Usurpation of 1483).
   Standing near the cross in the churchyard of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, the Paul’s Cross pulpit was the recognized forum for official announcements and explanations of government policy. Dr.Ralph Shaw, a Cambridge doctor of divinity and a prominent preacher, was the brother of the mayor of London, Edmund Shaw. Commissioned by Gloucester, or perhaps by Henry STAFFORD, duke of Buckingham, the duke’s ally, Shaw preached on the text “bastard slips shall not take deep root.”Although the specifics of Shaw’s sermon are uncertain, the preacher seems to have announced the existence of the BUTLER PRECONTRACT, EDWARD IV’s betrothal to Lady Eleanor Butler, which, if genuine, invalidated the king’s later marriage to Elizabeth WOODVILLE and thereby rendered his children illegitimate and clouded their right to inherit the Crown. The existence of this precontract was later said to have been confirmed by Bishop Robert STILLINGTON, before whom Edward and Lady Eleanor had pledged their betrothal.
   According to Sir Thomas More’s HISTORY OF KING RICHARD III and Polydore Vergil’s ANGLICA HISTORIA, Shaw also questioned the legitimacy of Gloucester’s brothers, Edward IV and George PLANTAGENET, duke of Clarence, an allegation that amounted to an accusation of adultery against Gloucester’s mother, Cecily NEVILLE, duchess of York. The preacher supported this assertion by proclaiming Gloucester’s resemblance to his father, Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, a likeness supposedly shared by neither Clarence nor the late king. In his account, More claimed that Gloucester had planned to appear before Shaw’s audience at the very moment that the preacher declared the duke’s face to be “the very print of his [father’s] visage” (Seward, p. 105), hoping thereby to inspire the crowd to a spontaneous acclamation of kingship. However, Shaw spoke too fast, Gloucester came too late, and the preacher had to awkwardly repeat his earlier remarks to a stunned and silent audience.
   Although Buckingham took up Shaw’s theme in an eloquent speech two days later at the Guildhall and Gloucester was crowned as planned on 6 July, most sources agree that Shaw’s sermon was ill received. In his USURPATION OF RICHARD III, Dominic Mancini characterized the speech as contrary “to all decency and religion” (Mancini, p. 95), and various LONDON CHRONICLES claim the sermon destroyed Shaw’s reputation and so burdened him with remorse and public odium that he died of shame the following year.
   See also Titulus Regius
   Further Reading: Mancini, Dominic, The Usurpation of Richard III, edited and translated by C. A. J. Armstrong (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Alan Sutton, 1989); Ross, Charles, Richard III (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); Seward, Desmond, Richard III: England’s Black Legend (New York: Franklin Watts, 1984).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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