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 Brackenbury's Priest

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phaecilia

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PostSubject: Brackenbury's Priest   Thu Apr 03, 2014 2:51 pm

Is anyone here disappointed that Horace Walpole didn't discredit Brackenbury's Priest in his best-selling Historic Doubts?  If he had, he might have sent More's so-called history to the fiction department where it belongs.  Unfortunately, Walpole said nothing about Brackenbury's Priest, and traditionalists continued to treat More's fictions as if they were facts.

I see Brackenbury's Priest as good evidence that More was writing fiction.  Maybe he was consciously imitating Herodotus--called father of lies by his critics.  Whatever More was doing, Brackenbury's Priest seems like a folk tale character.  Buries and reburies murder victims 10 feet deep, silently, in 10 seconds, without leaving a trace!

In the United States, we have Paul Bunyan, a lumberjack who does all kinds of super-human things.  In one story, he digs a grave for Babe the Big Blue Ox.  He dug up enough earth to create a mountain.  Fortunately, Babe recovers, so the grave isn't needed.  Paul leaves the mountain beside the grave.

Brackenbury's Priest can't be descended from Paul Bunyan, and I doubt that Paul Bunyan storytellers had Brackenbury's Priest in mind when they swapped stories.  But Brackenbury's Priest and Paul Bunyan have something in common in the grave-digging department.

I've looked for similar characters in folk-tale collections.  I found Tom Hickathrift and Jack O' Kent.  They have super-human strength, but they don't dig graves in the stories I found.  I was surprised that I couldn't find any others.  Can anyone tell me about other super-strong folk tale heroes (from any tradition) like Paul Bunyan, who were contemporary with, or preceded Brackenbury's Priest?

Many thanks,

phaecilia
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khafara

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PostSubject: Re: Brackenbury's Priest   Thu Apr 03, 2014 9:39 pm

One would think that More's making Edward fourteen years older than he actually was when he died would have sufficed to tell any reader that Sir Tommy was slinging bull.
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phaecilia

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PostSubject: Brackenbury's Priest   Fri Apr 04, 2014 1:28 pm

khafara wrote:
One would think that More's making Edward fourteen years older than he actually was when he died would have sufficed to tell any reader that Sir Tommy was slinging bull.  


Maybe they don't do the math. Very Happy 

Reminds me of a pun I'm fond of:

I don't lend my books to anyone.  Although my friends are poor mathematicians, they are good book-keepers.

phaecilia
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whitehound
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PostSubject: Re: Brackenbury's Priest   Sat Apr 05, 2014 5:26 pm

For the priest to be a folklore archetype, More would have to have been making a feature of his prodigious strength etc - not just slipping that aspect of the story past the reader and hoping they wouldn't notice how implausible it was.

It's even possible that he was being honest. He does mention the existence of rumours that the boys survived, so he could be saying "This is the story I heard about their being killed, which I have recast as a historical novelette, but it does include this implausible element, and there are other versions of the tale which say that something quite different happened."
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Constantia

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PostSubject: Re: Brackenbury's Priest   Sat Apr 05, 2014 7:53 pm

I don't think that the priest is a folklore archetype, but he's certainly one unbelievable element of an unbelievable story, conveniently anonymous and dead. Similarly, the "secret page" is, well, secret, yet his conversation with Richard (enthroned on the privy) was somehow conveyed word for word to Sir Thomas More despite one party's being unknown and the other dead. Sir James Tyrell is depicted as lying outside Richard's privy chamber (pun intended), unemployed and a stranger to Richard, very much contrary to what More knew to be true (at least Vergil, whose version of the story More had read, depicted him as already in Richard's service). Skipping the improbable crew of murderers and the equally improbable actions of "gentle Brackenbury," we get to the priest, who removes the great heap of stones all by himself before digging up and reburying the bodies in an unknown place (how we know that Richard told him to rebury them in hallowed ground without knowing who he was or where they were reburied is not explained). His purpose is clearly to make sure that the burial space remains mysterious since no one has found a great heap of stones at the foot of any stairs. (Why not? Because More invented the whole tale, including Tyrell's confession.)

Regarding Edward IV's age as stated by More, it's not only incorrect in terms of years. More states explicitly that Edward was fifty-three years, seven months, and six days old when he died, but this seemingly precise age is wrong on all counts. He was, in fact, forty years, eleven months, and twelve days old (April 22, 1442-April 9, 1483) when he died. As Khafara noted, this glaring misstatement calls attention to itself as if to warn the reader that nothing in the "History" is true.

Though More does not, of course, admit that the murder story is entirely the product of his imagination (though rumor had pointed to Tyrell some time earlier), but he does at least admit to having heard other versions of the story, including that one or both nephews escaped, a detail that escapes the notice of those who choose to believe the story, along with the moved bodies (and the rather significant differences between a hole dug meetly deep in the ground at the foot of some stairs and covered with a great heap of stones and a burial ten feet beneath the foundations of a staircase (which had to be removed before its foundations could be dug under). The only similarity is the single word stairs.

I don't think that More was being honest, but I agree with Whitehound that he has recast the rumor that Sir James Tyrell killed the boys on Richard's orders into "a historical novelette." Whether he was writing a moral tale (with Richard on the privy?) or making fun of gullible humanist historians (read Vergil and possibly Rous and Andre) who cited rumors as fact and, in Vergil's case, embellished them with imaginary scenes and even dialogue by doing the same thing himself to an extreme degree is probably impossible to say. More was, however, known for his ironic wit, which any reader ought to bear in mind before he attempts to read the "History," including the famous strawberry scene with its withered arm and charges of witchcraft (which, again, takes a germ in Vergil and embroiders it into a full-fledged dramatic scene).

Sorry to stray from the very specific topic of the priest, but I can't discuss him without comparing him to other elements of More's tale. Oh. Isn't it odd that "a priest of Brackenbury's" would be involved when "gentle Brackenbury" himself takes pains to be absent and let someone else do the wicked deed? Whether More, who must have known that Brackenbury fought for and died with Richard at Bosworth, is questioning Brackenbury's reputation for nobility or asking others to question why such a good man would continue to support Richard if Richard ordered the murder of his nephews is anyone's guess.
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whitehound
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PostSubject: Re: Brackenbury's Priest   Sun Apr 06, 2014 3:57 am

I was thinking this morning about Hollywood producers.  If they did any research at all, the producers of 300 must have known that the Spartan army was the ancient world's equivalent of the Waffen SS - brave and effective soldiers, OK, but what they were fighting *for* was a ruthless, incompetant and murderously racist dictatorship, with the added twist that in Sparta male homosexuality was compulsory, to the extent that it must have amounted to institutionalized sexual abuse.  But presenting them as sweatily heterosexual freedom-fighters made a more marketable story, so to hell with history.  Other producers took a Scottish officer who was one of the great heroes of the Titanic disaster and turned him into a villain to make a better story, and to hell with the fact that the man still has living relatives, who were terribly upset.  

More probably didn't care whether the story he was telling was true either, so long as it was a good (i.e. exciting and memorable) story.  "Nobody knows what happened to these boys - killing them would have been incompatible with Richard's other known behaviour, but on the other hand it was a unique situation and we can't figure out what else he might have done with them" wouldn't have made for a good story.
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PostSubject: Re: Brackenbury's Priest   Sun Apr 06, 2014 5:28 am

I've always felt, though, that the "withered arm" speech was probably a tabloid-ized version of a real event, because some variant of "These Woodville bastards have tied my hand" is so much what you would expect Richard to say at that point.  Almost everybody on both sides assumes that More meant that Richard had one normal arm and one withered one, but we know both from Von Poppelau and from his skeleton that Richard had slender arms, so I suspect More just meant "He bared one of his skinny arms" - except that he exaggerated it for effect, the way people on the RIII Soc forum exaggerate Henry's squint because they think it's funny to do so.  Some confusion has probably been caused by the fact that More said that Richard's arm was "small", which reads to modern eyes as if he meant his arm was miniature, but which in those days meant slender.

Certainly the idea of a monarch using their own body as an analogy for the state was current about 100 years later, because Elizabeth I used it in a speech, and it may well have already existed in Richard's day.
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MAHibbard

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PostSubject: Re: Brackenbury's Priest   Sun Apr 06, 2014 8:41 am

I have never been able to take More, or Vergil, for that matter, as anything more than early forms of what we would now call historical fiction. Each took a grain of truth, the barest of facts, and ran with it. Neither man witnessed the events he writes about, and there are embellishments that have to be obvious even to the untrained amateur historian. And with these embellishments that not only stretch the truth, but are at times nothing more than outright lies that contradict known facts, how can I accept the rest of what they wrote without question? I don't believe in cherry picking, which is something I find a lot of well-meaning academicians engaging in when it comes to Richard III, both pro and con.

One of the biggest questions that has always floated through my mind when I've read More is, who was the silent witness hanging around when Richard was on the privy and heard everything that was said? Did he write down the conversation as it was taking place? Did he have the Medieval version of a tape recorder, or did he have one of those "photographic" memories that remembered everything exactly as said/looked? Did he write this conversation down later, with imagination filling in what memory left empty? Or is this a big pile of hooey?

Same with everything else that supposedly took place in secret, including the mysterious priest who is the topic of this conversation. Who was there, documenting all these events? More, even if he was writing what he believed was fact, would not have any of this information first-hand. At best, it would have been second-hand...or worse.

And why is it that everyone who accepts More as gospel, and insist that the bones found in the Tower are those of the princes, fail to remember that this mysterious priest dug up the bodies and re-interred them elsewhere? If you accept More's account as true, then by default the bones found in the Tower during the reign of Charles II can NOT be those of the princes. You can't have it both ways!

I know I'm preaching to the choir here, so I'll quit. For now.  Laughing
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PostSubject: Re: Brackenbury's Priest   Sun Apr 06, 2014 9:41 am

Yes, exactly, they're both writing historical novels, or possibly tabloid journalism. I tend to assume that background details like Richard being very fidgetty are probably true because

a) if he was known for being very placid then portraying him as twitchy would immediately discredit the story and

b) if you were going to invent something to blacken somebody's name you could come up with something a lot better than "He was an inveterate twiddler of small objects",

but substantially they've both spun fictional stories around some very thin bits of rumour. As you say, much of it is stuff More couldn't actually have known, and in any case he states that the bodies were removed from the Tower so they couldn't be the mystery bones.
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PostSubject: Re: Brackenbury's Priest   Sun Apr 06, 2014 9:59 am

As with tabloid journalists, *some* of what they wrote is almost certainly true, if only to create a false appearance of truth - it's not logical to assume that everything they said must neccessarily be false because they said it, just because we know that much of what they wrote was clearly invented. But because they've shown themselves willing to invent and to lie outright, we can't trust anything they said without outside corroboration, and all of it has to be taken with a large pinch of salt.

I wonder if More's error in making Edward much older than he was is the source of Shakespeare's error in having Richard fighting at battles which occurred when he was a little pageboy? He may have preserved the age gap between them accurately, and then thought Richard was 14 years older than he was.
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MAHibbard

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PostSubject: Re: Brackenbury's Priest   Sun Apr 06, 2014 10:48 am

Definitely. There's always that kernel of truth, to make the add-ons seem true, too.

And there is no doubt that Shakespeare was writing for purposes of entertainment and, in a number of instances, to provide a moral to the story (not to mention curry favor with the lady on the throne, who would no doubt have frowned upon someone calling her grandfather nasty names). The business of ages probably mattered not a bit to the Bard, who was in all likelihood more concerned with creating a ripping good story than worrying about historical accuracy.

And as much as I find Shakespeare's characterization of Richard III questionable (to be nice about it), I confess to secretly (or not so secretly) loving the play! Especially Lawrence Olivier's film version, which I watch regularly, picking out historical errors while grinning with delight at Olivier's delicious wickedness. Very Happy 
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Constantia

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PostSubject: Re: Brackenbury's Priest   Sun Apr 06, 2014 12:13 pm

whitehound wrote:
I've always felt, though, that the "withered arm" speech was probably a tabloid-ized version of a real event, because some variant of "These Woodville bastards have tied my hand" is so much what you would expect Richard to say at that point.  Almost everybody on both sides assumes that More meant that Richard had one normal arm and one withered one, but we know both from Von Poppelau and from his skeleton that Richard had slender arms, so I suspect More just meant "He bared one of his skinny arms" - except that he exaggerated it for effect, the way people on the RIII Soc forum exaggerate Henry's squint because they think it's funny to do so.  Some confusion has probably been caused by the fact that More said that Richard's arm was "small", which reads to modern eyes as if he meant his arm was miniature, but which in those days meant slender.

Certainly the idea of a monarch using their own body as an analogy for the state was current about 100 years later, because Elizabeth I used it in a speech, and it may well have already existed in Richard's day.

Carol responds:

Maybe. But More didn't invent the story from whole cloth. He embroidered on Polydore Vergil's version, which reads:
Richard duke of Glocestre, who thowght of nothing but tyranny and crueltie, spak unto them in this sort: ‘My lords, I have procuryd you all to be caulyd hyther this day for that onely cause that I might shew unto you in what great danger of death I stand; for by the speace of a few days by past nether nyght nor day can I rest, drynk, not eat, wherfor my blood by lyttle and lyttle decreaseth, my force fayleth, my breath shorteneth, and all the partes of my body do above measure, as you se (and with that he shewyd them his arme), faule away; which mischief veryly procedeth in me from that sorceres Elyzabeth the quene, who with hir witchcraft hath so enchantyd me that by thanoyance thereof I am dissolvyd.’ To these sainges whan no man gave answer, as making lyttle to the purpose, William  lord Hastings, who hatyd not duke Richerd, and was woont to speke all thinges with him very frely, awnsweryd, that the quene deservyd well both to be put to open shame, and to be dewly punysshyd, yf yt might appeare that by use of witchecraft she had doone him any harme. To these Rycherd replyed: ‘I am undone (I say) by that very woomans sorcery.’ wrote:

http://www.r3.org/links/to-prove-a-villain-the-real-richard-iii/these-supposed-crimes/polydore-vergil/

This scene is followed, of course, by the supposedly unlawful arrest of Hastings. Interestingly, Vergil says nothing about the withered arm being real; it's just an example of his entire body falling away (a remark that no one knows how to answer as it's clearly [his] Richard's own invention). More adds the detail that the arm was withered from birth.

It's possible that this scene relies on a metaphorical remark that Richard made, presumably minus any reference to witchcraft, but it strikes me as an invented humanist dialogue which More borrowed and made into the withered arm story as we know it. Most people think that More got the story from Morton, but unless Vergil also used that as-yet-undiscovered manuscript by Morton that Buck claimed to have seen, the scene as depicted here appears to be Vergil's invention. He could not have talked to Morton directly since Morton died two years before Vergil arrived in England. There is no such scene in either Croyland or Mancini.
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Constantia

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PostSubject: Re: Brackenbury's Priest   Sun Apr 06, 2014 12:24 pm

MAHibbard wrote:
Definitely. There's always that kernel of truth, to make the add-ons seem true, too.

And there is no doubt that Shakespeare was writing for purposes of entertainment and, in a number of instances, to provide a moral to the story (not to mention curry favor with the lady on the throne, who would no doubt have frowned upon someone calling her grandfather nasty names). The business of ages probably mattered not a bit to the Bard, who was in all likelihood more concerned with creating a ripping good story than worrying about historical accuracy.

Shakespeare may not even have known Richard's true age. It's possible that he took Edward's age as stated by More at face value and assumed that George and Richard were not much younger, so he placed them in battles fought when they were children. After Shakespeare's play was performed, "portraits" of Richard started getting older and older, so by the eighteenth century or so, he looks about seventy. People simply forgot that he was only thirty-two when he died. Even the story, used by Shakespeare, of Edmund of Rutland as a "maidenly boy of twelve" being murdered on Wakefield Bridge comes from Shakespeare's sources (either Hall or Hollinshed). Even if Shakespeare knew that Edmund was really seventeen and fought in the battle (while little Richard stayed home), it's too tragic and bloody a tale to omit. He may well have believed the whole "history," but he was not above making changes (Richard is born prematurely rather than being two years in his mother's womb, for example) and additions for, as you say, the sake of a good story.
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PostSubject: Re: Brackenbury's Priest   Sun Apr 06, 2014 1:18 pm

Hmm. Does anyone know what sort of thing was covered by "sorcery"? See, the bit in the Bible which is usually translated as "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" is a mistranslation - the word actually refers to a type of traditional herbalist (very loosely, a witch) who used their skills to make poisons. I wonder if the same confusion existed in Mediaeval English?

Whether this was a real scene which Virgil was reporting (however loosely) or one which he had created out of whole cloth, it sounds more like an accusation that the Woodvilles had been poisoning Richard - including showing his arm, which if this scene had to do with poison would probably mean showing a suspicious tremor.

Personally I think that Edward IV just died of a stroke brought on by his self-indulgent lifestyle but we know some people have thought, and indeed still think, that he was poisoned. So one can see that either Richard's mind or Virgil's might have been running on the suspicion that the Woodvilles were capable of slipping somebody something nasty.

Incidentally, I've never seen it mentioned, but there's a small possibility that either Richard or Haastings had taken leave of their senses in the lead-up to Hastings' execution. In an age with little or no quality control for flour, anybody acting wildly and showing paranoia shortly after a meal could conceivably have ingested ergot without realising it.
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Constantia

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PostSubject: Re: Brackenbury's Priest   Sun Apr 06, 2014 7:26 pm

whitehound wrote:
Whether this was a real scene which Virgil was reporting (however loosely) or one which he had created out of whole cloth, it sounds more like an accusation that the Woodvilles had been poisoning Richard - including showing his arm, which if this scene had to do with poison would probably mean showing a suspicious tremor.

Who would have provided Vergil with this "information"? Morton was already dead by the time Vergil arrived in England in 1502, as was Rotherham. Thomas Stanley died aged sixty-nine in 1504, before Vergil was commissioned to write his history of England. Richard, Catesby, Stillington, and Buckingham (none a likely source for this tale) were all long dead. Sir William Stanley wasn't present at the scene, nor was Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey. No contemporary account of the council meeting exists, only brief reports of the arrest and beheading of Hastings.

The Croyland chronicler says only, "For, the day previously, the Protector had, with singular adroitness, divided the council, so that one part met in the morning at Westminster, and the other at the Tower of London, where the king was. The lord Hastings, on the thirteenth day of the month of June, being the sixth day of the week, on coming to the Tower to join the council, was, by order of the Protector, beheaded. Two distinguished preplates [sic for prelates], also, Thomas, archbishop of York, and John, bishop of Ely, being out of respect for their order, held exempt from captial [sic] punishment, were carried prisoners to different castles in Wales.  The three strongest supporters of the new king being thus removed without judgment or justice, and all the rest of his faithful subjects fearing the like treatment, the two dukes did thenceforth just as they pleased."
ttp://newr3.dreamhosters.com/?page_id=518 (The part about Rotherham being sent to Wales is an error, which shows that Croyland is not wholly reliable here. Rotherham was imprisoned in the Tower and released in July.)

If I recall correctly, Mancini is equally unhelpful--something about armed men rushing in on a prearranged signal. If someone can quote the passage, I'd be grateful as I have yet to find an online edition of Mancini and don't want to go searching all the biographies to find it.

Side note: If anyone on this board knows the people who run the American branch's website, you might want to point out the typos in the Croyland extract as an act of kindness.
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PostSubject: Re: Brackenbury's Priest   Sun Apr 06, 2014 8:00 pm

If Virgil had a genuine source of gossip it would I suppose have come from the servants, or from letters or accounts which were written at the time but which we no longer have - perhaps accounts which were destroyed because they mentioned Titulus Regius.

Or Virgil might just have made it up on the basis that the quarrel must have been about *something*, and speculation about Edward's death made poison seem a likely candidate. It's all very rum however you slice it, and I can't help wondering whether Buckingham fitted Hastings up. It could be that which made Richard call him "the most untrue creature". Is there any reason to think Buckingham might have had a personal spite against Hastings?

[If there is I g7uess we should take it to the Hastings forum-title - there is one as I recall.]
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PostSubject: Re: Brackenbury's Priest   Sun Apr 06, 2014 8:34 pm

What's fascinating is that More's History of Richard III was never published during his lifetime and might not even be his at all, but that of his mentor John Morton, whereas he did write a work wherein he praised Edward IV, and his reaction on the death of Henry VII was essentially "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead". (And of course he wound up getting offed by the son of the usurper.)
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PostSubject: Re: Brackenbury's Priest   Sun Apr 06, 2014 9:14 pm

Yes. Of course if the More version was written by Morton then he was a legitimate eye-witness, albeit a very biased and untrustworthy one. I read somewhere once that he was notorious for breaking the seal of the confessional, which is really the pits for a Catholic priest.

I don't think "usurper" is the right word for Henry btw, except insofar as he claimed the throne by an almost entirely spurious "right of Lancaster". At any rate, we don't usually call William the Conqueror a usurper. Insofar as he claimed the throne by right of conquest Henry, like William, was a "tyrant" in the original Greek sense - that is, a ruler who came to power by aggressively deposing the previous king.

I suppose that some people would say that Richard was a tyrant in that sense, because of how he came to the throne, even if his claim was wholly correct. It doesn't necessarily mean that the person was in any way tyrannical in the modern sense - although in practice Henry was at least somewhat tyrannical (Star Chamber, Morton's Fork) and William was *very* tyrannical (brutal army of occupation, mass starvation).
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PostSubject: Re: Brackenbury's Priest   Mon Apr 07, 2014 5:45 am

I see that The Mail on Sunday yesterday carried a glowing review of JAH's new book about George which reminded me (I having forgotten about it) of George's fear that Isobel had been poisoned. Whether Virgil was writing what he had heard about a real council meeting, or simply making it up and putting what he thought were fictional but credible words into Richard's mouth, you can see why poison might be on people's minds, and connected with the Woodvilles.
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