An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.
Michael D. Miller
|Chapter 72: King Richard III
|Richard, Duke of Gloucester before the death of King
King Edward IV died on 9th April 1483. His brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester seized his Throne and reigned as King Richard III, the last Plantagenet King, until his defeat and death at the battle of Bosworth on 22 August 1485. By doing so, he deposed Edward's son and heir, the 12-year old Edward, Prince of Wales who on the day of his father's death became the rightful King Edward V. We must remember that the succession of the Crown, by custom if not by law, was immediate. "The King is dead, long live the King" was as compelling then as it is today. It is true that the new King still had to be crowned, but a coronation, besides being a solemn and auspicious rite of the Church, was also a celebration and a recognition of a state of affairs which has already come into existence.
These two and a half years are some of the most confusing in English history, and in many places only speculation can fill the gaps in our knowledge. Some facts are certain and beyond any doubt; that Richard seized the Throne and the methods he employed to do so; that Richard and his Duchess Anne were crowned King and Queen in Westminster Abbey by one of the most sacred rites of the Church; that King Edward V was deposed by Richard without ever being crowned, and disappeared as though he had never been born; and that King Richard III was defeated and killed at the battle of Bosworth 1485 by the exile Henry Tudor, who became King Henry VII and the founder of the Tudor dynasty. But there are great gaps in our knowledge, and at present it seems most unlikely that they will ever be filled. To make a list of at least some of these matters:-
1) what motivated Richard to seize the Crown in June 1483?
2) why was the assembly of the Peers and Lords of the Realm, held in St Paul's Cathedral on 25th June 1483, prepared to accept Richard as King Richard III? This assembly was in the form of a Great Council although it was not formally summoned as such. "Great Councils had, by the end of the 15th-century, ceased to be called and played no part in the Government of the Realm. [page ]
3) why did Richard order the death of William, Lord Hastings, an old and trusted friend, on 13th June 1483?
4) what did happen to the 12-year old King Edward V and his 8-year old brother Richard, Duke of York, the so-called Princes in the Tower?
5) what prompted the rebellion of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham in 0ctober 1483?
We can attempt answers to all these questions, but they must be accepted as the best speculation that we can achieve. There were however a number of writers who do help to penetrate the the mists of uncertainty, even if none of them can be entirely conclusive on the greatest mystery of all, the fate of the so-called Princes in the Tower. The Croyland Chronicle [Its full name is The Chronicle of the Abbey of Croyland. The name of its author is not known for certain, but is thought to have been Doctor John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln and Chancellor of the Realm] and the Great Chronicle of London [The author is completely unknown, but he must have been a contemporary] continue to shed their light upon events during the time so far as they knew them. Polydore Vergil and Sir Thomas More were writing in the first few years of the 16th-century, and whilst they were not contemporaries of the events, they drew from the memories of those who were. Polydore Vergil was an Italian, a native of Urbino who came to England in the early 1500s, and was asked to write a History of England; in 1517 he wrote that he had been engaged on the task for 12 years and was still not finished. Sir Thomas More wrote his 'Life of Richard III' probably about 1513; he had been a protege of Doctor John Morton who had sent him to 0xford. Morton, who died in 1500, was a central character in the events of 1483, and many of the details would have been known to him, particularly those of Hastings' execution. Domenico Mancini, a native of Rome, was in England throughout the momentous events of 1483.
A cleric, he seems to have come to London in 1482 as a member of a Papal Mission, and was anxious to help his patron, Angelo Cato, Archbishop of Vienne, to write a history of the reign of King Louis XI. Mancini's own De 0ccupatione Regni Anglie per Riccardum Tercium was completed by December 1483, after his return to Italy. It shows an acute and observant mind at work, recording all that many prominent people had told him during his stay. Edward Hall wrote 60 years afterwards, and whilst he was obviously keen to flatter the Tudor dynasty, he appears to have had access to records which have since been lost. These writers give us immense help, but even so, there are many mysteries we cannot resolve.
Richard as a man
There are at least two extant portraits of King Richard III. 0ne, in the Royal Collection at Windsor, is by an unknown artist and may be contemporary. The other is a copy, made in the 16th-century, of a portrait that has since been lost. The legend of 'Crouch-back Dick' tends to disappear when looking at the portraits. It might have been dangerous for a contemporary artist to show a feature on which Richard would have been sensitive, but there would have been no hesitation in the Tudor era, when Richard was being portrayed as an evil man, in enhancing the copy so that it showed an hideous deformity and one associated in peoples minds with wickedness. Neither portrait gives any indication of a humped back, which normally forces the head forward on a shortened neck so that the individual has to peer upwards. Both portraits hint at a good and upright if not perfect carriage, and show a long and well proportioned neck. Again, both portraits show that Richard did have a physical deformity. The right shoulder is noticeably higher than the left, but not to the extent that it is unsightly. The left arm was said by popular legend to have been withered from birth, although it is uncertain whether or not this was so.
Richard is said to have been a small man who resembled his father, and did not take after the auburn haired giant who was his brother Edward. Thick auburn to dark hair, worn at shoulder length and perfectly cut and trimmed, falls from his cap which only partly hides a fine, high and intelligent brow. The nose is long and finely shaped, if somewhat protuberant. It surmounts a long, thin upper lip. The lower lip is also thin, without any hint of sensuality, and the straight mouth resembles a steel trap. The chin is jutting and determined. What dominate the face are the two hazel eyes, which stare out levelly and firmly onto the World. This is the face of a man of action, a determined and intelligent if not a deep thinking man, who can quickly make up his mind what has to be done and carries within him the resolution to do it, however difficult or unwise and however atrocious it may be. The one hint of sensitivity lies in the fingers, which are long and fine. The left hand plays with a ring on the little finger of the right, but without indicating, however spuriously, any measure of indecision which appears in his brother's portrait. [page ] No hint of humour appears on the sallow cheeks, although there were times when Richard enjoyed his fun. This is a ruthless and determined face, whose owner is not easily fooled, and with whom it is dangerous to trifle. Richard was a formidable, skilful and accomplished soldier, considered one of the best commanders of his time. Before his brother's death in 1483, Richard was highly thought of as a skilled administrator and an adroit politician, with an honest and plain-dealing way of going about things with the object of doing the thing which was right, untrammelled by bias and corruption, although there had already been signs that such integrity was not an invariable virtue where his own interests were concerned. At a time when lasciviousness was the general rule and sexual morality had disappeared almost to vanishing point, Richard (with only a few lapses) was faithful to his wife Anne, and was deeply attached to the one little boy, Edward, who was the sole fruit of their marriage. This was not however the full picture of the man, and his contemporaries knew this perfectly well. Without any doubt he was a complex character, and totally ruthless even by the standards of the 15th-century. Behind the forceful, upright and honest appearance there lay a streak of pure ferocity and cruelty which would stop at nothing to get its way.
Richard in the North 1471-1483
After the battle of Tewkesbury in May 1471, King Edward IV was anxious to see the North secure and in firm hands. The Eastern Marches of the Scottish border were safe enough, being held by Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland. Formerly a family with a strong bond of loyalty to Lancaster, the present Percy had shown his fidelity to the House of York by rendering it some valuable services when Edward had returned from his exile. [pages ] The Western Marches, formerly the fief of the recently suppressed Nevilles, were however a different matter. Inhabited by the sullen and resentful Neville affinity, they were an unstable part of England in a most sensitive area. Edward thought that a strong and trusty man must hold sway there to prevent it becoming a focal point of rebellion and perhaps even an ally to any Scottish invasion. He therefore gave these lands to Richard, instructing him that he must make himself a power in the North and keep it loyal to the Crown.
Richard, accompanied by his young Neville wife Anne, proceeded to carry out his brother's wishes in a single-minded and ruthless manner which was as successful as it was thorough. So successful was he that towards the end of his life, Edward began to have qualms about the power which Richard had by then amassed. By now, there was little the King could do about it other than take comfort in Richard's known, oft-proven and unswerving loyalty towards his King. Richard, an intelligent man, seems to have sensed his brother's feeling of unease, and realised that if he simply stayed in the North, even though his main duties lay there, he might have been thought of as a latent threat. His offices of Constable and Admiral of England often demanded his presence in the South in any case, and he took care to be a frequent visitor to Court, giving full rein to the strange alchemy of personal contact to reassure his King. In fact the only thing upon which Edward did have any real cause for disquiet was Richard's loathing and contempt for Queen Elizabeth and her Wydeville relations, which he took no trouble to conceal.
Initially, offices and lands were showered upon Richard.
Besides being Warden of the Western Marches, he acquired the lordships of Middleham, the old Neville stronghold, Sheriff-Hutton and Penrith in 1471, and the Custodies of property in Cumberland in 1472. Several lucrative offices came his way, such as the Stewardship of the Duchy of Lancaster in North.
In 1474, he became Lord of Barnard Castle and the Town of Scarborough. In 1475 the lordship of Skipton-in-Craven followed, and he was also appointed Sheriff of Cumberland for life. In 1473, there was a hiccup to this constant progress.
Richard went too far when he attempted to recruit John Wedrington, one of the most senior Percy retainers, and this prompted a complaint to the King. Edward rebuked Richard, and told him that he must not stray onto Percy ground.
Sensibly, Richard gave way. It was a time of great concern on what the third brother, George Duke of Clarence, might be led to do by his foolishness, [pages ] and neither Edward nor Richard wanted any more complications than they could avoid. 0n 28th July 1474, Richard and Percy signed a deed which defined their respective relations. Percy recognised Richard as his overlord, the commands and services of the King only excepted. Richard undertook not to trespass on Percy preserves or recruit Percy retainers. The deed did not define their respective spheres of influence, but it does appear that by now these were well known and accepted. The Percy lands were the modern counties of Northumberland and Durham, and also the City of Hull and its surrounding area. Richard's lands included Cumberland, Westmorland, and the remainder of Yorkshire together with the important City of York.
This settled, the Duke and the Earl worked harmoniously together on the problems of the North, and a genuine bond of mutual respect grew between them. Their administration and governance was widely respected as being fair and incorruptible. The Nevilles old retainers felt they were being fairly treated by Richard, and soon accepted him as a just Lord. With this feeling came bonds of strong loyalty towards him, and this was particularly true of York itself. It was a welcome break with tradition that the old enmities that had existed between the former Wardens of the Marches, the Percy's and the Nevilles, were now no more. These had led to frequent fighting, and even to a pitched battle after a wedding party. [page ]
Richard, Duke of Gloucester, considers his future April 1483
Richard was at Middleham when he received the news of his bother's death, hastened there by the hand of the messenger sent by Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. Richard genuinely grieved for the brother to whom he was much attached, even if relations had been somewhat cool since his successful campaign in Scotland, and he wrote a beautiful letter of condolence to Queen Elizabeth, promising to do all that lay within his power to ensure the smooth succession of her son, Edward, Prince of Wales, now King Edward V.
After his first grief had subsided, Richard fell to pondering what the future held in store for him. He was now 31-years of age with a distinguished career already behind him. He was a noted soldier, and a respected politician with an outstanding record of loyalty to his King and his many friends. His personality was formidable, and he was spoken of as a man who would always aim to do the right thing to advance the public weal. As the new king's uncle, he could expect to be prominent in the counsels which governed the affairs of the Land, and the future looked bright indeed.
But could he say that he was really secure, or should feel so?
The history books tell us of the greed and ambition of the Great Magnates of the time, and rightly so. All of them were rich, and some of them were immensely wealthy. However much they had, the drive to acquire yet more was, then as now, a noticeable feature. Whilst the Crown itself was regarded as the strict preserve of the blood Royal, and beyond the reach of those made of baser clay, men would do anything to increase their wealth and status, even to the extent of encompassing the death of those who were their close friends and who had never given any cause for offence. It was a rough and brutal age which, if it deplored the seizure of the lands and goods of another and even his murder, it did not always punish the wrongdoer. All too often the powerful of the Land, because of their high political standing, simply got away with it. Richard himself had provided an example. He already possessed a large share of the huge former de Vere estates but, determined to acquire the remainder, he had harried the aged Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of 0xford to her death. [page ] The immensely wealthy Duke of Gloucester was not content until he had seized the widow's mite.
The trouble was that this could work both ways. However powerful and mighty you were, you could be brought low, your estates confiscated and given to others, your family beggared and reduced to penury, and you yourself condemned to the dreadful and revolting death of a traitor. It only needed some fall from the King's favour, and a spurious if plausible accusation of treachery, liberally laced with perjured evidence, to lose everything, even life itself. This had happened too may times for there to be any doubt that it could all happen again. The most recent victim was Richard's own brother George, Duke of Clarence and, although he freely attributed most of the blame, perhaps correctly, to the Wydevilles, he must have had a hand in George's downfall himself. [pages ] Richard may even have been his murderer. Thus there was added to greed and ambition a further motive upon which the history books never seem to dwell - that of simple, naked fear.
Richard was unquestionably paranoiac during the last few months of his life, and paranoia, a probable element lurking within his complex character, could explain his view of the Wydevilles and the actions it led him to take. He did not particularly like Anthony Wydeville, Earl Rivers, who in turn did not hold much affection for him. Yet Anthony had accepted Richard as recently as March 1483 as an arbitrator in a land dispute he had with a neighbour, apparently satisfied that Richard's award would be untainted by any bias or corruption. Neither Richard nor Sir Richard Grey, the Queen's younger son by her first marriage, were especially friendly, but neither were they markedly hostile towards each other. Richard probably regarded Lionel Wydeville, Bishop of Salisbury as a relatively harmless churchman, who was not worth worrying about very much. Sir Edward and Sir Richard Wydeville may have been too far down the social scale to cause him any harm, but they would certainly join in any scheme that others initiated. But Richard, a passionate man, was not in the habit of being half-hearted in his hatreds. He loathed Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, the Queen's elder son by her first marriage, and this feeling was cordially returned. If there was anyone he hated more than Thomas, it was Queen Elizabeth herself. He detested and despised her, and was well aware that she felt the same about him.
It is easy to agree with Professor Colin Richmond that in April 1483 there was in all probabilty no active Wydeville conspiracy against Richard, [Richard III - A Medieval Kingship pages 39/55] but then there was no real need for one. All the Wydevilles were concerned about was the early coronation of the new King; afterwards they would have Richard exactly where they wanted him and could persue any vengeance that they had in mind. Certainly no evidence has come to light that they were actually plotting against Richard before the coronation, and that their only conspiracy lay within the bounds of Richard's own mind. For Richard, it was enough that he believed there was such a conspiracy, but perhaps Richard was looking further ahead. If they were not plotting his downfall now, there would be ample time and opportunity to do so later after King Edward V had been crowned, and here Richard's mind must have turned towards the Queen. She was his deadliest enemy, with a cohort of curs yelping at her heels, and he knew that the Queen and her Royal elder son were very close. Who knew or could say what poison she would pour into the ear of her son who, as likely as not, would be as putty in her hands? Things might or might not work out that way, and certainly Richard, with his immense prestige and well honed political sense, could feel some confidence that he would always be able to negate the machinations of the Queen, whom he considered to be, among her other failings, a stupid woman. But if he let the coronation go ahead so that the young King was confirmed in all the awesome powers of the Throne, was he not taking a risk? If so, how great was that risk?
Richard decided that the risk was too great to run, and that being so, he must act at once to prevent the Coronation taking place. If it nonetheless did, then he and not the Wydevilles must be in a position of control over the young King. If he failed to do this, then King Edward V (and his own enemies) would be virtually untouchable and Richard could be in considerable danger, not immediately perhaps but certainly so in the long-term, from the spite of the Queen and the other members of the numerous Wydeville clan. What was going through Richard's mind during those fateful days of April 1483? Did he propose only the elimination of the Wydevilles by various unpleasant means, such as murder, imprisonment, or banishment, and permit the young King to rule under his control which would then be paramount? He could expect both noble and common support for any action he might take against the Wydevilles, however drastic it may be. Did he presently contemplate becoming King himself, King Richard the third of that name? At some stage he probably nurtured that ambition somewhere in his mind, and he could see himself as a suitable candidate for the Monarchy. 0r did he simply set out to neutralise his enemies for good and all, and was then propelled towards the Throne by the inexorable march of events which he himself had set in train? At this time, Richard kept his own counsel and confided in nobody. We shall never know.
It is problematical how much Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham contributed to Richard's line of thinking, although he committed himself to Richard at an early stage and was closely in touch with him by correspondence during April 1483. Henry was one of the greatest land-owners in the country, a tall imposing looking man of great presence which enabled him to speak well and convincingly once he had been told what to say. Like Richard, he was descended from King Edward III, although in the past his family had held strong Lancastrian views. He took little interest in politics in which he was regarded as something of a lightweight. He did not possess any great intelligence or even common sense, and his main, perhaps sole, motivation was adding to the vast wealth he already owned. An especial target were the Bohun lands of his ancestors; although King Edward IV had refused their grant, he was as determined as ever to hold them. Henry was married to Catherine Wydeville, an alliance he had undertaken with reluctance on the behest of the late King. He loathed and distrusted his in-laws almost as much as Richard did himself, seeing them as parvenues unfit to be admitted to the ancient aristocracy. Richard did have a use for Buckingham, whose vast wealth and proximity to London enabled him to put a force into the field, where it counted, far more quickly than Richard could hope to do from the North. Richard was in no position to refuse an alliance at this time, especially such a powerful one, but it is unlikely that he paid much attention to anything that Henry had to say.
9th April to 4th May 1483
Whilst Richard was alone with his thoughts in the North, things were moving fast in London. What happened next was an exhibition of medieval power politics of the most ruthless kind where power, greed and ambition were allowed their fullest rein, uninhibited by any restrictions imposed by scruple or the rule of law. Even if they were ignorant of the finer details, most people seemed disinclined to believe that the transition from one King to another would be free of trouble or upheaval. A flavour of this is given by a story which Sir Thomas More heard from his father, and it may have been apocryphal. A lawyer, Richard Pottyer, did some work for Richard, Duke of Gloucester. 0n hearing the news of King Edward IV's death, he is said to have remarked to the messenger:-
"By my thoth man, then will my master the Duke of Gloucester be King".
More concrete evidence appears in a letter dated 19th April 1483, written by John Gigur, the warden of Tattershall College in Lincolnshire, to its patron, William of Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester:-
"I beseche you to remember in what jeopardy youre college of Tateshale stondyth in at this day; for nowe oure Soveren Lord the Kyng ys ded we wete [know].....not hoo schal be oure Lord nor hoo schal have the reule aboute us."
Things began with the treatment of the late King's will. Some historians state that it could not be found, but this is not really true. A copy of his will, dated 1475, still survives, in which King Edward IV entrusted the care of his son and heir and his other children to "our dearest wife the Queen" who was appointed chief executrix. The wills of the Great 0nes were usually executed in several originals and deposited in various parts of the country as a precaution against suppression; only one original needed to be proved for the will to take effect. 0n his death bed, and whilst he was still compos mentis even though he knew he was dying, Edward is said to have realised, perhaps belatedly, that the greed, ambition and unpopularity of the Wydevilles would certainly lead to trouble if the 1475 will, made in very different circumstances, was allowed to stand. He therefore made a new will which, according to Domenico Mancini's informants, gave the custody of the Realm and of all his children to Richard, Duke of Gloucester. He obviously intended that Richard should rule as Protector until King Edward V should come of age, and whilst this may not have been binding after his death, control of the young King would be removed from his present guardian, Anthony Wydeville, Earl Rivers to Richard. These details are repeated by Polydore Vergil, and there is a reference to them in the Chancellor's draft of the speech with which he would have opened the first Parliament of the new reign. Further confirmation comes from the meeting of the new executors (the Queen was not among them) a few days after the King's death.
The Wydevilles were firmly ensconced in government and intended to remain so. If this new will ever existed, then it is easy to see what happened to it. The Queen quickly gathered all the original copies before they could be distributed and destroyed them. Whilst, strictly speaking, the 1475 will was no longer effective because a later will had been made, it still stood on the Record and without apparent blemish so far as anyone could see.
Was there ever any new will? It is suggested that it is highly likely that there was. King Edward IV had kept his discordant nobles, and particularly those on the Council, in order by his ferocious presence (when he chose to appear in this guise) together with a judicious use of the draconian powers of the Throne. He had relied, not unreasonably, in living long enough to teach his successor how it was done. Now that he was dying before his time, he made the best arrangements that the circumstances would allow, no doubt contemplating that he should have made them long ago.
In the days following the King's death, the Council met several times. It is infuriating that the minutes have not survived, but there were several, including Richard himself after he became King, who would have had an interest in destroying them. William, Lord Hastings, when he spoke up for Richard, cannot have been surprised to find the Wydevilles in a confident and overbearing mood. What did dismay him was to see that so many supported them, including Thomas Rotherham, Archbishop of York and most of the Bishops; only a small number sided with him whilst several declined to commit themselves either way. Domenico Mancini's account, gathered from those of his informants who were present, is most plausible. A resolution was proposed that Richard should be appointed Protector of the Realm during the minority of the young King, this being the wish of his father. He should thus wield the enormous powers of the Throne until King Edward V should reach his majority in November 1485. The majority of the Council opposed this, and preferred that Richard should preside over the Council as a modern Chairman, a primus inter pares only, with the government being entrusted to many hands. They were not swayed by any arguments of the late King's wishes, but pointed to the precedent of 1422 when, contrary to the wishes of King Henry V, the Council had declined to accept Humphrey, also Duke of Gloucester, as Protector. [pages ] Then the Council had been concerned with Humphrey's manifest unfitness for this 0ffice, rightly as it turned out. Now they were worried that if Richard became the Protector, with the awesome powers of the Throne at his disposal, he would not hesitate to wreck vengeance on the Wydevilles whom he blamed for the death of his brother Clarence in 1478; he would have no trouble in forgetting his own participation in that sad event. As a mere Chairman however, they would be able to keep him under some measure of control, and be able to deal with him, and the likes of Hastings, when the time came.
With a compliant boy on the Throne and ready to do their bidding, the prospects for Richard, Hastings and their followers were bleak indeed. An added urgency was the proposal for an early Coronation, on which the Wydevilles were very insistent. The date was fixed for the 4th May, and instructions were sent to Anthony Wydeville, Earl Rivers, who had the charge of the young King at Ludlow, to bring him to London by 1st May at the latest for the ceremony. Now that King Edward IV no longer presided, there were no doubt some very heated exchanges. Certainly a furious row broke out over the size of the escort, and Hastings even threatened to withdraw to Calais, where he still held the command, unless some limit was put on its numbers. Eventually they settled for 2, 000 men, which was still a sizeable force.
In their over-confidence, the Wydevilles made two serious mistakes. The first, which has been made in history many times before and since, was to assume that their opponents would sit still and do nothing. The second was to fail to bring young Edward to London with all possible speed. Anthony was determined to celebrate St George's Day, 23rd April, in Ludlow for which he had already made considerable preparation. It was only on 24th that his party set out. Hastings wrote to Richard in Middleham to warn him of the course that events were taking in London. The date of his letter is uncertain, but it was certainly in Richard's hands by 20th April, and he may even have received it as early as 16th or 17th. He was not very surprised at its contents, which confirmed the view he had already formed that his very survival depended on early action against the Wydevilles. He was not much perturbed at the news, which Hastings described as an insult, of the Council's refusal to appoint him as Protector with the full powers of the Monarch. It did give him the opportunity to lull the Council into believing that he was not contemplating doing anything serious by writing, in hurt tones, that his many years of loyalty and faithful service deserved better treatment than this. This letter, when revealed, had considerable propaganda value. At the same time, he could readily appreciate the good sense of Hastings' suggestion that he should secure the person of the young King before he reached London. He wrote to Hastings and Buckingham to put this in hand.
In fixing Coronation date as 4th May, the Council was also anxious to put to rest the public disquiet on the succession as evidenced by Pottyer and Gigur. For such a short period, only three weeks away, and barely four weeks since the death of the last King on 9th April, no Regency or Protectorate was really necessary, and this obviated the awkward question who the Regent or Protector was to be. A suggestion was made that the final fixing of the date should await the arrival of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, so that his opinion could be heard. This was said to have inspired a remark from Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, in the most scornful terms, that the present company was quite capable of fixing the date without the help of some Duke who had not seen fit to be present. This was plainly intended to annoy Richard when it reached his ears; it probably did so very shortly, as William, Lord Hastings and Buckingham were writing to him frequently. This is unlikely to have upset Richard, although it may have upset his supporters; he had his own plans to which neither Hastings nor Buckingham were yet party, and the odd snub or insult did not greatly matter, although much could made of its propaganda value.
0n 24th April 1483, Anthony Wydeville and the young King set out from Ludlow to bring Edward to London for his coronation. It was a slow and stately procession, as all along the way people wanted to welcome their new King and do him honour. They had a substantial entourage with them as they wound their way towards London. There are two versions how Richard obtained control of the young King, and even if preference is expressed for the former, the latter should be given if only because it is set out in the Croyland Chronicles and is related by Domenico Mancini. In preferring the first version, this was at best a complex operation, and the maximum simplicity in execution is always a desirable feature.
The first version recites an invitation to dine with Richard in Northampton was gladly accepted, and as soon as the party reached Stoney Stratford on 29th April, Anthony and his nephew Sir Richard Grey rode the short distance to Richard's mansion. Richard received them with open arms, and explained that Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham would join them later. This he did with profuse apologies for his lateness, and a merry and convivial party sat down to a sumptuous repast. Anthony Wydeville endeavoured to explain the Council's viewpoint to Richard, and assure him that it would all work out for the best to which Richard listened attentively and politely. Richard was a good host, and four "old friends" regaled each other with stories and scandals, with much laughter, until a late hour.
Next morning, 30th April, Anthony and his nephew arose early, took leave of their host, and set off towards Stoney Startford once more. They had not gone very far before they found a party of horsemen cantering after them. Wondering what their host now had to say to them, they drew rein and allowed the horsemen to catch up. The officer commanding the small troop sternly bade them to surrender their weapons as they were under arrest. Thunder-struck, they did so. The officer gave no explanation, merely stating that they would be escorted to Pontefract Castle. As the soldiers closed in, they could see Richard and Buckingham, at the head of a considerable force, riding towards Stoney Stratford.
The second version betrays some anxiety on the part of the Council in London on Richard's true intentions, of which it had as yet no inkling. The plan was for Richard and Buckingham to join the Royal procession at Northampton and ride with it to London. Anthony Wydeville and the young King reached Northampton on 29th April where they met Sir Richard Grey, hotfoot from London, with two messages. 0ne from the Queen urged Anthony to reach London without delay; he had already been too long on the road. The other from the Council bade Anthony to explain to Richard its plans for minority rule, and persuade him to accept that all would work out for the best. Anthony and young Edward therefore pressed on to Stoney Stratford, leaving word for Richard and Buckingham that they would return to Northampton that evening. At Stoney Stratford, Edward was quartered in the Rose and Crown for the night. This hostelry still stands in the High Street, although in a greatly altered form. As soon as they had seen that their charge was properly housed and a suitable guard was mounted, they rode back to Northampton where Richard and Buckingham were anxiously awaiting them, wondering if the Queen's party had succeeded in giving them the slip. The dinner party, a convivial gathering, duly took place in Richard's inn before Anthony and Grey retired to their own inn for what remained of the night.
What Anthony and Grey told Richard only served to confirm his worst fears. Even if he was named as Protector, he would not hold the supreme power; he would at best be primus inter pares, and probably no more than one voice on the Council. Even if he retained an amiable countenance and appeared unconcerned, he knew that he could never accept this, and felt that this was far less than his dead brother had intended.
Anthony and Grey awoke in the morning to find that Richard and Buckingham had gone, and that the doors of their inn were firmly locked. A strong guard wearing Richard's livery was posted outside. 0n demanding an explanation for this outrageous conduct, the officer commanding the soldiers, Sir Thomas Gower, sternly informed them that they were under arrest. Richard would shortly return and what would then happen would be as he should decide. He knew or would say no more than this.
It is doubtful if Richard and Buckingham ever saw their beds that night, since they left Northampton before dawn with every man they could muster, and rode hard for Stoney Stratford. They had a sizeable force, even if it was nowhere near as numerous as the young King's escort. They arrived as the final preparations were being made for the onward journey to London; only Anthony and Grey were missing, but they were expected at any moment. We have Domenico Mancini's account, almost certainly obtained from eye-witnesses, of what happened in and immediately outside the Rose and Crown, and can pick up the story once again whichever version of Anthony's and Grey's detention is accepted.
The young King was overjoyed to see his uncle Richard once again, having much liking and respect for him and no reason for any suspicion. He may not have known Buckingham by sight, but introductions were soon made. Both Dukes went down on their knees as protocol demanded. Richard expressed his sorrow and sympathy for the death of his father and introduced the first discordant note of the meeting. His father had died due to the excesses which those about him had encouraged. This was a barbed comment directed at the Wydevilles and Thomas, Marquis of Dorset in particular (the name of Hastings was, for obvious reasons, not mentioned). They must be given no opportunity for similar practices on the young King. Richard then stated that he and Buckingham had detected a most dangerous plot to seize the young King's person, and this had involved a plan to murder him (Richard) to deprive the King of the wise and experienced counsel that he alone could offer. Warned by his spies, Richard had avoided or put their ambushes to flight. The chief ringleaders had been arrested, but there were some other arrests to be made. With this, Richard and Buckingham arrested Sir Thomas Vaughan and a Kentish knight, Haute, in the King's presence, a monstrous breach of protocol which they excused by the urgency of the situation.
Whilst this charade was going on, the two Dukes men, taking advantage of their surprise appearance, were striding about the King's camp detaining others whose names they had on a list. The King's escort was falling in for the journey towards London. They had no inkling of what had been going on at the Rose and Crown, and when the great Duke of Gloucester, whom many knew by sight, told them it was the Council's order that his men from henceforth should provide the escort, and that they must now disperse to their homes, they had no reason to doubt or disobey him. Richard's and Buckingham's men took their places as they rode away.
The young King was stunned, and it was a difficult situation for someone of his tender years. He stammered out that all the arrested men had been appointed by his father, and had proved themselves loyal tutors and mentors, especially Anthony. He had an especial affection for Vaughan, an elderly knight who had looked after him for many years, and it was difficult in the extreme to accept that either Vaughan or Haute had taken part in any plot; in fact, they were almost certainly innocent of any such impious intentions. As for the government, he had every confidence in the Queen and his relations. Buckingham answered that men and not women were the rightful rulers of the Land, and that he should reserve his confidence for the ancient nobility, and not place it in such puny individuals. He was inexperienced and (as Hamlet, according to Shakespeare, had discovered several centuries before), a man might smile, and smile, and still be a villain.
It was clear to Edward that he had little choice but to do what the two Dukes demanded. Their demeanour was respectful, and they tendered their 'counsel' in the obsequious manner that custom required, but it was all too obvious that they were determined to have their way. It would have been quite easy to reach London by 1st May, the original last date set by the Council for the Coronation on 4th May, but Richard was determined that this should not happen. Killing time was no problem, as all wanted to see their new King, and everyone remarked on the respectful bearing of the Duke of Gloucester towards Edward. As a start, the Royal party returned to Northampton with the prisoners. Edward was not allowed to see Anthony, still locked up in his inn, although Richard sent him a dish from his table, a contemporary peace offering, with a comforting message. Anthony had no appetite for it, probably suspecting poison. A long day for Richard finished with some letter writing to the Council, to the Lord Mayor Sir Edmund Shaa (Shaw) and to Hastings, and these letters give an indication of what he desired people should believe. Whether the contents of his letters were mere dissimulation, or whether they honestly and truthfully reflected his real intentions on 30th April, is impossible to say. Richard reported that he had uncovered a dangerous conspiracy which would have endangered the nation. He had rescued the King from the people who had not spared the life and honour of his father, and must not be allowed to put the son in peril. He would shortly bring the boy to London for an especially splendid Coronation. From Northampton, Richard dispatched the prisoners to his various castles in the North intending they should be dealt later at leisure.
There was consternation in London when the news of the goings-on at Stoney Stratford reached the capital. Richard had neatly turned the tables on the Wydevilles, and it was now they who were at his mercy. The Queen and her son Dorset fled into sanctuary at Westminster, taking with them the Royal daughters and also the King's brother, the 8-year old Richard, Duke of York. They were also supposed to have taken the late King's private fortune, whose weight was said to be immense, out of the Tower. Some was left behind, but not enough to pay the expenses of the lavish funeral. Sir Richard Wydeville fled to France. Sir Edward Wydeville was at sea with the fleet, [pages ] but messages were sent to his captains. 0ne by one they deserted until only two ships were left. Thomas Rotherham, Archbishop of York, who felt a strong bond of loyalty to the Queen, handed to her the Great Seal. Repenting the next day, he recovered it. When Richard came to hear of this, he ordered Rotherham's dismissal, and the handing of the Seal to Thomas Bouchier, Archbishop of Canterbury, for safe keeping.
The Royal party arrived outside the gates of London late on 4th May. There could be no question of a Coronation that day, but the Lord Mayor, the aldermen and the leading citizens met the new King, all splendidly attired as was the custom. There were the usual lengthy and tedious speeches of welcome before King Edward V entered his capital. The Londoners dutifully cheered, although there was a note of apprehension that hung heavily in the air. Everybody expected, and dreaded, the trouble which the situation promised. Richard and Buckingham were pleased to see no Wydevilles or their adherents present. They had well and truly routed their enemies. Now the time had come to follow up their victory.
5th May to 13th June 1483
What is most remarkable, and is some sort of memorial to Richard's political adroitness and skill, is that nobody, whatever they may have suspected or thought, guessed his purposes when during May and early June he sounded out many people to see what sort of support he had to assume the Throne himself. The atmosphere in London was highly charged with many people wondering who was to be their next King, Edward or Richard. To keep secret what he intended to do meant that Richard had to be very circumspect. Many may have guessed that before June came to an end, Richard would be sitting on the Throne, whilst others may have thought that the rightful King, young Edward, would have been crowned. Amidst all this uncertainty, Richard gave no clue what he intended to do. He went dutifully about his business as the Protector of the Realm, at least until the new King was crowned, and closely as they watched his face and examined his actions, they could find no hint of what lay in his mind.
Such inscrutability carried its own penalty, and, Richard cannot have been certain who would and who would not support him if and when he finally threw down the gauntlet. The Council had first met after King Edward V's arrival in London on 10th May, and its sittings continued over the next few days. It was in a chastened mood, but by no means a cowed one. From the actions it took now that the Wydevilles were gone, it seems to have felt that the only prudent course where safety lay was to aim 'to do the right thing'. Richard did not always find it compliant to his will. It is true that he was appointed Protector of the Realm with the supreme power of the Monarch - he was not just the Chairman of a Committee - until the Coronation had taken place, but there was reason for this. The Coronation was now fixed for 24th June (later this was changed to Sunday 22nd June), and for such a long period from 9th April to 24th June, there was a mass of business which needed a King's attention, or the attention of somebody acting in his place. It is also true that John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln, [the supposed Croyland Chronicler] was appointed the Chancellor, but he was a wise and highly respected divine who had not taken any sides. Certainly the Council agreed that Parliament should be summoned to meet three days after the Coronation, and Writs for the elections were issued on 13th May. But Richard encountered an outright refusal to allow him to execute his prisoners in the North. They would have to be tried - any other course would be tyranny - and as Richard very well knew, he had no evidence against them. He received a further rebuff to the suggestion that he should remain as Protector after the Coronation and during the young King's minority; this said the Council would require Parliament's approval. Richard also heard some disquietening opinions that it was wrong, and a reproach to a civilised country, that the Queen should feel so threatened that she remained in sanctuary. Fortunately for Richard, she resolutely refused all persuasion to leave it, but the lessons were there for him to learn.
Richard may have thought that, having routed the Wydevilles, detested as they were by noble and commoner alike, he would be welcomed as a conquering hero. So he was, but with reservations. By mid-May, approximately one month after he had made his decisions at Middleham, he had to face the facts that his prisoners in the North might well be acquitted of any wrongdoing, and sooner or later, the Queen was certain to leave sanctuary. The Wydevilles may have been hostile before, but now they would have a host of scores to settle with Richard, whose hands could be removed from the levers of power, and once the young King was crowned, they would exert their influence on him. In fact, he was back where he had started. It is quite possible that, if he had not already formed the intention of seizing the Crown, [pages ] he did so now in mid-May as the only way of ensuring his future survival.
Richard was not wholly without some guidance on the views of the Lords of the Council. He was aware that besides the formal meetings within the Council Chamber, they had taken to continuing their deliberations in informal gatherings in each others homes. By means of his spies and the tale-bearers, who will always proffer themselves in situations such as these, he would have obtained at least some idea where each of the 20 or so members of the Council stood, or what factions were forming, on who should be the next King, Edward or Richard. As yet this question had not been put into the public arena but, unasked, it had hung, heavy and menacing in the stultifying air of London in the summer-time. A few, such as Buckingham and possibly John, Lord Howard would certainly support any steps he took to seize the Throne once the question was openly asked. Some others, the ministers of his late brother's government, could be expected to want his son to succeed him; these included William, Lord Hastings, Doctor John Morton, Bishop of Ely, Thomas Rotherham, Archbishop of York, Thomas, Lord Stanley, and 0liver Wright, the late King's secretary, all of whom seemed very loyal to the memory of King Edward IV. If he should reach for the Throne, he could expect opposition of some sort from these men, and it would be wise to crush it before he declared his hand. The rest of the Council seemed to have no strong views either way, but could be expected to follow his lead if it was firm and decisive enough. 0n the (probably reasonable) assumption that by the first week in June, Richard had finally made up his mind that he was going to seize the Throne, he needed to be certain that he had correctly identified those who would oppose him.
The real testing time seems to have come on Monday, 9th June, when there was a Council meeting over which Richard, as Protector, would have presided. Because the minutes have not survived, we cannot know for certain what opinions were expressed or what was said, and these we can only surmise from what subsequently happened. The meeting was a long one, lasting from 10 o'clock in the morning until 2 o'clock in the afternoon. Richard would not have been so crass as to announce his intention of seizing the Throne but, by skilful questioning, he could correctly identify his main opponents.
Richard brought the meeting to a close by announcing that there would be two Council meetings on Friday 13th June; the main body of the Council would meet in Westminster to deal with the usual government business under the chairmanship of the Chancellor, while Buckingham, Rotherham, Morton, Stanley and Hastings would meet in the Tower, with himself as chairman, to put the finishing touches to the arrangements for the coronation, now less than a fortnight away.
Richard now summoned armed help from the North, and at least one of his letters survives. It is dated 10th June 1483, and was delivered to the Mayor and City of York, one of Richard's political strongholds, by Sir Richard Ratcliffe, a knight of Richard's household. Its terms are most revealing:-
"The Duke of Gloucester, brother and uncle of Kings, Great Chamberlain, Constable and Admiral of England -
Right trusty and well beloved, we greet you well, and as ye love the weal of us, and the weal and surety of your own selves, we heartily pray you to come unto us in London in all the diligence ye can after the sight hereof, with as many as ye can make defensibly arrayed, there to aid and assist us against the Queen, her blood adherents and affinity, which hath intended and daily doth intend to murder and utterly destroy us and our cousin, the Duke of Buckingham, and the old Royal blood of this Realm, and as it is now openly known, by their subtle and damnable ways plotting the same, and also the final destruction and disinheriting of you and all other men of property and honour, as well of the north parts as other counties that belong to us".
This letter, no doubt typical of others, needs no comment, except to say that Richard had left the summoning of armed men rather late; the main body of the northern men would not be in London for at least a fortnight or so, although at least some of the mounted men could arrive sooner. This seems to indicate that he had earlier expected more overt support from the Lords of the Council than they were prepared to give him. We can make a further surmise, that at this time he took Buckingham and John, Lord Howard fully into his confidence. He would have received little of helpful political advise from Buckingham, but John was as cunning and as atrocious as Richard was himself. Although a man of letters and a patron of the arts and music, for which he had a passion, he was of a violent and headstrong disposition, and this trait had once landed him in prison. He nursed a grudge that King Edward IV had withheld the Dukedom of Norfolk from him; as he saw things, it should rightfully have been his, and he was determined to possess it, come what may. At least these two could provide armed men with less delay.
Still Richard was reluctant to believe that his old friend Hastings, for whom he had much affection, would not give him his support, but would choose to expose himself to the future vengeance of the Wydevilles, whom Hastings had every reason to distrust as much as Richard did himself. He therefore sent William Catesby, a midlands lawyer who had frequently worked with Hastings on midland problems, to try and persuade him to see the error of his ways. What Hastings seems never to have realised was that Catesby was a devious wretch who would stoop to any deception to gain wealth and power for himself; men as honest as Hastings are frequently unable to recognise the veniality of others. Sir Thomas More was almost certainly right in suggesting that Cateby never even spoke to Hastings, but simply reported that Hastings had refused to help, and had uttered words which he (Catesby) could not bring himself to repeat. Catesby may have gone even further than this, and spun Richard a yarn that Hastings was among those who had formed the view that Richard was intent on seizing the Throne, a project which he deplored to the extent that he had met in secret with others to plot how this may be thwarted. He had even approached Queen Elizabeth in her sanctuary for a reconciliation through the medium of Jane Shore, an unlikely ambassador since the Queen detested the very sight of her, and would have refused to receive her or to listen to anything she had to say. Whether or not Richard believed this fantastic story, it did confirm what he had, in all probabilty, already suspected; that Hastings was a man of such outstanding honesty and integrity that he would do nothing to hinder the rightful succession. Hastings' fate was thereby sealed.
There may have been some more solid grounds than Catesby's effusions for Richard to doubt Hastings' present loyalties, and these are most compellingly set out in Geoffrey Richardson's new book "The Deceivers". They do show Hastings up in a less favourable light than is generally supposed. Hastings had not fared well in the distribution of offices and honours after Richard's coup at Stoney Stratford. [pages ] He considered that his desserts entitled him to a greater share, and was disgruntled that Buckingham should have benefited so hugely whilst he, an old and well tried Yorkist, should have been fobbed off with the crumbs that fell from the table. Richard seemed to prefer the younger men such as Buckingham to those who had grown grey in the service of the House of York. Very foolishly, he made Thomas, Lord Stanley, his wife Margaret Beaufort, and Doctor John Morton, Bishop of Ely aware of his discontent. They sympathised, and represented that they too were in favour of King Edward V, and would much deplore the seizure of the Throne by Richard, which now in early June 1483 began to look increasingly likely. In fact, they had other fish to fry. The Stanleys thought there were now real prospects of clearing the way to the Throne for Margaret's son Henry Tudor, still in exile in Brittany. An old Lancastrian at heart, Morton was quite prepared to see this happen. There were of course many obstacles, King Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York, and their uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester himself, but the chance to get rid of one of young Edward's main and most influential supporters, as Hastings undoubtedly was, was too good to miss. Hastings had made himself very vulnerable by opening his heart to an arch-conman such as Stanley, an experienced plotter such as Morton, and a lady who, in spite of her reputation of inherent goodness, was ruthlessly ambitious. To say the least, it was most unwise, and the only conclusion can be that Hastings, in general an honest man, again failed recognise the deviousness of others. Stanley, the perfect double agent, warned Richard and Buckingham that Hastings was plotting against them.
During the night of the 12th June, Hastings, in bed with Jane Shore whom he had at last made his mistress, was woken by a messenger sent by Thomas, Lord Stanley. Thomas had had a dreadful dream in which a boar, which was Richard's own emblem, had slashed the necks of Hastings and himself with his tusks. This was surely a most evil portent, and he and Hastings should flee whilst there was yet time. Perhaps this was some sort of coded message which meant that Stanley had got cold feet. Possibly he hoped to lure Hastings into some self-incriminating act. Hastings laughed, and sent back a reply that Thomas should not be worried by bad dreams, which frightened only the faint-hearted. He wished him better dreams, but as for fleeing, that would surely put them in the wrong. Besides, wither would they flee?
Hastings was early astir when he had another visitor.
Sir Thomas Howard, John, Lord Howard's son, had business in the Tower and he suggested that he and Hastings should ride together. [Thomas was later became Earl of Surrey, and was the victor of the battle of Flodden 1513] Hastings happily agreed, and chatted amicably with Thomas whist he was dressing. They set off together, rejoicing in the beautiful summer morning which promised to turn into a lovely day.
Hastings was in the highest spirits, and joked with a priest whom they met on the way. Thomas bade him to hurry, telling Hastings jocularly that he had no need of a priest just yet.
At the Tower gates, Hastings stopped to talk to one of his men who happened to be there. He seemed to be in excellent form, and was looking forward to the executions in Pontefract which must surely take place soon, before he followed Thomas through the Tower gates.
After a pleasant breakfast in the Tower, the meeting assembled at 9 o'clock, and Richard entered the chamber. He too was in an excellent temper, rejoicing in the marvellous summer weather. He remarked to Dr John Morton, Bishop of Ely, that he had recently passed by the Bishop's vast and rambling Palace in Holborn, which stood on the present site of Grey's Inn, and that he has spotted some succulent strawberries growing in the Bishop's garden. Richard was fond of strawberries, and could he please have a basketful? Morton departed briefly to make the necessary arrangements, and then rejoined the meeting. Richard apologised that there was some other business he had to attend to, but would rejoin them later. Meanwhile they did not need his presence to get on with their work.
For an hour and a half, the meeting engaged itself in a pleasant and diverting task, when at about 10.30 the door was thrown violently open, and Richard strode into the room. In contrast to his earlier happy mood, he was now in a towering rage. He strode angrily about the chamber like a caged beast, alternately mumbling and shouting almost incomprehensibly that the Queen's sorcery was causing his blood to become thin and his body to waste away. Almost every day there was some further deterioration to his health and well-being. When he was not declaring his discontent, he was chewing at his lower lip and playing with his dagger. They all knew him well, and could recognise the danger signs, and wondered apprehensively what had given rise to this out-burst. Richard rolled up his sleeve and showed them his left arm, which he said was withering away; there were stories that he had had such a deformity since his birth, but nobody felt bold enough to say that the Queen's witch-craft could not possibly be responsible, and anyway there seemed to nothing wrong with it. Eventually Richard calmed down a little, and demanded to know the penalty for casting spells on the King and his nearest blood relatives. Hastings, hoping to calm him and presuming on his old friendship, replied that the question was easily answered. The law demanded their deaths, either as traitors or sorcerers. At this Richard banged his fist onto the table with a shattering crash. This was the signal for Sir Thomas Howard, Hastings' riding companion of that very morning, and a band of soldiers to rush into the chamber from the room next door where they had been waiting. There was a violent scuffle in which Thomas, Lord Stanley was wounded in the head as he dived beneath the table. With blood streaming down his face, he was hauled out and pinioned with the others. Buckingham was of course released at once, but Richard pointed his finger at Hastings and shouted "I arrest thee, traitor". Hastings, astonished and alarmed, stammered out some denial, but Richard would not hear him. In a fury he exclaimed "For by St Paul, I will not dine until I see thy head off."
Within 15 minutes Hastings was dead, beheaded over a log on Tower Green. The spot can still be seen a few yards to the South of the lovely chapel St Peter ad Vincula, in the same place where, in Tudor times, several ladies suffered a similar fate, albeit with more decorum than attended the hustling and shouting which marked Hastings' death. The others were put into the Tower's cells. The two churchmen were released to house arrest soon afterwards, and it will not surprise the reader to learn that Stanley managed to talk his way out of trouble. Richard had a use for his services, and once the nucleus of the opposition to his plans, as he saw Hastings to be, was removed, there was no point in shedding any further blood. There was no reign of terror, but a grim and awful warning had been given to those who might seek to thwart him.
All this needed to be explained, and a herald was dispatched into the City to read a proclamation, which had all too clearly been prepared beforehand. Sir John More suspected, probably correctly, that William Catesby had a hand in its preparation. As the herald read it in a stentorian voice at various places in the City, all who heard it must have been able to see which way things were going. All would have known of the arrests at Stoney Stratford for conspiring in treason, although none yet knew the details. Now they were told that Hastings of all people had plotted to kill the Dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham and seize the young King. Hastings was described as a dissolute man who had led the late King astray, and Mrs Shore, with whom he lay nightly, even on the last night before his death, was involved in the plot. What the citizens made of all this is not recorded. So many plots, and all nipped in the bud by the ever watchful Protector! Did this pressage a return of the civil war? Who could say, but one thing was clear. If Richard was intent on making himself King, then at least the reins of government would be in firm hands. The equivocal way in which people regarded the succession has been dealt with elsewhere. [pages ] They desired peace, and this is what they must have above all else.
14th to 26th June 1483
The boy King had been lodged in the comfort and splendour of the Bishop of London's Palace since his arrival in London. Richard persuaded him without any difficulty that he had to go to the Tower, because this was the place where Kings customarily resided in the days leading up to their coronations. He was lodged in the sumptuous Royal apartments which lay between the White Tower, the Bloody Tower (then known as the Garden Tower), and the Lanthorn Tower. All trace of them has since vanished; having fallen into a ruinous state, they was demolished in the 18th-century. There would have been no purpose in eliminating just King Edward V alone, because then the immediate heir to the Throne would have become King, and this was the 8-year old Richard, Duke of York who was presently with his mother in sanctuary at Westminster. He too had to be secured, and there was no better place than the Tower.
0utwardly, matters were still proceeding as though the Coronation would take place on 22nd June, with Parliament due to meet on the 25th. The young Duke of York's place was in the Tower, because he was an essential part of King Edward V's coronation procession. He would have to keep the customary vigil with his brother in the chapel of the White Tower the night before, and again it was the custom to knight various people and confer on them the 0rder of the Bath, founded by one of histories supreme ironies by a Lancastrian King. [page ] The young Duke was an obvious candidate for both dignities. Besides King Edward V was lonely in the Tower, and much missed his brother's company. This was tantamount to a Royal command, and had to be obeyed.
There was thus ample reason for Queen Elizabeth to agree to release the boy from sanctuary in spite of the many misgivings that she must have entertained, and it seems most probable that she was persuaded to do so by Thomas Bouchier, Archbishop of Canterbury and John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln, the Chancellor himself, who visited her in her sanctuary on 16th June. The unfortunate woman must have been consumed with anxiety for the safety of her brother, Anthony Wydeville, Earl Rivers and her son Sir Richard Grey, both of whom were languishing in Pontefract Castle in the shadow of the axe. Any obduracy on her part would assuredly have signed their death warrants. There was also the possibility of a forceful removal, and knowing Richard as she did, she could not put this beyond the bounds of possibility.
Richard himself, Buckingham and John, Lord Howard kept discreetly out of sight whilst the two churchmen went about their task. It appears that Buckingham received the lad from the two clerics in the middle of Westminster Hall, and taking him by the hand, conducted him into the presence of the Protector himself. Richard received the lad in a kindly manner, and accompanied him to the Tower, staying only long enough to see a fond and joyful reunion between the brothers.
With both the King and the immediate heir to the Throne safely immured within the Tower's walls, the way was now open for Richard to embark on the next stage of his plan. Up until 16th June, the course steered by the Protector ostensibly aimed at crowning King Edward V on the 22nd, and this he endeavoured to persuade all was his purpose, although there were many who doubted that the coronation would ever take place, and not a few who suspected that Richard's real object was to seize the Crown for himself. What everyone could know was the Coronation Robes were ready, and a host of animals had been slaughtered for the Coronation banquet. What may have been known to only a select few (it must have been submitted for the Council's prior approval) was the draft of the Chancellor's speech for the opening of Parliament. This still survives, and pays fulsome tribute to the virtues of the young King, whose pleasure at Richard continuing as Protector of the Realm during his minority is whole-heartedly expressed. In the 7 days between the 16th and 22nd June, it suited Richard that there should be as much uncertainty and confusion as it was possible to create in the public mind, because uncertainty and confusion would make the organisation of any resistance to what he was now planning (or had long since planned) much more difficult. In this he succeeded, to the extent that nobody knew what was going to happen next. Some eminent Lords had been arrested and sent to Pontefract Castle. What was all this about their supposed treason? Hastings had just been executed, and his affinity was hastening to join Buckingham's. The general reasons had been explained, but not the details of his offences. This was strange indeed. The elections for the Parliament which was to meet at Westminster on the 25th had been held, but now Writs of Supercedas had been issued to postpone its meeting until some indefinite date in the future. There could have been some sound reason for this, but what was it? Nobody knew. There was some talk that the Coronation had been postponed again, this time until November, but why was this necessary? Now there was to be a sermon preached in front of St Pauls Cathedral, to which all were bidden, on Sunday the 22nd. Surely that was the day the new King was to be crowned? Why was any sermon necessary? It may, or may not, have been generally known that during this time, orders were given for the execution of the Pontefract prisoners. They were due to die in the far-away North, and if this was known, the proposed executions would merely increase the public's confusion and concern. Some flavour of the times is shown by Simon Stalworth's letter to Sir William Stonor, who was in the country:-
"I hold you happy that ye ar oute of the prese for with huse is myche trobulle, and every man dowses other."
All this suited Richard very nicely until he was ready to make his move.
0ne thing could not be concealed, and Richard was content it should not be. The advance guards, the mounted men, of the armed help he had summoned from the North began to arrive, and it may have been part of his purpose to give them extra time to complete their long journey. Now they were in London, well-armed, hard-faced, hard-bitten, ominous looking men from the dreaded North, who glared at the soft Southerners, and spoke of many more, just like them, who were following in their wake. They had come to protect the Protector, and that is what they meant to do. There were many of them, and it would not be wise to contend with them.
Sunday 22nd June was the day that Richard chose to start the declaration of his intentions, and he did so with complete clarity in his own mind what he wanted to achieve against the background of utter confusion in everybody else's. What happened next indicates that Doktor Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist, had nothing to teach Richard, the Protector of the Realm, although it may be suggested that the Nazi was the more successful. Each adopted the principle that the bigger and more atrocious the falsehood, and the more often it is repeated, the more easily it is swallowed. According to the Great Chronicle, [pages 208/8] a great multitude had assembled to hear the sermon preached by Doctor Ralph Shaa (Shaw), the brother of the Lord Mayor. Quite possibly those on the fringe of the crowd could not hear what the Doctor said, and had to rely on versions passed back to them from those in front. This did not worry Richard, who did not really mind what the crowd thought or if rumours freely circulated; he was mainly concerned to set the stage for the more important gatherings two and three days later. With Richard and Buckingham standing on either side of him, Doctor Shaa, taking as his text "Bastard's slips shall not take deep root", declared something (according to the Great Chronicle) which was almost unthinkable; King Edward IV had not been the legitimate son of the Richard, Duke of York, who had been killed at the battle of Wakefield 1460. [page ] Consequently, he should never have sat on the Throne and moreover, his sons could not inherit it. 0nly Richard, who was unquestionably a legitimate son, could do that since the issue of George, Duke of Clarence had been attainted in 1478. [page ] The crowd was aghast at this amazing declaration, spiced as it was with a great number of biblical references, and for once the normal hub-bub of any great gathering of people was silenced. Men departed shaking their heads, utterly bemused and bewildered. It was quite obvious that they were not convinced, and as a public relations exercise, it had all fallen rather flat. It ruined Shaa's hitherto outstanding reputation as a preacher, and two years later he died of mortification.
If the precedents of 1399, 1460 and 1461 [pages ] had been followed, the proper body to have heard and considered the arguments for deposing the rightful King and putting another in his place was Parliament, but Parliament had been postponed. It was only in 1484 that it was to adjudge that Richard was the rightful King, but then it was faced with a fait accompli about which it could do nothing. By then King Richard III had been crowned after being asked by a body, akin to the Great Council, to accept the Crown. The Great Council was a constitutional body, although by now it was an anachronism, whose lack of legislative powers was later stigmatised as 'not being in the fourme of Parliament'. Richard thought, rightly as it turned out, that it would give him what he wanted without any legalistic quibbles.
The scene of this grim charade shifted to the Guildhall, where on Tuesday 24th June, the Lord Mayor, the Aldermen and a large number of the City Liverymen were present to hear what Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham had to say. Buckingham was not an experienced orator, but it is possible, and more than a little comical, that he was coached by William Catesby, an experienced lawyer, in the courtroom arts. A ringing declaration must be made here, there a pause is called for, in other places the voice must be allowed to drop. Gestures with the hands have their place, but a little gesticulation goes a long way. The Great Chronicle records that the delivery in the Guildhall was masterly and "With soo Angelyk a contenance", which means that Catesby must have been a good teacher and Buckingham an apt pupil. After half an hour, his audience was persuaded and, although it was again clear that they were not very enthusiastic, they shouted that Richard must be the next King. It was all so very reminiscent of Bassanio:-
"In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt,
But being seasoned with a gracious voice
0bscures the show of evil."
[The Merchant of Venice Act 111 Scene 2]
The next day, Wednesday 25th June, Buckingham, improving all the while with practise, was to repeat this tour de force in St Pauls Cathedral before the Great Council. [It had not been formally summoned; its members were in London for the Coronation] Besides these Peers, a huge multitude of lesser nobles and churchmen was present. Richard himself did not attend, but stayed tactfully out of sight. Buckingham waxed lyrical, and the story lost nothing in the telling as he spun a tissue of the most atrocious truths, half-truths and downright lies. As a means of blackening the memory of the late King, it almost surpasses the imagination. It seems that the awkward question of the late King's legitimacy had been quietly dropped, no doubt as a result of the vigorous protests from 'Proud Cis', the mother of both Edward and Richard. Instead, Buckingham dwelt on the illegitimacy of the two young Princes. The marriage between King Edward IV and Elizabeth Grey in 1464 was invalid; no banns had been published, and it was celebrated in an unconsecrated church; it had taken place without the consent of the Lords of the Land; it owed much to the witchcraft of Elizabeth herself and her mother Jacquette. By any one of these counts it was an invalid match, and the children born of it were illegitimate, but there was a further damning count. At the time of the marriage to Elizabeth Grey, King Edward IV already :-
"stode maryed and trouth-plight to Dame Elieanor Butteler doughter of the old Earl of Shrewesbury".
At the time, a prenuptial compact, especially if it was followed by sexual intercourse (as was undoubtedly the case in this instance), was thought to be as binding on both man and woman as though the marriage service had actually taken place, and any subsequent marriage to anyone else was bigamous. The reader may be excused if he thinks that this concept was more honoured in the breach than the observance, and if so, there are many instances in this work which reinforce this belief.
Whether this pre-nuptial compact ever existed is a moot point, although 'Proud Cis' made a reference to one when chiding her son in 1464. [pages ] There had indeed been an Eleanor Butteler (Butler), the daughter of the famous old warrior Talbot, who had fought for so many years in the War in France, by his second wife, Margaret Beauchamp.
Eleanor was born about 1435, and had married, probably in 1450, Sir Thomas Butteler, the son and heir of Ralph, Lord Sudeley. Sir Thomas had died in 1460 or 1461, leaving Eleanor to resolve the problem of a Royal License which concerned some of his property. Eleanor duly petitioned King Edward IV and thus came to his notice, and very probably his bed as well; a highly attractive young widow with something to ask had no chance of refusal with such as Edward. If there ever was such a pre-nuptial contract, it can only have been made between 1461 and 1464, the date King Edward IV married Elizabeth Wydeville. Eleanor may still have been Edward's mistress thereafter until her death in 1468 when she faded out of the picture. Tudor historians have engendered much confusion between Eleanor and Elizabeth Lucy, who bore King Edward IV a child, but denied the existence of a pre-nuptial contract in which she was involved.[pages ] The truth of such a contract with either lady cannot now be established, although Buckingham had no hesitation in presenting it as a fact which could not be denied. He added a lot more, much of it totally untrue, grossly exaggerated or simply irrelevant. In days of old, Kings had reigned with the assistance of their Councils, and peace and prosperity had been the result. Since then, dissolute Kings were more concerned with their pleasures than with public business, which had been so neglected that there had been warfare and misery, with the laws disregarded or neglected so that no man could be certain of his life or his property. Unlike Richard, the late King had been born abroad in Rouen, which was made to sound like something of a reproach. It is probable that this was the occasion when Buckingham referred to the loss of life in battle during the late King's reign exceeding that of the whole of the Hundred Years War. [page ] He could not possibly have known this as accurate figures were not available, but he was speaking to audiences who were personally acquainted with the wars, and were prepared to forgive him this hyperbole, well knowing the grievous losses that had been suffered.
This last point struck home, as everyone wanted peace and prosperity. It was also a point which was well emphasised, as by now London resembled an armed camp with scores of men from the North, and others belonging to the retinues of some of the Lords of the Great Council who were prepared to support Richard. They did have an intimidating presence, but the obvious need was a strong man who could grasp the reins of government firmly, not some inexperienced boy who would be under the thumb of his mother, a disliked and distrusted woman. Richard was clearly such a man, and the draft petition which Buckingham had ready was approved. Buckingham was asked to present it to Richard without delay.
[Rotuli Parliamentorum vi 240/241; Edward Hall 372; Sir Thomas More 74; Croyland Chronicles 567]
That very afternoon, Buckingham did so, and Richard, after a due show of modesty and reluctance, agreed to accept the office of King.
The story of the pre-nuptial contract
The only contemporary writer to mention that Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells appeared before the Council on 8th June 1483 and blurted out this story was Philippe de Commyngs, a normally well informed and cautious chronicler. Stillington was said to have offered to produce witnesses and documentary proof of the truth of what he said, but there is a multitude of reasons for doubting Commyngs' account.
According to Stillington, Edward had entered into a pre-nuptial contract with Eleanor Butler at some date between 1461 and 1464. He had told Stillington of this, and had even been secretly married to Eleanor in a ceremony conducted by Stillington himself but unattended by any witnesses. As a distinguished Canon lawyer, Stillington knew that a marriage without witnesses was no marriage at all. Perhaps he was merely blessing their union and, with the passage of time, the story had lost nothing in the telling. Anyway, it was the pre-nuptial contract that mattered, not any supposed marriage.
Why had the story remained dormant for so long? In 1464, Stillington's fortunes had depended on the Court and even though he could have counted on considerable support from Lords who disapproved of the marriage between King Edward IV and Elizabeth Grey, [pages ] he may have thought that revealing the truth was not a very prudent thing to do. Why had the lady not spoken up? Stillington could easily have secured her silence by saying that he would deny everything. Her unsupported declaration would most assuredly have landed her in jail. Some modern writers have attempted to show that George, Duke of Clarence knew all about the pre-nuptial contract, but this is impossible to accept. Had George, a restless and discontented man, been in possession of these facts when he was making such a nuisance of himself in 1476 and 1477, he would not have failed to tell what he knew. Besides, he could have black-mailed the King into dropping the charges against him and so saved his life in 1478. [pages ]
The lack of any Council minutes which record Stillington's appearance before it on 8th June 1483 may be due to their being so scanty and incomplete, [page ] but there are other indicators which show that he could not have made such startling revelations on that date. Some correspondence of Council members survives, and they make no reference to such staggering disclosures, something quite inconceivable had they really been made. The Council meeting on 9th June would have taken a very different course if, only the day before, the story of the pre-nuptial contract had come tumbling out. Richard's own position would have been very much strengthened, and made very much easier, if this news had been revealed. Hastings, a most valuable ally, and possibly Morton would have been won over, and there would have been no need for that grim charade in the Tower on 13th June which ended in Hastings' execution. [pages ] Richard could, indeed should, have referred the matter to an Ecclesiastical Court for judgement. This would have taken many months, and meanwhile the Coronation would have to be postponed yet again. He would have remained the Protector of the Realm for all this time. There was every likelihood that by a free use of contemporary practise, in other words by presenting perjured evidence and fabricated proof, and by wheedling and bullying the judges, he would obtain a judgement in his favour which declared that the young King was illegitimate and therefore unfit to rule. By emerging as the de jure victor, his right to the Throne could not be challenged. This would immensely strengthen his position as the King. There would not have been the need to dispose of his nephews. There may not have been the necessity to behead his prisoners in the North, although whether Richard would have imposed such restraint upon himself is quite another matter.
The probability is that Stillington, if he revealed anything at all, only did so after the fiasco of Shaa's sermon on 22nd June when it was clear that the allegation of King Edward IV's illegitimacy was a lame horse which was not going to run very far. Alternatively, Richard may have made up the whole story himself from contemporary gossip which had been echoing, albeit faintly, around the Court for some time.
The timing of the respective allegations of the illegitimacy of King Edward IV and his son, King Edward V
There is some confusion in the contemporary accounts just when these respective allegations were made. The Great Chronicle of London [ff 207/8] records that Dr Shaa, in his sermon on 22nd June, stated that the children of King Edward IV were not, and never could be, the rightful inheritors to the Crown, because Edward himself was not the true son of Richard, Duke of York. 0ther accounts seem to infer that it was the legitimacy of the son, King Edward V, that was impugned, not that of the father.
Domenico Mancini, who wrote his book "The Usurpation of Richard III" in the second half of 1483, could have laid claim to be the most reliable of all the chroniclers, writing as he did very nearly contemporaneously to the events of which he had knowledge; some he may even have witnessed. He stated that on 22nd June, [Chapter 6 lines 16/20 of the Latin text, translated by C.A.J.Armstrong] Dr Shaa had preached that the father had not been a legitimate King, and it therefore followed that his son could not be one either. King Edward IV did not even resemble the man said to have been his father, whereas Richard, Duke of Gloucester plainly did. This detail seems to confirm that Dr Shaa did indeed cast aspersions on King Edward IV' legitimacy. Some further confirmation comes from Polydore Vergil, who reported that he had spoken to many to whom 'Proud Cis' herself had complained bitterly that her son Richard had done her a great wrong.
There is one serious flaw in Domenico Mancini's account; he did not even mention the address Buckingham made in the Guildhall to the Mayor and Aldermen on 24th June. His account goes straight on to describe Buckingham's address to the more important if anachronistic body, the Great Council, in St Paul's Cathedral on 25th June. Buckingham dwelt at great length on the story of the pre-nuptial contract with Eleanor Butteler (he did not even mention the possibility that King Edward IV was illegitimate), and was said to have added some further details which do not appear elsewhere. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick was said to have played a prominent part in the making of the pre-nuptial contract, an improbable event to say the least; besides, Queen Elizabeth had been married to another, and was ravished by King Edward IV, thus casting further doubt on the legitimacy of her children. At least some of these assertions were plainly untrue as some of the Lords present must have known. Buckingham was only concerned with reinforcing his main point, that the pre-nuptial contract made the young King Edward V illegitimate, and was not overly concerned by how much he blackened the memory of the late King. Mancini also added that many of the Lords were overawed by the fate of Hastings, and by the military might that the two Dukes had assembled; these factors must have played some part in the decision reached by the Great Council.
Confirmation that Buckingham so addressed the Great Council on 25th June in the manner described by Mancini comes from the wording of the Statute [page ]which was passed by Parliament in March 1484 to confirm Richard as the rightful King. [Rot.Parl VI. 240-242] It followed the petition presented to Richard word for word, and described that King Edward IV's son was illegitimate by reason of the pre-contract; it did not even touch upon the legitimacy of the late King. Lastly, this sequence of events of the respective allegations of illegitimacy of the father and of the son does seem to reinforce the conclusions which are suggested in the last part of the immediately pre-ceding section of this Chapter.
The prisoners in the North
Wednesday 25th June also marked the day on which the Pontefract prisoners died. 0f particular loss was Anthony Wydeville, Earl Rivers. A noted soldier and fine jouster, he was also a patron of the arts and of learning at a time when such people were few in number. His offence (there was no other) was to be a Wydeville and as such an anathema to a strongly Plantagenet King as Richard was to prove himself to be. He was informed when his execution was due to take place and composed himself with patience to met his end. He left behind him a poem which tells us much about the man:-
"Such is my Dawnce
"Willing to dye,
"Me thykys truly
"Bowndyn am I,
"And that gretly,
"To be content;
"That Fortune doth wry
"From myn entent.
"M lyf was lent
"Me to on intent
"Hytt is ny spent.
"But I ne went [thought]
"Thus to be shent [disgraced]
"But sho hit ment
"Such is her won [custom]
The very next day, Thurday 26th June 1483, clad in the Royal robes, Richard took possession of Westminster Palace to begin his reign, which dates from this day. By a mixture of ruthless determination, single mindedness, guile, intimidation, murder, political chicanery, and a sheer disregard for the truth, his triumph was complete.
The Princes in the Tower
0f all the mysteries of English history, there is none which is more elusive, baffling or poignant than that which surrounds the fate of the 12-year old King Edward V and his 8-year old brother, Richard, Duke of York. Visitors to the Tower had seen the young King, firstly alone and after 16th June in company with his brother, playing in the gardens of the Royal Apartments. After about 20th June, Richard would have required the Royal Apartments for his own use, so the boys had to be moved. Possibly they were quartered in the older Royal Apartments within the White Tower. There were still occasions when they could be seen taking exercise in the gardens, but these became steadily less frequent until they ceased to be seen at all. Their own attendants were denied access to them, and only Edward's physician, Doctor John Argentine, was allowed to visit his patient. Doctor Argentine told Domenico Mancini that what he had seen was harrowing. The two boys had resigned themselves to an early death, and spent a lot of their time in prayer.
The Tower in the 15th-century was a very different place to what it is today but only in the sense that it then had a sinister reputation which it has since discarded. The White Tower was built by William the Conqueror shortly after the Norman Conquest with a two-fold purpose in mind. It was intended as part of London's defences against invasion or rebellion, and it also served to overawe a sullen and resentful Saxon population. 0ver the centuries, other smaller towers, curtain walls and a moat were added as military architecture developed so that visually the Tower of the 15th-century is very similar to the Tower we see today, with the exception of Waterloo Barracks, built in the 1840s, to house the modern garrison. Now it is a kindly, gentle and fascinating reminder of the turbulent history of England, and is daily visited by crowds of tourists. They rejoice in what they see, and depart with pleasantly uneasy consciences of minor dishonesties on railway trains and trivial deceptions of the tax inspector. In the 15th-century however, it had other, often grimmer purposes, being a necessary and essential feature in the absolutist, and to our eyes often tyrannical, rule of medieval Kings.
Apart from being a fortress, the Tower was one of the Royal Palaces, where the King frequently resided, especially when danger threatened. It was an arsenal where arms and the Royal cannon were stored. It was also a treasure house where the Royal treasure was kept. In particular, it was a prison where the State prisoners were held. From time-to-time, noblemen were sent there, either as a punishment for annoying the King or because he wanted to have some time to think how he was going to deal with them. Some persons found themselves in the Tower because they were too troublesome to be left at liberty, and there was no other convenient place to keep them. Those charged with treason were kept in the Tower whilst awaiting trial, and then again after their conviction whilst awaiting execution; nobles were beheaded on Tower Green just outside the Tower where the Merchant Navy Memorial now stands, whilst those of lesser degree were dragged on hurdles through the City to Tyburn, the site of Marble Arch today, there to be hanged, drawn and quartered.
Vast crowds attended the spectacle as a public and free entertainment. The execution of William, Lord Hastings was probably the first formal beheading that ever took place inside the Tower's precincts, but many people had been done away with secretly within its dungeons. It was well equipped with torture chambers where dangerous and obstinate prisoners could be 'examined', and the instruments used in the torture reflected the latest state of the art. Mothers would quieten their fractious children by threatening to send them to the Tower. It was not a comfortable place to be confined, and as has already been said, it hid its dark secrets well. Rule, as medieval Kings understood it, would have been impossible without the Tower.
0f all those dark secrets, one of the best kept is that of the Princes in the Tower. Gallons of ink and acres of paper have been devoted to the exploration of their murders, their most probable fate, and the identities of their murderers. Ideally this work should not enter into the field of this speculation, for in the absence of hard and well-substantiated evidence, speculation it is and must remain. Without doing so however, it is impossible to explain the immense political difficulties posed to King Richard III by the contemporary and firmly held belief that the Princes had disappeared because he had murdered them. Historians have centred attention on only three suspects, King Richard III, King Henry VII, and Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. Curiously nobody has ever explored the possibilities that someone else many have been responsible, for instance John Howard, Duke of Norfolk or his son Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey. There is currently no shred of evidence of their guilt, or of the guilt of any of Richard's other supporters, but the point does deserve to be mentioned.
In what is probably the most thorough and objective examination that has ever been attempted, Paul Murray Kendall [Richard The Third, Appendix 1 pp 393-418] produces a very close study of what concrete and definite evidence exists and goes on to include a description of the opportunities offered to, and the complex and tangled motives of, the three main suspects. He heartily deplores the article of faith that Richard was responsible for the murders which began with the Tudor writers and has persisted through the centuries. Sir Thomas More and Polydore Vergil, the only two who could draw upon the memories of those who were living at the time, are severely censured; indeed he suggests possible and weighty reasons to cast doubt on Richard's guilt. He reaches no conclusion because he feels that none, firm enough to justify a jury in convicting, is possible or justified.
If it can be accepted that the bones in the urn at Westminster Abbey are indeed the remains of the two Princes, and that the medical evidence is sound enough to date their deaths between July and September 1483, [pages ] then King Henry VII seems to be excused. At that time he was merely Henry Tudor, who was sitting out his exile in Brittany. This leaves Richard and Buckingham, but before exploring their involvement, two points need to be made.
Many writers (Kendall among them) have assumed that because he was Constable of England, Buckingham had unrestricted access to the Tower at any time, but this was not so. In times of crisis when there was rebellion or foreign invasion, he would have had competence in purely military matters, but in every other respect the Tower was in the custody of its own Constable, in this case Sir Robert Brackenbury, who would react only to a Royal command. Brackenbury, one of Richard's Northerners, was an upright man who was totally loyal to Richard. The reasons for this were simple enough; nobody should be able to set free the State prisoners or make off with the Royal treasure or the Royal arsenal. In the day-time, visitors having business with the King, if he was resident, or the Constable would be allowed to enter the Royal Apartments or the Constable's office, but they were not permitted into other parts of the Tower. It was far too closely guarded for any surreptitious activity.
At night, all visitors were excluded, and the Tower's gates were locked with a formal ceremony which still takes place today.
There is great uncertainty about Buckingham's movements and where-abouts in the second half of July 1483. Sir Thomas More and Polydore Vergil relate that he was with Richard during the Royal Progress which left Windsor on 22nd or 23rd July. This is where one would expect to find him, at his King's side. Yet the Register of Magdalen College, where Richard stayed on 23rd and 24th July does not record his name among its list of visitors. It is difficult to accept that it would have failed to note the presence of so important a personage had he been there. Where then was Buckingham during the fourth week of July 1483 between say 20th July when the King would have left for Windsor, and 27th July when Buckingham would have had to set forth for Gloucester to meet up with Richard during the last days of the month?
If it is assumed that Magdalen College gives better guidance, was Buckingham in London? If so, what was he doing there? Had he persuaded Richard that the Princes must be put to death before the King left London, when Richard could have given Brackenbury orders that Buckingham and his thugs were to be allowed into the Tower? It would not have been necessary to explain why. 0r did Buckingham, somehow overcoming the obstacles presented by Brackenbury, murder the Princes without the King's knowledge? When he met Richard in Gloucester, there is said to have been a furious row between the two men. We do not know why, but the report of the deaths of the boys could have been the cause. [Some other possible causes for the breach are suggested - see page ] Even if Richard had known beforehand what Buckingham was going to do, he could have repented by the time he reached Gloucester, and have been furiously angry with Buckingham for leading him into the most colossal political blunder.
Whilst the possibility of such happenings must not be totally excluded, it is suggested that such a sequence of events is most unlikely. There had just been a most successful coronation, and it did appear that King Richard III was firmly seated on the Throne. The two boys, stigmatised as illegitimate, were political non-entities. Some plots had begun to manifest themselves, but none of them looked as though they were likely to get out of hand, not even the Sanctuary plot. [page ] There were some very vague reports of unrest in the South, but this was presently leaderless, and did not in late July give such cause for concern as Richard felt a week or so later in August. Anyway, the plots and unrest were the business of the Chancellor, not Buckingham. Buckingham knew that Richard took great pride in his seizure of the Throne with so little bloodshed; a coup with the loss of only 4 lives was something unusual by medieval standards. Where then was the motive, the compelling reason, the political advantage for snuffing out the lives of the boys in the second half of July 1483?
0ne story relates that Buckingham arrived in Brecon, his principal stronghold where he had Doctor John Morton in his custody, on 22nd July 1483. He was in a buoyant and confident mood, being most pleased with his recent promotions. He spoke to Morton, who convinced him that he would do even better if only Henry Tudor sat on the Throne, and immediately set off for London to murder the Princes. He reached Gloucester on 29th July to tell Richard that the Princes were now dead and would give him no more trouble. He was stunned when Richard was furious, and instead of praising him called him every sort of fool and dismissed him from his presence. Humiliated and resentful, he returned to Brecon to sulk with Morton.
It is suggested that this story too is unlikely, principally because of the travelling time involved, but again, because it was just possible in a very tight time-schedule, it must not be discredited. Brecon to London required 4 days, and London to Gloucester 3 days, all hard riding. Buckingham had at his disposal plenty of the excellent horses which could cover 50 miles a day, but this represented the limit of endurance for both man and beast, and allowed for no mishap such as bad weather or a cast horse-shoe. A team of murderous ruffians would have to be assembled (unless he took it with him) and the gathering together of such people, all in conditions of the greatest secrecy, normally took time. Brackenbury would have had to be persuaded to let him enter the those parts of the Tower where visitors were not usually allowed. This he would probably have refused to do without a reference to the King, and such a reference would have taken too much time for the whole enterprise to be completed within the bare week that the story allows. Besides, it is difficult to accept that even Morton could have turned Buckingham in the course of less than a day. Buckingham was not a man of any great intelligence and could not assimilate more than one idea at a time, but even he could see that he was presently riding high with Richard and would soon ride even higher yet. In his present frame of mind on 22nd July 1483, the Bohun lands for which his acquisitive and greedy heart had yearned for so long were nearly within his grasp. It is scarcely likely that he would have jeopardised the passing of the complex legislation that was necessary, and which Richard had promised him.
None of this must exclude the possibility that Buckingham did arrange for the murder of the Princes, but only after his abrupt and angry dismissal by Richard on 29th July. In August and September 1483 there was ample time, a feature which had been wholly lacking in July, time for Morton to turn Buckingham, a slow and painful task requiring immense patience, time to assemble a murder team that he could trust, time to overcome the obstacles posed by Sir Robert Brackenbury, the Constable of the Tower. If the guilt of the Princes' deaths is to be laid at Buckingham's door, then he is most likely to have committed the murders in August or September 1483. Since the boys would seem to have died during these months, this opens the interesting possibility that both Richard and Buckingham were, simultaneously and without the knowledge of the other, trying to put them to death. 0nly one could have succeeded. But even here there are difficulties. Buckingham himself would have had to travel to London to be sure that the murder team performed its task and that Brackenbury put no obstacles in the way; these were not tasks to be left to a mere subordinate, however trustworthy. A journey to London would pose very serious risks. During August and September he was actively plotting against Richard. [Chapter ] If any murmur of what he was doing had reached the long ears of the King (and he could never be certain that it had not), he would run the risk of arrest as soon as he had left the security of Brecon. In any event, it seems he never set foot outside Brecon during these two vital months.
In our present state of knowledge, which is unlikely to be added to or supplemented at this late date, the only account of the deaths of the two Princes which seems to present something approaching the probable truth is that given by Sir Thomas More. It is based on the confessions made in 1502 by Sir James Tyrell and John Dighton whilst Tyrell was in the Tower awaiting trial, and almost certain execution, for treason. Sir Thomas's account is shot through with obvious inconsistencies which leave the reader wondering if there are some others which his eye has not detected. Yet it does not deserve the wholesale condemnation which it has received from so many historians, because it contains one piece of hard evidence in an otherwise murky story, and this does help to make it more plausible. The chest containing the skeletons of the (supposed) Princes was found in 1674 in the spot where Tryell, in 1502, said that he had buried it. 0nly the true assassin could have known this and he, apparently, was employed by King Richard III.
The Croyland Chronicle, normally a reliable source, indicates that the boys were alive at the time of Richard's Coronation, but were dead by the time of Buckingham's rebellion the following 0ctober. Richard's Royal Progress began on 22nd or 23rd July, and proceeded by easy stages to Gloucester where, according to More, he arrived at the end of July or during the first few days of August 1483. Again according to the Croyland Chronicle, he received during his journey some slightly disturbing reports from London. Some disaffected Yorkists, die-hard Lancastrians and friends of the Wydevilles had so far sunk their differences that they were plotting the rescue of the Princes from the Tower. They were shadowy plots of which little is known, but according to Richard's ubiquitous spies, there were several. They were of more concern as evidence of disaffection rather than the prospect of a successful rescue. 0f greater worry was the so-named Sanctuary plot, which envisaged the spiriting away of the late King's daughters overseas where they would, in due course, marry and produce heirs. This was not so far-fetched as may at first sight appear. The thought of foreign princes with a claim to the English Throne would make Richard think twice before doing away with his nephews, a prospect which the plotters clearly thought was highly likely. He would need the boys alive to debar or discourage any such claims. 0n 29th July, he wrote a letter to the Chancellor in London which, in spite of its opaque language and guarded terms, can only be read as instructions to look into the Sanctuary plot and to punish those involved.
Either the conspirators were desperate, or they were singularly naive about the way that Richard approached his problems. A problem was to be stamped upon, neutralised, annihilated even by mobilising the maximum force that lay to hand. Richard would have seen nothing strange in taking a sledge-hammer to a nut, and neither would a gentler and more subtle approach have had much appeal to him. If the two boys now posed a threat, then they must be liquidated forthwith - it was as simple as that.
More takes up the tale once again and tells that Richard dispatched from Gloucester one John Green to Sir Robert Brackenbury, the Constable of the Tower, probably during the first week in August. Green, although completely trustworthy in Richard's eyes, was an unfortunate choice. He appears to have been a senior groom in the Royal stables who had faithfully served Richard for a number of years and was senior enough to authorise expenditure for the needs of his charges. What Richard wrote to Brackenbury is not known, but it is unlikely that he gave him an order in writing to kill the Princes; it is far more probable that Green's letter of introduction told Brackenbury that its bearer would verbally disclose 'the King's mind'. If so Brackenbury, a humane man with some standing in the world of letters, would have been horrified at what Green had to say. He would have had some doubts about the messenger; surely the King would have sent a Lord or at least a knight on such a mission. He had other doubts as well. If he put the Princes to death without an unambiguous order in writing, and Richard later repented and denied any responsibility, his own position would be parlous indeed. He sent Green away with a flea in his ear Richard was in Warwick Castle between 8th and 15th August, and there the news of Green's failure reached him.
He was cast into utter despondency, and strode about the Castle sighing "Ah, whom can a man trust?" According to More, a page told him of Sir James Tyrell, a knight with a long and distinguished military record, who was desperate for promotion which Richard's northern friends had blocked. He would do anything to earn it. Richard sounded him out and found him amenable. Tyrell was close to Richard, being Master of the King's horses and also Master of his henchmen, the young boys and girls sent to the Royal Court for training and education. The King was probably well aware that Tyrell was disgruntled, and needed no page to tell him this. The existence of the page may be doubted, and seems to be one of Sir Thomas's inconsistencies, because Richard was always very careful in his more atrocious deeds, and More's account indicates that other people already knew of Green's mission and its purpose.
Richard seems to have delayed sending Tyrell on his way until he had received ambassadors from King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile who proposed a marriage between Richard's and Anne's son Edward and a Spanish princess. This pleasant interlude was marred by further reports of unrest in the South, and by the time that Richard reached York on 30th August, there to be greeted by a spontaneous and joyous reception at his further, and symbolic, coronation in his favourite City, he had decided that he must act. The cover for Tyrell's journey from York to London was the fetching of robes and wall-hangings which were needed for the investiture of Richard's son and heir as Prince of Wales on 8th September. [From Sources other than Sir Thomas More, namely the Wardrobe accounts] If Tyrell rode hard, he could be back in York with some time to spare. He was, More goes on to relate, provided with a letter commanding Brackenbury to hand over the Keys of the Tower for one night. This seems most improbable; the Tower was far too important a place to be taken out of the Constable's hands for even a short time. It is however possible to see a command to Brackenbury to allow Tyrell and his companion to stay in the Tower for one night, something which was normally never allowed, to retire to his apartments and stay there, and not to question Tyrell how he had passed the time.
Tyrell began his journey on 30th August, and the normal time needed to ride from York to London was four days. By dividing the journey time in half, we reach the night of 3rd September 1483 as the most likely time that the two boys were murdered. More's own date of 15th August may be doubted, but this need not affect the rest of his story. Tyrell took with him his groom John Dighton, a ruffian who would do anything if he was paid enough. They recruited Miles Forrest, one of the boys' attendants, probably because he was due to mount guard outside their bed-chamber that night; he had apparently the reputation of being 'fleshed in murder', and no doubt money changed hands. Whilst Tyrell stood guard outside the bed-chamber, Forrest and Dighton entered it and smothered the sleeping boys with their pillows and bed-clothes. Almost certainly there was a violent struggle, but it did not disturb anyone else. Tyrell then entered the chamber to satisfy himself that life was extinct, and then the bodies were placed in a chest. If the boys really had been living in the White Tower, it was but a short distance to carry the awkward burden down the spiral staircase (since demolished) which gave access from both the old and the new Royal Apartments to the Chapel in the White Tower. Underneath the foot of the stairs, there was a hole filled with a layer of rubble. They had probably removed the rubble earlier and dug a deep grave beforehand, so it was now the work of a moment to lower the chest into the grave and fill it in again so that the boys were buried, in the words of Tyrell's confession as reported by Sir Thomas More:-
".....at the stayre foot, metely deep in the grounde under a grete heape of stones....."
[In his confession, Tyrell stated that he thought the bodies had been moved, because Richard considered that the bodies of the sons of a King deserved a better resting place, but he did not know where. It seems this was never done]
Forrest died soon afterwards, and legend has it that he was suitably punished for his sins during his life; the flesh rotted and fell away from his bones before he died in agony. Tyrell got his promotion from Richard, and enjoyed even more from King Henry VII who employed him on a number of diplomatic missions, and thought highly of him. By 1501, Tyrell was Captain of Guines Castle, one of Calais' outlying forts. In that year, he entertained Edmund de La Pole, the younger son of John de La Pole, Duke of Suffolk and Elizabeth Plantagenet, Richard's own sister, Tyrell may or may not have known that Edmund, who probably he had known as a child, was now plotting treason against King Henry VII, and was on his way to Flanders to seek support. Henry was at first reluctant to believe that Tyrell had so far overstepped the mark as to throw in his lot with Edmund, a vain, shallow and foolish youth, but summoned Tyrell to London to explain himself. Very foolishly, Tyrell refused to go, and when early in 1502 the Calais garrison moved to besiege Guines Castle, he prepared to resist. He relented before any fighting took place, and agreed to go with his son to see the King. Things had however changed; Henry had laid some other plotters by the heels, and connected the Tyrells with their conspiracy. Furious, he ordered their trial for treason. 0n 2nd May 1502, they were convicted and, although the son was later pardoned, the father met his end by the gory death of a traitor.
Whilst awaiting trial (and almost certain condemnation) in the Tower, Tyrell confessed that it was he who had murdered the Princes. John Dighton was examined at the same time and confirmed the story. Sir Thomas More seems to have seen the confession (it can no longer be found) whilst researching for his book and based his account, which is summarised above, on its contents. More, a painstaking man, may even have confirmed what Tyrell said by probing the knowledge of four elderly and eminent ladies, all Yorkist relicts, who were living in the Minories convent. He knew them all well, and this would have been an obvious thing to do. Apart from one half of a massive arch, the convent is no more but a blue plaque records that it stood to the North of the modern junction of Aldgate, Leadenhall Street and Fenchurch Street where office buildings, a car park and the Sir John Cass School are now to be found. Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir Robert Brackenbury who was killed at the battle of Bosworth 1485, Mary Tyrell, a close relative of Sir James, her aunt Anne Montgomery, and Elizabeth, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, must between them have known many details of the Princes' deaths, but may not have been willing that their information, or their names, should be disclosed. They were living a penurious and precarious existence among the nuns, and may not have wished to attract the attentions of a possibly vindictive Tudor government. They had all been closely involved in politics, and knew where they could lead.
Was the confession truthful? Sir Thomas was absolutely convinced that it was, and evidence which only later came to light in 1674 tends to confirm his belief. The motives of all concerned were complex in the extreme. Sir Thomas More could barely have said that King Henry VII had murdered the boys when he was living in the reign of his son, his close friend, even if he believed it. Sir James Tyrell may have genuinely wanted to cleanse his soul of a monstrous crime before his imminent meeting with his Maker, but he could have been hoping for a pardon if he provided King Henry VII with an exculpatory explanation and thus removed any scintilla of suspicion that Henry had committed the murders himself. John Dighton, if one can imagine an altruistic motive in such as he, may have wanted to help his master. He did not impress Sir Thomas More who later sought him out, and concluded that he was a petty criminal who, most probably, was incapable of recognising the truth and still less of telling it; he seemed destined to die on the gallows rather than in his bed. Henry the King was grappling with questions from Ferdinand and Isabella, with whom he was now negotiating a marriage between Katherine of Aragon and the heir to the English Throne, also Henry, [shortly after his own marriage to Katherine, the original heir to the Throne, Arthur, had died] on the security of his regime. They seemed to be more concerned with the pretenders, who kept on appearing saying that they were one or other of the Princes, rather than with the real Princes who they appeared to accept were long since dead. Tyrell's hope, if he ever nurtured it, was a vain one. Henry could not have wanted any bodies to be found, and the reasons are simple enough. By 1502, they would have been substantially decomposed, but was the pathological expertise of the 16th-century so far advanced that it could say, without fear of contradiction, that death had claimed the boys in 1483 rather than late 1485 or 1486? There would have been some who would have said that Henry was guilty of the murders, and was now seeking to put the blame on Richard by flourishing Tyrell's confession and some unconvincing medical reports. It is true that he did order some searches to be made, saying the the bodies deserved better resting places, but their half-hearted nature may be judged by his failure even to look in the place where Tryell said they were buried. 0r did he? Having satisfied himself where the bodies were, he could simply have filled in the grave again and left them in peace. Henry had many problems, and went on the principle that the less that was said, the sooner it was mended. He was content to leave the popular conviction undisturbed, that Richard, and Richard alone, had put his nephews to death. Resurrection of that issue could lead to more problems than it would resolve. He simply filed the confession among the State Papers where More later found it.
In 1674, some workmen repairing the same stairs found a wooden box buried where Tyrell's confession had indicated that he had placed it. Inside were the skeletons of two children, one lying on its back with the other lying face downwards on top of the first. Some scraps of velvet were also found; in the words of an anonymous observer:-
"This day I, standing by the opening, saw working men dig out of a stairway in the White Tower, the bones of those two Princes who were foully murdered by Richard III.....they were small bones, of lads in their teens and there were pieces of rag and velvet about them...."
The bones were accepted as the remains of the Princes in the Tower, although no very careful examination was made. It is still very difficult to establish the sex of a pre-pubertal skeleton, and it lay well beyond the bounds of contemporary medical skill. The bones (less some removed by souvenir hunters) were placed in an urn in Westminster Abbey with a memorial stone recording that they were the remains of the two Princes. More thorough examination has had to wait for modern times.
In 1933, reluctant permission was wrung from the Abbey authorities and King George V to open the urn for an examination of its contents by two eminent doctors, Professor William Wright, a surgeon, and Doctor George Northcroft, a dentist who was an expert in the dentition of children. They re-constructed the skeletons (removing many animal bones), and established the remains of two individuals, probably boys, the elder standing 4'10" and the younger 4' 6 1/2". From dental evidence, they concluded that one skeleton belonged to a child between 12 and 13 years old. The other, also a child, was between 9 and 10 years of age. In September 1483, King Edward V was 12 years and 10 months old. The date of birth of his brother is less certain, and this work has proceeded on the assumption that he was born in late 1474, and was thus only 8 when he died. He could however have been born in 1473, and this would meet the limits set by the dental evidence. There was a brown stain on the facial bones of the elder child, and if this was blood (it was not possible to test it), it could have been consistent with injury caused by smothering. There were tell-tale traces of disease, possibly osteomy-elitis, on the lower jaw of the elder child. This would have been extremely painful and dispiriting to the sufferer, and would have accounted for Dr Argentine's visits and, in part at least, the despondency of his patient. The jaws, bones and particularly the teeth indicated a familial link. Both doctors felt that, between bones and history, there were too many co-incidences for much doubt, and considered the evidence to be more conclusive than could reasonably have been expected. It appeared most likely that these really were the bones of the Princes, and that they had died in September 1483 during the reign of King Richard III. The two doctors published their findings in a paper read by Mr Lawrence Tanner on 30th November 1933. [Archaeologia Vol 84 pp 1-24]
These findings have been challenged, particularly by those who doubt the guilt of King Richard III. In 1955, an array of medical talent was assembled from the United States and the United Kingdom to consider them. They had to work on documents as the Abbey would not allow another opening of the urn. With only some minor criticism of the two Doctors findings, their own conclusions were astonishingly close, although they set wider brackets for the ages. The elder child was thought to be between 11 and 13, and the younger 7 and 11 1/2. In 1964, some further evidence appeared. Some workmen discovered a lead casket in a Stepney cellar. From its inscription, there was no doubt that it contained the remains of Anne Mowbray, the child bride of the younger Prince and their third cousin. It was opened in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the opinion has been expressed that there are similarities between Anne's teeth and those of the bodies within the urn as are to be expected between relatives.
The question had to be asked whether these bones were far older than the 15th-century, possibly even from Roman times. This seems to be answered by two points. The scraps of velvet betray an origin later than the beginning of the 15th-century when this material, which was not made in England, was first imported from Italy. Due to its expense and the Sumptuary Laws, it would only be worn by the wealthy and prominent. The chest in which the bones were found seems to have been in fairly good condition before its discovery; certainly it had not rotted away and was still recognisable as a chest. Furniture in the 15th-century was made of well-seasoned wood, and it is possible to see a chest so made keeping its identity for 200 years, but it is difficult to see it doing so for anything up to 1500 years. The top of the chest was much damaged by the workmen who excavated it, not immediately recognising what they were dealing with.
It is maddening that we do not have what remains of it; chests evolved over the years and they can be dated. It is now possible to tell the age of the trees from which its wood came, and this might tell a story.
It seems most probable (it must not be put any higher) that the remains within the urn are indeed the true remains of the two Princes, and that they died in 1483. Probably the modern science of D.N.A. would relate them to their father's remains, interred in St George's Chapel at Windsor. The making of such a test would mean that permission to open the graves would have to be obtained, and this is scarcely likely. Even if it was, would a definite solution to the mystery still elude us? Very possibly it would still remain unresolved and simply raise, in the nature of all solutions to long-standing mysteries, a host of further questions.
In 1483, there was naturally no proof that Richard really had caused his nephews to be put to death in a cruel and barbarous fashion but this, if one excludes the horror of the deed, is not what really mattered. What did matter, and it mattered a great deal, was that everyone in the Land, from the highest to the lowest, was firmly convinced that he was guilty of murdering two innocent and helpless children, an appalling crime. This belief was not confined to England. Domenico Mancini referred to it in his writings, made soon after his return to the Continent in July 1483. Philippe de Commyngs, writing in the early 1490s, asserts it. Guillaume de Rochefort, the Chancellor of France, stated as much in January 1484 when addressing the States-General at Tours. Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile received a letter written to them by Mosen Diego de Valera on 1st March 1486 which firmly convinced them of Richard's guilt. Jean Molinet, the Burgundian Court Chronicler, included it in his writings. The merchant Casper Weinreich of Dantzig mentioned it in his diary for 1483. This belief, commonly held both in England and abroad, was to pose Richard enormous difficulties to which he never found an answer.
|Copyright © Michael D. Miller 2003|