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An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 73: The Reign of King Richard III - Domestic affairs: June - December 1483


The reign of King Richard III lasted from 26th June 1483 until he was defeated and killed at the battle of Bosworth on 22nd August 1485, a period of 2 years and nearly 2 months. Brief his reign may have been, in fact the shortest in English history of a crowned and anointed Monarch, but it was also a very turbulent time. Richard never enjoyed a period of peace and quiet when he could feel that he was totally in control of events, and he greatly exacerbated the many troubles which, in the nature of things, always crowded in on the head of a King of England by his many mistakes and misjudgements. Richard was a man of action, and the conclusion is inescapable that he was prone to act impulsively and without sufficient thought beforehand. This is surprising in one who, as Richard Duke of Gloucester, so carefully and effectively ruled the North in the days of his brother, King Edward IV. Perhaps the explanation is that Richard, a superb subordinate, needed a supremo to hold in check his rasher and more impulsive actions. As King himself he could be said, contrary to all expectations, to have been promoted beyond his abilities, something which happens all too often in every walk of life.

[English history does record two shorter reigns, that of King Edward V (1483) and King Edward VIII (1936), but neither of these Kings was ever crowned]

The Coronation

Richard was anxious to be crowned as soon as possible and spared no pains to make the ceremony as imposing as he could. He named Sunday 6th July 1483 as the day when his coup would receive the blessing of the Church in one of its most august rituals. The organisation of so elaborate a ceremony could not have been achieved within the space of less than a fortnight but, in one sense fortunately, most of it had already been arranged in the expectation that it was King Edward V who was to be crowned.

There was still much to be done. On 27th June, the day after Richard had taken possession of the Palace of Westminster as King Richard III, John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln was re-appointed Chancellor of the Realm. The next day Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham was appointed Great Chamberlain. This was an office which was very close to the person of the King, [pages ] and would only be given to somebody with whom he could share his innermost thoughts. This tends to show that Richard was prepared to trust Buckingham, and there was presently none of the mistrust which, a bare four months later, was to result in Buckingham's rebellion. [Chapter ] John Howard became the Earl Marshal and the first Howard Duke of Norfolk, whilst his son Sir Thomas, the future victor of the battle of Flodden 1513, was promoted to be Earl of Surrey. William, Viscount Berkeley, the true heir to the Mowbray estates, had to content himself with the Earldom of Nottingham, the original Mowbray title. Sir Richard Hastings, the brother of the late William,  had to surrender the Lieutenancy of Guines Castle. The Hastingses had fallen from grace, but Richard, during his Royal Progress later in July, summoned Lady Hastings before him to re-assure her that her late husband's lands would not be taken from her by attainder; she could rest content that she was not to be dispossessed.

On 4th July, Richard and his Queen Anne went in a splendid procession on the River Thames from Westminster to the Tower to keep the customary Vigil. There he dubbed some of his followers as Knights of the Bath, the Order which had been founded by King Henry 1V in 1399. On 5th July a brilliant procession wound its way through the streets of the City. Buckingham himself had taken the greatest care with his gorgeous apparel. His own robes and the caparisons of his horse blazed with his device of the golden cartwheel, whilst his followers wore his emblem, also in gold, of the Staffordshire knot. Jane Shore watched the procession pass beneath her prison in Ludgate. No doubt she was as thrilled with its splendour as the Londoners who were cheering themselves hoarse, and forgot for a while her nagging worries of what the future held in store for her.

The coronation ceremony on 6th July lacked none of the ceremonial associated with coronations of English Kings, themselves splendid affairs, with swords borne aloft and the canopy carried over the heads of the King and the Queen by the Barons of the Cinque Ports. Stripped to the Waist, Richard and his Queen were anointed with Holy Oil before the High Alter. Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury lowered the heavy Crowns onto their heads. This was the second of the three Kings he was to crown in the course of his long life.

The Coronation Feast was a lengthy banquet, and the hereditary King's Champion, Sir Robert Dymoke rode into the Hall in full armour, and challenged anyone who denied that Richard was the rightful King. The Dymoke family had long since been forgiven the part they had played in the 1470 rebellion,  [pages ] and nobody accepted the challenge.

Instead they cried out with one voice that Richard and Anne should be blessed with a long and happy reign. So the ceremonies came to an end. Richard could be well pleased with how well everything had gone, whilst Anne could reflect that it had been one of the ambitions of her father, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick who had perished on the battlefield of Barnet 1461, that one day one of his daughters should sit on the Throne of England. That had come about, if not in quite the way that the old Earl had intended.

Richard did not begin his Royal Progress until 22nd or 23rd July, as there was still plenty which needed attention in London. After the coronation, he gave Buckingham some further lucrative offices, and appointed him Constable of England. This was an important post, meaning that its holder was the Commander-in-Chief of England's land forces. Richard did not have much opinion of Buckingham's military prowess, and thought that he would have to command if there was any fighting to be done. The position would serve to flatter Buckingham, and act as a sop to his overweening vanity. It has been said that Buckingham claimed the Bohun lands of his ancestors whilst Richard was at Greenwich on 13th July, and that Richard promised to see to it that Parliament passed the necessary and complex legislation so that he could possess them. If he did so, then when he was in Gloucester during late July, he went back on his word. [page ]

Mistress Jane Shore

The death of William, Lord Hastings on 13th June 1483 heralded an extremely difficult time for Jane Shore. [She was always known as Jane, although it seems she was christened Elizabeth] At sometime during the third week of June, she was arrested by Sir Thomas Howard, the man who had ridden with Hastings on the fateful morning of his death, and who had commanded the soldiers who had burst in to arrest him and lead him to his execution. [pages ] Sir Thomas seized the opportunity to pillage such of her property as took his fancy, and the rest was destrained by the Sheriffs. Jane was put in jail, but not in some noisome dungeon as the King would have preferred. She was a Freewoman of the City of London, and had the right to chose her own prison. Thus she was comfortably lodged in the gatehouse of Ludgate, one of the City's gates, which straddled the road which falls away from the hillock on which St Paul's Cathedral stands before rising again into Fleet Street. From that vantage point, she could see all who came and went in and out of the City's western gate, and could watch Richard's coronation procession.

The reasons for her imprisonment are not entirely clear. Her mere association with Hastings could have been cause enough. Hastings was said to have been trying to effect a reconciliation with the Dowager Queen Elizabeth, still in her sanctuary in Westminster, and Jane was reputed to have been their go-between. That would have been quite enough to stir King Richard III to wrath. Thomas, Marquis of Dorset was known to have slipped out of sanctuary, nobody knew where, and the kind-hearted Jane was thought to have given him shelter. They were known to have tender feelings towards each other which, now that Hastings was out of the way, they could freely indulge. Any one of these reasons could have caused Richard's frown and her incarceration.

The government resolved to discredit her, and chose to do so in a most inept way. Jane was ordered to do the penance of a common harlot. Dressed only in a white shift and carrying a lighted taper, she was required to walk barefoot through the City's streets to St Pauls, and there to beg forgiveness for her errant ways. Normally the people would have greeted the penitent with jeers, cat-calls and the throwing of filth, of which there was always a plentiful supply. Jane was a popular figure in the City, and she looked so beautiful and helpless that people watched her pass in silence, broken only by exclamations of sympathy for her plight. Apart from this, she was fast becoming a nuisance in her prison. Frequent dinner parties, where she entertained the great and the good of the City, left her warders wondering if their prison was not becoming a fashionable salon. The authorities realised she had made them look extremely foolish and, to relieve themselves of further embarrassment, they rather shame-facedly released her.

Once again at liberty, Jane fled to the arms of Dorset, and the two concealed themselves so effectively that, search as it might, the government could not find them. After the failure of Buckingham's rebellion in October 1483, Dorset fled to join Henry Tudor, while Jane found herself back in her prison. There she was interrogated by the King's Solicitor, Thomas Lynom, a dour and sour-faced north-countryman who was typical of the new breed of servants the King had brought in from the North to help him to keep the unreliable Southerners in order. Lynom had served Richard for many years, and his name constantly appears in documents relating to Richard's government of the North, Then something most unexpected happened. Lynom feel head over heels in love with Jane, and announced his intention of marrying her. The King was aghast, and wrote to his Lord Chancellor, John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln bidding him to knock some sense into Lynom's head. Half-way through his letter, Richard had a much better idea. The marriage, if it took place, would provide Jane with a husband who would undoubtedly keep her under strict control and he would thus be rid of an infernal nuisance. Even if she did appear at Court from time to time, she would do so as a respectable married lady, and this was a sight Richard felt he could enjoy. At the worst, she would be but a trifling inconvenience.

Accounts differ whether the marriage was ever celebrated, but Jane lived until 1526. Even in her old age, she was much loved for her kindly ways, and the ready help she gave to all who asked.

King Richard III defines his purposes

Richard's intention that there should be good governance was given a structured form, something that is common enough nowadays, with set targets and time-limits to meet them, even if it was entirely novel to the 15th-century. He set as his targets that the rights of the Church should be upheld, that people should be protected against bodily hurt, oppression and extortion, that the Courts of Law should be allowed to do their work without improper interference, that robbery and other serious crime should be suppressed, and that the highways should be cleared, and kept clear, of bandits. These targets were to be met regardless of the station in life or the degree or condition of any person; all were entitled to the Royal protection. For the achievement of these targets he would need agents, and the local Lords, now assembled in his presence, were the obvious people. Before he dismissed them to their estates following the Coronation, he abjured them with:-

"Straight commandments that they should see the counties where they dwelled well guided and that no extortion's were done to his subjects..." [The Great Chronicle p 233]

They were to act and rule their neighbourhoods so that each:-

"may appear and be named a very Justicer" [Harleian Archive 433 f 265b]

It would no longer do for them to leave law and order to the Sheriffs alone. The Sheriffs were to be supported, but if necessary the Lords themselves must take the initiative to arrest criminals and to protect humbler folk against the depredations of others. In case this was thought to be a mere pious abjuration, to be listened to attentively and then immediately consigned to the realms of oblivion, any failure on their part would meet with His Majesty's severest displeasure. To assist them, and perhaps keep an eye on them, three Lieutenants were to be appointed, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland for the North, John Howard, Duke of Norfolk for the East, and Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham for the West which included Wales. These Lieutenants would be granted Commissions of Array so that they could mobilise troops if necessary. Apparently no Lieutenant was appointed for the South; this was so close to the Royal Court that such an appointment was not really necessary. Buckingham was not replaced after his disgrace and death. Richard must have felt that too great a concentration of power in the hands of the Herbert Earls of Pembroke in South Wales, or the Stanleys in North Wales and Lancashire, was not desirable.

There was a streak of Puritanism in Richard's character which, apparently able to overlook without too much difficulty the means by which he had assumed the Crown, insisted that public affairs should be handled in a way that was proper in every sense of the word. He intended that his rule should be beneficent, fair and just to all his subjects, whatever their rank or station, and moreover his Lords should assist in making it so whether they enjoyed doing so or not. Not everything was left to the Lords. In the months to come, Richard declared that anyone who had a just grievance should make out a bill of complaint and present it to him. He made an excellent impression during his first Royal Progress, which began in mid-July 1483 from Windsor, many people finding that their problems were dealt with expeditiously. Sometimes he was offered sums of money. These he politely but firmly refused, saying that the money would be better spent on some local problem, such as repairing a bridge or laying a highwayman by the heels. He earned a glowing testimonial from Dr Thomas Langton, Bishop of St David's and one of the few Englishmen touched by the new Renaissance learning:-

"He contents the people where he goes best that ever did Prince; for many a poor man that hath suffered wrong many days hath been relieved and helped by him and his commands in this Progress." [Harleian Archive 433 YR pp 162-164]

It would be impossible to set out all that Richard probed into and strove to put right, often having to make his way through a bewildering and frustrating mass of minutiae, but a few examples may help an understanding of the constant labours of the King, even in cases where the Crown was under no obligation to assist. Buckingham's attainder left many innocent creditors; attainders always did, but Richard told those who now held the lands to discharge the debts. The Prior of Carlisle had difficulty in paying a heavy Hanaper fee; [For the meaning of Hanaper see page ] Richard waived it. A vicar had been unjustly deprived of his living; Richard ordered that he be restored, and the usurper severely punished. A brick-layer's prosperous business had been destroyed by fire; Richard granted a warrant to raise alms locally to set him up again. Some churches were damaged or destroyed by fire; Richard granted similar warrants, and even contributed money himself. Many of the wives and widows of those attainted were reduced to penury; Richard granted them annuities. Pensions were also granted to deserving servants and their dependants who had somehow been overlooked by his brother. So long did the list of annuitants become that Richard was accused of extravagance.

Without any doubt King Richard III was a King who championed the common man and woman, and he hated to see them oppressed. It was his Kingly duty to prevent this happening, and throughout his short reign he bent his energies in this direction. He cannot have been unaware that he was offending his own power base by this reversion to a form of the Pax Romana where, in Roman times, those who robbed the defenceless were treated to hard blows and a hanging by the local Legion. His power base rested with those very Lords he had abjured to help him in his aims; they were the main oppressors of the poor, the intimidators of judges and juries, the subverters of justice, the villains who deprived others of their goods and lands and sometimes even of their lives, and it was they who committed the most frequent and the most flagrant breaches of the Law. In their eyes the poor were there to be oppressed, and that was the natural order of things. They did not take kindly to being made to mend their ways, and neither did they relish having to assist in the execution of a policy which they found most uncongenial.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003