An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.
Michael D. Miller
|Chapter 74: Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham,
rebels: October 1483
|King Richard III's Royal Progress
After his coronation on 6th July 1483, King Richard III resolved on a Royal progress through his land to introduce himself to his new subjects. He had all too many reasons to seek to gain their confidence. Many were deeply shaken by his coup, and some even believed that he had already done away with his nephews. Relations with France were already very bad, [Chapter ] and it was not improbable that he would have to call on his subjects to defend the Realm. The way to his subjects hearts must surely lie in showing himself to them and in promising the good and fair government for which he knew they craved. During his Progress, there was a most unwelcome and unlooked for event.
The Royal Progress started from Windsor on 22nd or 23rd July, and initially Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham may have accompanied it. [Other accounts have him in Brecon on 22nd July or even elsewhere - see page ] When it reached Gloucester during the last days of July, he left it for his stronghold of Brecon Castle in Wales. This was a very surprising thing to do. Buckingham had been appointed Great Chamberlain on 27th June and Constable of England immediately after the coronation (besides being showered with other offices), and such a high government officer should always remain with the King. Richard watched him go with anxiety, not untinged with apprehension of future trouble. What caused this sudden coolness between them?
There is no clear and unambiguous reply to this question, although historians have attempted several answers.
Perhaps Buckingham had become stricken with guilt at the disgraceful part he had played in Richard's recent coup, but it is suggested that this is unlikely. Buckingham was a man of limited intelligence but with a supreme measure of arrogance, and was motivated by avarice and ambition of a degree to match it. Any conscience that he possessed was more likely then otherwise to have been an ossified organ. At this time it would seem that the Princes in the Tower were still alive, so there was not the guilt of a monstrous crime to be laid at anyone's door. [There is still the possibility, which the author considers unlikely, that Buckingham himself murdered the Princes in late July - see page ] Other speculation has centred on a possible request that the Bohun lands of his ancestors should be added to his already vast wealth, and Richard now refused to grant them. It was too much to expect Buckingham to understand that Richard's refusal was based upon a reluctance to disturb a delicate political balance that all medieval Kings had to respect and strive to maintain. There is however a variation of this story that, when he was still at Greenwich on 13th July, Richard had agreed to this request and had promised to unravel the complicated legal position with a Statute, only to change his mind by the time that he was in Gloucester. There may have been a good reason for him to take this course which Buckingham either could not understand or chose not to do so. Others, among them Sir Thomas More, believed that Buckingham had proposed that Richard's only son and his heir should marry Buckingham's daughter. Buckingham would never have grasped that this was totally out of the question, as young Edward's hand would have to be reserved, if things were to follow their normal course, for some foreign princess. These two latter reasons (or at least one of them) are far more likely to account for Buckingham's departure from Gloucester in a huff to sulk in Brecon Castle, and to wonder why he had so suddenly lost the King's favour. With a King such as Richard, this was a very dangerous position.
During his journey to Gloucester, Richard had already received news of the Sanctuary plot and some other rather shadowy plots to rescue the Princes. [page ] Whilst he was at Gloucester, and visiting the battlefield of Tewkesbury where he had won such renown twelve years before, some more disturbing if not very informative reports reached him of unrest in the South and in the Midlands as well. At this stage there was no reason to suppose that they concerned Buckingham in any way; there had been too little time for him to plot rebellion since his abrupt departure from Court.
Richard seems to have attached more importance to these reports than they merited, and certainly more than did his Chancellor; in August 1483 they were presently leaderless and thus unlikely to pose any serious threat, even if it was advisable to keep a careful watch on them.
Buckingham's supposed meeting with Margaret, Lady Stanley - August 1483
Edward Hall wrote 60 years later his "Union of the two Illustre Families" in which he said that Buckingham had suddenly become disillusioned with Richard. Modern historians tend to view his book with some suspicion, thinking that he was anxious to flatter the Tudor dynasty, but he may have had access to sources which have since been lost. Buckingham is said to have met Margaret on the road completely by chance, she being on her way to the Shrine of the Blessed Virgin in Worcester. They knew each other well from their time at Court, and in any case they were aunt and nephew. Margaret asked Buckingham to use his influence with King Richard III to honour the agreement she had reached with the late King [page ] that her son Henry Tudor should be allowed to return home, marry Elizabeth of York, and settle down to live as a private gentleman. Now she did not insist that he marry Elizabeth - any of Edward's ample supply of daughters would do - but the important thing was that he should be allowed to return home. Buckingham, although he must have realised that his influence with Richard was now a doubtful quantity, promised to see what he could do. The meeting may or may not have taken place, but it is suggested that it is only reasonable to expect that Margaret did make such a request by some means or another, possibly by letter, to her highly placed nephew. It had been a bitter pill for her to swallow that the agreement, which she had only reached with King Edward IV after many years of patient persuasion, should be so suddenly dashed to the ground by his sudden death. Ironically, if Richard had been asked, he might well have agreed since in August 1483, he did not see Henry to be a political threat to him. [page ] At least the seed of the thought of Henry's return, by one means or another, had been sown in Buckingham's dim mind.
Doctor John Morton's imprisonment
Buckingham had been highly flattered when he was placed in charge of so eminent a prisoner as Doctor John Morton, Bishop of Ely, after his release from the Tower following the events of 13th June 1483. [page ] He kept him in Brecon Castle, his principle stronghold, under an easy form of house arrest. Now the two men, with ample leisure on their hands, often talked of the rights and wrongs of the World, and Sir Thomas More, later a protege of Morton's, pieced together the form the conversations took, doubtless from the memory of the formidable old man he knew. Morton gently chided Buckingham, whose forebears had been strongly Lancastrian, for having anything to do with such a man as Richard; his famous and unswerving loyalty to the Lancastrian cause gave him the high moral ground. Asked why he himself had worked for the Yorkists, and had even held the high office of Master of the Rolls, he answered frankly that he would have much preferred to see the son of King Henry VI on the Throne. Since the boy had been killed at the battle of Tewkesbury, there had been no point on going on striving for Lancaster.
More's account is unfinished, but it is not difficult to fill in the gaps. Morton knew that Buckingham could absorb no more than one idea at a time, but with endless patience and guile, he cautiously won Buckingham round to the cause of rebellion to gain the Throne for Henry Tudor. He knew that Buckingham, who only wanted to be on the winning side, was becoming increasingly uneasy about the widespread revulsion to Richard's regime; this was daily becoming more widespread and apparent during the early autumn days of 1483, although at this time it seems to have centred more on disgust of Richard's seizure of the Throne and the dis-inheritance of the young King rather than his and his brothers murders. At times Morton did not spare his jailer's feelings. Buckingham shifted most uneasily in his chair as the clever and analytically-minded lawyer-cleric tore to shreds the arguments which he had deployed to persuade the City and the Great Council to accept Richard as King during the summer days of June. [page ] Buckingham's immortal soul was in great danger after all that he had done, but there was a more immediate peril. Morton did not hesitate to confirm Buckingham's own opinion that he had fallen from Richard's favour, and with a King of the kind that Richard was, it would not be long before Buckingham would be brought to the scaffold. It did not of course escape the astute Morton that if the rebellion succeeded, there could be a bitter dispute between Henry and Buckingham which of them should ascend the Throne, for Buckingham too had Royal blood in his veins, being a descendant of Thomas of Woodstock, the fifth son of King Edward III. As things were, that had to be tomorrow's problem. In the meantime, Buckingham became as putty in the hands of the much more intelligent and crafty churchman.
Prelude to rebellion - August to September 1483
Lady Margaret Stanley must have been in touch with Morton, and he kept her well advised of the seduction of the Duke from his allegiance. Now she herself went to work. It was far too risky for her to call on the Dowager Queen Elizabeth in her sanctuary. The large guard around the place would have noted and reported any visit by such an easily recognisable person as the diminutive Margaret. There was however another way. Both she and Elizabeth consulted the same physician, Doctor Lewis Caerlon. He carried messages too and fro from which Margaret learnt that Elizabeth supported the idea of Henry becoming King provided that he married her daughter Elizabeth of York, who would then reign as Henry's consort. Moreover, she undertook to urge her late husband's friends to give support to the proposal. Margaret, with almost unbelievable courage, started to raise loans in the City. It is a moot point if the lenders were told of the true purposes for the loans, but some at least must have guessed, and still willingly advanced their money. Soon she could dispatch her servant Hugh Conway to Henry with a large sum in cash.
Margaret then sent her old and trusted servant, Reginald Bray, to Brecon Castle to consult with Buckingham and Morton. Bray was a brilliant organiser and, by the end of September 1483, a considerable number of people from all over the Southern Counties had committed themselves to a rebellion. It was impossible to keep these activities from the ears of the King, who was still travelling around the North. Realising something serious was afoot, he set his spies to work. In the meantime, he tested his chief suspect, Buckingham, by summoning him to Court. Buckingham excused himself, pleading a malady of the stomach.
This confirmed Richard's suspicions. For the moment he did nothing except to warn his northern supporters privately to be ready for a summons to fight. In the first few days of October, the report of the spies was put onto his desk and Richard knew the plan in its entirety
The Plan for the rebellion
It was to be on a grand scale. On St Luke's day, 18th October 1483, the Men of Kent were to make a feint attack upon London to draw the King in that direction. There were to be simultaneous uprisings, particularly in Wiltshire, Berkshire and the West country to confuse the issue still further. Meanwhile.Buckingham was to cross the River Severn with his force of Welshmen, meet up with Henry Tudor who would land with a force of Bretons in Devon, and march upon London as the main military thrust. Gathering recruits on the way, they would soon be strong enough to fight Richard's army once he had recovered from his surprise. It was bold, but it left out of account three most important factors. Such a complex military plan was far too rigid, and failed to foresee, and make allowances for, at least something going wrong rather than to count on everything going right from the start. Richard was not a man who could easily be surprised. A formidable warrior who knew the importance of good intelligence, he could be counted upon to keep his ear close to the ground and to make sound strategic and tactical assessments. Lastly, there was no allowance for bad weather so late in the year.
King Richard III's re-actions
Richard was in Lincoln on 11th October when he decided that the time had come to concentrate his forces, Leicester being the chosen mustering point. He cannot claim that he was taken entirely by surprise, but he was clearly incandescent with rage, and there are several instances of the abuse he freely used in his correspondence. In a letter which was no doubt typical of others sent to his northern supporters to summon an army together, the citizens of York were astonished to learn what a vile traitor Buckingham was. Richard's supporters living along the banks of the River Severn were not spared their share of amazement when they were bidden to deny the crossings of the River to Buckingham's army until Richard could march to their aid.
The Chancellor, Doctor John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln, was bidden to send the Great Seal to Richard, and must have been astounded to read about:-
".....the malysse of hym that hadde best cawse to be trewe, th' Duc of Bokyngham, the most untrewe creatur lyvyng .....We assure you ther was never false traytor better purvayde for......."
Most surprising of all was the Proclamation that employed the most intemperate terms. Headed 'Reform of Morals', it resembled a tract denouncing lascivious living more than a call to arms, and made Thomas, Marquis of Dorset its especial target. Thomas was said to have entered into adulterous relationships with many ladies in every station in life, and even now was living with that vile strumpet Mrs Jane Shore since her release from prison. So well had the two concealed themselves that the King had been unable to find them; had he done so, then this obscene relationship would have come to an abrupt end and wicked people would have been punished. So far did the King go in his invective that his own hold on sanity could have been doubted. However this may have been, Richard had correctly assessed the military position, that the greatest danger lay in the West Country, and thither he marched as soon as his army was ready, bidding the citizens of London to put their trust in their stout walls, and in the military leadership of the Duke of Norfolk, until he could arrive to chase away the Men of Kent.
The rebellion's failure
The risings duly took place on 18th October 1483, the flag of revolt being raised in Kent, Surrey, Berkshire, Wilt-shire and Devon, and at first all seemed to go well. Now the weather took a hand. A violent tempest arose, and for ten days there was lashing rain. The River Severn burst its banks, and Buckingham's army of Welshmen were unable to cross into England. His Welshmen had followed him without any enthusiasm, and many hated him as a hard-dealing and unsympathetic Lord. Reluctant heroes to a man, and now half drowned into the bargain, they deserted en masse. Buckingham, with his army disintegrating and even deserted by Morton, fled to Shrewsbury, where he took refuge with one of his followers, Ralph Banastre (Bannister). He lived in Banastre's household disguised as a labourer.
Henry Tudor had no better luck. His ships, provided by Francis, Duke of Brittany, were scattered by the same storm.
Reaching Plymouth with only two ships, he was hailed by soldiers on the shore that they were Buckingham's men and that he should land. Henry smelt a rat, and a small boat was sent to investigate. Its officer returned with a report which was not re-assuring, so Henry bade his ship-master to go about and head back for Brittany, gathering up the other ships on the way.
The rebellion had collapsed ignominiously, and Richard marched into Exeter unopposed. There he engaged in the congenial task of considering his revenge. There were few executions, but what was most alarming was the number of prominent people, who had hitherto enjoyed Richard's trust, who were involved at least to some extent; Sir William Berkeley of Beveston, the Warden of the Isle of Wight, Sir William Knyvell, the steward of Castle Rising, Sir Thomas Bourchier of the notable Yorkist family, and even the Cardinal, Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury were only a few of them. Buckingham had already lost his head before Richard reached Exeter. Betrayed by Banastre for the reward, he had been brought to Salisbury where the King was on 1st November. Richard had refused to see him or to listen to his excuses, and ordered his immediate execution. He was beheaded in the market place the very next day, even though it was a Sunday. Richard's soldiers had arrested Thomas St Leger, his sister Anne's second husband, in Bridgwater. Richard had never liked Thomas, and welcomed the opportunity to cut off his head. Many who had ample reason to fear the same fate prudently removed themselves to join Henry Tudor in Brittany. This opened the way for Richard to take a most unwise course in a reign marked by singularly foolish measures.
Richard considered, with some reason, that his only truly loyal supporters were the Men of the North, and that the Southerners had just given him cause to doubt their reliability. Nothing could be simpler than to grant the lands of those Southerners who had fled or were about to be attainted to Northerners who were to keep an eye on their new neighbours. He went even further than this; the offices in the southern counties were given to Northerners, and soon two thirds of the sheriffs of the southern counties came from the North, and this was repeated in the junior offices as well. A man might look forward to becoming one of the host of Royal officers, a Justice of the Peace, a sheriff or under sherriff even. Since time immemorial, these offices had been conferred on local men. They carried status, and were the mark of Royal approval. It was bad enough that ones new neighbour came from the barbarous North, that he spoke a tongue which was almost incomprehensible and which one would not wish to speak, that he looked on one with suspicion and distrust, and that he behaved as a conqueror in a defeated land. It increased the sense of being occupied by a foreign power that the Northerner should occupy the local offices of government as well. The whole measure caused enormous resentment, even among those who would not have joined in any rebellion, and only gave rise to a greater amount of hostility towards the King than already existed.
Doctor John Morton drew on his extensive experience as a fugitive. Disguised as a friar, he made his way to the Fens. When Bishop of Ely, he had come to see the Fens as the best hiding place in the entire country. The marshy land afforded a multitude of hiding places which were difficult for a pursuer to approach. Although many must have known the true identity of the strange friar was who seemed to like living in the marshes, no-one betrayed him. After the clamour had died down somewhat, he took ship from King's Lynn for Flanders. There he hid himself, most probably in Antwerp, where he could keep an eye on events in England. Richard appears to have known where to find him, since later he tried to tempt him to return with offers of a free pardon and high office. Morton treated them all with disdain, preferring penury in Flanders to riches in England.
What was to be done with Lady Margaret Stanley? If she had been a man, she would undoubtedly have lost her head. It was not the custom of the Plantagenets to behead women - that would have to wait until Tudor times. Richard saw another way. He sent for Thomas, Lord Stanley, and questioned him closely about any part he had played in the recent rebellion, and pointed out that by medieval standards, he was his wife's keeper. The silver-tongued Thomas denied any involvement, and in his turn pointed out that the rebellion had been in the South, whereas his estates were in Lancashire, Cheshire and North Wales. Whether Richard believed him or not is difficult to say, but Thomas was one of the great landowners of the Realm, and Richard, with his narrow power base, had to place reliance upon him. Although appointing him to Buckingham's now vacant office of Constable, Richard told him in no uncertain terms that he could do a much better job of keeping his wife under proper control. He must therefore shut her up in one of his northern castles where she would remain during the King's Pleasure. It was not necessary to put her in a dungeon, but she was to be allowed no visitors; in fact, she was to be kept incommunicado.
Thomas did as he was bidden, well aware that Margaret, a most resourceful lady, would always find a way to communicate with her son Henry Tudor. He simply did not wish to know how she did it; running with the hare and hunting with the hounds had always been his particular expertise, and in any case, it was only prudent to be on good terms with Henry Tudor. Richard's prohibition could not possibly extend to depriving her of her confessor, a very necessary personage in 15th-century England. If Richard ever asked about the priest, the old fox had a ready answer. His wife was praying for forgiveness for having offended the King, and the priest was helping her.
The priest was Doctor Christopher Urswick, a highly intelligent man who had trained as a lawyer before entering the Church. He had become Margaret's confessor in 1482, and she had rapidly sensed his courage, integrity and honesty, qualities which were to lead during her son's reign to his employment as a distinguished and highly respected diplomat.
These qualities were soon to be put to the sternest test.
Several times he carried messages to and fro between Margaret and her son Henry, and sometimes even letters. It was a very risky thing to do, because if he had been discovered, a King such as Richard may not have respected his cloth. He took the greatest care, and nobody ever suspected an humble Clerk in Holy Orders.
Margaret herself was never under any illusion how Richard would re-act towards her if this correspondence should come to light. Maybe the Plantagenets did not behead women, but Richard had already shown that he was no respecter of convention. As she later told a member of her household, Henry Parker, Lord Morley during the more peaceful times of her son's reign, she always felt as if the shadow of the axe was hovering about the back of her neck. There she was, sitting in what was in fact a prison, and quite defenceless. It only needed a change of mood on the part of the King,
perhaps even inspired by her own husband's desire to save his skin, for her to be brought to the block. She never let herself be over-awed by these fears. Margaret may have been an ambitious woman and as ruthless as any man, but truly she was an indomitable and courageous person as well. That cannot be denied.
|Copyright © Michael D. Miller 2003|