An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.
Michael D. Miller
|Chapter 76: The Reign of King Richard III - Domestic Affairs:
January 1484 to August 1485
Writs to summon Parliament had been issued in May 1483, the original date for it to assemble being 25th June. This was all part of Richard's plan to lead people to believe that King Edward V was to be crowned, and immediately afterwards, his first Parliament would meet. In mid-June, during the course of Richard's coup, Writs of Supercedas had postponed it indefinitely. [pages ] Then it was called upon to meet on 6th November, only to be postponed again in the wake of the ructions caused by Buckingham's rebellion. Now at last it met on 23rd January 1484 as the only Parliament of the reign of King Richard III.
The Chancellor gave the customary address, taking as his themes "We have many members of the same body and all members have not the same office", apparently meaning that everybody had their job to do, and also that all must search diligently for the "Tenth Drachma" so that everyone should prosper. There was also a very pointed reference "to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" which was especially relevant to what was to come. William Catesby, one of Richard's closest confidantes, was elected the Speaker.
First and foremost was the necessity to confirm Richard's position as the King, and here the two bills presented to Parliament indicate that, by 1484, it was generally accepted that Parliament had the undisputed right to appoint the King where the hereditary succession could not furnish him. It is true that Parliament was faced with a faite accompli; Richard had seized the Throne and had already been crowned some eight months before. There was a host of reasons why Parliament could not now unseat him even if it had wanted to. If the Law could be said to have ten points, then being in possession, as Richard now was, was nine of them. Any attempt to question his right to the Throne could have caused a further out-break of the civil war not to mention some most unpleasant consequences to those who raised any objections. The bills provided for "ratification" of all that was done before and by the Great Council on 25th June 1483, [pages ] and recited word for word the petition which the Great Council had authorised Buckingham to present to Richard. Because the members of Great Council were not persons "assembled in fourme of Parliament", this had led to doubts in many peoples minds, some of them (as Richard would have seen them) being of a treasonable nature. The bills were duly passed so that they became Statutes. They contained some interesting provisions:-
"....to the perpetuall memorie of the trouth" (the Petition dated 25th June 1483 should) "be ratifyed enrolled recorded approved and auctorised.....soo that all things said affirmed specifyed desired and remembred in the said Roll.....be of like effect vertue and force as if all the same things have ben soo said affirmed specifyed desired and remembred in full Parliament."
[Rot Parl vi 204-242]
In other words, all the falsehoods with which Buckingham had regaled the Great Council were now to be the truth, and if the issue of King Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth were not already illegitimate, an Act of Parliament made them so beyond any possibility of contradiction.
There was another revealing provision:-
"That the Court of Parliament is of such authority
.....that manifestation and declaration of any truth or right by the three Estates of the Realm assembled in Parliament, and by authority of the same, made before all things meet faith and certainty, quieting men's minds...."
[Parry- Parliaments & Councils of England ff page 195]
Parliament was dissolved on 20th February 1484, and in a bare four weeks it got through an extraordinary amount of business. There were 95 attainders, representing those who had taken part in the recent rebellion or had fled to join Henry Tudor. The three Bishops involved in the rebellion had all their property confiscated. Margaret, Lady Stanley, shut up in her husband's castle in the North, [pages ] was declared incapable of holding any dignity or title, and all her property was forfeited, the forfeiture only to take place after the death of her husband Thomas, Lord Stanley. All grants to the Dowager Queen Elizabeth were resumed. The faithful were rewarded with reversals of attainders and grants of land. Richard had every reason to be pleased.
Vengeance and rewards apart, Richard concentrated on making his legislation as acceptable to the common man and woman as he could, and historians have read this as typical of the Statutes which could be expected from any subsequent Parliaments of King Richard III, if there had been any. He was anxious to impress the people that they could, and should, expect a beneficent administration from his government. He was well aware that he was not popular in all quarters, but felt that he could become so if he provided good government. Chief among his measures was the making of Benevolences, as his late brother had understood them, illegal. People were not to be forced to make 'loans' or gifts against their will, although Richard was to be accused of breaking his own rules soon enough. [page ] There were a number of other very necessary measures. Secret feoffments were outlawed, By this practise, many had sought to convey their lands to others to protect them from possible forfeiture when they engaged in rebellion. The intention was that, once the rebellion was over, the lands should be conveyed back again. This did not always happen, and there was often great uncertainty of title. The first Statute of Limitations was passed, providing that legal action had to begin within 5 years of the cause of action arising. Justices sitting alone could now grant bail; formerly only the entire Bench sitting together could do this. There were a number of measures to protect English trade and merchandise. Richard did not ask for taxation, declaring that if the customs duties were granted to him for life, he would 'live of his own'. [For the meaning of this expression, see page ] These duties were accordingly granted to him amid expressions of much approval and gratitude.
This was the only Parliament to be summoned during his short reign so we shall never know whether he would have continued his policy of beneficent legislation. Richard again felt well satisfied with his first, and only Parliament, and could now turn his attention to his foreign troubles. [Chapters ]
The Council of the North
In July 1484, Richard took a step which he saw as consolidating his hold on the North, that remote and inhospitable region where his heart and memories of past happiness still lay, although the constitution of The Council of the North may suggest otherwise. The Council was intended to mirror the Council in London to which it was subordinate. This called for a Royal figure as its President, and the new heir to the Throne after the death of Richard's son Edward in April 1484 was the obvious choice - John, Earl of Lincoln.
[pages ] An equally obvious Council member was Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland even though the Council's jurisdiction did not extend to the modern counties of Northumberland and Durham. This was Percy land, and Richard had not forgotten the lesson he had learnt ten years before almost to the day. [page ]
The new Council turned out to be a most efficient body, an administrative reform that subsequent Kings were content to keep in being for nearly 200 years, but it caused Richard some serious problems in its early years. Richard knew that the very existence of the Council would be seen by the Percies as an affront to themselves, and he did his best to assuage the massive Percy pride. Henry Percy was now the Warden-General of the Scottish Marches, both East and West, and he was also Captain of Berwick, an important frontier fortress. He held the Commission of Array in the North so that he could muster troops if it was necessary. Militarily he was the Supremo in the North, and subject only to the directions of the King himself. In the past, the Percies had had to share the North with the Nevilles, a family with whom they had a such a virulent feud that they had even fought some pitched battles; at times they had seemed more interested in fighting each other than in preventing a Scottish invasion. When the Nevilles had gone, they then had to share the North with Richard himself when he was Duke of Gloucester. Maybe Percy had to accept this, but he did not have to enjoy doing so. Now, militarily at least, he had the North to himself; he did not have to share it with anybody. Apart from this number of most important military appointments, Richard had given Henry Percy some huge grants of land so that he was now the biggest landowner in the country. He was without doubt an important and influential man, one of the foremost in the Kingdom.
Still Percy was not content. The Percy pride, arrogance and wealth, and their long history, confirmed them in their belief that the Percy, and the Percy alone, was Cock o' the North. If there was any need for this wretched Council, something to which Percy took the gravest exception, then the Percy should head it. A Royal head (as Richard had been) might just be tolerable, but John, although he was an impressive young man in his early 20s, was scarcely that. A Percy must take orders from some young whipper-snapper from the soft South? The idea was preposterous, an insult even, and the Percies had always been ready to see an insult even when patently none was intended.
Hubris apart, Percy suspected that the Council of the North was intended to be some check on him ruling the North as he alone saw fit, and he may well have been right; this probably was one of Richard's intentions, because he intended that the Royal Writ should extend to the furthest and most remote parts of the Kingdom and not be subject to the whim of some feudal chieftain. For the moment he said nothing, but simply nursed his resentment and bided his time. When the time came however, it was to have fatal consequences for Richard. Percy could have saved his King at the battle of Bosworth 1485, but chose not to do so.[page ]
King Richard III's heir and the succession
The only child of the marriage between Richard and his Queen Anne was their son Edward, who was born in 1476. After 12 years of marriage, they should have had a large family by 1484, not just one rather sickly little boy. Large families were usual at the time, and Richard's own brother, King Edward IV had fathered no less than 10 children by the Dowager Queen Elizabeth, not to mention many others, of whom he seemed reluctant to speak, by his many mistresses. It did seem strange that the King and Queen were not blessed with a horde of happy and healthy youngsters as others were. But there it was, and they adored their son, the heir to the Throne, who had been made Prince of Wales shortly after his parent's coronation. The Lords of the Realm, as was customary, had given solemn oaths that they would uphold young Edward's right to succeed his father when the time came. There was a successor, although ideally he should have been the eldest of a number of brothers and sisters. That in an uncertain world, where disease carried off all too many children, would have ensured and bolstered the Plantagenet succession.
On 9th April 1484, as Richard was embarking on his Scottish campaign, [pages ] young Edward died suddenly at Middleham. He had always been a sickly child. Whenever he went anywhere, he was unable to ride a horse but had to be carried in a litter. Many ceremonies he did not attend because he could not stand the journey. Even so, he carried with him the hopes and fears of his parents. Quite apart from the extreme grief of his parents, which bordered on madness, this was a terrible disaster. Although well within child-bearing age, Queen Anne had borne no child in the eight years since Edward's birth, and it seemed highly unlikely that she would do so now. The succession had to be thought of, and there were so few Plantagenets left. In contrast to their fecundity of earlier times, there was only another Edward, the son of George, Duke of Clarence, the nine-year old Earl of Warwick. He was debarred by his father's attainder of 1478, [page ] and whilst a Statute could be repealed, this idea had, not surprisingly, scant appeal to Richard. For one thing, its repeal would give young Edward a better title to the Throne than Richard enjoyed himself. Besides, there was some question of the boy's mental health which would have left him, had he ever ascended the Throne, as vulnerable as a lamb among a pride of lions. Richard had to accept that with his own passing, the Plantagenet dynasty, which had ruled England since 1154, would come to an end. The nearest male relative who was suitable was the son of John de La Pole, Duke of Suffolk and Richard's sister Elizabeth, the grandson of the William who had been so cruelly murdered by the sailors in 1450. [page ] This nephew, also John, Earl of Lincoln would have to be accepted as heir to the Throne.
But was there not another way? Richard was still only 32, and was well able to father further children. Although generally faithful to Anne and disapproving of the lascivious ways in which most of his courtiers behaved, Richard had fathered two bastard children which seemed to indicate that the fault lay with Anne and not with him. He could marry again with every reasonable expectation of fathering a large family, but what was he to do about Anne? Half a century later, another King, King Henry VIII, was faced with the same problem which he only resolved, after a titanic struggle, by divorcing his Queen Katherine. Katherine's fault (like Anne's before her, there was no other), was her failure to produce a male heir to the Throne. There the similarity ends, because King Henry VIII, although he had both men and women tortured and put to death in ample measure, never even contemplated the murder of his Queen. There is still a large question mark hanging over Richard concerning Anne's death. Tongues wagged freely that he had poisoned her, and this may have been so. It is far from certain, and has already been said, Richard was very good at covering his tracks. It is equally possible that she died of natural causes, and tuberculosis, a certain killer, has been suggested.
Whilst in the first few months of his reign Richard had entirely discounted Henry Tudor as a political force, he had, by the late summer of 1484, come to regard him as a most dangerous foe. He became obsessed with Henry, and this obsession was to become paranoiac as time went by. Henry had declared his intention of marrying Elizabeth of York, [page ] and Richard resolved that, by hook or by crook, this marriage had to be thwarted. Richard's own sensitive political antennae told him that many people were attracted to the idea of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York reigning as King and Queen. It had been a central purpose of the Buckingham rebellion. He knew that he was not as popular as he had hoped to be, and scarcely a week went by without news of yet more people fleeing across the sea to join Henry, preferring exile to Richard's rule in England.
From the conduct of Richard's foreign policy, [Chapters] it may be concluded that Richard, the man of action, was far too prone to take impulsive and even rash steps which only lead him into yet deeper trouble than the problems he was attempting to resolve. He now embarked upon perhaps the most foolish proposal in a reign marked by unwise measures, even if beneficent rule was one of its undoubted features.
Elizabeth of York
Shortly after he had put down Buckingham's rebellion in October 1483, Richard had induced the Dowager Queen Elizabeth to leave her sanctuary in Westminster and to come to Court with her daughters, promising her that he would find them suitable husbands. Historians have been very critical of Elizabeth for making her peace with Richard. Unquestionably he had murdered her brother and the second son of her first marriage by executing them in Pontefract Castle in June 1483, and he was popularly supposed to have murdered her two Royal sons, the Princes in the Tower. At the end of 1483, she can have had no illusions that if he ever succeeded in laying hands on her only surviving son, Thomas, Marquis of Dorset, he would cut off his head without a moments hesitation. Richard was steeped in the blood of her nearest relatives and her children, but she still had her daughters to think of. Stigmatised as illegitimate in June 1483, and shortly to be condemned as such by Act of Parliament, [pages ] they had scant hope of making suitable marriages in sanctuary. Only with the help of the King was there any realistic hope of match-making for the girls. Richard may well have been right in thinking of her as a stupid woman motivated solely by greed and rapacity but, having overcoming any repugnance she may have felt, there was ample reason for her to fall for his blandishments. [It may be supposed that Richard managed to persuade Elizabeth that Buckingham, and not himself, was responsible for the deaths of the Princes in the Tower]
Once at Court, the girls soon became popular figures. They were an attractive lot, and Elizabeth (18) and Cecille (13) were either of marriageable age or shortly would be.
Even the smaller girls were much liked. Anne (8) was later to marry Thomas, Earl of Surrey, whilst Catherine (4) and little Bridget (3), although she later became a nun, had their admirers. The idea of coming to Court was such a success that the Dowager Queen wrote to her son Dorset in the spring of 1485 to say that it was now safe for him to return home and to make his peace with the mellowing King. She was anxious that he too should share in the restored fortunes of her family. Foolishly, he left Henry Tudor and set out for home. Henry pursued him and brought him back. He had a most painful interview with Henry who never really trusted him thereafter. [page ]
Richard could very easily have thwarted Henry Tudor's matrimonial plans by marrying Elizabeth of York off to one of the many young men (and heirs) who thronged his Court. That would not have presented the slightest difficulty. All that was needed was a word with the young man's father, an agreement for a suitable dowry (Richard would have had to find this himself because Elizabeth did not have a penny piece), and an early marriage which would effectively spike Henry Tudor's guns. Richard did not follow this simple and obvious course. Instead he himself became most enamoured of a charming young lady, who was also his niece and almost half his age, whose gracious ways had attracted many admirers. Queen Anne, like all wives, was well aware of what was going on, even if there had not been the many 'kind friends', of which there are always plenty in every gathering such as a Court, to tell her that her husband's attention was wandering. It was something which it was impossible to conceal, even if Richard had made any attempt to do so.
Things came to a head during the Christmas festivities of 1484. Richard had complained to Thomas Rotherham, Archbishop of York, of the Queen's barrenness. Others would have been present, and they saw to it that this remark soon reached the Queen's ears. Anne was bitterly hurt, not only by the slight, but also by the confirmation of so many other incidents, mostly of a trivial nature, which indicated that her husband was on the look-out for another mate. Even worse was to follow. At the Christmas banquet, it was especially noticeable that, with the adoring eye of the King himself fixed upon her, Elizabeth was dancing and disporting herself with the gayest abandon whilst dressed in robes of the same cloth, colour and cut as those of the Queen herself. [Croyland Chronicle p 571] This was a breach of etiquette, protocol even, of the grossest kind. Anne furiously demanded that the girl should be reprimanded by the Lord Chamberlain, or at least by her mother. Richard refused, telling Anne not to be so sensitive and making some trite remark that girls will be girls, while reflecting that it was most probably the mother who had encouraged the daughter to behave in this way. He may even have so encouraged her himself.
Anne, who comes down to us through history as a colourless person of little character, did not have the reserves to cope with the constant humiliations which her husband now heaped upon her. Shortly into the New Year of 1485, she took to her bed, never to rise again. She died on 16th March 1485 during an eclipse of the sun which was thought to be a particularly bad omen. Possibly poison had something to do with her end, but it is impossible to say with any certainty. It is equally likely that she really did die of tuberculosis, or perhaps even of a broken heart.
The proposal to marry Elizabeth of York
Queen Anne's death solved at least one of Richard's problems, and he was free to marry again. The opportune moment of her death was not lost on Richard's subjects, courtiers and commoners alike. Tongues wagged freely that the King had poisoned the Queen, an accusation fortified by the belief, by now a firmly held conviction, that he had already done away with the Princes in the Tower. If he had murdered the boys, then why should he balk at removing from the land of the living the wife and Queen who stood in his way? The rumour-mongers soon had an even choicer piece of gossip. Richard now proposed to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York.
Whether Richard ever seriously contemplated such an atrocious alliance is one of the tantalising questions of history. There were some things to be said for the idea, and a whole range of objections which far out-weighed any advantages, and in his saner moments Richard must have understood this. Certainly Richard had the motive to marry again and produce a large family and also the desire to thwart Henry Tudor's matrimonial plans. Undoubtedly Richard had become enamoured of a most attractive young lady, even if she did take after her father and lacked her mother's outstanding beauty. There was nothing markedly wrong with any of this. But to marry, and particularly to consummate the marriage, was incest of the rankest kind. Incest was a deadly sin which got steadily deadlier the closer the parties stood in relationship to one another. A Papal dispensation was required, and whilst in the past Popes had shown willingness to allow the marriage of cousins, there was little chance of such approval where an uncle proposed to marry his niece. Medieval Popes could be bribed and frequently were, and no doubt the Pope's price would be huge. But what if Pope Innocent VIII demanded as his bribe the repeal of the 14th-century Statutes of Provisors which forbade papal taxation in England? Richard knew that his subjects would never put up with the re-imposition of such a hated exaction.
There are however some clues that Richard really did intend to marry his niece. Polydore Vergil, writing his "Historie of England" in the early years of the 16th-century, does not dwell upon the matter beyond saying that Elizabeth found the proposed marriage 'abhorrent'. He could never safely say anything else of the beloved mother of King Henry VIII, and therefore he represented her as a victim. Sir George Buck, the 17th-century historian who researched the Howard papers in the safety of Stuart times and beyond the reach of Tudor vengeance, claimed to have found a letter (which has since been lost) written by Elizabeth of York to Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey. She thanked Thomas most profusely for all that he had done to promote her forthcoming union with Richard, and seemed overjoyed at the prospect of becoming Queen. It is suggested that this does not take us much further so far as her personal inclinations were concerned. With her appalling mother, whose only concern was wealth, power and position for herself, standing at her elbow, she could do little else. There is also the story of Elizabeth's half-brother Thomas, Marquis of Dorset, being bidden by his mother to return home from Henry Tudor's Court to share in the family's new found fortunes. [page ]
More compellingly, the Croyland Chronicle, [pp 571-573] normally a reliable source, reports that in the days following Queen Anne's death, Sir William Catesby and Sir Richard Ratclyff braced themselves for a most unpleasant interview with their King. They were probably the only people who could speak to Richard in these terms and still keep their heads, but it may be supposed that the realisation that they would stand or fall with Richard must have played some part in the incentive to be so dangerously frank with him. They told him bluntly that if he really did marry his niece, he would lose the vital support of his northern friends. Austere and upright to a man and woman, they did not care for incest and would certainly turn against him. More especially, if confirmation that Anne really had been poisoned should leak out, their fury would know no bounds. Anne had been born a Neville and, in spite of everything, the name was still revered in the North. The Devines who had, rather apprehensively, accompanied them told Richard that the Pope could never sanction a union of such close relatives as an uncle and a niece.
There then followed the humiliation of an English King which went beyond even that visited upon King Richard II when he was forced to abdicate in 1399. To find its equal, one has to go back to 1215, when King John was manoeuvred into the meadow of Runnymede and forced to sign Magna Carta.
According to the records of the Mercers Company, the Lord Mayor, the aldermen and the leading citizens of the City were summoned to the Hall of the Knights of St John on 30th March 1485 to hear an oration from the King himself. They must have been astonished at what the King had to say. Richard told them that he had dearly loved his wife and had not poisoned her. She had died of natural causes, at least an equal possibility. There was, and never had been, any idea of marrying his niece, an atrocious proposal however it was looked at. They would greatly oblige their King by handing those who persisted in repeating these unfounded rumours, or anybody who handed out hand-bills which alleged them, to the Royal Justice which would punish them severely. Richard's letter to the Mayor of York survives. This, written in a similar vein, urged the Mayor to visit the most stringent penalties on anyone repeating these disgraceful stories.
The story that Richard intended to marry his niece naturally crossed the Channel and gave rise to much merriment at the French Court. Henry Tudor was less amused, because such a marriage could rob him of much Yorkist support on which he was counting. In the end it all blew over and Henry could breath again. To Richard however it was more serious. The whole affair dented further his already fading prestige.
King Richard III's mental health
Richard's character has been examined. [pages ] During his brother's lifetime he was a firm, resolute and upstanding man who, if he was not universally liked, was at least generally and greatly respected. He was an adroit politician and a most formidable soldier, a man who knew his own mind and had no hesitation in doing what it told him he must do. He had the reputation of always being prepared to do the right thing even though, where his own interest was concerned, he was not always totally objective. He had won tremendous renown for his handling of his two commands at the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury, both 1471, and for his conduct of the Scottish campaign in 1482. Many were impressed at how he had won the loyalty of the sullen and resentful Neville lands in the sensitive North-West. An additional facet which appealed to many was his undying hostility to the loathed Wydeville clan. What then caused his character to disintegrate steadily during the course of his reign from determination and resolution to the almost hysterical paranoia of his latter days?
As the 'hard man' that Richard saw himself to be, he could never admit that Buckingham's rebellion in October 1483 had greatly shaken him, and it may be questioned if he ever really recovered from the experience. Although he had never had much opinion of Buckingham's abilities, the two men had been so close. Why then, within four months of the Coronation itself, had he suddenly turned against the King who had rewarded him so handsomely? There were other matters as well which caused Richard great concern. Nobody would have dared to say this to his face, but they whispered it behind their hands that he had murdered his nephews. Why could the fools not see that if England was not to slip back into the civil war, she had to have a firm King on the Throne and not a callow boy who, more likely then otherwise, would be under the thumb of his hateful mother? Now there were all sorts of unkind stories that he had poisoned his Queen, and nothing he could do seemed to persuade people that this was not the case. Now there was great objection to his marrying a most suitable young lady and producing an heir to the Throne. Why did they do nothing but put obstacles in his way? None of it made any sense.
Richard wanted above all else to provide good government in a peaceful Realm and to be loved by his people for it. Without doubt this was a genuine wish, and his first Parliament had passed much legislation for the general good of society as a whole. He had a raft of plans for equally beneficial legislation in future Parliaments, and could not understand why he was given no credit for this. On the other hand, Richard would have been the last to see that many of the things he had done during the first year of his reign had been most unwise. His foreign policy had been an unmitigated disaster, and the country's trade had been damaged by the piracy he had deliberately encouraged.
[Chapter ] Positioning of Northerners in the South, and in giving them local offices of influence had created enormous resentment when what he needed most of all were the hearts and minds of the people. [pages ] The death of his Queen Anne at a most opportune moment was attributed to poisoning, whilst the proposal to marry his niece was widely believed and shocked and disgusted many.
In vain did Richard seek to increase his declining popularity by conferring benefits widely, even to those who had done little or nothing to deserve them. He even granted leases of lands to people whose good opinion he desired at such small rents that they brought in altogether only £750; if leased at market rates, they would have produced £12, 000. In vain did he offer pardons to those who had offended him, particularly by taking part in Buckingham's rebellion. As often as not, they chose to join Henry Tudor in penurious exile and challenge an uncertain future to do its worst. In vain did he announce that he would not tax his subjects but 'live of the King's own'. This was either disbelieved or relegated to the realms of being credited only when it happened. In vain did he offer pardons to Doctor John Morton, sitting out his exile in Antwerp, seeing in him a man of outstanding ability who would have done much for his government if he had joined it. Finally in December 1484 he gave John an unconditional pardon, and suffered an humiliating rebuff. John ignored it.
Richard's over-reaction to a farcical incident during the summer of 1484 will serve to show the strain he was under and the suffering it imposed on him, and the unwise actions to which he resorted. An absurd piece of doggerel was found pinned to church doors and other prominent places, and was also being circulated in hand-bills. It was scarcely of the standard of the lampoons which so delighted the 15th-century, and were for the most part ignored by the government:-
"The catte, the ratte and Lovell our dogge Ruleth all England under a hogge."
The derogatory references to Catesby, Ratclyff and Lovell, all of whom were government officers, were bad enough, but it was too much, almost treason, that Richard's own emblem of the White Boar should be held up to ridicule. Furious, Richard ordered that the culprit must be found. The author turned out to be William Collingbourne, the one-time steward of the Wiltshire lands of the King's own mother, 'Proud Cis' herself. Collingbourne, who had held several prominent local offices in Wiltshire, had been dismissed at Richard's own request to make room for Lovell. Although Collingbourne suffered the dreadful death of a traitor, Richard made himself look ridiculous by taking a disgruntled ex-servant's grudge so seriously. [There was some evidence that Collingbourne had been in treasonable correspondence with Henry Tudor, but it was the matter of the doggerel which came foremost in people's minds] The worry about Henry Tudor also played its part. In the last months of his reign, Richard became paranoid about Henry, and those about him could see the danger signs. Richard, when weighed down by some intractable problem, had long had the habit of striding about, gnawing at his lower lip and playing with his dagger. To these disquietening habits he now added sudden darting glances in every direction as though he feared a sudden attack by an enemy. These were scarcely the ways of a man whose mind was at peace with itself. Polydore Vergil remarked, with much malicious relish, that he led a miserable life.
Up to the time of the death of King Edward IV, Richard had always been a big player on the winning team. Although he did not understand the reasons why this should be so, he was conscious that he was now the main player on the losing side. The thought drove him into a frenzy of increasing desperation to the extent where it could be doubted if he was any longer mentally stable. It does not seem too much to say that, during the second year of his short reign, Richard was mentally unhinged to a significant extent. Perhaps he was even deranged.
Richards view of Henry Tudor
In 1483, as has already been said, Richard had discounted Henry Tudor as a political force of any consequence. The widespread support for Buckingham's rebellion in October 1483 with its avowed object of putting Henry Tudor on the Throne must have convinced Richard that this view was not a sound one. Henry's declaration at Christmas 1483 that he intended to marry Elizabeth of York indicated that he was far more dangerous than Richard had previously supposed. He had attempted to extradite Henry from Brittany in September 1484, but Henry had slipped through his fingers and had escaped to France. [page ]He could bully or bribe the Bretons but not the French. He had demonstrated to the Regent of France, Anne de Beaujeu and to the young King Charles VIII that he was France's implacable enemy who might well re-start the 100-years War. France obviously intended to employ Henry against him, and the steady trickle of refugees to Henry's Court showed that Henry had considerable support and sympathy in England.
How had Henry escaped him? The Council had been told of the extradition attempt, and somewhere amongst its 20 odd members there was a traitor. Richard closely examined each of them, particularly Thomas, Lord Stanley, who as Henry's step-father attracted most suspicion. Thomas blandly assured Richard that, in accordance with the King's own command, his wife Margaret was mewed up incommunicado in a northern castle and saw nobody. Thomas, from long experience, knew how to lie with a completely straight face, and also knew how much it was safe for him to be aware of, and what he should forebear to enquire into. A confessor's place was constantly at the side of his penitent, and Doctor Christopher Urswick had been absent for long periods. Thomas had not enquired into where he had been or what he had been doing. By asking no questions, he would be told no lies, and by not knowing, he should be able to save his own head, and perhaps even his wife's as well. It is a matter for conjecture to which he attached the greater importance.
All this demonstrated to Richard how alone he was. He still had powerful adherents such as John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, his son Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland and several others who knew that they would rise or fall with his own fortunes, but the almost daily haemorrhaging of middle ranking support to Henry Tudor was a matter of the very greatest concern. Henry was getting stronger by the day whilst Richard was growing weaker by the minute. The thought drove Richard into a frenzy, and paranoia undoubtedly had him in its grip during the last year of his life.
Convinced that an invasion by Henry Tudor was imminent, Richard had made Nottingham Castle his main residence by September 1484. The Castle has largely disappeared, but 16th-century prints show it to have been a vast fortress and one which was suitable for the seat of a King. This was also the strategic centre of England, and would allow Richard to march to any point where Henry might land. It would also ensure that he would have plenty of room for manoeuvre, a most necessary requirement to bring Henry to battle on advantageous ground and defeat him. Nottingham was an easy place for his main supporters to muster, and should allow him to put a considerable force into the field with the minimum of delay.
Richard did not stay permanently in Nottingham, where the machinery for rapid mobilisation was kept constantly in readiness, but he was careful not to journey too far from it. He paid brief visits to London and Windsor from time to time, and showed himself to his subjects on Royal Progresses.
But the country was put onto a war footing, short of actually calling out the men to fight. The Sheriffs were warned to expect Commissions of Array, and must muster their men at half a day's notice. Some levies were raised to garrison castles in areas thought to be particularly vulnerable, particularly in Wales. The Royal ships, reinforced by merchantmen chartered for the purpose, kept watch in the Channel. A form of pony express, backed in some cases by hill-top beacons, was organised to carry warning of an invasion as quickly as possible to the Headquarters in Nottingham.
All this cost a great deal of money, and Richard began to run short. He could call Parliament, which had always in the past proved itself ready to grant taxation to repel an invasion by such enemies as the French, but would it grant taxation where the enemy was Henry Tudor? That was not nearly so certain, and Richard would be put in a terrible position if he made a demand for taxation and was refused.
Besides, it took time to summon Parliament, and the gathering of any taxation it authorised was a slow process, whereas his need for money was immediate. Between February and May 1485, Richard began to issue bonds as a form of war loan, aiming to raise £30, 000. Some prominent people were invited to subscribe by a circular letter, in which the use of the word 'Benevolence' was carefully avoided. Other blank forms of bonds were sent to agents with instructions to persuade people to subscribe, together with a target for which each agent must aim. The letter expressed the hope:-
"His Grace and all his Lords thinketh that every true Englishman woll help him in this behalve of which nomber his Grace reputeth and taketh you for oon."
There was nothing illegal with the raising of a war loan if it was left to the individual's free will to subscribe and to decide, without intimidation, how many bonds he was willing to purchase. The letter indicates that the King's true intention was not to force people to subscribe (although many discerned a latent threat), but to remain within the bounds of the Statute which had only recently been passed by Parliament. Yet so unpopular had Richard become that people felt they were put under improper pressure to buy these bonds, and this they greatly resented. Perhaps the agents, who were themselves under pressure to meet their targets, and did not relish explaining their failure to a King such as Richard, employed bullying methods. The accounting practices of the time, with some monies going to the Exchequer and some to the King's own Chamber, make it impossible to be certain how much money was raised, but it does seem that it was a derisory amount, and that the issue was an abject failure. The cry of 'Benevolences' was soon raised, only sometimes with justification, but people took it even further than this. The costs of raising soldiers by Commissions of Array (there had already been some to garrison exposed castles) were normally borne, with a greater or lesser measure of resignation, by the community from which the men came. [pages ] These were now freely stigmatised as 'Benevolences', something which had never been claimed in the past. All Richard achieved was to make himself even more unpopular than he already was.
So, in the agony of waiting for events to unfold, past the sultry summer months of 1485. Life still went on as before, men and women were born, grew up, loved, hated, fell ill and recovered (or not), drank too much in the taverns, prayed in the churches, confessed to their priests, got married, made sport to amuse themselves, laboured at their various callings, laughed or grieved, died and were buried as had always been the case. In the cities and towns, people went about their usual noisy business, the merchants bought and sold, the craftsman carried on his trade, and the wives cooked and tended to their children. In the fields, stock was tended by the shepherd and the cowman and the crops steadily ripened as harvest time approached. England was England still, but there was a difference which was apparent to every eye. In the castles and manor houses of the Great, there was a coming and going of messengers and a delivery of letters which caused men to ponder and consult with their friends what they should do and which side they should support, King Richard III or Henry Tudor, should there be an invasion. In the more humble dwellings, people anxiously speculated what uses their masters would find for them. Were they to be called out to fight, either for or against the King or the Tudor, or were they to be left in peace to get on with their lives? Harvest time was approaching, and soon they must make preparation for the winter months. The grain had to be gathered in, and that which was surplus to the family's requirements must be sold. Surplus animals would have to be slaughtered to provide meat during the winter before the blessed spring again returned. It was all so very normal but for the apprehension of the great events which seemed likely to unfold soon, and would catch up all in their grasp. There was none of the bustle and excitement that attended the coming of Dutch William in 1688, when the troops were said to have whistled "Lillibulero" so loudly that they blew King James III off the three thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland. In 1485 all was quiet, but ominously so, and this made the waiting even more difficult.
Then suddenly, on 7th August 1485, the tension was broken. Henry Tudor and his small army landed at Milford Haven in Wales. The time for decision had come.
|Copyright © Michael D. Miller 2003|