Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir


  On 10th May the Duke, says Croyland, 'received the high office of Protector of the kingdom and was accordingly invested with this authority, with the consent and goodwill of the lords, with power to order and forbid in every matter, just like another king'. His official title was 'Protector and Defender of the Realm'. Unlike Duke Humphrey in 1422, Gloucester was entrusted not only with the government of the realm but also with 'the tutelage and oversight of the King's most royal person'. He was also granted sovereign power, where Humphrey had been merely a figurehead. This departure from tradition reflects not only the Council's concern for the security of the kingdom but also the extent of Gloucester's power and influence.

  One man who was more than satisfied with Gloucester's appointment was, says Croyland, 'the powerful Lord Hastings, who seemed to oblige the Dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham in every way and to have earned special favour from them. [He] was overjoyed at this new world, declaring that nothing more had happened than the transfer of the rule of the kingdom from two of the Queen's blood to two noble representatives of the King's. This had been achieved without any slaughter or more spilling of blood than that produced by a cut finger.'

  The lords now set a new date for the King's coronation which, says Croyland, was 'fixed as 24th June. Everyone was looking forward to the peace and prosperity of the kingdom.' According to Rous, the order was given for coins to be minted in the name of Edward V. None have survived, and the only coins remaining from this period bear Gloucester's boar's head emblem.

  On 10th May, John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln and the probable author of the Croyland Chronicle, was appointed Lord Chancellor in place of Rotherham by Gloucester. Mancini describes Russell as 'a man of equally great learning and piety', and More says he was 'one of the best learned men undoubtedly that England had in his time'. Russell had not aligned himself with any faction and was appointed, according to Rous, much against his will, being unhappy about being promoted over Archbishop Rotherham.

  This done, Gloucester, relates Mancini, 'hastened to remove the other obstacles' that stood in the way of his future security. 'He attempted to bring about the condemnation of those whom he had put in prison' -- Rivers, Grey, Vaughan and Haute -- 'by obtaining a decision of the Council convicting them of preparing ambushes and of being guilty of treason itself. But this he was quite unable to achieve, because there appeared no certain case as regards the ambushes, and even had the crime been manifest it would not have been treason, for at the time he was neither regent, nor did he hold any other public office.' Croyland says that 'the continued imprisonment of the Queen's relatives and servants', who had been confined 'without judgement or justice', was 'a circumstance that caused the gravest doubts' in the minds of the councillors, who felt quite strongly that all were innocent of the charges levelled against them by Gloucester. This was the first indication to the Duke that the Council were not prepared to grant his every wish, and there was worse to come, for Croyland tells us that the councillors expressed concern that 'the Protector did not, with a sufficient degree of considerateness, take fitting care for the preservation of the dignity and safety of the Queen'. Such criticism showed Gloucester that the Council did not view Elizabeth Wydville as a danger to the security of his position and that their sympathies were with her. He was deeply disturbed, but within a few days had responded to the criticism by appointing a committee of lords, headed by Buckingham and the Archbishop of Canterbury, to negotiate the Queen's voluntary withdrawal with her children from sanctuary. The committee's efforts were doomed to failure: on 23rd May, the minutes of the Corporation of London, preserved in the Guildhall, record that it had met with no success, and up to early June it was still meeting with firm refusals from an emotional and indignant Elizabeth Wydville.

  It was undoubtedly in Gloucester's interests for the Queen Dowager to emerge from sanctuary into honourable retirement; her remaining there was an embarrassment and a constant reproach, its implication being that her life and her children's lives, despite all assurances to the contrary, were in danger whilst Gloucester was in power, which was damaging to his reputation. Therefore, far from preventing people from visiting the Queen in sanctuary, Gloucester now positively encouraged them to do so, and many lords called just to pay their respects.

  During those three weeks, however, it became apparent that Gloucester was also seeking every opportunity to incite hatred against the Queen and to influence public opinion against the Wydvilles. Almost his first act as Protector was to seize the estates of Rivers, Grey, Dorset and other members of the family as though they had been forfeited by Act of Attainder. Such seizure was illegal, as was the redistribution of those lands amongst Gloucester's supporters. The Queen must have learned of this and it would certainly have strengthened her resolve not to leave sanctuary.

  The Council's attitude to the imprisonment of the Queen's relatives and to the Queen herself, made clear to Gloucester on or soon after 10th May, brought home to him forcibly the fact that he could never enjoy complete security as Protector: there were too many Wydville sympathisers on the Council. His high office, moreover, must be surrendered in little more than a month, and while there was every expectation that he would head the regency council that would supersede it, his political, and even personal, survival would be in jeopardy once the young King attained his majority. Edward's loyalties were to his mother and his Wydville relatives and he would surely seek to restore them to power, releasing those whom Gloucester had imprisoned, whose first thought would be to exact vengeance under the benevolent eye of a young king already hostile to Gloucester. He could expect no favours at the hands of Edward V, nor mercy at the hands of the Queen: he had dealt her too many insults and injuries. Mancini says the Duke made no secret of his fears of the Wydvilles, proclaiming 'that he was harassed by the ignoble family of the Queen and the affronts of Edward [IV] 's relatives by marriage'.

  Gloucester was also, says Mancini, 'actuated by ambition and lust for power'. Both Croyland and Mancini believed he had planned to take the throne himself from the time he learned of King Edward's death, and their accounts imply that after his successful coup this was what some people anticipated he would do. They also provide evidence that Gloucester's bid for the crown was carefully planned over a period of time. Mancini states that as soon as he had been confirmed as Protector, 'he set his thoughts on removing, or at least undermining, everything that might stand in the way of his mastering the throne'. Rotherham had already been neutralised, and Gloucester would hasten, in the next few weeks, 'to remove the other obstacles. Thus far, though all the evidence looked as if he coveted the crown, yet there remained some hope, because he was not yet claiming the throne, inasmuch as he still professed to do all these things as an avenger of treason and old wrongs, and because all private deeds and official documents bore the titles and name of King Edward V.'

  Gloucester was well placed to make a bid for the throne. He was currently enjoying a degree of popularity with the Londoners; he had a large and influential following in the North and could command troops from there if he needed them; he was in control of the King; and he had the support of the magnates. The events of 10th May undoubtedly convinced him that he had no alternative but to seize the crown as soon as possible; if such a course had seemed desirable before, it was vitally necessary now. There can be only one interpretation of events after 10th May, and that is that Gloucester was consolidating his position in preparation for an even more dramatic coup.

  On 10th May, Gloucester took the first step towards cementing his power and, says Mancini, 'turned his attention to the problem of how to remove the fleet from the control of Sir Edward Wydville, as he considered that a great part of his adversaries' strength rested on the navy'. With the authority of the Council, he denounced the commander of the navy as an enemy of the state if he did not disband his fleet, and offered great rewards to anyone taking Sir Edward alive or dead. As a result the entire fleet 'returned in a short while to port, save for two ships that had fled wi
th Edward [Wydville] to the Breton coast of France. Now the Duke of Gloucester was freed of a great apprehension and prepared himself to face other ventures more boldly.'

  For several more days the Council sat, dealing with more routine matters of government, while Edward V learned something of the business of being a king. Documents were given to him to sign, and he gathered around him in the Tower a small court peopled by loyal stalwarts such as Lord Hastings. After 10th May Council meetings would take place in the Star Chamber at Westminster, but committees of councillors gathered frequently in each other's homes and in the Tower, although there is no record of the King attending their meetings. Official documents, grants and proclamations were all issued in his name, but always 'by the advice of our dearest uncle the Duke of Gloucester, Protector and Defensor of this Our realm, during Our young age, and by the advice of the lords of Our Council'. The Protector himself signed official documents as 'brother and uncle of kings'.

  On 13th May, Gloucester, in the King's name, issued writs summoning to London all the peers of the realm for a Parliament which would meet three days after the coronation. He was now urging that his protectorate be extended, and asked the Council to consider his proposal that he remain in office after the coronation and until the King attained his majority. This could only happen with the King's assent, but given Gloucester's influence it was unlikely that Edward would have opposed it. The Council prudently decided that the matter should be referred to Parliament for a decision in June.

  Gloucester now took steps to reward the men who had supported him and ensure their continuing loyalty. On 10th May the Earl of Northumberland had been given various grants and offices, and on 14th May John, Lord Howard, was appointed Chief Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster. A day later Howard presented Gloucester with an expensive gold cup -- a possible bribe from a man who wanted to be Duke of Norfolk, the title borne by the King's brother York in defiance of the laws of inheritance. Howard, it will be remembered, had received no compensation from Edward IV for being deprived of his hereditary rights, and probably looked to Gloucester to restore them to him.

  Howard came of an old-established East Anglian family with royal connections, and was a staunch Yorkist. Aged about sixty-one in 1483, he had fought for Edward IV at Towton, Barnet and Tewkesbury, and had been rewarded with a knighthood in 1461, the Garter in 1472, a baronage in c. 1469-70, and several high offices including that of Treasurer of the Household. He was a violent man, whose hot temper had once landed him in prison, but he was also interested in literature, and had remained in favour with Edward IV.

  Howard was a powerful man and his influence was vast, both in his native Suffolk and on the Council. He had supported Hastings in urging that Gloucester be recognised as Protector, and because of this he swiftly became, says More, 'one of the priviest of the Lord Protector's counsel'. Clearly Howard believed that Gloucester was the one man who could restore his lost inheritance, and More says that because of this he was actively involved in Gloucester's plot to seize the throne.

  On 21st May, 1483, certain entries appear in Howard's domestic account book:

  Item, paid to Basley, that he paid at the Tower for 6 men for a day labour:

  3d a man a day -- 18d

  Item, paid to a carpenter for making of 3 beds -- 8d

  Item, for 100 foot of board and a quarter -- 2s 11d

  Item, for 2 sacks lime -- 4d

  Item, for nails for the beds -- 3d

  Item, for his dinner -- 2d

  Those entries probably refer to materials provided for refurbishing the rooms used by the King's servants; the beds were far too cheap to have been used by Edward V himself. Limewash was used to paint walls white, and the board may have been used as wainscot. Basley was a Colchester odd-job man who did occasional work for Lord Howard. In 1844 a writer called Payne Collier evolved a theory that this particular entry was somehow connected to the murder of the Princes in the Tower, but there is no evidence at all for this and it is inconceivable that Howard, if he was involved in such a crime, would record details relating to it in his domestic account books. No other entries in these account books relate to the Tower.

  On 15th May, Buckingham was lavishly rewarded for his support by Gloucester: he was created Constable of England, Chief Justice and Lord Chamberlain of the whole of Wales for life, and constable and steward of fifty castles and lordships in the principality. He was granted power to array the King's subjects in four counties, and given control of all royal castles and manors therein. Such largesse meant that Buckingham could now exercise almost sovereign power in Wales, where he was to replace Rivers on the Council of the Marches. It also reflected not only Buckingham's rapaciousness but also Gloucester's need of his support; Rous says Buckingham's influence was vast, and Mancini records that he 'was always at hand ready to assist Gloucester with his advice and resources'. There are indications that Gloucester had already promised to restore to Buckingham the disputed share of the Bohun inheritance and had agreed to marry his son to Buckingham's daughter.

  Five days later the Protector confirmed that Lord Hastings would continue to serve as Lord Chamberlain of England and Governor of Calais, and appointed him Master of the Mint. No further reward was forthcoming for the man who had been Gloucester's champion on the Council and who, by his timely intervention, had made his successful coup possible. Although the Protector 'loved him well', it was obvious that he preferred to promote Buckingham and have him as chief counsellor. The reason for this is not far to seek: Hastings had made it clear he was utterly loyal to Edward V, whom Gloucester had probably already made up his mind to supplant. Hastings therefore had received less than was his due, and may well have been resentful of the honours heaped upon Buckingham: some of them should have been his.

  On 16th May, Archbishop Bourchier summoned Convocation to meet at St Paul's. Two days later the assembled clergy offered up a bidding prayer for Edward V and Elizabeth, the Queen Dowager; no reference was made to the Protector. The next day an urgent summons to attend Gloucester was sent in the King's name to the Archbishop. Such a summons could only have been issued on Gloucester's orders, and it may well be that the Protector was angry at Bourchier's omission and wished to reprimand him for it. Unfortunately, there is no record of what the summons was about.

  By the end of May it was obvious to most members of the Council that their influence was diminishing beside that of Buckingham and Howard. They were becoming concerned also about Gloucester, being suspicious of his true motives and worried about the potential threat he posed to the young King. Most, however, were by now intimidated by Gloucester's treatment of the Wydvilles, and were afraid to speak out. The Protector detected their apprehension and took steps to counteract it. By the beginning of June he was sounding out the magnates and the citizens of London on a daily basis, trying to win their confidence and approval with 'largesse and liberality', saying 'always that he did not seek the sovereignty, but referred all his doings to the profit of the realm'. By this means he calmed the fears of all save those who had suspected 'from the beginning what mark he shot at'.

  There was no doubt in the mind of any contemporary writer that by the end of May Gloucester had made up his mind to take the throne.

  9. The Fall of Hastings

  On 5th June Gloucester moved from Baynard's Castle to Crosby Place in Bishopsgate, a house he had leased in 1476 from the widow of its builder, Sir John Crosby, a prosperous grocer. The Elizabethan antiquarian John Stow describes Crosby Place as a 'great house of stone and timber, very large and beautiful, and the highest at that time in London'. It was built round a courtyard and had a solar, a great chamber, a chapel, a garden and a superb great hall with an oriel window, a marble floor, and an arched roof decorated in red and gold. This great hall survived the fire that destroyed the rest of the house in the late seventeenth century, and in 1908 was moved to Chelsea, where it stands today. Later the same day, Gloucester welcomed his wife Anne to Crosby Place; she had travelled to London from Yor
kshire, leaving their son at Middleham.

  By now, Gloucester was well aware that there were those on the Council who wished to prevent him from extending his power beyond the coronation. After 5th June, says Rous, he 'showed extraordinary cunning by dividing the Council'. He, and those members who supported him, including Buckingham, met in private at Crosby Place, while the rest -- foremost amongst them Hastings, Rotherham, Morton and others loyal to Edward V -- met at Baynard's Castle and Westminster to plan the coronation and discuss routine business. Many were convinced that Gloucester and his supporters were conspiring against the King at these secret meetings at Crosby Place, and Mancini learned that those councillors who were concerned for Edward V's safety met in private at each other's homes to discuss the situation. Lord Stanley for one was very worried about the Council being divided like this, for he had his doubts about Gloucester. But Lord Hastings hastened to reassure him, saying that his retainer, William Catesby, was a member of the Council that met at Crosby Place, and would report all its proceedings to him.

  William Catesby was a lawyer from Ashby St Legers, Northamptonshire; his talents had earned him the notice of Hastings, who had made him his estate agent and procured for him a seat on the Council. In May 1483 Hastings had introduced Catesby to Gloucester, who took an instant liking to the man and was soon including him amongst his clique of preferred councillors. Before long Catesby found himself enjoying considerable influence with the Protector. But what Hastings did not know was that Catesby's first loyalty was no longer to himself: he was now playing the role of double agent, on Gloucester's behalf. Stanley may have guessed as much, for he warned Hastings to be careful.

 
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