Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir


  England, just then, was in a critical situation, having recently declared war on France, and it was essential that a stable regency government be established without delay. According to Croyland, on 9th April the late King's councillors 'were present with the Queen at Westminster'. Almost their first act was to decree that a new bidding prayer be said in churches 'for our new prince, our dread King Edward V, the Lady Queen Elizabeth his mother, all the royal offspring, the princes of the King, his nobles and people'. There was no direct reference to Gloucester, the protector-designate.

  Over the next two or three days, the councillors held several important and sometimes heated discussions, and there was some in-fighting between factions now that the firm hand of Edward IV was no longer there to control them, but the Queen, says Croyland, 'most beneficently tried to extinguish every mark of murmur and disturbance'. Very soon, it became clear that the councillors were divided into three camps: the Queen's party, which was the largest and included her kinsmen and most of the bishops, Archbishop Rotherham of York in particular; the smaller anti-Wydville faction led by Lord Hastings with the support of Lord Stanley; and a group including the Archbishop of Canterbury and John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln, who would not commit themselves either way. No-one declared openly for Gloucester. Croyland says that the only common cause between these factions was loyalty to the son of Edward IV.

  Lord Hastings was under no illusion as to what the Wydvilles were trying to do. Their hostility towards him and the older nobility was palpable, and Croyland knew 'he feared that if supreme power fell into the hands of those of the Queen's blood, they would most bitterly revenge themselves on himself for the injuries which they claimed he had done to them'. According to Mancini, Hastings, in turn, 'was hostile to the entire kin of the Queen, on account of the Marquess of Dorset'. This was exacerbated by Hastings' precipitate action in making Elizabeth Shore his mistress as soon as the King was dead. Nevertheless, concerned as he was about the Wydvilles' power and the threat they posed to him, Hastings stayed his hand for the time being.

  The Wydvilles now sought by legal means to prevent Gloucester from becoming protector. They had discovered that this office was, according to precedent, purely an interim one, its purpose being to ensure the security and protection of the realm until the sovereign was safely crowned, at which time it would lapse. In 1429, during the minority of Henry VI, his uncle Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, had relinquished his office of lord protector as soon as the young King (then aged seven) had sworn to protect and defend the Church and his realm at his coronation.

  Edward V was now twelve years old, and there was no reason why he should not be crowned immediately. Indeed, the Wydvilles urged this, seeing an early coronation as a way of thwarting Gloucester's claim to be protector, an office they knew would cease to exist after this had taken place. The government then would be in the hands of the Wydville-dominated Council.

  At a meeting of the councillors which must have taken place around the time the King was proclaimed on nth April, the Queen and her party had little difficulty in convincing those present that the coronation should take place without delay. The date was fixed for Sunday, 4th May, and the decision made to summon Edward V to London at once. The Queen, who was taking no chances, demanded that her son be escorted by an army of soldiers, but at this Hastings, who foresaw trouble and bloodshed, exploded with anger and threatened to retire to Calais -- of which he was governor -- unless a smaller escort was provided. His threat was implicit: it was in Calais that Warwick had plotted against Edward IV in 1470, and Hastings made it quite clear that he would not scruple to plot in the same manner against the Wydvilles. Hard words followed, but in the end, according to More, it was the Queen who backed down, agreeing to limit the King's escort to 2,000 men. Hastings signified his approval, and Dorset wrote at once to Rivers and also, says Mancini, 'to the young King Edward, that he should reach the capital three days before the date appointed' for the coronation.

  Hastings was by no means reassured by the Queen's capitulation over the King's escort. He was no fool, and had easily divined the real reason why the Wydvilles were eager to get the King crowned. He had enjoyed, says Mancini, 'a friendship of long standing' with Gloucester, of which the Wydvilles were well aware. Consequently, the present situation was particularly menacing to him. For this reason, and from sincere loyalty, he was anxious to see Edward IV's wishes respecting the protectorate implemented.

  At the time of the King's death, Richard of Gloucester was 200 miles from London at Middleham Castle in Yorkshire. No-one had had the courtesy to inform him of his brother's demise, and it appears that the Wydvilles intentionally withheld news of it from him for their own purposes. Hastings, discovering this, was appalled, and took it upon himself to write to Gloucester with the sad tidings. He also sent an urgent warning to the Duke that the Queen's party meant to oust him from power. Mancini heard later that Hastings 'had advised the Duke to hasten to the capital with a strong force and avenge the insult done him by his enemies. He might easily obtain his revenge if, before reaching the City, he took the young King Edward under his protection and authority, while seizing, before they were alive to the danger, those of the King's followers who were not in agreement with this policy.' Hastings added that he was alone in the capital and not without great danger, for he could scarcely escape the snares of his enemies since their old hatred was aggravated by his friendship for the Duke of Gloucester. Mancini says that 'according to common report', this letter was sent by Hastings after a Council meeting on 20th April, but Gloucester had received it by that date, and it is more likely that Hastings wrote to the Duke very soon after the meeting of councillors that took place around nth April.

  Croyland implies that Hastings also confided his fears in a letter to the Duke of Buckingham.

  Henry Stafford, second Duke of Buckingham, was one of the most important noblemen in England. He came from an old and respected family that had risen to prominence in the mid fourteenth century, having enriched and advanced itself since that time by a succession of advantageous marriages with heiresses, the greatest of which was that between the fifth Earl of Stafford and Anne, daughter of Thomas of Woodstock, the youngest son of Edward III. Buckingham was twice descended from this lady, who had brought to her husband not only her father's wealth but also half the great Marcher inheritance of the Bohuns, which had been shared between two sisters: Anne's mother, Eleanor de Bohun, and Mary de Bohun, the mother of Henry V. Henvy VI had further advanced the Staffords and in 1444 had rewarded the devoted service of Humphrey Stafford with the dukedom of Buckingham and an income of £5,500 per annum, which was greater than that of any other magnate at the time. Humphrey styled himself 'the high and mighty Prince Humphrey', and he and his race were known to their contemporaries as 'sore and hard-dealing men'. They were loyal to the House of Lancaster during the Wars of the Roses, and the first duke died fighting for Henry VI at the Battle of Northampton in 1460. As his son had predeceased him in 1458, his inheritance passed to his five-year-old grandson, Henry Stafford, who became the second duke and a royal ward.

  Although he was a minor the young Buckingham was fabulously wealthy and could look forward to a future that held influence, power and a brilliant marriage. He owned vast lands, manors and castles in twenty-two counties, centred mainly upon Wales and the Midlands, and himself had a claim to be in the line of succession to the throne by virtue of his descent from Edward III. In recognition of this he was granted in 1474 the right to display a coat of arms 'near to the King and of his royal blood', which emblazoned the undifferenced heraldic device of Thomas of Woodstock, whose heir-general he was.

  Buckingham was only six when Edward IV became the first king of the House of York, but young as he was his loyalties remained with Lancaster. In 1464, the new queen, Elizabeth Wydville, was granted his wardship, but this was little to the liking of this proud child who looked disdainfully upon his new guardian as an upstart parvenue. He was horrified, therefore, when, in
1466, the Queen betrothed him to her sister Katherine, one of those matches which so infuriated Warwick; Mancini says Buckingham was 'forced' to the marriage and despised his bride, 'whom he scorned to wed on account of her humble origin', and Buckingham himself, years later, complained he had been 'disparaged' by the union. However, he did his duty and sired three sons and two daughters, though there are indications that the marriage was never happy.

  Buckingham was eleven when he married Katherine Wydville. He spent the last years of his childhood with his brother under the unwelcome authority of the Queen, who received from the King £500 per annum for their keep, and who engaged a master scholar, John Giles, to teach them grammar.

  As he grew to maturity, the young Duke remained loyal to Lancaster, nurturing a festering hatred for the Wydvilles, whom, says Mancini, he 'loathed'. His mother having been a Beaufort, he was Lancastrian by descent as well as by family tradition. But while the deaths of Henry VI and his heir put an end to the Duke's hopes in one respect, they gave birth to a new cause in his life, that of laying his hands on the other half of the Bohun inheritance, which had belonged to Henry VI. Buckingham claimed it by reversionary right, but Edward IV had seized all Henry VI's estates and possessions, saying they were the property of the Crown. Thereafter, the Duke harboured a grudge against the King for depriving him of what he considered to be rightfully his; it was probably because of this, and his ill-concealed resentment of Lord Rivers' power in Wales, which he felt should have been his by right of his being the greatest landowner in the region, that Buckingham did not gain much advancement at court during Edward IV's reign. He graced state functions and entertainments, and supported the King in the prosecution of Clarence, himself pronouncing the death sentence in Parliament, but this benefited him very little, and he was not granted the great offices that a man in his position could expect to receive.

  This may also have had something to do with Buckingham's personal character, for he was not popular at court, nor with his tenants on his estates. He was a proud man, jealous of the power of others, and ruthlessly ambitious. He lacked judgement and often acted on impulse. His friends found him to be bluff and hearty, witty and talkative -- in fact he was gifted, says More, with marvellous eloquence and had a real talent for persuasive speaking and public oration. More also tells us that Buckingham was strikingly handsome and impressive in appearance. He spoke, it appears, with a northern accent, signing himself phonetically, 'Harre Bokynham'. His motto was 'Souvente me Souvene' ('Think of me often'), a suitably egotistical device.

  By writing to Buckingham, whose hatred of the Wydvilles was famous, Hastings had good reason to believe he would secure an ally.

  The news of Edward IV's death reached his son at Ludlow on 14th April, as did the letter asking Rivers to bring his charge to London by 1st May. The news of his father's death was broken to the young King by his uncle, and as the news spread, says Rous, 'his father's friends flocked to him', to pay their respects. Rivers does not seem to have regarded the summons to London as urgent: he had made plans to celebrate St George's Day at Ludlow, and saw no reason to alter them. He also needed time to assemble the escort of 2,000 men for the journey. Mancini records that on 16th April Edward V wrote to the burghers of Lynn in Norfolk (which was near Middleton, a manor owned by Rivers) that he intended 'to be at our City of London in all convenient haste, by God's Grace to be crowned at Westminster'.

  On that same day Edward IV's body was taken to Westminster Abbey for the commencement of his funeral ceremonies, the chief mourner being his sister's son, the young Earl of Lincoln. Three days later the late King's body was buried, as he had directed in his original will, in St George's Chapel, Windsor. Gloucester, at Middleham, learned of his brother's death from Hastings' messenger, who probably arrived around 16th/17th April at the latest. The news provoked in the Duke not only grief but also alarm, for he perceived at once that if he did not act urgently and decisively he would be ousted from power by the Wydvilles. His very life might even be in danger, bearing in mind the recent precedent for eliminating a royal duke, and the Wydvilles had shown themselves to be ruthless in the past; certainly Gloucester held them responsible for his brother's execution.

  The Duke was also aware that his office of protector-designate would lapse with the coronation, and that the Wydvilles were arranging an early crowning with precisely this in mind. Gloucester could foresee a Wydville-dominated Council ruling through an acquiescent king who, as his mother's son, would be no friend to himself. Nor, if this happened, was it likely that the Duke would be allowed to retain his power and vast lands in the North, for the Wydvilles could only view that as a threat to themselves. Everything that Gloucester held dear was at stake. In fact he had no choice but to act to bring about the overthrow of the Wydvilles and seize the reins of government himself. More and other later writers did not believe that the Duke stood in any real danger at this time, but the weight of contemporary circumstantial evidence indicates strongly that the Wydvilles posed a very real threat to him and that he believed his political and personal survival were both in jeopardy.

  Gloucester began planning his coup immediately. Hastings had warned that the key to success was gaining control of the King's person, the Wydvilles' most important political asset, and the Duke recognised the good sense in this. Careful planning was essential to ensure a successful outcome, and sound support was vital. The Duke wasted no time and sent secret messages to Buckingham, Hastings and others, warning them they would be in danger if 'our well-preserved ill-willers' were allowed to remain in control of the King and the government, and asked for their help. He also wrote to many northern lords who could be counted upon to offer loyal support, and commanded them to rendezvous with him at York around 20th April.

  To outward appearances, what Gloucester was planning was the political elimination of the Wydvilles. Yet Mancini believed that from the moment he learned of Edward IV's death, Gloucester was plotting to take the throne for himself, and Croyland was of the opinion that such a plot was hatched in the North at this time. Vergil agreed with Mancini, stating he had learned that 'Richard began to be kindled with an ardent desire for sovereignty' immediately he heard that his brother was dead, while More went so far as to assert that he had had designs on the throne even before that event, which is hardly likely as no-one expected Edward IV to die so young while his heir was still a minor.

  It was vital that, whatever he was really planning, Gloucester led the Queen and the Council to believe that his intentions were honourable and posed no threat to themselves. Croyland states he immediately wrote 'the most pleasant letter to console the Queen; he promised to come and offer submission, fealty and all that was due from him to his lord and king, Edward V. Mancini, corroborating this, adds that he said he was willing to take on the office of protector entrusted to him by his brother. Vergil observes wryly that the Duke's 'loving' letters to the Queen promised her 'seas and mountains'.

  Gloucester next sent a formal letter to the Council, saying -- according to Mancini -- that 'he had been loyal to his brother Edward, and would be, if only permitted, loyal to his brother's son and to all his brother's issues, even female, if perchance, which God forbid, the youth should die. He would expose his life to every danger that the children might endure in their father's realm. He asked the councillors to take his desserts into consideration when disposing of the government, to which he was entitled by law and his brother's ordinance, and he reminded them that nothing contrary to law and his brother's desire could be decreed without harm.' In fact, Edward IV had had no legal right to name Gloucester as protector; a dead king's wishes held no force in law. In 1422 both Parliament and Council had rejected the late Henry V's choice of Humphrey of Gloucester as protector during Henry VI's minority, on the grounds that the King's will had been made 'without the assent of the three estates'. Only the Council and Parliament had the right to decide who should govern the realm during a royal minority.

  If Gloucester was aware of such
legal niceties, he had no time for them. He left Middleham for York around 20th April on the first stage of his journey south. With him were 300 gentlemen of the North, all wearing deepest black like the Duke. It was a sizeable but not an alarming retinue. The plan was that the Duke would intercept Lord Rivers and the King on their journey to the capital.

  Gloucester arrived in York around 21st April. He came, says Croyland, 'all dressed in mourning, and held a solemn funeral ceremony for the King, full of tears. He bound by oath all the nobility of those parts in fealty to the King's son; he himself swore first of all.'

  Buckingham had learned of the death of Edward IV around 14th April, when he was on his estates at Brecon on the Welsh Marches. A week later he received Gloucester's letter, in which the Duke, says Mancini, complained 'of the insult done to him by the ignoble family of the Queen. Buckingham, since he was of the highest nobility, was disposed to sympathise, because he had his own reason for detesting the Queen's kin.' It was his burning desire to see the Wydvilles crushed, and his hope that once in power Gloucester would grant him the position he had hitherto been denied and hand over the Bohun inheritance, that made Buckingham decide, more or less immediately, to ally himself with the Duke, even if it did mean pitching his fortunes in with those of the House of York.

  More says that Buckingham sent his most trusted agent, a man called Humphrey Persivall, to carry the Duke's pledge of support to Gloucester and tell him that Buckingham was ready to march with 'a thousand good fellows, if need be', because he agreed with Hastings that securing the person of the King was the most effective way of executing a coup against the Wydvilles. According to More, Persivall saw Richard at York, but this cannot have been so because Buckingham could not have received Gloucester's letter until 21st April at the earliest and even if he had despatched Persivall that same day, it would have taken the man at least four days to ride from Brecon to York. York Civic Records confirm that Richard had left York for Nottingham by 23rd April. More says that Persivall went back to Brecon and then rode to Nottingham for a second interview with Gloucester, but it is clear that there could only have been one meeting between the Duke and the agent due to the speed of events and that it must have taken place at Nottingham. Buckingham, his decision made, instructed Persivall to inform Gloucester that he would rendezvous with him at Northampton. Then, after Persivall had gone, his master spent a few days gathering together an escort of 300 men and preparing for the journey before setting out from Brecon by 26th April at the latest.

 
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