Richard III and the Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir


  The Council met around 20th April and sat for several days. Croyland states that ‘the most urgent desire of all present was that the Prince should succeed his father in all his glory’. Dorset opened proceedings by urging that the King be crowned as planned on 4th May, but some councillors raised objections, guessing the motive for such haste, and Mancini says there were those, foremost amongst them Hastings, who ‘said that everything ought not thus to be hurried through; rather they should await the young King’s uncle’. To this Dorset ‘is said to have replied, “We are so important that even without the King’s uncle we can make and enforce our decisions.”’ This arrogant remark provoked a heated debate over who should govern the country which lasted for several days.

  ‘The problem of government during the royal minority,’ observes Mancini, ‘was referred to the consideration of the barons.’ The Wydville party believed they had the Council in their pocket, but with the majority of its members recently arrived in London it soon became obvious that they did not after all have a sufficiently large majority to persuade the councillors to invest the regency in themselves. There is no evidence that the Queen herself wished to be regent; either Dorset or Rivers would have been an obvious choice. Yet even thus curbed, the Wydvilles were still a political force to be reckoned with. But they had many enemies opposing them, above all Hastings, who had insulted them in the council chamber by insisting that the base blood of the Queen’s kindred unfitted them for the task of governing the realm. Already, not a fortnight after the King’s death, there were rumours in the land that the Wydvilles were plotting to seize power, which only further inflamed the people’s hatred towards them. The Council were aware of this, and Croyland states that ‘The more prudent members were of the opinion that the guardianship of so youthful a person [as the King] ought to be utterly forbidden to his uncles and brothers of the mother’s side.’

  Further debate ensued and then, says Mancini, ‘two opinions were propounded’. Hastings proposed that the Duke of Gloucester should govern ‘because Edward, in his will, had so directed, and because by law [sic] the government ought to devolve upon him’. The Council considered this, discussing what powers Gloucester might enjoy as protector, a subject on which opinions were divided. Dorset envisaged Gloucester as a figurehead presiding over the Council, but other councillors argued that the King’s will had conferred upon him sovereign power. If he were to be appointed protector now he would expect to have his powers extended beyond the coronation, until the King gained his majority. This might not, however, be for very long, for Edward IV had only intended the Council of the Marches to act on his son’s behalf until the boy reached fourteen. Henry VI had declared himself of age at sixteen, but there were no set rules as to when a minor achieved majority, and it is probable that Edward IV confidently expected his son to attain his on his fourteenth birthday in November 1484, eighteen months hence.

  The Wydvilles did not want Gloucester exercising sovereign power as protector, even for this short time, and made a second proposal. Mancini states that this ‘was that the government should be carried on by many persons, among whom the Duke, far from being excluded, should be accounted the chief. By this means the Duke would be given due honour and the royal authority greater security, because it had been found that no regent ever laid down his office save reluctantly and from armed compulsion, whence civil wars had often arisen. Moreover, if the entire form were committed to one man, he might easily usurp the sovereignty. All who favoured the Queen’s family voted for this proposal, as they were afraid that if Richard took unto himself the crown, or even governed alone, they, who bore the blame for Clarence’s death, would suffer death or at least be ejected from their high estate.’ The Wydvilles obviously feared Gloucester as much as he feared them: already it had occurred to them that he might try to usurp the throne. Contemporary writers recognised that both factions based their policies on fear of what would happen to themselves if the other party achieved power.

  Whilst the Council was debating these two proposals, Gloucester’s letters arrived. That to the Council was publicly circulated by his supporters, on his instructions. Mancini says, ‘This letter had a great effect on the minds of the people who, as they had previously favoured the Duke in their hearts from a belief in his probity, now began to support him openly and aloud, so that it was commonly said by all that the Duke deserved the government. However, the Council voted in a majority for the alternative policy, and they fixed a day for the coronation,’ 4th May. Mancini was of the opinion that by not naming Gloucester protector the Council was deliberately flouting Edward IV’s wishes, but in actual fact it had acted with wisdom and moderation, curbing the ambitions of the Wydvilles whilst according Gloucester, not supreme power, but the leadership of the Council and a say in the government.

  Finally, Dorset reminded the councillors that a state of war existed between England and France, and that the country should be defended from any invasion. As a result, Sir Edward Wydville was appointed Admiral of the Fleet with responsibility for assembling a navy and recruiting men, a task he began carrying out straight away, making sure that his chief officers were Wydville supporters. On 29th April he put to sea, his ostensible purpose being to move against French and Breton pirates in the English Channel.

  At Ludlow, Earl Rivers had assembled the King’s escort, and on 23rd April, according to Rous, ‘the accustomed service of the Knights of the Garter was solemnly celebrated, concluding with a splendid banquet’. The next day, Edward V, Rivers, the King’s tutor Bishop Alcock, his faithful servant Vaughan, and his relative Sir Richard Haute, set out with a ‘sober company’ of 2,000 men, travelling along Watling Street, the old Roman road.

  Two days later, Gloucester was in Nottingham, as the city records show. Here Humphrey Persivall found him and spoke with him, says More, ‘in the dead of night in his secret chamber’, delivering Buckingham’s message and informing the Duke that Buckingham would meet him at Northampton. Gloucester then sent Persivall back to meet up with Buckingham on the road and confirm the arrangements. Thus, says Mancini, ‘the Duke allied himself with the Duke of Buckingham’, and, ‘having united their resources, both Dukes wrote to the young King, to ascertain from him on what day and by what route he intended to enter the capital, so they could join him, that in their company his entry to the City might be more magnificent.’ The ducal messengers met up with the King’s party on the road south; learning that Gloucester and Buckingham were to meet in Northampton, Mancini says Rivers agreed to do ‘as they requested’ and join them there. More and Rous state that he even went several miles out of his way to accommodate them, which indicates that, firstly, he did not expect anything untoward, and secondly, that he was anxious to foster good relations with Gloucester.

  Gloucester was still in touch with Hastings, meanwhile, who was sending him regular reports on the Council’s proceedings and events in London. When, a day or so later, the Duke left Nottingham, his plans for a coup were complete.

  7

  ‘An Innocent Lamb in the Hands of Wolves’

  THE KING AND Lord Rivers arrived at Northampton on 29th April, 1483 just as – says Croyland – Gloucester and Buckingham met up north of the town where all parties had arranged to meet. Soon after his arrival the King was joined by Sir Richard Grey, hot-foot from London and probably bearing orders from the Queen to Rivers, urging him to press on to the capital without delay. Rivers thereupon escorted King Edward fourteen miles further south, to Stony Stratford, that same day. Here, tradition says, he commandeered for his young master the Rose and Crown Inn for the night, an inn that still stands on the High Street, its ancient bricks hidden by a modern façade.

  Rivers and Grey then took a small escort and prepared to ride back to Northampton. Mancini says the King asked Rivers to greet Gloucester on his behalf and pay his respects, while Croyland believed that Rivers’ chief intention was to convince the Duke that the Council’s plans for the minority government were in the best interests of ever
yone; to this end, he would adopt a conciliatory approach. Rivers ordered that the King was to continue his journey to London the next morning, with or without him. He then left for Northampton, intending, says More, ‘on the morrow to follow the King and be with him at Stony Stratford early, ere he departed’.

  Meanwhile Gloucester, Buckingham, and their combined escorts of 600 men, had arrived in Northampton to find the King gone. In the High Street there were three inns, side by side. Gloucester took one, which Mancini describes as ‘a very strong place’, and Buckingham another. When Rivers and Grey returned, Gloucester was settled in his lodging and, according to Mancini, ‘graciously received’ them there. Addressing Gloucester as ‘my Lord Protector’, a sop calculated to mollify the Duke, Rivers explained, somewhat lamely, that the reason for the King’s unexpected departure had been the lack of suitable accommodation for all parties in Northampton. Gloucester appears to have accepted this with equanimity, and to have hidden any chagrin he may have felt as a result of the King having been moved for the present beyond his reach. Rivers had certainly exceeded his authority: the correct action for him to have taken would have been to wait with the King for Gloucester to arrive and then to have consulted him as to what to do. His failure to do so had been an act of gross discourtesy and inexcusable presumption. But Gloucester betrayed no trace of anger. Instead, he arranged for Rivers, Grey and their escort to occupy the third inn in the row, and then invited the Earl to take dinner with himself and Buckingham that evening at his own inn.

  During the course of that meal Rivers must have acquainted the two dukes with the proceedings and rulings of the Council in London, and this, together with his awareness of the Wydvilles’ deliberate withholding of the news of his brother’s death from him, indicated clearly to Gloucester precisely where he stood. Supreme power was to be denied him: he was to be a figurehead, one voice on the Council, while his dangerous enemies, the Wydvilles, controlled and dominated a king who would soon reach his majority. This was not what his brother had intended, and certainly not what he himself could tolerate. But he dissembled, showing no sign of concern, and, as More tells us, there was ‘made that night much friendly cheer between these two dukes and the Lord Rivers’, passing, says Mancini, ‘a great part of the night in conviviality’. But, continues More, when Rivers had retired to bed in his own inn, Gloucester, Buckingham and a north country ducal councillor of Richard’s called Richard Ratcliffe sat up discussing the situation until nearly dawn, deciding at length to effect a coup the next day, with the purpose of seizing the King’s person and eliminating the hated Wydvilles. Vergil says: ‘As is commonly believed, [Gloucester] even then discovered to [Buckingham] his intent of usurping the kingdom.’ This accords with the assertions of Mancini and Croyland that Richard plotted to take the throne from the time he learned of Edward IV’s death.

  Gloucester and Buckingham slept not at all that night. Before dawn, they secretly ordered guards to be posted along all roads out of Northampton, to guard, says Mancini, against anyone informing the King of what was going on. Then they gathered their escort, ready to march on Stony Stratford. The doors to Rivers’ inn were locked.

  All sources agree that Rivers had been lulled into a sense of false security by the apparent friendliness and compliance of the two dukes. Therefore he ‘marvellously disliked it’ when he woke at dawn and found himself a prisoner. Mancini says that when everything was prepared for the journey, Gloucester, Buckingham and a few armed guards entered Rivers’ inn and confronted him, accusing him of influencing Edward V against them and charging him with having tried to remove the King from the guardianship of the protector appointed by his father. Gloucester’s men then ‘seized Rivers and his companions and imprisoned them in that place’, in the charge of Sir Thomas Gower.

  Then, ‘with a large body of soldiers and in company with the Duke of Buckingham’, Gloucester, continues Mancini, ‘hastened at full gallop towards the young King’ at Stony Stratford, taking their joint escort with them, and Sir Richard Grey. ‘Wherefore they reached the young King, ignorant of [Rivers’] arrest, and immediately saluted him as their sovereign.’ Edward was already mounted alongside Vaughan, Haute and his escort, ready to leave for London, fifty miles away. Gloucester, says Croyland, ‘did not omit or refuse to pay every mark of respect to the King his nephew, in the way of uncovering his head, bending the knee, or other posture required of a subject’. Buckingham also paid homage to Edward on his knees, and the boy, says More, ‘received them in very joyous and amiable manner’. His joy was not to last for long.

  Then, says Mancini, the two dukes ‘exhibited a mournful countenance, while expressing profound grief at the death of the King’s father, whose demise they imputed to his ministers, since they were accounted the servants and companions of his vices, and had ruined his health’. This extraordinary outburst to a boy just bereft of his father was a direct thrust at the Wydvilles and the first example of the moral propaganda that Gloucester came habitually to use to discredit his enemies. ‘Wherefore,’ the Duke continued, lest these same ministers ‘should play the same old game with the son, [they] should be removed from the King’s side, because such a child would be incapable of governing so great a realm by means of puny men. Gloucester himself accused them of conspiring his own death and of preparing ambushes both in the capital and on the road, which had been revealed to him by their accomplices. Indeed, he said, it was common knowledge that they had attempted to deprive him of the office of regent conferred on him by his brother. He said that he himself, whom the King’s father had approved, could better discharge the duties of government, not only because of his experience of affairs, but also on account of his popularity. He would neglect nothing pertaining to the duty of a loyal subject and diligent protector.’ He added that he had been forced, for his own safety’s sake, to arrest Lord Rivers at Northampton.

  Edward was stunned by this news and sceptical about what Gloucester had told him, as are historians today, for there is no evidence to corroborate Gloucester’s allegations that the Wydvilles had actually planned attempts on his life. Mancini says the King answered ‘that he merely had those ministers whom his father had given him and, relying on his father’s prudence, he believed that good and faithful ones had been given him. He could see no evil in them and wished to keep them.’ He went on, ‘What my brother Marquess [of Dorset] has done I cannot say, but in good faith I dare well answer for my Lord Rivers, and my brother here [Grey], that they be innocent of any such matter.’ But here, Gloucester interrupted, saying, ‘They have the dealing of these matters far from the knowledge of your good Grace.’

  Edward was not convinced. Mancini records that he answered that ‘as for the government of the kingdom, he had great confidence in the peers of the realm and the Queen. On hearing the Queen’s name, the Duke of Buckingham answered it was not the business of women but of men to govern kingdoms, and so if he cherished any confidence in her he had better relinquish it. Let him place all his hope in his barons, who excelled in power and nobility.’

  At various points during this conversation, Grey had attempted to interrupt but had been roughly silenced by Buckingham. Now, says More, both dukes ‘picked a quarrel’ with him, accusing him and his kinsmen of conspiring ‘to rule the King and the realm, and to set variance among the estates’, and, says Croyland, ‘to destroy the old nobility’. And without further ado they arrested Grey, Vaughan and Haute in the King’s presence, as all sources agree, and then, states Mancini, ‘handed them over to the care of guards’.

  Mancini goes on to say that thereafter Edward V, for whom this had been a most traumatic and frightening experience, ‘surrendered himself to the care of his uncle, which was inevitable, for although the dukes cajoled him by moderation, yet they clearly showed that they were demanding rather than supplicating’.

  Something even more ominous was now to occur. Mancini relates that Gloucester deprived the King of his escort and issued an immediate proclamation ordering that every memb
er of it must withdraw at once ‘and not approach any place to which the King might chance to come, under penalty of death’. Clearly the Duke was taking precautions against any counter-coup by Wydville sympathisers. As for the King’s attendants and servants, Mancini tells us that ‘nearly all were ordered home’, even, says Rous, ‘his special tutor and diligent mentor in goodly ways, Master John Alcock. [He] was removed like all the rest, but not, however, subjected to the rigours of imprisonment.’ This is borne out by the fact that in May Alcock attended a meeting of Edward IV’s executors. Separation from his personal servants and the chief officers of his household, especially the faithful Vaughan, and their replacement by men chosen by Gloucester, may well have been calculated to break the King’s will. It certainly ensured that he was isolated from all Wydville influence. More says he was terribly distressed by it: ‘He wept and was nothing content, but it booted not.’

  Gloucester and Buckingham then returned in triumph with the King and their prisoners to Northampton, where they enjoyed a celebratory dinner, after which, says More, ‘they took further counsel’. Rivers and Grey were shut up in separate rooms, and it is unlikely that the young King was allowed to see his former governor. More records that at dinner ‘the Duke of Gloucester sent a dish from his own table to the Lord Rivers, praying him to be of good cheer, all should be well enough’, but Rivers could not touch it and asked that it be given to Grey.

 
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