Richard III and the Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir

  Later that day, says Mancini, Gloucester wrote to both the Council and the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Edmund Shaa, notifying them of what had taken place and assuring them that ‘he had not confined his nephew the King of England, rather had he rescued him and the realm from perdition, since the young man would have fallen into the hands of those who, since they had not spared either the honour or life of the father, could not be expected to have more regard for the youthfulness of the son. No-one, save only him, had such solicitude for the welfare of King Edward and the preservation of the state. At an early date, he and the boy would come to the City so that the coronation might be more splendidly performed.’ More states that Gloucester also wrote with news of his coup to Hastings.

  ‘In this wise,’ More concluded, ‘the Duke took upon himself the order and governance of the young King’ and successfully broke the power of the Wydvilles at a stroke, without one drop of blood being shed. To all appearances the coup had been aimed only at the Wydvilles; nevertheless, it had the effect of alienating the King, perhaps irrevocably and permanently, from Gloucester. Indeed, it may well be that Edward V saw himself, in the words of Rous, as having been ‘received like an innocent lamb into the hands of wolves’. From now on his liberty would be curtailed: Mancini says that Gloucester and Buckingham decided to take turns at guarding the King, ‘for they were afraid lest he should escape or be forcibly delivered from their hands’. Soon afterwards they learned that the Welsh people ‘could not bear to think that their prince had been carried off’; the dukes feared that these Welsh supporters, whose existence is also attested to by Molinet, might well rise on the King’s behalf. This was an added threat to the success of their plans.

  Gloucester now embarked on an exercise in public relations, seeking, says Mancini, ‘in every way to procure the good will of the people; hoping that if, by their support, he could be proclaimed the only ruler, he might subsequently possess himself of the sovereignty with ease, even against their wishes’. This may indeed have been just what Edward V now feared, and what others would anticipate, once news of the coup broke.

  This happened just before midnight on 30th April, in London, and threw everything into a turmoil. ‘The unexpectedness of the event horrified everyone,’ says Mancini. The Queen was stunned by the sudden realisation that, after twenty years, her family’s power and influence were at an end, and that her much-feared enemy was in control of her son, the King. She was, says More, ‘in great flight and heaviness, bewailing her child’s ruin, her friends’ mischance and her own misfortune’. Her fear of Gloucester and what he might do to her and hers in revenge for her role in the fall of Clarence was very real indeed; she had no cause to expect any kindness or clemency from him, especially since she had done all she could to prevent him from becoming protector. Clearly she feared that her very life might be in danger.

  Mancini relates that, with the aid of her son Dorset, Elizabeth Wydville at first ‘began collecting an army to defend themselves and set free the young King from the clutches of the dukes. But when they had exhorted certain nobles who had come to the City, and others, to take up arms, they perceived that men’s minds were not only irresolute but altogether hostile to themselves. Some even said openly that it was more just and profitable that the youthful sovereign should be with his paternal uncle than with his maternal uncles and uterine brothers.’ The Queen could perceive clearly how things stood, and gathering together her younger son the Duke of York, her five daughters ranging in ages from seventeen to two, her brother Lionel, Bishop of Salisbury, and her son Dorset, she hastily withdrew in the early hours of 1st May, with as many of her personal goods as she could assemble, to the Sanctuary at Westminster Abbey, where she and her party were received in the College Hall by John Esteney, Abbot of Westminster, and, says the chronicler Edward Hall, ‘registered as sanctuary persons’. Mancini states it was commonly believed that the royal treasure had some time before this been secretly removed from the Tower by Dorset and divided between himself, the Queen and Sir Edward Wydville, who was said to have taken his to sea with him. The Queen and Dorset reputedly carried theirs into the Sanctuary.

  Westminster Abbey had afforded sanctuary to criminals and lawbreakers since Saxon times, and the great, grim, cruciform stronghold of the Sanctuary building dated from Edward the Confessor’s reign. Two storeys high, it was demolished with great difficulty in 1750. But the Queen and her relatives did not come here to mingle with debtors and common felons; they lodged in the comfort of the Abbot’s house, where the Queen had given birth to Prince Edward during her previous sojourn in sanctuary in 1470. Here, she and those with her could be afforded permanent protection as fugitives.

  Before dawn broke, Archbishop Rotherham of York arrived. Mancini says that ‘though of humble origin, [he] had become, thanks to his talent, a man of note with King Edward’. He owed his advancement, to a great extent, to the Queen, and was stoutly loyal to her. Rotherham’s London residence was York Place, by the Abbey, and having learned in the night of Gloucester’s coup and the Queen’s flight, he at once decided to deliver the Great Seal of England, which he held as Lord Chancellor, to the Queen, ‘about whom [says More] he found much heaviness and rumble, haste and business, carriage and conveyance of her stuff into sanctuary: chests, coffers, packs, fardels, trusses, all on men’s backs, some breaking down the walls to bring in the next way. The Queen sat alone, a-low on the rushes, all desolate and dismayed, whom the Archbishop comforted in the best manner he could, showing her he trusted the matter was nothing so sore as she took it for’, and that he ‘was put in good hope and out of fear’ by a message from Lord Hastings assuring him, ‘All shall be well.’

  The Queen was not reassured. Hastings, she pointed out, was ‘one of them that laboureth to destroy me and my blood’.

  ‘Madam,’ replied Rotherham, ‘be ye of good cheer. For I assure you, if they crown any other king than your son, whom they now have with them, we shall on the morrow crown his brother, whom you have here with you.’ Then he delivered up to her the Great Seal ‘which, as that noble prince your husband delivered unto me, so here I deliver it unto you, to the use and behoof of your son’.

  Dawn was breaking when Rotherham left. Back at York Place he looked through the window of his chamber and saw, says More, ‘all the Thames full of boats of the Duke of Gloucester’s servants, watching that no man should go into the Sanctuary, nor none pass unsearched’.

  As the momentous news of Gloucester’s coup spread, More recounts, there was ‘great commotion and murmur, as well in other places as in the City, the people diversely divining upon this dealing’. Some lords, says Croyland, ‘collected their forces at Westminster in the Queen’s name, and others at London under the shadow of Lord Hastings’. Many citizens donned armour, says More, ‘for they reckoned this demeanour attempted against the King himself, in the disturbance of his coronation’. Crowds gathered in the streets, speculating on what would happen next, and, according to Mancini, there became ‘current in the capital a sinister rumour that the Duke had brought his nephew, not under his care, but into his power, so as to gain the crown for himself’.

  That morning the Council met at Westminster to discuss the situation. Receiving his summons to attend, Archbishop Rotherham had second thoughts about his precipitate action in surrendering the Great Seal to the Queen, fearing, says More, ‘that it would be ascribed [as it was indeed] to his overmuch lightness that he so suddenly had yielded up the Great Seal to the Queen, to whom the custody thereof nothing pertained without especial commandment of the King, [and he] secretly sent for the Seal again, and brought it with him after the customable manner’.

  When the lords were assembled, Gloucester’s letters were ‘read aloud in the council chamber, and [says Mancini] to the populace’ afterwards. More tells us that Hastings addressed the councillors, saying he was assured that Gloucester was ‘fastly faithful to his prince’ and that he had arrested Rivers and the rest only to ensure his own safety, for he was sure
they had planned to murder him. The Duke, went on Hastings, would make sure that his prisoners received impartial justice when he arrived in London, and he implored the lords not to take up arms on Edward V’s behalf. The councillors were ‘somewhat appeased’ by this; Mancini says they ‘all praised the Duke of Gloucester for his dutifulness towards his nephews and for his intention to punish their enemies’. More believed that Hastings’ reassurances did much to discredit the Wydville faction on the Council, and to allay the fears of Londoners at large as soon as they were reported in the streets. But there were those on the Council, Mancini heard, ‘who realised [Gloucester’s] ambition and his cunning [and] always suspected where his enterprise would lead’.

  On 2nd May, Gloucester despatched his prisoners under guard from Northampton to three of his northern strongholds: Rivers was sent to Sheriff Hutton Castle, Grey to Middleham and Vaughan to Pontefract. That same day the Duke was informed, probably by Hastings, of the reaction in London to his coup and of Rotherham’s rash action in surrendering the Great Seal to the Queen. Gloucester immediately sent orders to London that Rotherham was to be deprived at once of the office of Lord Chancellor, although he allowed him to retain his seat on the Council. More says the Duke ‘supposed he would be faithful to Edward’s heirs come what might’, having learned he had been their champion at previous Council meetings. He also knew Rotherham to be a staunch friend to the Queen.

  Gloucester then wrote, in the King’s name, to Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury, requiring him ‘to see for the safeguard and sure keeping of the Great Seal of this our realm, unto our coming to our City of London, and [to] provide for the surety and safeguard of our Tower of London, and the treasure being in the same’. Gloucester had not yet found out that the royal treasure had been appropriated by the Wydvilles.

  All these actions of Gloucester’s were illegal, because he had no authority as protector, having been neither appointed nor confirmed in that office by the Council. The arrest and incarceration of Rivers, Grey, Vaughan and Haute, and the sacking of Rotherham were therefore, strictly speaking, acts of tyranny, and were seen as such by many at the time.

  On the morning of 3rd May, Edward V, escorted by Gloucester and Buckingham, left Northampton for London. They spent the night at St Albans, and it was probably here that they passed the time in appending their signatures and mottoes to a parchment now in the British Museum:

  ‘Edwardus Quintus’

  ‘Loyaultié me lie. Richard Gloucestre.’

  ‘Souvente me souvene. Harre Bokynham.’

  The next morning they prepared to enter the capital.


  The Lord Protector

  ON THE MORNING of 4th May, the King, escorted by Gloucester and Buckingham, left St Albans and travelled via Barnet towards London. Mancini states that Gloucester was now ready to enter the capital, having ‘ascertained the attitude of everyone, and with the help of friends’ in the City ‘provided against all eventualities’. Garbed in ‘black cloth, like a mourner’ and accompanied, says Mancini, ‘by no more than 500 soldiers’, he and the young King were officially welcomed to London at Hornsey Park by the Lord Mayor, aldermen and sheriffs, all mounted and clad in scarlet, followed by 410 mounted members of the great livery companies wearing new gowns of violet. Thus Edward V was escorted into his capital, ‘riding in blue velvet’, the two black-clad Dukes at either side. The Great Chronicle tells that, as they rode, Gloucester repeatedly bowed low in the saddle and presented the King to the cheering crowds, crying, ‘Behold your prince and sovereign lord!’ More says that his manner towards the boy was humble and reverent, the more so to convince the people of his loyalty.

  Already Gloucester’s propaganda machine had swung into action. Mancini says that he and Buckingham ‘were seeking at every turn to arouse hatred against the Queen’s kin and to estrange public opinion from her relatives’. He goes on: ‘Ahead of the procession they sent four wagons loaded with weapons bearing the devices of the Queen’s brothers and sons, besides criers to make generally known that these arms had been collected by the Duke’s enemies and stored at convenient points outside the capital, so as to attack and slay the Duke of Gloucester. Since many knew these charges to be false, because the arms in question had been placed there long before the late King’s death, when war was being waged against the Scots, mistrust both of his accusation and designs upon the throne was exceedingly augmented.’ This, and the glaring absence of the Queen, struck jarring notes upon an otherwise harmonious day.

  The young King proceeded via Cheapside to St Paul’s Churchyard, where the palace of the bishops of London then stood on the site of the present Chapter House. Destroyed in 1650, it was sometimes used as a royal residence during the mediaeval period, and had been chosen as a temporary lodging for Edward V. Once he was installed there, Gloucester summoned the magnates and citizens to swear fealty to their sovereign, which, ‘being a most encouraging presage of future prosperity, was done by all with the greatest pleasure and delight’. Hastings, says Croyland, ‘was bursting with joy at the way things were turning out’. The homage over, Gloucester retired to Baynard’s Castle, where he was lodging. Here, on 7th May, Archbishop Bourchier took possession of the Great Seal.

  Gloucester was clearly in complete control, not only of the King but of the Council which met on 10th May at the Bishop’s Palace for a session that, according to Croyland, lasted several days. The King, says Rous, remained in residence at the palace, where ‘all royal honours were paid to him’, but there is no evidence that he attended any of the council meetings. Some members who had served Edward IV now found themselves dismissed by Gloucester, but others, including Hastings, Stanley, Rotherham, Stillington and John Morton, Bishop of Ely, remained, and Bishop Alcock was invited to join them.

  The first item on the agenda was to decide upon a suitable, permanent residence for the King, as the Bishop’s Palace was adjudged too shabby for him. Croyland says ‘a discussion took place about removing the King to some place where fewer restrictions should be imposed upon him. Some mentioned the Hospital of St John’, west of Smith-field, but this had Lancastrian and Wydville associations. Others suggested Westminster, but this was felt to be too close to Edward’s mother in sanctuary. Then ‘the Duke of Buckingham suggested the Tower’. Tradition required a monarch to reside in the royal apartments in the Tower prior to his coronation, and this suggestion ‘was at last agreed to by all, even those who had been originally opposed thereto’. This decision was reached on 10th May, and on 19th May Edward V issued a grant ‘at our Tower of London’; the exact date of his removal there is not known.

  At that time the Tower was an important royal residence and had not acquired the sinister reputation it earned in the Tudor period. Edward IV had held court there on many occasions, and it would have had happy associations for his son. The Tower was also a state prison, and had many offices, storerooms, the Royal Mint and a small zoo, where Londoners took their children to see the lions and leopards.

  The royal apartments occupied by Edward V were truly sumptuous. They consisted of a range of mainly fourteenth-century buildings situated on the south side of the White Tower, facing the River Thames, which was wider then than it is today. There was a great banqueting hall, built by Edward I and flanked with two wings: all had castellated roofs. St Thomas’s Gate (later called Traitors’ Gate) adjoined the left wing, giving access from the river. The royal complex enclosed two courtyards, ringed by the White Tower, the Wakefield Tower and the Lanthorn Tower.

  The Black Book of the Household, dating from the reign of Edward IV, describes the apartments of the sovereign as adjoining the Lanthorn Tower and comprising three chambers: the outer or audience chamber, the inner or privy chamber, and the bedchamber. These had stained-glass windows depicting the royal arms and the fleur de lys. There would have been wall-paintings similar to those discovered in the Byward Tower that had a gold and vermilion design of angels and birds, and floor tiles decorated with royal leopards a
nd white harts, the badge of Richard II who had designed these rooms. These beautiful chambers were already falling into decay a century after Edward V occupied them, and were demolished in the 1670s, Charles II being the last monarch to use them.

  Once the King’s residence had been decided upon, the Council considered afresh the question of who should govern during the King’s minority. This was purely a formality, as real power lay in the hands of Gloucester and everybody knew it. Mancini says that ‘having entered the City, the first thing he saw to was to have himself proclaimed, by authority of the Council and all the lords, Protector of the King and realm’. Many councillors wholeheartedly supported his appointment, realising that England needed a proven, efficient, able and firm ruler at this time, when war loomed upon the horizon. Gloucester had proved himself in battle, and his record of loyalty to Edward IV and, so far, Edward V was unblemished. So long as it continued that way, the councillors, to a man, were prepared to support him, in the knowledge that, following the precedent of 1429, his office would lapse with the King’s coronation, when a regency council would be convened in the King’s name.

  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.

Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]