Richard III and the Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir

  Gloucester, meanwhile, was enjoying a celebratory dinner, after which he sent for the Lord Mayor and leading citizens of London, and informed them that Hastings had planned to murder him and Buckingham at that morning’s council meeting; he had acted just in the nick of time to save himself. The Mayor then went back through the streets, telling the people of the ‘plot’ against the Protector. Two hours after the execution Gloucester sent a herald out to calm the populace by reading a proclamation giving details of Hastings’ ‘treason’ and formally announcing his execution. The proclamation was so long, so detailed, and issued so swiftly that it is almost certain that it had been drawn up before the Council met. Typically, it contained an attack on Hastings’ morals. It also, says Mancini, bade the people be assured. ‘At first the ignorant crowd believed, although real truth was on the lips of many, namely that the plot had been feigned by the Duke to escape the odium of such a crime.’ Thus, observed the Great Chronicle, ‘was this nobleman murdered for his truth and fidelity which he bore unto his master’. Significantly, perhaps, Hastings was never retrospectively attainted of treason, unlike other enemies of Gloucester.

  His death meant that the moderates on the Council now lacked a leader, which effectively deprived them of the means of opposing the Protector. Not that many were keen to now: Vergil says that ‘Men began to look for nothing else than cruel slaughter, as perceived they well that Duke Richard would spare no man so that he might obtain the kingdom.’ From now on many would support him ‘rather for fear than any hope of benefit’, for, says Croyland, all the rest of Edward V’s ‘faithful subjects were fearing the like treatment’. The King’s supporters had been effectively intimidated.

  As for those men who had been arrested with Hastings, Rotherham, according to Vergil, was committed to the temporary custody of Gloucester’s trusted retainer Sir James Tyrell and, by 21st June, imprisoned in the Tower. The University of Cambridge pleaded his case and he was released on 4th July and restored to the Council. Morton was also incarcerated in the Tower, and the University of Oxford interceded for him, but Gloucester was not so merciful in his case and after a time committed him to Buckingham’s custody at Brecknock Castle on the Welsh Marches. Croyland says both prelates were ‘saved from capital punishment out of respect for their order’, which is borne out by Mancini. Forster was briefly imprisoned, as was Stanley, but the latter was released within two weeks and restored to the Council, where he quickly ensured that he recovered the good opinion of Gloucester.

  Elizabeth Shore, accused of being the go-between for her lover Hastings and the Queen, was also punished. Gloucester instructed the Bishop of London to sentence her to do public penance at St Paul’s, wearing only her kirtle and carrying a lighted taper, a sight that moved many men in the watching crowds to lustful thoughts, we are told. This took place on Sunday 15th June, after which Mistress Shore was cast into prison. After her release, much to Gloucester’s disgust, she married his solicitor, Thomas Lynom, and disappeared into obscurity. She died, widowed and destitute, around 1526 and was buried in Hinxworth Church, Hertfordshire.

  Around the time of Hastings’ death, writes Mancini, Gloucester ‘learned from his spies that the Marquess [of Dorset] had left the Sanctuary and, supposing that he was hiding in the same neighbourhood, he surrounded with troops and dogs the already-grown crops and sought for him, after the manner of huntsmen, by a very close encirclement, but he was never found’. There can be little doubt that Dorset’s flight was prompted by news of Hastings’ end. In fact he fled to France, probably taking his share of Edward IV’s treasure with him, as Gloucester tried, and failed, to find it. Later on Bishop Lionel Wydville left sanctuary openly and was allowed to return to his diocese.

  On 15th June, Ratcliffe reached York where he delivered to the Civic Council the Protector’s order for them to send an armed force to the Earl of Northumberland at Pontefract before 25th June; Northumberland would then march to London.

  In the Tower, meanwhile, something very ominous had happened. Mancini tells us that ‘After Hastings was removed, all the attendants who had waited upon the King were debarred access to him.’ This was alarming because it meant that Gloucester was isolating his nephew and preventing others from finding out what was happening to him. He may well have feared that the King’s servants might help him to escape. These servants had of course been chosen by Gloucester, but in the present situation he obviously felt he could not count on their loyalty.

  Edward V could not have been anything but horrified at the death of Hastings and what it portended, the dismissal of his servants and the knowledge that he was now a virtual prisoner. The available evidence suggests that he feared he too would go the way of Hastings. Mancini says that Dr John Argentine, ‘a Strasbourg doctor and the last of his attendants whose services the King enjoyed, reported that the young King, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance, because he believed that death was facing him’. The French chronicler Molinet corroborates this testimony. Forensic evidence which will be discussed later indicates that the King was suffering from a diseased jaw and perhaps toothache, which would explain why Dr Argentine had been in attendance; the pain he may have suffered can only have contributed to his depression and sense of hopelessness.


  ‘This Act of Usurpation’

  ON MONDAY 16TH June a wary and nervous Council met at the Tower. The date of the coronation was less than a week away and Gloucester, says Mancini, ‘submitted how improper it seemed that the King should be crowned in the absence of his brother, who, on account of his nearness of kin and his station, ought to play an important part in the ceremony’. ‘What a sight it shall be,’ he said, according to Vergil, ‘to see the King crowned if, while that the solemnity of triumphant pomp is in doing, his mother, brother and sisters remain in sanctuary.’ Mancini says the Protector stated that, since the Duke of York ‘was held by his mother against his will in sanctuary, he should be liberated, because the Sanctuary had been founded by their ancestors as a place of refuge, not of detention, and this boy wanted to be with his brother’. Gloucester spoke scathingly of ‘the Queen’s malice’ and how she was trying to discredit the Council; he said it was bad for York to have no one of his own age to play with and to be ‘in the company of old and ancient persons’, and he proposed that Cardinal Archbishop Bourchier convey a command to the Queen to release her son. When the octagenarian prelate refused to sanction the boy’s removal from sanctuary by force, fearing that reasonable persuasion might fail because of ‘the mother’s dread and fear’, Buckingham retorted that the Queen’s behaviour was not prompted by fear but by ‘womanly frowardness. I never before heard of sanctuary children.’ A child had no need of sanctuary, he argued, and therefore no right to it.

  The Council, much intimidated and now without Hastings to voice any opposition, allowed itself to be persuaded by the Duke and agreed to Gloucester’s demand. Whereupon, says Mancini, ‘he surrounded the Sanctuary with troops’. I ord Howard’s account books show that on that very day Howard and his son hired eight boats full of soldiers to escort Gloucester, Buckingham, Bourchier, Russell and themselves to Westminster and then form an armed chain round the Abbey.

  York had been brought up at court by the Queen his mother. All we know of him comes from Molinet, who says he was ‘joyous and witty, nimble, and ever ready for dances and games’. Such a lively child would probably have welcomed being released from the restrictions of life in sanctuary. But then York was only nine years old, and too young to understand what his liberation might mean.

  Croyland says that Gloucester and his entourage of magnates, prelates and soldiers ‘came with a great multitude to Westminster’ that same day, ‘armed with swords and staves’. Stallworthe testifies that there were ‘great plenty of harnessed men’ in the area around Westminster Abbey that day. On arrival, Gloucester, continues Croyland, ‘compelled the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, with many others, to enter the Sanc
tuary in order to appeal to the good feelings of the Queen and prompt her to allow her son to come forth and proceed to the Tower, that he might comfort the King his brother’.

  Bourchier and Howard confronted the Queen in the Abbot’s House, conveyed Gloucester’s message, and informed her that the Protector desired to take her son York under his protection. They begged her to agree to this in order to avoid a scandal, and promised that her son would be safe and well looked after. The Queen expressed reservations about York’s future safety, whereupon Howard asked her why her sons should be in any danger. She was at a loss for an answer, and Bourchier indicated firmly to Howard that he should ‘harp no more on that string’.

  Elizabeth Wydville’s only hope of returning to power lay with her son the King, and while York remained with her Edward V was relatively safe and her ambitions realistically based. She did not trust Gloucester, and said so. Both More and Hall portray her as making a long speech to this effect, saying she knew there were ‘deadly enemies to my blood. The desire of a kingdom knoweth no kindred; brothers have been brother’s bane, and may the nephew be sure of his uncle? Both of these children are safe while they are asunder.’ But Croyland, who was almost certainly an eyewitness, refers to no such speeches.

  Howard now joined with Bourchier to reassure the Queen, persuading her that surrendering York was the best course. The Archbishop, who, says the Great Chronicle, ‘thought and planned no harm’ and, says Mancini, ‘was suspecting no guile, persuaded the Queen to do this, seeking as much to prevent a violation of the Sanctuary as to mitigate by his good services the fierce resolve of the Duke’. No one doubted that if the Queen refused Gloucester would employ force to remove York: the soldiers outside bore testimony to that, and the House of York had its precedents for sanctuary-breaking. But Bourchier, says Croyland, assured the Queen that Gloucester ‘thought or intended none harm’, which was rather naïve of him, considering what had happened three days earlier.

  ‘When the Queen saw herself besieged and preparation for violence,’ says Mancini, ‘she surrendered her son, trusting in the word of the Cardinal of Canterbury that the boy should be restored after the coronation.’ And although Vergil writes that ‘thus was the innocent child pulled out of his mother’s arms’, Croyland says that the Queen ‘assented with many thanks to this proposal’. Later accounts describe an emotional parting, but no contemporary writer refers to any.

  York was delivered, says Stallworthe in a letter to Stonor dated 21st June, to Bourchier, Russell ‘and many other lords temporal’, who took him to the Palace of Westminster, where ‘with him met my lord of Buckingham in the midst of the hall of Westminster, my lord Protector receiving him at the Star Chamber door with many loving words’. Howard and Bourchier then conducted York by boat to the Tower, where he was reunited with his brother and, says Stallworthe, ‘where he is, blessed be Jesu, merry’.

  Gloucester now had both the male heirs of Edward IV in his power; he had neutralised the Wydvilles and removed nearly all those who had opposed him. ‘From this day,’ says Croyland, ‘the Duke openly revealed his plans.’ Now that those plans were being finalised, Gloucester apparently decided that the royal apartments should be vacated by the King and his brother in preparation for his own coronation. Vergil states that Gloucester was in fact lodging in the Tower from 16th June, and shortly after that date, says Mancini, Edward V and York ‘were withdrawn to the inner apartments of the Tower proper, and day by day began to be seen more rarely behind the bars and windows’. Mancini’s reference to bars indicates that the boys were Gloucester’s prisoners, which is borne out by the Great Chronicle, which states that they were ‘holden more straight, and then was privy talk in London that the Lord Protector should be king’.

  The Tower was a very public place to which the citizens were admitted to view the menagerie or for administrative purposes; therefore it is quite credible that the Princes (as we shall refer to them) were seen on several occasions. To begin with they were allowed outdoors for exercise. The Great Chronicle records that ‘During this Mayor’s year, the children of King Edward were seen shooting and playing in the garden of the Tower by sundry times.’ The Mayor referred to was Sir Edmund Shaa, who held office from October 1482 to October 1483. However, the reference to the boys playing must relate to the period immediately after 16th June and before the second week in July, when Mancini says the boys had ceased to appear at the windows altogether; it may also refer to Edward V before he had been joined by York. Mancini makes it clear that these outdoor games occurred less frequently as the days went by.

  No source is specific in naming exactly which part of the Tower the Princes were withdrawn to after 16th June. Tradition has it that they were held in what is now known as the Bloody Tower. In 1483 it was called the Garden Tower because the left side of it adjoined the garden of the Lieutenant’s (now the Queen’s) House. Because the Princes were seen playing ‘in the garden of the Tower’ it has long been assumed that they were lodged in the Garden Tower, once a means of access to the old royal apartments. This assumption has been given credence by the high standard of accommodation in the Garden Tower and its proximity to the Lieutenant’s House, vital for security purposes. But there is no other evidence that the Princes were ever there, nor was the Garden Tower re-named the Bloody Tower until 1597. In 1532 it was still being referred to as the Garden Tower, which argues a contemporary lack of association with the Princes.

  The garden of the Lieutenant’s House was also in close proximity to the massive White Tower, the old Norman keep with its 9-foot-thick walls. Here were the original royal apartments, still occasionally used, and here too, on the upper floors, important state prisoners had been housed since the twelfth century. This was the most secure part of the Tower, ‘the Tower proper’, as Mancini says, and the place most likely to have been chosen as the Princes’ abode by Gloucester. Here they could be lodged in relative comfort in any one of the turret chambers or rooms in the upper regions. Here, too, was later found forensic evidence to indicate their presence, which will be discussed later. In the White Tower the Princes were out of the way, and no-one could gain access to them without Gloucester’s authority.

  The Protector now turned his attention to another possible obstacle to his schemes, the eight-year-old Earl of Warwick who, since the flight of Dorset, was without a legal guardian. Mancini says that ‘about this time Gloucester gave orders that the son of the Duke of Clarence should come to the City, and commanded that the lad should be kept in confinement in the household of his wife, the child’s maternal aunt. For he feared that if the entire progeny of King Edward became extinct, yet this child, who was also of royal blood, would still embarrass him.’ What Mancini is here implying is that Gloucester had already contemplated the extinction of Edward IV’s sons.

  Gloucester was now apparently in a very strong position: he had all the Yorkist male heirs to the throne in his power, he had rid himself of his enemies, and armed support was on its way to him from York. But his position was still under threat. Firstly, both the Wydvilles and the King were now permanently alienated from him: More says Gloucester told Buckingham that Edward V had been so offended by their actions that there was no chance of a reconciliation. When the King attained his majority, both dukes could expect the worst for, according to Gloucester, he would never forget what was done to him in his youth. Secondly, the execution of Hastings had alienated a number of Gloucester’s supporters on the Council, further reducing his minority and the likelihood that the Council would support an extension of his powers after the coronation. Thirdly, that coronation was only days away, and many lords had already arrived in London to attend it and the Parliament that was to follow. The King could not open Parliament until he was crowned, and that event could not be deferred any longer because the business of the kingdom was being held up. Gloucester therefore had to act quickly if his plan was to succeed, and there can be no doubt that his ambition, his fear of what the future would otherwise hold, and his chroni
c sense of insecurity all gave added impetus to this necessity.

  Croyland states that, with the strongest supporters of the King having been removed ‘and all the rest of his faithful subjects fearing the like treatment, the two dukes did henceforth just as they pleased’. Buckingham had been involved in Gloucester’s plans from the beginning: More refers to his ‘guilty foreknowledge’, saying that ‘when the Protector had both the children in his hands he opened himself more boldly to the Duke of Buckingham, although I know that many thought that this Duke was privy to all the Protector’s counsel’. What Gloucester opened himself about was almost certainly the exact details of his scheme to seize the throne.

  The plan was to declare Edward V and Richard of York unfit to inherit the crown; therefore, as Warwick was supposedly barred from the succession by his father’s attainder, Gloucester would be next in line to the throne and would demand to be acknowledged as the rightful king. But, given that the act of recognition by the magnates at his crowning would have the effect of erasing any doubts about Edward V’s title to the throne, Gloucester knew he had to make public his claim before 22nd June, the date set for the coronation.

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