Richard III and the Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir


  There was a deathly silence. It was obvious that very few believed there had ever been a precontract between Edward IV and Eleanor Butler, much less that Gloucester was the rightful king. A few, at length, murmured their approval, but this was mainly due to fear of reprisals from Gloucester rather than loyalty to him or conviction, whereupon Buckingham’s men attempted to redeem the situation by throwing their caps into the air and shouting ‘King Richard!’ But the execution of Hastings had alienated many of Gloucester’s former supporters and it was becoming obvious that he was not going to be swept on to the throne on a tide of public opinion.

  Nor would the public’s confidence have been restored by knowledge of what occurred on the following day, 25th June, at Pontefract. Evidence in York Civic Records shows that Sir Richard Ratcliffe had arrived at the castle with the troops from York a day or so previously and conveyed the Protector’s order for the executions of the four prisoners to the Earl of Northumberland, who was awaiting him there with an army of his own. Rous says that ‘the said lords were condemned to death by the Earl on the false charge that they had in fact plotted the death of Richard, Duke of Gloucester and, for a thing they had never contemplated, the innocent humbly and peaceably submitted to a cruel fate.’ Croyland confirms that the executions took place ‘by command of Richard Ratcliffe, and without any form of trial being observed’. Rous, in a later passage, describes Northumberland as the men’s ‘chief judge’, implying that some sort of formal condemnation had taken place, but Rous was a less reliable commentator than Croyland, and Rivers had been informed of his imminent death two days previously at Sheriff Hutton. As a nobleman he had the right to be tried by his peers in Parliament, but this had been denied him, as it had been denied Hastings.

  Rivers, Grey, Vaughan and Haute were beheaded in the presence of Northumberland, Ratcliffe – who supervised the proceedings – the assembled northern forces, and some of the public. None of the men were allowed to make a speech. Rous says that afterwards, when the bodies were stripped for burial, Rivers was found to be wearing a ‘consecrated hair shirt’ which was long after displayed in the church of the Carmelite friars in Doncaster. Rivers, Grey and Haute were buried naked in a common grave in a monastery at Pontefract, while Vaughan, whom Croyland calls ‘an aged knight’, was eventually laid to rest in Westminster Abbey under a Latin epitaph which translates as ‘To love and wait upon’, an allusion to his devoted service to Edward V.

  All contemporary writers agree that Rivers and his associates had committed no crime. No evidence against them was ever produced. Rous says they ‘were unjustly and cruelly put to death, being lamented by everyone, and innocent of the deed for which they were charged’. More states that their only fault was in being ‘good men, too true to the King’, and Vergil avers that their true offence was to stand in the way of Gloucester’s ambitions. Croyland observes that this was the ‘second innocent blood which was shed on the occasion of this sudden change’. In all, their executions constituted yet more blatant acts of tyranny committed by Gloucester.

  By now a great number of lords and commoners had arrived in London for the coronation, and on 25th June all were summoned to Westminster. Mancini says they ‘supposed they were called both to hear the reason for Hastings’ execution and to decide again upon the coronation of Edward, for it seemed after such an unprecedented alarm that the coronation must be deferred. When the Duke [of Gloucester] saw that all was ready, as though he knew nothing of the affair, he secretly despatched the Duke of Buckingham to the lords with orders to submit to their decision the disposal of the throne.’ Buckingham brought with him, says Croyland, ‘a supplication’ or petition, ‘in an address in a certain roll of parchment’, which was to be approved by the assembly before being laid before Gloucester. This petition had almost certainly been drawn up by Gloucester and Buckingham. Some historians infer that the magnates were its authors, but while it was written in their name, this is implausible. The only magnates involved were likely to have been the two Dukes and perhaps Lord Howard: Rous says Gloucester ‘feigned a title to the crown for his own advancement’, and Croyland relates ‘how it was at the time rumoured that this address had been got up in the north, whence such vast numbers were flocking to London, although at the same time there was not a person but what very well knew who was the sole mover at London of such seditious and disgraceful proceedings’.

  This petition no longer survives but its text was incorporated, seemingly word for word, into the Act of Settlement called ‘Titulus Regius’, passed in 1484, which set forth Gloucester’s title to the throne, and its gist was recorded by several contemporary writers. It was couched in lofty, indignant, moral tones, typical of the propaganda used before it and later on by Gloucester, and its purpose was not only to justify the deposition of the lawful sovereign, but to present the Duke to the people as he saw himself, an upright and strong ruler who could offer stable government in place of the uncertainties of a minority.

  Buckingham’s address opened with an attack on the government of Edward IV, who had let himself be ruled by the Wydvilles. This time there were no allegations that Edward IV had been illegitimate. Instead, says Croyland, ‘it was set forth that the sons of King Edward were bastards, on the ground that he had contracted a marriage with the Lady Eleanor Butler before his marriage to Queen Elizabeth’. In fact the petition, and the subsequent Act, asserted that the King’s marriage to Elizabeth Wydville was invalid on three counts: firstly, because it had been made without the assent of the lords of the land and as a result of sorcery practised by Elizabeth and her mother (no evidence was produced to substantiate these allegations); secondly, because it had been ‘made privily and secretly, without edition of banns, in private chamber, a profane place, and not openly in the face of the Church, after the law of God’s Church, but contrary to the laudable custom of the Church of England’; and thirdly, because ‘at the time of contract of the said pretenced marriage, and before and long time after, King Edward was married and troth-plight to one Dame Eleanor Butler. Which premises being true, as in very truth they been true, it appeareth and followeth evidently that King Edward and Elizabeth lived together sinfully and damnably in adultery against the laws of God and His Church, and all the issues and children of the said King Edward been bastards and unable to claim anything by inheritance, by the law and custom of England.’

  According to the petition, next in line after Edward IV would have been Clarence’s son, the young Earl of Warwick, but for Clarence’s attainder, which, says Mancini, rendered Warwick ‘ineligible for the crown, since his father, after conviction for treason, had forfeited not only his own but his son’s right of succession’. This was not strictly correct. Gloucester was well aware that Warwick had a strong claim to the throne, better than his own. However, there was little danger of anyone claiming it on his behalf at present because Warwick was only eight. As time went by he would pose a greater threat. Attainders were reversible: over 80 per cent of the attainders passed during the period 1453–1509 were later reversed. Henry IV, Henry VI and Edward IV had all succeeded to the throne after being previously attainted. And Clarence’s attainder deprived his children of inheriting only ‘the honours, estate, dignity and name of duke’; it did not exclude them from the succession. However, as far as Gloucester was concerned, the time for legal niceties was long past.

  Warwick’s exclusion meant, concluded Buckingham, according to Croyland, that ‘at the present time no certain and incorrupt blood of the lineage of Richard, Duke of York was to be found, except in the person of Richard, Duke of Gloucester’, his undoubted son and heir, who had been born in England, unlike Edward IV, who had been born in France. Mancini quotes Buckingham as saying that Gloucester was ‘legally entitled to the crown and could bear its responsibility, thanks to his proficiency. His previous career and blameless morals would be a sure guarantee of his good government.’ He spoke of Gloucester’s ‘great wit, prudence, justice, princely courage and memorable and laudable acts, and
also the great noblesse and excellence of [his] birth and blood’. ‘For which reasons,’ says Croyland, ‘he was entreated at the end of the said roll to assume his lawful rights’ and asked if he would accept and take upon himself the crown and royal dignity.

  Mancini says that, according to Buckingham, there was a problem over this, for it was likely that Gloucester ‘would refuse such a burden’. He might, however, ‘change his mind if he were asked by the peers’. Buckingham then left the assembled lords and commons to examine Gloucester’s claim. Many certainly had reservations about it, and it would become clear in time to come that few Englishmen ever found the allegations on which it was based plausible. Nor had any proofs been offered to substantiate them. Croyland, who was on the Council, believed them to be fraudulent; he was not alone. But the lords, says Mancini, ‘consulted their own safety, warned by the example of Hastings and perceiving the alliance of the two Dukes, whose power, supported by a multitude of troops, would be difficult and hazardous to resist; and therefore they determined to declare Richard their king and ask him to undertake the burden of office’. They were ‘seduced’, states Vergil, ‘rather for fear than hope of benefit’. In fact, their decision was unanimous, dictated by the desire for self-preservation, realisation that every minority brought with it more problems than were desirable in an unstable political climate, especially now when the young King’s title had been publicly impugned, and the knowledge that Gloucester was certainly capable of providing strong government.

  The assembly that convened on 25th June was undoubtedly constitutional, even though it did not meet in Parliament, but it now went beyond the law and declared Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Wydville invalid and their children illegitimate, then agreed that Edward V had been formally deposed. In fact, he and his siblings were not formally disinherited until ‘Titulus Regius’ was passed in 1484, and therefore his deposition on 25th June, 1483, was illegal. Nevertheless the assembled magnates declared him a ‘proved’ imposter, and the contemporary Harleian MS. 433 in the British Library states that, their oath to Edward V notwithstanding, ‘now every good, true Englishman is bound upon knowledge had of the said very true title [of Gloucester] to depart from the first oath so ignorantly given to him to whom it appertained not.’

  On the following day, says Mancini, ‘All the lords foregathered at the house of Richard’s mother [Baynard’s Castle], whither he had purposefully betaken himself, that these events might not take place in the Tower where the young King was confined. There the whole business was transacted.’ The Protector was also determined to emulate his brother Edward IV, whose accession ceremonies had taken place at Baynard’s Castle.

  Again, the proceedings were constitutionally correct. Buckingham rode at the head of the deputation, which comprised the lords, commons, knights, Lord Mayor of London, aldermen and chief citizens, all anxious to win the favour of their future monarch and so avoid his terrible displeasure.

  Buckingham presented the petition, beseeching Gloucester most eloquently that he should accept the crown, so that the country might escape the dangers of a minority and a disputed succession and enjoy peace through stable, firm government. He told the Duke that the people would not have the sons of Edward IV to reign over them, and that if he refused their request they would have no choice but to choose someone else. Gloucester displayed initial reluctance but at length agreed to accept the crown. Thus, says Croyland, ‘having summoned armed men in fearful and unheard of numbers from the north, the Protector assumed the government of the kingdom, with the title of king’. Mancini says he usurped or occupied (‘occuparit’) the kingdom.

  The reign of Richard III, for so the new King was styled, was dated from that day, 26th June, 1483, as he himself confirmed in a letter of 12th October, 1484, referring to it as the date ‘when we entered into our just title’. He had ascended the throne with very little blood being spilt, yet his usurpation would lead in a short time to a second outbreak of the War of the Roses and the ultimate destruction of his own House.

  11

  Richard III

  FOLLOWING THE PRECEDENT set by Edward IV, Richard III left Baynard’s Castle on the day of his accession and rode to Westminster Hall where, according to Croyland, ‘he obtruded himself into the marble chair’ called the King’s Bench. Thus enthroned, he took the sovereign’s oath in the presence of a vast gathering that included his magnates, justices and serjeants-at-law, exhorting the latter most sternly to ‘justly and duly minister his laws without delay or favour’, dispensing justice ‘indifferently to every person, as well as to poor as to rich’. He then rode back to Baynard’s Castle, saluting and bowing to the people lining the roads: ‘A mind that knoweth itself guilty is in a manner dejected to a servile flattery,’ commented More. In the evening the new King rode to St Paul’s to hear the heralds proclaim his title. On this occasion he received an enthusiastic reception ‘with great congratulation and acclamation of all the people in every place’, according to a letter of Lord Dynham, Captain of Calais. How much of this was dictated by fear, how much was flattery and self-seeking, and how much the momentum of the occasion it is impossible to tell, but since the beginning of June the Londoners had been distinctly cool towards their former protector.

  The manner of Richard III’s usurpation of the throne revealed traits in his character hitherto suspected only by a few. Many had praised him for his courage, his blameless private life and his loyalty to his brother. Now that much-vaunted loyalty had been proved to be merely skin-deep: Edward IV had not been dead three months yet Richard had already branded him a bastard and a bigamist, attacked his government, and disinherited his children. Croyland and other contemporary observers all make much of Richard’s duplicity, and Croyland in particular constantly implies that Richard’s public image of an upright, principled monarch was a sham which concealed his innate dishonesty and deceitfulness. More also stresses the contradictions between what Richard said and what he actually did. Mancini states he was renowned for concealing his real faults, and his tone suggests he believed the King to be a crafty villain. He was, says More, ‘close and secret’. Rous accuses Richard III of being ‘excessively cruel’ and even likens him to the antiChrist, and Commines records that Louis XI of France, who was not the nicest of men, condemned Richard as ‘extremely cruel and evil’. More calls him ‘malicious, wrathful, envious and ever froward’.

  Nevertheless, Richard III did possess great abilities and potential as a ruler. Croyland says he carried out all his enterprises ‘swiftly and with the utmost vigilance’, but even this had its darker side, according to Vergil, who asserts that the King was ‘a man much feared for his circumspection and celerity’.

  There were still those who found much to praise in him. Two men who met him in 1484 were decidedly impressed: Nicholas von Poppelau spoke of him having ‘a great heart’, and Archibald Whitelaw, the Scots envoy, declared he had ‘so much spirit and great virtue’. Undoubtedly Richard had a charismatic charm that he could exert when he wished to; there are many still in thrall to it today. More praise came from Pietro Carmeliano who, in his introduction to his Life of St Catherine (1484), eulogised Richard in the conventional manner then adopted in such works:

  For justice, who can we reckon above him throughout the world? If we contemplate the prudence of his service, both in peace and in waging war, who shall we judge his equal? If we look for truth of soul, for wisdom, for loftiness of mind united with modesty, who stands before our King Richard? What emperor or prince can be compared with him in good works or munificence?

  Undoubtedly this was the persona that Richard meant the world to perceive; it should be remembered, however, that the book was dedicated to Sir Robert Brackenbury, one of Richard’s most devoted supporters, and was hardly likely to contain anything less than flattering to Brackenbury’s patron.

  The high moral tone of Richard’s propaganda was in glaring contrast to his private life. Early in his reign he declared to his bishops that ‘his principal i
ntent and fervent desire is to see virtue and cleanness of living to be advanced, and vices provoking the high indignation and fearful displeasure of God to be repressed. And this put in execution by persons of high estate,’ who would show ‘persons of low degree to take thereof example’. Less high-minded were his attacks on the morality of his opponents. No king before him had used the propaganda of character assassination to discredit his enemies, and Richard’s preoccupation with other people’s sinfulness seems on the face of it almost to have bordered on the obsessive or prurient. One proclamation offering rewards for the capture of certain traitors was titled ‘Proclamation for the reform of morals’, and reads more like an attack on illicit sexuality than a condemnation of treason. Elizabeth Shore’s humiliating penance at Paul’s Cross was another example. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that Richard felt any real concern for public morality beyond affecting an interest to enhance his own reputation and using accusations of immorality as a propaganda weapon to destroy the reputations of his enemies.

  Mancini speaks of Gloucester’s ‘blameless morals’, referring to his private life, of which little is known but enough to prove him a hypocrite. He had bastards, born probably before his marriage, and it is true that there are no references to him keeping a mistress for many years after it. But there is evidence that Richard’s morals were not all they were vaunted to be. In September 1483 Bishop Thomas Langton, who had a good opinion of the King, wrote a letter in English praising him to the Prior of Christ Church, Canterbury. Yet in that same letter is a Latin postscript, so written because it refers to a subject of some delicacy. Unfortunately this part of the letter is damaged by damp and barely decipherable now, but what it appears to say, in translation, is: ‘I do not take exception to the fact that his sensuality [voluptas] appears to be increasing.’ And there is other evidence, which will be discussed in Chapter Seventeen, that Richard was not faithful to his wife after his accession.

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