Richard III and the Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir


  But if the new King was a hypocrite in his private life, he appeared to be no such thing in his spiritual life. ‘Which of our princes shows a more genuine piety?’ asked Carmeliano. Certainly Richard III professed a deep and genuine religious faith in the conventional Catholic form: he conscientiously attended to his devotions, went on pilgrimages to religious shrines, was a most generous benefactor to many religious houses, such as Durham Cathedral, and founded eighteen chantries. He also cherished an ambition to go on a crusade against the Turks. The Convocation of Canterbury commended him for having a ‘most noble and blessed disposition’ towards the Church.

  Richard also owned a number of devotional books, all of which he acquired second-hand and all, save one, in English, which indicates that they were for private reading and of significance to him. They included a copy of the first version (c.1390) of John Wycliffe’s English translation of the New Testament, which had been banned in England as heretical – it bears Richard’s signature, ‘A vo me ly Gloucestre,’ and is now in the New York Public Library. There was also an account of The Visions of St Matilda, inscribed ‘Anne Warrewyk’ and ‘R. Gloucestre’. Most interesting of all is Richard’s illuminated Book of Hours, his only Latin work, which may have been passed on to him by his wife. After Richard’s death it became the property of the Lady Margaret Beaufort, one of his greatest enemies, who was almost certainly responsible for deleting his name from the text and the end page. It is now in Lambeth Palace Library.

  This Book of Hours contains an interesting private prayer, written in English by or for Richard III and dedicated to St Julian, an almost certainly fictitious nobleman who, through mistaken identity, killed his own parents. As penance, he and his wife founded a refuge for the poor, where one day a mysterious traveller appeared and informed Julian that Christ had accepted his penance. The cult of St Julian was a popular one in western Europe in Richard’s time, and many religious foundations were dedicated to him. It appears that Richard’s prayer to St Julian was inserted into his Book of Hours by a scribe with indifferent handwriting some time after his accession, and while the sentiments expressed in it were by no means uncommon at the time, they must have held a special significance for the King, for this was, after all, a prayer used in private devotions:

  Deign to release me from the affliction, temptation, grief, infirmity, poverty and peril in which I am held, and give me aid. Show to me and pour out all the glory of Thy Grace. Deign to assuage, turn aside and bring to nothing the hatred they bear towards me. Deign to free me from all the distresses and griefs by which I find myself troubled.

  There is more in the same vein, with the King pleading for aid against his enemies and detractors and, presumably, the threat of invasion from abroad. Then there is a passage that may be especially significant.

  You made me from nothing, and have redeemed me by Thy most wonderful love and mercy from eternal damnation to everlasting life. Because of this I ask You, O most gentle Jesus, to save me from all perils of body and soul and, after the course of this life, deign to bring me to You, the living and true God.

  The references to griefs, enemies and possible invasion date this prayer almost certainly to the year 1485. Richard praises Christ with heartfelt gratitude for having redeemed him from eternal damnation: what, one is tempted to wonder, had he done to merit such damnation? Was it his usurpation of the throne and disinheriting of his brother’s progeny? Or was it something far worse? His tyrannical rule had led to the deaths of several innocent men; yet, ask the revisionists, how could such a pious man, with an obvious leaning towards the religious mysticism popular in his day, be capable of acts of tyranny and violence? The fact is that he was indeed capable of them. There are many historical examples of men of genuine faith acting with appalling savagery and tyranny, which they themselves believed were justified. Richard III’s own contemporaries, Ferdinand of Aragon, Louis XI and Cesare Borgia, took a pragmatic approach to such matters, as he himself did. They lived in a violent, opportunist age, but that did not preclude them professing a sincere devotion to God and the Church.

  Besides being a benefactor of that Church, Richard III was also a generous patron of the arts and learning. His court exceeded his brother’s in magnificence, for he was well aware of the political value of impressive ceremonial. He lived in ostentatious luxury and dressed himself in sumptuous imported Italian velvets, cloth of gold, silks and satins, many embroidered and furred with ermine. His preferred colours were crimson, purple and dark blue. Foreign visitors to his court were awed by the splendour. Not only was it an exquisitely dressed court, but also an impressively housed one. Rous praises Richard’s achievements as a builder, and there is evidence that the King was interested in architecture. As well as beautifying his own castles at Middleham, Barnard Castle, and Sudeley, after it was confiscated from the Butler family, he made improvements to many royal residences, including Warwick Castle and Nottingham Castle. He also had a great interest in heraldry: in 1484 he founded the College of Arms in London; earlier, Caxton had dedicated his book, The Order of Chivalry, to Richard.

  Musicians from all over Europe came to Richard III in search of preferment, for his cultural and musical interests were well known. The court of Edward IV had been famed for its music, and Richard now built on that reputation, patronising the composers William Pasche and Gilbert Banastre, and taking a special interest in the choir of the Chapel Royal. Queen Anne had her own minstrels as well.

  Scholars, too, sought the King’s patronage. He was a notable patron of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and of King’s College, Cambridge. He was interested in the study of politics, and employed as his personal chaplain the humanist John Droget. As well as devotional books, Richard also owned volumes on heraldry, war, the art of government, and the works of Chaucer.

  For all his high-minded interests, his piety and his obvious abilities, Richard III was not popular. His usurpation of the throne had been achieved at the cost of his popularity in the South, where his subjects did not approve of the manner in which he had mounted the throne; nor did they believe his claim to it to be lawful. His actions during the weeks leading up to his accession had incurred public opprobrium and dismay, and there is every reason to suppose that many people in England, like the chroniclers of the time, viewed Richard III as an usurper, tyrant and hypocrite. While the Londoners reeled, shocked and stunned by the murder of Hastings and paralysed by fear of the northern troops summoned by their Protector, Richard had seized his advantage and pressed home his claim.

  But now he would have to hold on to what he had taken, and to do that he would need the support of his chief magnates, those men who had helped him rise to his present eminence; men such as Buckingham, Howard and Northumberland, who might all be kept loyal with lavish rewards and the promise of future preferment. The rest of the magnates, moderates and older nobility, who had supported Richard through fear of the consequences to them if they didn’t, must now be won over by the example of good government that the King intended to set in order to justify the satisfaction of his ambitions. On these magnates his continuance in his regal office depended, and at the present time they, like his common subjects, resented, feared and distrusted him. Nor was their antipathy solely the result of the disinheriting of Edward IV’s children by an uncle who had always professed his profound loyalty to them and their father. It was also a reaction to the insidious promotion by Richard of northerners, a process which had already begun by the time of his accession.

  In the South of England northerners were regarded then as uncouth, brutish, undisciplined savages, a view cemented by the appalling behaviour of Margaret of Anjou’s rampaging northern troops who accompanied her south in 1461. Londoners in particular retained horrified memories of them. Fifteenth-century society was insular and localised and therefore northerners were regarded as another race, and a hostile one at that. Yet, from the time of his appointment as Protector, Richard, who had good reason to favour the northerners for their love
and loyalty towards him, began appointing them to prestigious court and administrative posts, much to the fury of the southern magnates and the Londoners. On his accession he promoted three of his northern retainers to high office: Sir Francis Lovell became chamberlain of the royal household, Sir Robert Percy became comptroller, and John Kendal of York became Richard’s secretary. For a time the King retained the services of Edward IV’s household officials, but then he began replacing them with northerners loyal to himself, which gave rise to many complaints and much resentment. He also preferred several northerners to the Council itself, and during his reign over 80 per cent of those made Knights of the Garter were northerners. Richard was seen as almost a northerner himself because he had identified himself so much with northern interests, and this, as much as anything else, was at the root of his unpopularity. It also accounts for much of the hostility of contemporary chroniclers, most of whom came from the South.

  On the day that Richard ascended the throne, says More, the deposed King Edward V, still in the Tower, ‘had it showed to him that he should not reign, but his uncle should have the crown. At which word the Prince, sore abashed, began to sigh, and said, “Alas, I would my uncle would let me have my life yet, though I lose my kingdom.”’ The boy, continues More, was comforted by the unnamed messenger, who was probably a person of rank and standing, perhaps Lord Howard. More, as we shall shortly see, had good reason to know what was happening in the Tower at that time, and that Edward went in fear of his life, which is independently corroborated by Mancini.

  On 27th June, the King confirmed that Bishop Russell would continue as chancellor. He then proceeded to reward those who had supported him, meaning to retain their loyalty by his munificence. On 28th June Lord Howard was created Duke of Norfolk and hereditary Earl Marshal of England, and was given half the Mowbray estates. On that same day, Lord Berkeley was given the other half and created Earl of Nottingham. Howard’s son Thomas was created Earl of Surrey.

  The dukedom of Norfolk and the earldom of Nottingham had until that day been vested in Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower, by Acts of Parliament passed in 1478 and 1483. These Acts had not been repealed because Parliament had not yet convened, nor had any legislation depriving York of his legitimate status or his honours been passed. The titles, however, had come to him through marriage and not by hereditary right, and thus would not be affected by any Acts disabling York from inheriting the throne. Certainly Howard and Berkeley, as coheirs of Anne Mowbray, had the better claim to the titles, but York’s claim, irregular as it was, was enshrined in a law which still stood unchallenged by Parliament.

  Richard III, as we have seen, had no time for legal niceties. He had had his nephews declared illegitimate and probably felt that this was sufficient justification for depriving them of all their other titles and honours. His subjects had not opposed Edward V’s deposition and were not likely to protest much about York losing his dukedom to Howard. Some writers have suggested that Richard had murdered York before 28th June, but there is good evidence that he was alive after that date, which will be discussed in due course.

  Buckingham also received the first of his rewards on 28th June: he was appointed Great Chamberlain of England and given many lands and castles. Two days later the double-agent William Catesby was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer and an Esquire of the Body to the King. Catesby acted as Speaker in Parliament in 1484 and was one of Richard III’s foremost councillors.

  The King’s coronation was set for 6th July. Five days before that the army he had summoned from the North arrived at the gates of London and camped outside. Mancini says it numbered 6,000 men. Although this presence was no longer needed to put down any rebellion against Richard’s accession, the King decided to retain its services until after his coronation because ‘he was afraid lest any uproar should be fomented against him at his coronation. He himself went out to meet the soldiers before they entered the City.’

  ‘There was hasty provision made for his coronation,’ records the Great Chronicle. On 4th July the King and Queen went in the royal barge along the river from Westminster to the Tower of London, where Richard formally released Archbishop Rotherham and appointed Lord Stanley steward of his household. He and Queen Anne then took up residence in the royal apartments.

  Security for the coronation was tight. On that same day a proclamation ordered the imposing of a 10.00 pm curfew for the next three nights and forbade the citizens of London to carry arms. Visitors to the City had to stay in officially approved lodgings. Mancini states that the northern soldiers were ‘stationed at suitable points’ along the streets, and that they stayed there until after the coronation.

  On 5th July the King donned a gown of blue cloth of gold and a mantle of purple trimmed with ermine. The Queen put on ‘a kirtle of white cloth of gold and a mantle with a train of the same’, bordered with ermine. Then, he on horseback, she in a litter, they ‘left the Tower, passing through the midst of the City, attended by the entire nobility and a display of royal honours’, and so came to Westminster, where they would spend the night. 4,000 ‘gentlemen of the north’ followed in the procession. As he rode, the King, says Mancini, ‘with bared head greeted all onlookers, and himself received their acclamations’. But the evidence in most contemporary accounts of the period show that the mood of the public was resentful, even hostile, for all that many were carried away by the holiday mood of the occasion.

  Nevertheless this was to be one of the most splendid of all mediaeval coronations in England, and the best attended, as almost the entire English peerage had come to London for the Parliament which had been postponed. In the morning of 6th July Queen Anne gave her husband a long embroidered mantle of purple cloth of gold, made to her order by the Keeper of the Wardrobe, Piers Curteys. She herself wore purple robes made from 56 yards of velvet, which must have been uncomfortably hot on a July day. Thus attired, Richard and Anne made their way through the White Hall to Westminster Hall, where they sat enthroned on the King’s Bench. Then, the procession having formed, they walked barefoot upon striped cloth to St Edward’s shrine within Westminster Abbey, preceded by the nobility of England. Norfolk officiated as Earl Marshal and High Steward and carried the King’s crown. Buckingham, who had the ‘chief rule and devising’ of the ceremonial, carried the King’s train. The Duke of Suffolk carried the sceptre, his son the Earl of Lincoln the orb, and the Earl of Surrey the sword of state. Richard himself was supported by Bishop Stillington. The Queen’s train was carried by Lady Stanley, the former Margaret Beaufort, and her attendants were led by the Duchesses of Suffolk and Norfolk. Significantly, perhaps, the King’s mother, the Duchess of York, did not attend the coronation. The Duchess of Buckingham was also absent, by order of her husband, who made it plain he was not parading his Wydville wife for all to see.

  For the anointing, Richard and Anne, according to the account preserved in the Harleian MSS. in the British Library, ‘put off their robes and stood all naked from their waists upwards, till the Bishop had anointed them’. Then ‘Te Deum’ was sung ‘with great royalty’, after which, says Mancini, Archbishop Bourchier, ‘albeit unwillingly, anointed and crowned [Richard] King of England’.

  After the peers had paid homage to their new sovereign and Richard and Anne had received Holy Communion, the procession re-formed and left the Abbey, the King preceding the Queen back to Westminster Hall, where the coronation banquet lasted five and a half hours. It was noticed that the Archbishop did not attend, and his place at the King’s right at the high table on the dais was taken by the Bishop of London. The day ended with the King and Queen retiring to a fanfare of trumpets.

  A day or so after the coronation Richard and Anne went to Greenwich Palace and thence to Windsor. The northern troops were sent home, the tension in London having dissipated, and the King gave his attention to organising his Council and planning a progress through his kingdom. The progress was to be a well-planned exercise in public relations and self-promotion,
with the King exerting himself to charm and win over his new subjects with liberality and accessible justice.

  After the coronation, the Princes in the Tower were never seen alive again.

  12

  Conspiracies

  DOMINIC MANCINI LEFT England during the week after the coronation, and his account, sadly for us, ends there. He says that, before his departure, the Princes had ‘ceased to appear altogether’, and this is corroborated by every other source. Already, people were thinking and fearing the worst. Mancini writes: ‘I have seen many men burst forth into tears and lamentations when mention was made of [Edward V] after his removal from men’s sight; and already there was a suspicion that he had been done away with. Whether, however, he has been done away with, and by what manner of death, so far I have not at all discovered.’

  Mancini’s account is the earliest evidence of rumours that the Princes were dead. Given the fate of earlier deposed kings – Edward II, Richard II and Henry VI had all been secretly murdered – it is hardly surprising that people should suspect that the same fate had overtaken Edward V and his brother. The people with whom Mancini associated would have been intelligent men of standing in business and courtly circles; the fact that they believed the Princes to be already dead is proof that these rumours were not mere speculative gossip but the product of serious concern on the part of informed men who were not so hard-headed that they could fail to be deeply distressed when contemplating the possible murder of two children.

  It is clear, nevertheless, as we shall see from the Croyland Chronicle – whose author was well-placed to know the truth – that the Princes were not yet dead. Fabyan states simply that they were now ‘under sure keeping. They never came abroad after,’ but More, who had reliable sources close to the Tower, gives more details of the Princes’ imprisonment. They were, he says, ‘both shut up, and all others removed from them, only one called Black Will or Will Slaughter except, set to serve them and see them sure. After which time the Prince never tied his points [i.e. did up his hose] nor aught wrought of himself, but with that young babe his brother lingered in thought and heaviness and wretchedness.’ More’s account is substantiated by the details of Edward’s captivity passed from Dr Argentine to Mancini, and almost certainly describes Edward’s mental condition a few weeks after Argentine last saw him. By that time the boy was so sunk in misery and fear that he was unable to perform even basic tasks, such as dressing himself properly.

 
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