Richard III and the Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir

As for the woman who was the cause of all this havoc, her contemporaries observed that she was outwardly ‘lovely looking and feminine smiling, neither too wanton nor too humble’. Humble she most certainly was not, but Mancini thought her ‘an undistinguished woman promoted to exalted rank’, while Sir Francis Bacon had no doubt that she was ‘a busy and negotiating woman’. She was also wily, vengeful, arrogant, greedy and ruthless. All commentators, however, are agreed on her beauty: she was ‘moderate of stature and well made’, having very long pale gold hair and ice-blue eyes. Two remarkable portraits of her survive: one is a wooden panel in Queen’s College, Cambridge (which she co-founded), which is a copy after an original of c.1464, possibly by John Stratford. The other is a stained-glass portrait, one of a series of Edward IV’s family, in the Great North Window of Canterbury Cathedral. Crafted by William Neve around 1482, it was badly damaged by the Puritans in 1642, and the faces of the King and Queen are the only surviving originals; those of their children have been restored. Elizabeth’s is striking in its beauty.

  Elizabeth was crowned in 1465, and bore three daughters in succession – Elizabeth in 1466, Mary in 1467 and Cecily in 1469. Throughout these years relations between the King and Warwick deteriorated steadily, the situation worsening after 1468 when Edward, far from concluding the French alliance that Warwick still urged, made a treaty with the Duke of Burgundy, who married Edward’s sister Margaret that year. Warwick, seeing his power corroded, began to intrigue against his master, and in 1469 he allied himself to Clarence, initially with a view to gaining control of the King and ruling through him.

  Clarence was then twenty, tall, fair and regal. He had a surface charm and, according to Mancini, ‘a mastery of popular eloquence’, but these barely masked a weak, discontented and vicious character. Edward had been very generous to his brother, but Clarence was jealous of him and hungry for power. Warwick now bolstered Clarence’s pretensions by offering to overthrow Edward, make him king, and marry him to Isabella, one of his two daughters who, as Warwick had no son, were the greatest heiresses in England. Edward had consistently refused requests to marry them by both his brothers, foreseeing that such alliances would enhance the already disconcerting power of the Nevilles, and naturally this had given Warwick further cause for grievance. In July 1469 Clarence openly defied the King and married Isabella in Calais. Then he and Warwick sailed back to England, where Edward IV was defeated and taken prisoner at the Battle of Edgecote. After this battle, Warwick had the Queen’s father, Lord Rivers, and her brother, John Wydville, beheaded, and spread the story that Edward IV was a bastard, the son of Duchess Cecily and an archer called Blaybourne.

  In late 1469, problems on the Scottish border engaged Warwick’s attention and his resources and forced him to release Edward IV. By the spring of 1470 the King had regained control of the government and denounced Warwick and Clarence as traitors. They fled abroad and began plotting with Louis XI for the restoration of Henry VI. Warwick made an unlikely alliance with Margaret of Anjou, and together they invaded England on 13th September.

  At that time, Queen Elizabeth was in the Tower of London, seven months pregnant with her fourth child. She had prepared a luxurious chamber in the royal apartments for her confinement, but was destined never to use it, for on 1st October she learned that the King and his brother Gloucester had fled to the Low Countries. Four days later Warwick and Clarence entered London, and the Queen secretly left the Tower to take refuge in the Sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. The feeble Henry VI was restored to the throne that same day and transferred from his prison in the Tower to the opulent rooms prepared for the Queen.

  The Sanctuary was almost deserted when Elizabeth arrived with her three daughters and her mother, ‘in great penury and forsaken of all friends’. But the Abbot of Westminster, Thomas Millyng, into whose charge the Queen entrusted herself, was a kindly man, placing the three best rooms in his own house at her disposal and providing her with several things ‘for her comfort’. A London butcher, John Gould, donated half a beef and two muttons each week ‘for the sustention of her household’, and her Italian physician, Dr Serigo, visited regularly. These details are recorded in a letter written by Edward IV to the Lord Privy Seal in 1473. Yet for all these comforts Elizabeth was painfully aware that she was in what the chronicler John Warkworth called ‘great trouble’, and that there was an ever-present threat from the new régime.

  It was not the most auspicious time to give birth, but on the night of 2nd November, 1470, ‘she was lighted of a fair prince’ whom she named Edward after his father. The Council had magnanimously paid Lady Scrope £20 to assist at the birth, and Old Mother Cobb, the Sanctuary midwife, delivered the child. His birthdate is verified by a later grant to him of the issues of the duchy of Cornwall, backdated to 2nd November, 1470, ‘on which day he was born’. Edward came into the world, says Commines, ‘in poor estate’, and his baptism by the Sub-Prior of Westminster in the Abbot’s House was carried out ‘without pomp’ and with no more ceremony than if he had been a poor man’s son. The Abbot and Prior were godfathers, and the Duchess of Bedford and Lady Scrope godmothers.

  The Queen and her children remained in the Sanctuary ‘in the greatest jeopardy that ever they stood’, according to the French chronicler Jean de Waurin, for five more months until, in March 1471, Edward IV, with financial aid from Burgundy, invaded England. Many rallied to his cause and, through the good offices of their mother, Edward was reconciled to his brother Clarence, who had now realised that there was little to be gained from supporting Henry VI. When he reached Dunstable, Edward sent a message to his wife to comfort her. Then he marched on London, which, on 11th April, opened its gates to him and declared its loyalty. Henry VI was deposed that same day and returned to prison in the Tower.

  By the King’s order the Queen and her children were brought that day from the Sanctuary to the Palace of Westminster, where they were reunited with him. Fleetwood’s Chronicle describes how he comforted the Queen, who carried their son, ‘wherewith she presented her husband, to his heart’s singular comfort and gladness’. Edward kissed all his daughters ‘full tenderly’, and took the infant Prince, ‘his greatest joy’, in his arms, weeping as he did so. Then, after a night spent at Baynard’s Castle, he had his wife and children escorted to the Tower for their own safety, for the realm was not yet won back. Warwick, Margaret of Anjou, and the heir to Lancaster were still at large.

  On 14th April, Easter Sunday, Edward scored a victory at the Battle of Barnet, in which Warwick lost his life. Then the King marched west in pursuit of Queen Margaret, whose army he encountered at Tewkesbury on 4th May. A bloody battle ensued, which resulted in the deaths of the last of the male Beauforts and the 17-year-old Prince Edward of Lancaster. Most contemporary sources state the Prince was killed in the battle, but Croyland says he died ‘either on the field or after the battle by the avenging hands of certain persons’. Vergil says that Gloucester, Clarence and Lord Hastings killed him in the King’s presence. This may well be true, and would explain Croyland’s reticence in naming names, especially that of Edward IV.

  After the battle Margaret of Anjou was taken prisoner, being later ransomed by Louis XI. She returned to France, where she died in poverty in 1482.

  On 21st May Edward IV entered London in triumph, to an enthusiastic reception. Commines says this was due to three things: the birth of an heir to York, the hopes of the City merchants that he would now be able to repay the loans he had forced them to give him, and the efforts of ‘the ladies of quality and rich citizens’ wives, with whom he had formerly intrigued’, who ‘forced their husbands to declare themselves on his side’.

  Edward had come into his own again; the immediate threat from Lancaster had been removed and all was set fair for a period of stable government. Later that year he would create his son Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester (he had been Duke of Cornwall at his birth), and would handsomely reward Abbot Millyng, Butcher Gould, Mother Cobb and Dr Serigo, all of whom had succoured hi
s queen during her stay in sanctuary.

  When Edward IV returned to London that May there was just one unpleasant task remaining to be done – one that could not wait.

  3

  Richard of Gloucester

  IN MAY, 1471, Henry VI was still a prisoner in the Tower of London, and it was here, according to the reliable contemporary chronicler John Warkworth, that he was ‘put to death, the xxi day of May, being a Tuesday night, between eleven and twelve of the clock, being then at the Tower the Duke of Gloucester, brother to King Edward, and many other. And on the morrow he was chested and brought to [St] Paul’s, and his face was open that every man might see him, and in his lying he bled on the pavement there. And afterwards at the Black Friars was brought, and there he bled new and fresh. And from thence he was carried to Chertsey Abbey in a boat, and buried there in Our Lady’s chapel.’

  The murder of Henry VI was committed in strict secrecy, and it was given out officially by the Government that, upon learning of the death of his son and the capture of his wife, he had taken ‘to so great despite, ire and indignation that, of pure displeasure and melancholy he died’. This fooled no one. A corpse that bled profusely on the pavement had not died of displeasure, as anyone could see. And that Henry VI died violently was borne out by the examination of his remains in 1910: the medical report in Archaeologia states that his skull was ‘much broken’, as if it had been crushed by a blow, and still had attached to it some hair, ‘apparently matted with blood’. There was, both in 1910 and in 1471, little doubt in anyone’s mind that Henry VI had been murdered. The Milanese ambassador in England informed the King of France almost at once that Edward IV had ‘caused King Henry to be secretly assassinated at the Tower. He has, in short, chosen to crush the seed.’

  Croyland, writing in 1486, says, with his usual reticence: ‘I shall say nothing about the discovery of King Henry’s lifeless body in the Tower of London. May God have mercy upon, and give time for repentance to, him, whoever he may be, who dared to lay sacrilegious hands on the Lord’s Anointed! Let the doer merit the name of tyrant.’ Croyland’s use of the word ‘tyrant’ must mean that he is referring to a ruler, namely Edward IV, who had without doubt given the order for Henry VI’s murder. But, as the Great Chronicle states, ‘the common fame went that the Duke of Gloucester was not altogether guiltless’, and Warkworth’s significant mention of Gloucester’s presence in the Tower on the night of the murder seems to infer that the Duke was somehow implicated – otherwise, why mention him at all? Commines says that Gloucester ‘killed this good man with his own hands, or at least had him killed in his presence in some hidden, obscure place’; Carmeliano, in 1486, made a similar accusation, and John Rous, writing before 1490, stated that Gloucester ‘caused others to kill the holy man, or, as many think, did so by his own hand’. Fabyan has Gloucester stabbing Henry with a dagger, while Vergil says he ‘killed him with a sword, whereby his brother might be delivered from all fear of hostility’. And More says that Richard slew Henry VI ‘without commandment or knowledge of the King’. All these writers found it credible that Gloucester had been guilty of committing the murder.

  Bernard André alone stated what was probably nearest the truth – that Gloucester arranged the murder of Henry VI at Edward IV’s command. Only the King himself could have given the order for the killing in cold blood of a crowned and anointed monarch, whose death would give him such a political advantage. Gloucester, as Constable of England, would have had the duty of conveying those orders to the Tower and ensuring that they were carried out. Thus far he was almost certainly involved in the murder.

  We should pause now to consider why people believed that this young duke was capable of regicide, and to trace his early life and the development of his character. Richard Plantagenet, youngest son of the Duke of York, was born on 2nd October, 1452, at Fotheringhay Castle. John Rous’s hostile account of his life describes him as coming into the world, after two years in his mother’s womb, with teeth, long hair to his shoulders, a humped back, and his right shoulder higher than his left. More repeats these details, adding cautiously that ‘either men of hatred report the truth, or else nature changed her course in his beginning’. It is of course quite possible that Richard was born with teeth and long hair and deformities, and that there was some truth in what Rous and More wrote, but it seems likelier that over the years some embroidery had been added to the tale for dramatic effect.

  The new baby seems to have been a weakling: ‘Richard liveth yet,’ recorded the anonymous annalist in the Chronicle of William of Worcester, with apparent surprise. However, Richard survived the perils of early childhood and seems to have spent his younger years in the company of his elder brother George, in the care of their mother at Fotheringhay. After Edward IV’s accession in 1461, Richard was created Duke of Gloucester and sent to receive a knightly education in the household of the Earl of Warwick, which was based mainly at Middleham Castle in Yorkshire. Here, Richard’s companions included Warwick’s daughters, Isabella and Anne, and the Earl’s ward, Francis Lovell, who would remain a lifelong friend. Here, too, Richard learned the arts of warfare and the skills required by a nobleman, as well as receiving some rudimentary training in law.

  During the 1460s Edward IV did little for his youngest brother, heaping honours instead upon George, whom he had created Duke of Clarence and brought to court. But it was Richard who stayed loyal to the King when Warwick and Clarence turned traitor in 1469. Richard was then appointed Lord High Admiral of England, Chief Justice of the Welsh Marches, and Chief Constable of England, a post he had held briefly in childhood. He was also given other honours and offices in Wales and the duchy of Lancaster. The following year he replaced the disgraced Warwick as Chief Steward and Chamberlain of South Wales, thus becoming the King’s chief representative in the principality. Later that year Richard accompanied Edward IV into exile, and after Edward’s restoration in 1471 was rewarded for his loyalty with yet more offices, replacing Warwick as Great Chamberlain of England and becoming Chief Steward of the duchy of Lancaster.

  Richard was essentially the child of a violent age, born to a legacy of civil war. His childhood and formative years were overshadowed by battles, treachery and violent death. When he was eight his father and his brother Edmund were killed in battle. He grew to maturity in an uncertain and insecure world, and twice suffered the agony of exile. He saw his brother the King betrayed by their brother Clarence and by Warwick, who had been as a father to Richard. It is therefore fair to say that by the age of eighteen he had become hardened to violence and treachery, and had developed a ruthless streak in his character.

  Gloucester first saw battle himself at Barnet in 1471, where he acquitted himself well leading the vanguard of the royal forces, showing considerable ability in warfare whilst in the thick of the fighting. He also fought brilliantly at Tewkesbury, for which he received yet more lands by way of reward. It was after Tewkesbury that Gloucester’s ruthlessness first became apparent, when, as Constable of England, he exercised his right to sentence to summary execution, without trial or witnesses, the last Beaufort Duke of Somerset and other Lancastrians, including one in holy orders who was entitled to immunity from the death penalty. These unfortunate men had been forcibly dragged from sanctuary in Tewkesbury Abbey on Gloucester’s orders. Some writers have also implicated Gloucester in the death of Prince Edward of Lancaster, as we have seen. Within a month of this, the Duke had assisted in the murder of Henry VI. Whether he struck the fatal blow or not, Gloucester, at the impressionable age of eighteen, must have learned from this a useful lesson about the advantages of political murder, and would have been shown a clear precedent for the elimination of a king by violence.

  Richard of Gloucester was typical of the magnates of the period: acquisitive, hungry for wealth, land and power, brave in battle, tough, ruthless, energetic, and keenly interested in warfare, heraldry, and the manly pursuits such as hunting and hawking. He was staunchly loyal to the King and to his own supporter
s and followers, but did not scruple to ride rough-shod over the rights of other people. Ambition drove him. Mancini, writing in 1483, says that from the first ‘there were those who were not unaware of his ambition and cunning, and who had misgivings about where they would lead’.

  Gloucester also courted popularity, and worked hard all his adult life to win it. He was an able man, and had some good qualities: he was hard-working and conscientious in his duties. He also had that in him that inspired the loyalty of others, and his fair share of the charisma of the Plantagenets. Croyland states he had a quick, alert and ‘overweening’ mind, that he was courageous and daring, and that he had ‘a sharp wit [and] courage high and fierce’.

  In his youth he was amorous; he acknowledged two bastards, who were probably born before 1472. One was John of Pontefract, or of Gloucester, knighted in 1483, who was still under age in 1485 when his father appointed him Captain of Calais, calling him ‘our dear son, whose quickness of mind and agility of body, and inclination to all good customs give us great hope of his good service for the future’. The other was Katherine, who was generously dowered by Richard when she married William Herbert, Earl of Huntingdon, in 1484. A mysterious Richard Plantagenet of Eastwell in Kent, of whom more will be heard later, is also thought to have been a bastard son of Richard’s, and there may have been four others, including one Stephen Hawes, but the evidence for these is unreliable.

  Conflicting descriptions of Richard left by his contemporaries have given rise to yet another controversy surrounding him – what did he look like? The consensus of opinion was that, unlike Edward IV and Clarence, he resembled his father, being dark-haired and short of stature. This lack of height is attested to by most writers, as is the slightness of his body. The Scots envoy, Archibald Whitelaw, who saw Richard in 1484, noted he had ‘such a small body’, while the Silesian knight, Nicholas von Poppelau, who also met Richard that year, commented on how lean he was. Later, John Rous would sneer at his ‘little body and feeble strength’, while Vergil, whose description was said to be based on the testimony of those who had known Richard, said he was ‘deformed’.

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