Richard III and the Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir

  Gloucester certainly believed that the Wydvilles had brought about his brother’s condemnation, perceiving that it was a triumph for them, but while this must have been galling in the extreme to him, he did not lift a finger to save Clarence. He may well even have acquiesced in his fall, for there is some contemporary evidence that Gloucester was involved in the proceedings against Clarence. He was at court at the time, for his nephew’s wedding, and had attended the Council meetings at which Clarence’s fate was discussed. He also played his part in ensuring that Parliament was obedient to the King’s wishes: five members at least were his own men. Gloucester also benefited more than anyone else from Clarence’s fall. The Attainder against Clarence left Gloucester next in line to the throne after the King’s issue; on 15th February his son Edward of Middleham was created Earl of Salisbury, a title that had been borne by Clarence; and on 21st February, Gloucester himself was given Clarence’s high office of Great Chamberlain of England. More says that, while Gloucester was opposed to his brother being executed, ‘some wise men’ were of the opinion that he was not displeased by Clarence’s fall.

  Edward IV was understandably reluctant to put his own brother to death, and he refused for over a week to give his assent to Clarence’s execution. Before long, the Commons were clamouring for justice to take its course, as with any other traitor, and the Speaker came to the Bar of the Lords, requesting that what was to be done should be done at once. Finally, a deputation of members went to the King, who had no alternative but to accede to their demand for Clarence’s death. At the request of their mother, the Duchess Cecily, the sentence was commuted from the full horrors of a traitor’s death by hanging, drawing and quartering to beheading or, according to the French chronicler Molinet, any other method preferred by Clarence. The Duchess also begged that the execution take place in private, to avoid some of the scandal that publicity would lend to what was perceived primarily as an act of fratricide.

  On 18th February, 1478, Clarence was informed that he was to die that day in the Tower. The Calendar of Patent Rolls records that he asked for compensation to be paid to Lord Rivers ‘in consideration of the injuries perpetrated on him and his parents’ by Clarence and Warwick. Then, according to the Great Chronicle of London, ‘the Duke of Clarence offered his own mass penny in the Tower, and about twelve of the clock at noon made his end in a rondolet of Malmsey’. Being drowned in wine was an unusual method of execution but Molinet says that Clarence himself had suggested it once in a joke to the King, adding that the Duke had lately expressed a real wish to end his days in this manner. Many contemporary chroniclers, including Commines, Mancini, and the Frenchmen Jean de Roye and Olivier de la Marche, corroborate the details given by Molinet and the author of the Great Chronicle; only Croyland is noncommittal, saying: ‘The execution, whatever its nature may have been, took place in the Tower of London.’ A portrait of Clarence’s daughter Margaret, painted around 1530, shows her wearing a miniature wine-cask on a bracelet at her wrist – a poignant memento of her father’s fate.

  Two days after Clarence’s death, Ankarette Twynho’s heir Roger petitioned the King to reverse the verdict and sentence on his mother, and his petition was granted.

  Clarence was buried beside his wife in Tewkesbury Abbey, where his skull and a few bones are now displayed in a wall-niche near the high altar. He was given a noble funeral, the King bearing the cost and providing ‘right worshipfully for his soul’. A beautiful tomb, surmounted by effigies of the Duke and Duchess, was raised to their memory, but has long gone, and the site of their vault is marked merely by a grille in the floor behind the high altar.

  Clarence’s attainder meant that his orphaned children could not inherit his titles or lands, which had reverted to the Crown. Warwick, however, held his earldom in right of his mother, and the King allowed him a portion of her estates. The Queen’s eldest son, Lord Dorset, bought the wardship and marriage of Warwick, and he and his sister Margaret were sent to Sheen to be brought up with Edward IV’s children.

  Many modern writers have linked the subsequent brief imprisonment of Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, with the fall of Clarence. Stillington was a doctor of civil law, a brilliant intellectual with a great capacity for intrigue. He had been Chancellor of England from 1467–73, and had always enjoyed the favour of Edward IV. But between 27th February and 5th March, 1478, Stillington was arrested on a charge of ‘violating his oath of fidelity by some utterance prejudicial to the King and his estate’. We do not know what he had said to give offence, nor is there any evidence that his misdemeanour was in any way connected with Clarence. It is possible that Clarence had allied himself with Stillington; his West-Country estates bordered upon Stillington’s diocese. It may be that the Bishop had helped to spread Clarence’s slanders about the King’s bastardy and his marriage, but there is no proof of this. If Stillington’s offence had been treasonable, or if he had posed any real danger to the King’s security or the royal succession, he would have been permanently removed from the scene, as Clarence had been. Yet he was released on 20th June, 1478, on payment of a fine, and later given several respectable positions at court without, however, regaining his former influence.

  Vergil and More both asserted that Edward IV came to regret having executed Clarence, and Croyland, who knew the King, wrote: ‘As I really believe, [he] inwardly repented very often of this act.’ Vergil says Edward frequently lamented that no-one had interceded on Clarence’s behalf; yet the removal of Clarence had been seen by the majority as a necessary evil that made good political sense. Nevertheless, it had set a precedent for violence within the royal family itself, and demonstrated how ruthless a king sometimes had to be if he wished to remain securely on his throne.

  Gloucester was certainly one who learned this lesson well, even as he was bitterly lamenting his brother’s death. Only three days after it he procured the King’s licence to set up two chantries at Middleham and Barnard Castle, so that prayers could be said in perpetuity for his dead siblings and all those of his House. According to Mancini, he blamed the Wydvilles for Clarence’s execution. ‘Richard was so overcome with grief for his brother that he could not dissimulate so well but that he was overheard to say that he would one day avenge his brother’s death.’ The Duke knew how ruthless the Queen could be, and must have recalled how, in 1467, she had stolen the King’s signet ring and given the order for the execution of the Earl of Desmond, in revenge for his having made disparaging remarks to the King about his choice of bride. Unfortunately, the infamous John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, who carried out the execution in Ireland, exceeded his brief by murdering also two of Desmond’s young sons, an atrocity for which Elizabeth Wydville must bear some responsibility.

  This tale has often been dismissed as a Tudor fabrication: the Queen’s role in the executions was first publicly referred to in a petition to the Privy Council of her grandson, Henry VIII, made by Desmond’s heirs in 1538. Falsely slandering King Henry’s grandmother was hardly the way to secure a favourable answer to the petition, and there was no reason why the Desmond family should fabricate such allegations. Moreover, the deed is attested to in the Register of the Mayors of Dublin: ‘This year, the Earl of Desmond and his two sons were executed by the Earl of Worcester at Drogheda,’ and it is also referred to by Gloucester himself in a letter to Desmond’s surviving son, in which he says that they shared a common grief, and that those responsible for Desmond’s death and the death of his two sons were the same as had brought about Clarence’s death.

  Gloucester now had the measure of the Wydville faction, and would remain acutely aware that they were capable of removing by fair means or foul any member of the royal House who stood in their way. ‘Thenceforth,’ wrote Mancini, ‘he came very rarely to court.’


  ‘Deadly Feuds and Factions’

  ON 26TH NOVEMBER, 1481, the Cely Letters recorded: ‘My young lady of York is dead.’ Anne Mowbray had died a week earlier at Greenwich Palace, aged only n
ine. She was buried in the Chapel of St Erasmus, Elizabeth Wydville’s own foundation in Westminster Abbey, but when this chapel was demolished in the early sixteenth century to make way for the Henry VII Chapel, Anne’s remains were moved to the Minoresses’ convent in Stepney. Workmen excavating its site in 1964 found her coffin, buried eleven feet deep. Her remains were examined by medical experts, and then reburied as near as possible to her original resting place in Westminster Abbey.

  When Anne Mowbray died, her husband, the eight-year-old Duke of York, retained the dukedom of Norfolk in accordance with the terms of their marriage contract. His right to his wife’s estates was confirmed by Act of Parliament in January 1483. To appease Lord Berkeley, one of the rightful coheirs, Edward IV excused him payment of a large debt owed to the Crown, and provided that the Mowbray inheritance should revert to Lords Berkeley and Howard if York died without male issue. Howard, however, received nothing, not even money owed him for supplying plate for the Queen’s coronation in 1465. Many lords were angered by the King’s treatment of Lord Howard, and concerned at Edward’s failure to respect the ancient laws of inheritance upon which their power was built, though there is no evidence that Howard himself expressed any grievance.

  The King’s elder daughters were now of marriageable age. Mary was betrothed in 1481 to the King of Denmark, but tragically died a year later, before the wedding could take place. At around the same time Cecily was betrothed to the Duke of Albany, brother of James III of Scotland, while preparations were still going ahead for the marriage of Elizabeth of York to the Dauphin. The King’s children were described collectively by Croyland as ‘sweet and beauteous’, and by the French chronicler Jean de Waurin as ‘fine looking and most delightful. There were five beautiful girls.’

  Edward IV, however, was no longer the magnificent specimen of manly beauty he had been in his earlier years. In 1475, while describing him as ‘a very handsome king’ and ‘a prince of noble and majestic presence’, Commines stated he was already ‘a little inclining to corpulence’. Croyland says that by 1482, when he was forty, Edward IV was ‘a man of such corpulence, and so fond of boon companionship, vanities, debauchery, extravagance and sensual enjoyments’. Mancini tells us that the King ‘was most immoderate with food and drink. I have heard that he used to take purges just for the pleasure of gorging his stomach again. Because of his indulgence and idleness he developed a huge stomach, although previously he had not only been tall but lean as well, and led a strenuous life.’

  Edward’s excesses had already undermined his health, and had also prompted hostility between influential members of the court. ‘Although he had many promoters and companions of his vices,’ wrote Mancini, ‘the more important and especial were three of the relatives of the Queen, her two sons and one of her brothers.’ These were Dorset, Grey and Rivers. The cultivated Rivers was popular with the people, although Dorset and Grey had ‘earned the hatred of the populace on account of their morals, but mostly because of a certain inherent jealousy which arises between those who are equal by birth when there has been a change in their station’.

  Mancini adds that Edward had another boon companion, Lord Hastings, who ‘was also the accomplice and partner of the King’s privy pleasures’. William, Lord Hastings, was fifty in 1482; he came from a family of Yorkshire gentry who had loyally served the House of York through four generations. Hastings’ rise to power began when, as a youth, he was placed in the household of the Duke of York. In 1461 he fought for Edward IV at Towton and was rewarded for his loyalty over the years with a knighthood, vast lands, a seat on the royal Council, the office of King’s Chamberlain, and a baronage. Mancini says that ‘from an early age’ Hastings had been ‘a loyal companion of Edward’; he had also managed to maintain good relations with Clarence, and was well thought of by Gloucester. He was, after all, married to Katherine Neville, a first cousin of the royal brothers.

  Hastings had charm and great qualities. His contemporaries, with whom he was exceedingly popular, praised his loyalty, his upright character, his sense of honour and duty, his liberality, his many charities and benefactions, and his patronage of the arts. His closeness to the King meant that he enjoyed great influence, wealth and power – more, indeed, than many of those of higher rank. This, however, together with Hastings’ participation in Edward’s debaucheries, earned him the jealousy and hatred of the Queen and her faction, which was exacerbated in 1482 by a dispute over the governorship of Calais, then an English possession. Hastings was appointed to this post by the King in preference to Earl Rivers. Rivers, piqued, accused Hastings of intriguing to sell Calais to the French, at which Hastings, knowing his neck was in jeopardy, retaliated by levelling the same accusation at Rivers. He now, to his dismay, discovered the extent of the power of the Wydvilles, who managed to have his informers against them executed for treason, conspiracy and sedition. Hastings fortunately convinced the King of his own innocence, but from then on he would maintain a deadly feud with Rivers and remain on bad terms with the Queen.

  Hastings was also engaged in a bitter rivalry with Lord Dorset, which, according to Mancini and More, was on account of the women they were continually trying to seduce from each other. In particular, they were rivals for the favours of Elizabeth Shore, the most famous of Edward IV’s many mistresses.

  Elizabeth, who is usually – but incorrectly – called Jane, was born around 1450, the daughter of John Lambert, a prosperous London mercer. More says she was married ‘ere she were well ripe’ to another mercer, ‘an honest citizen, young and godly and of good substance’, called William Shore, but ‘she not very fervently loved’ her husband, who was ‘frigid and impotent’ in bed. There is an unsubstantiated tradition that during her marriage Elizabeth served as a waiting woman to the Duchess of Gloucester whenever that lady came to London; if true, this may have been how she became acquainted with the King, whose mistress she became prior to 1476. More says that her loveless marriage ‘the more easily made her incline unto [his] appetite’, while the accommodating Shore discreetly left for a long business trip to Antwerp. The Shores’ marriage was annulled in 1476, on the grounds of non-consummation.

  More, who knew Elizabeth Shore at the end of her long life, gives a fine pen-portrait of her, saying she had ‘a soft, tender heart’ and was beautiful yet diminutive in stature. ‘Yet men delighted not so much in her beauty as in her pleasant behaviour’, for she was witty, literate, cheerful, intelligent and playful. More calls her ‘the merriest of the King’s harlots’, and tells us that, while ‘many he had, her he loved, whose favour she never abused’.

  It is clear that Edward IV made a practice of sharing his mistresses with his friends, and that both Hastings and Dorset were in competition for Elizabeth Shore. More says that Elizabeth attracted the enmity of the Queen, and this may well have been so. No other source mentions it, but Edward’s wife can hardly have felt very warmly towards the woman who had replaced her in his bed.

  The rivalry over Elizabeth Shore was just one factor dividing the major factions in a court where, according to Mancini, the magnates were greedy for both power and pleasure. On the one hand there were the Wydvilles, loyal to the King but ambitious for themselves and determined to retain a grip on their power; there was Lord Hastings, who led the faction that was staunchly loyal to the Crown while detesting the upstart Wydvilles; and then there was the Duke of Gloucester, who was apparently of this latter faction but who was rarely at court. He had consistently demonstrated his loyalty to his brother the King, and his personal motto was ‘Loyaultié me lie’ (‘Loyalty binds me’).

  Gloucester was not well-known in the South. Mancini says, ‘He kept himself within his own lands, and set out to acquire the loyalty of his people through favours and justice. The good reputation of his private life and public activities powerfully attracted the esteem of strangers. By these acts, Richard acquired the favour of the people, and avoided the jealousy of the Queen, from whom he lived far separated.’ Having distinguished himself in
two early battles, he won further renown for his command of the expeditionary force which re-took Berwick from the Scots in 1482; after this, Edward IV wrote to the Pope, saying that the victory of ‘our loving brother’ was ‘so proven, that he alone would suffice to chastise the whole of Scotland’. Wrote Mancini: ‘In warfare, such was his renown that any difficult or dangerous task necessary for the safety of the realm was entrusted to his direction and generalship.’ This was something of an exaggeration, but it is worth noting that even hostile chroniclers praised Richard’s bravery and courage in the field of battle.

  From 1472–83, Gloucester governed England north of the River Trent for his brother the King. His power in that region was more or less absolute, and the success of his administration was due in no small part to the loyalty of his followers and deputies, whom he treated well and rewarded handsomely, creating a widespread network of support based on patronage and the fact that Gloucester had married a Neville heiress: as Anne’s husband, he was looked upon as the rightful successor to that great northern family. As a whole, the North had, in the past, supported the House of Lancaster, but thanks to Richard’s strong and stable government which brought peace to the region and rid it of much of its lawlessness, many loyalties were transferred to the House of York; by the 1480s, the scales were tipped firmly in its favour.

  Gloucester’s power stemmed not only from his wide-ranging responsibilities but also from the fact that he owned vast lands in the North. The city of York was his power-base, where he had his own council, the forerunner of what would later be called the Council of the North. In May 1480 the King appointed him Lieutenant General of the North, broadening his powers. Most sources praise Gloucester’s abilities as an administrator, lauding his justness and fairness, but occasionally there is a discordant note: in 1482, the Council of the Duchy of Lancaster complained to the Duke that he was too lax in his duties as its Chief Steward. But such criticisms were few. In January 1483 the King created a great hereditary palatinate lordship for Gloucester, extending over Cumberland and Westmorland, and making him, in effect, more powerful in those shires than the King. He now enjoyed unprecedented power, greater than any other magnate to date; this reflected both his record of loyal service and Edward’s complete trust in Gloucester’s integrity.

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