Richard III and the Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir

  The Civic Records of the City of York give us a fascinating insight into Gloucester’s relations with the city council and the people of York. His seat at Middleham was some fifty-odd miles away, but he visited York often, sometimes keeping Easter and Christmas there, where he was well-known. His relationship with the corporation was a mutually beneficial one. He safeguarded, and obtained from his brother confirmation of, ‘the liberties of this city’; he decreased taxes, and defended York against its enemies when necessary. In return, he received the loyalty of the citizens, troops free of charge when he needed them, and frequent gifts. There is no doubt that he was popular with many of the citizens, particularly those noblemen on the council of York who benefited from his patronage and favours and who promoted his interests in return. To them, he was ‘our full tender and especial good lord’ in whom they placed ‘a singular confidence’, and for whose prosperous estate they would ‘evermore pray to Almighty God’. In 1482, the Civic Records noted that the Duke of Gloucester ‘at all times hath been benevolent, good and gracious lord to this city’, and a year later Gloucester himself, in a letter to the citizens of York, spoke of ‘your kind and loving dispositions to us at all times showed, which we ne can forget. Ye shall verily understand we be your especial good and loving lord.’

  Yet those same Civic Records show that the council of York stood also in some awe of Gloucester and feared to cross him; he was a man who had to be handled gently. There is evidence that many of the common citizens of York neither liked nor trusted him. On more than one occasion his decrees provoked riots, and there were those who voiced adverse opinions on the Duke in public. We have already seen that it was a citizen of York who was the first recorded person to nickname Richard ‘Crouchback’.

  In the South, and at court, Gloucester was a comparative stranger. Here, the Wydvilles dominated, because the King had allowed them to gain control, not only of the heir to the throne and the other royal children, but had also made them powerful by advantageous marriages, lands, honours, and titles – even those, such as the Mowbray inheritance (which they administered and enjoyed), to which they were not entitled but had gained through flagrant disregard for the laws of England. Such deeds, along with their rapacious greed and humble origins, had not improved their stock with the magnates over the years. In 1483, Mancini was amazed at the power of the Queen, who had ‘attracted to her party many strangers, and introduced them to court, so that they alone should manage the public and private business of the Crown, give or sell offices, and finally rule the very King himself’. There was rank corruption in high places, and the Wydvilles were at the very centre of it. Edward himself showed special favour to his wife’s sons, Dorset and Grey, and her brother, Lord Rivers. He saw nothing ominous in making Rivers guardian of the Prince of Wales, just as he saw nothing ominous in giving Gloucester absolute power in the North; nor was he wary of having Rivers in charge of the Prince’s household at Ludlow Castle, with its strategic command of the Welsh Marches.

  Edward did not perceive that his policy of entrusting the upbringing of his heir to the Wydvilles was at variance with his making an over-mighty subject of Gloucester, their enemy, whose hatred and fear of them was well-known since it was that which kept him from court. It seems not to have occurred to the King that such a division of power did not augur well for the future. He trusted Gloucester implicitly, just as he had no reason to doubt the loyalty of Hastings to himself nor of the Wydvilles to his son, who was of their blood.

  It was, however, Edward IV’s failure to envisage what the consequences would be to his kingdom and his heir if he were to die young and leave a minor on the throne that led directly to the tragedy of the Princes in the Tower.

  In 1482, says Croyland, ‘King Edward kept the Feast of the Nativity at his Palace of Westminster, frequently appearing clad in a great variety of most costly garments’. Jean de Waurin tells us that this Christmas court was ‘worthy of a leading kingdom, full of riches and men from almost every nation’. All the King’s children were present, even the Prince of Wales.

  Young Edward had rarely been seen in London. In 1481 he had come from Ludlow and toured Kent with his father, visiting the shrine of St Thomas a Becket at Canterbury and reviewing the fleet at Sandwich. At this time, the King was negotiating his marriage with Anne, the four-year-old heiress of Brittany, which was agreed upon on 10th May that year. The marriage treaty provided that Anne would be sent to England when she reached the age of twelve, bringing with her a dowry of 100,000 crowns, and that the eldest son of the marriage should inherit England and the second son Brittany. On his marriage, Edward would become Duke of Brittany in right of his wife.

  In November, 1482, the Prince reached the age of twelve himself. We have only a vague idea of his appearance, as the extant representations of him cannot be accepted as accurate portraits: they only give an impression of what he looked like. A coloured miniature in the Lambeth Palace manuscript of The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers shows Edward with his parents, Lord Rivers and other courtiers; the artist appears to have made a crude attempt at the likenesses of these persons, and it would seem that the Prince, with his fair, wavy, collar-length hair, resembled his mother rather than his father. The stained-glass representations of Edward and his brother York in Canterbury Cathedral are not original and cannot be said to be accurate copies of the heads that were smashed during the English Civil War. There is another stained-glass portrait which may be an authentic likeness; it was commissioned by the Prince’s tutor, Bishop Alcock, in 1481, and is to be found in the priory church of Little Malvern in Worcestershire. It depicts Edward at prayer, wearing royal robes and coronet. The worn delineations of the face show perhaps fleeting resemblances to both parents. Finally, the wooden panel portrait in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, dates from the reign of Henry VII, and we have no way of knowing if the anonymous artist had ever seen Edward. However, the face is suggestive of his father’s features, although this may have been deliberate, since the picture was obviously painted for propaganda purposes.

  In character, the Prince was said to have taken after Edward IV, and to have had talent and remarkable learning. In June, 1483, John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln and Lord Chancellor of England, preparing his speech for the state opening of Parliament, wrote of Edward’s ‘toward and virtuous disposition, his gentle wit and ripe understanding, far passing the nature of his youth’. The French chronicler Molinet was less enthusiastic, describing the boy as ‘simple and very melancholy’ in temperament, but Mancini, who may have seen the Prince and certainly spoke with those who knew him, wrote: ‘In word and deed he gave so many proofs of his liberal education, of polite, nay, rather scholarly attainments far beyond his age.’ Mancini also noted ‘his special knowledge of literature, which enabled him to discourse eloquently, to understand fully, and to declaim most excellently from any work, whether in verse or prose, that came into his hands. He had such dignity in his whole person, and in his face such charm that however much they might gaze, he never wearied the eyes of beholders.’

  The Prince was very much his mother’s child and under the influence of her faction, to which he naturally inclined. But, as John Rous later commented, he had been ‘brought up virtuously by virtuous men’, and was ‘remarkably gifted and well-advanced in learning for his twelve years’.

  At the Christmas court the Prince, appearing in a gown of white cloth of gold, drew comments on his charm, intelligence and abilities, but the festivities were to be ruined by appalling news from France. Mary, the young Duchess of Burgundy and wife of Maximilian of Austria, had recently been thrown from her horse and killed, leaving two children: Philip, her heir, and Margaret, then aged three. Louis XI of France had quickly decided that Margaret would be a better match for the Dauphin than Elizabeth of York, and on 23rd December, 1482, he and Maximilian concluded the Treaty of Arras which provided for such a marriage. The news that his daughter had been ignominiously jilted reached Edward IV early in 1483, and had a devastatin
g effect, provoking in him such anger and disappointment that he was afterwards said to have never got over it. Parliament was summoned, and war was declared on France.

  This was the state of affairs when, in March 1483, the King was ‘taken in a small boat with those whom he had bidden go fishing, and watched that sport too eagerly’. Mancini adds that Edward, ‘being a tall man, and very fat, though not to the point of deformity, allowed the damp cold to strike his vitals’ and ‘therefore contracted the illness from which he never recovered’. There are indications that the King’s health had already given cause for concern that month, for on 8th March, Lord Rivers had sent to his London attorney, Andrew Dymmock, for a copy of the patent appointing him Governor of the Prince of Wales (which authorised him to move the Prince at will), and for the patent empowering him to raise troops in the Welsh Marches. It is likely that Rivers’ action was prompted by the need to ensure his continued control over the Prince of Wales and conserve the power of the Wydville faction in the event of the King’s death. It is tempting to speculate that Rivers had been warned by his sister that Edward’s health was failing, but there is no proof of this.

  The King’s illness first became apparent at Easter, when he took to his bed. His contemporaries were baffled as to what was wrong with him. Vergil described it simply as ‘an unknown disease’, and today we are little the wiser as to its nature. Croyland says the King was neither ‘worn out with old age, nor yet seized with any known kind of malady, the cure of which would not have appeared easy in the case of a person of more humble rank’. The contemporary Norman chronicler, Thomas Basin, believed that Edward had severely upset his digestive system by eating a surfeit of fruit and vegetables. Commines was sure that his illness ‘was caused by Louis XI rejecting the Princess Elizabeth for his little Dauphin Charles’, an indication of how deeply aggrieved Edward had been by Louis’ perfidy. Dr John Rae, in his book Deaths of the English Kings, published in 1913, offered the opinion that Edward IV suffered an attack of pneumonia: contemporary descriptions of the King lying ‘on his left side’ are perhaps evidence that he was suffering from pain in his left lung.

  The royal physicians gathered by their master’s bedside, but they could do nothing for him. Commines says that the King then suffered a stroke, which the chronicler attributed to the excesses of his life, but it cannot have been unduly severe as it did not affect his speech. By 7th April, Edward ‘perceived his natural strength so sore enfeebled that he despaired all recovery’, and summoned his wife and his magnates to his bedchamber. He then commanded Hastings and Dorset to be reconciled with one another, at which the two lords outwardly made their peace. Hastings and the Queen put on a similar charade for the King’s benefit, but, as Mancini says, ‘there still survived a latent jealousy’.

  Two days passed, and on the 9th it became obvious that the King was going to die very soon. The Song of the Lady Bessy asserts that on his deathbed he commended the care of his daughter Elizabeth to Thomas, second Lord Stanley, one of his trusted councillors. Stanley, then forty-eight, had been married to the sister of Warwick the Kingmaker, and was therefore cousin-by-marriage to the King and brother-in-law to Lord Hastings. But Stanley’s allegiance had not always lain with the House of York. He came from a newly prominent Cheshire family, and owned large estates in that country as well as in Derbyshire and Lancashire, but throughout his life he served his own interests first and foremost, and had on one occasion during the Wars of the Roses remained neutral and aloof during a battle in which both sides besought him to aid them with his men. In 1461 he decided it was prudent to offer his allegiance to Edward IV, but he had happily switched to Henry VI during the latter’s brief return to power in 1470–71. Edward forgave him for this, and made him Steward of the Royal Household in 1472 and a privy councillor in 1477. In 1482, Stanley had married as his second wife Margaret Beaufort, widow of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, a lady whose sympathies were decidedly Lancastrian, and whose descent from John of Gaunt made her a fine match for any aspiring lord.

  Why Edward IV should single out Stanley, and not Hastings or a member of the Wydville faction, as Elizabeth’s guardian is a mystery, and the probable truth is that he did no such thing, for the princess remained with her mother and it was not until two years later that Stanley saw fit to act on her behalf.

  The Queen was not present at her husband’s bedside when, on 9th April, 1483, Edward IV, in the words of Croyland, ‘rendered his spirit to his Creator at the Palace of Westminster’. More tells us that ‘he left this realm in quiet and prosperous estate’, and it is true that when he died he was rich, powerful, and esteemed throughout Christendom as a strong ruler. But he had made one fatal mistake: he had failed to unify the rival factions in his kingdom, and by this omission had placed his son’s peaceful succession to the throne in jeopardy. He had also created two mighty power centres in his realm, the Wydvilles and the Duke of Gloucester, and these two were in opposition to each other. Even as Edward’s body was being prepared for its lying-in-state at Westminster, it was dawning upon many that a new era of uncertainty had arrived, and that the next weeks would prove crucial. How crucial no-one could yet tell; a few could have foreseen that the survival of the Yorkist dynasty itself would be dependent upon what happened now.

  At this time, Judge John More, father of Thomas, was living near Cripplegate in Milk Street, which was in the same ward of the City of London as Redcross Street. In that street lived Richard Pottyer, a retainer of the Duke of Gloucester who held the post of attorney of the Duchy of Lancaster in Chancery; he may even have been Gloucester’s own attorney. Judge More knew Pottyer and later learned how, on 9th April, Pottyer received a visit from one William Mistlebrook, who told him of the King’s death. Pottyer’s response was as chilling as it was incongruous: ‘By my troth, man,’ he said, ‘then will my master the Duke of Gloucester be king!’


  ‘Those of the Queen’s Blood’

  EDWARD IV LEFT his kingdom to his eldest son, who was proclaimed King Edward V in London on 11th April, 1483, at which time he was at Ludlow, 200 miles from the capital.

  Edward IV’s only surviving will dates from 1475. In it, he entrusted the care of his son to ‘our dearest wife the Queen’, his chief executor. No provision was made for a minority. The Queen was to have any household goods she wanted and power to dispose of the rest. Her daughters were also to be governed and ruled by her in their choice of husbands.

  When he was on his deathbed, however, Edward IV either drew up a new will, or added codicils to the first. These documents do not survive, but their existence is attested to by the fact that the executors who met after the King’s death were not those listed in the 1475 will, the Queen being the most notable omission. Rous states that Gloucester was named Protector of the Realm by this deathbed ‘ordinance’, and Mancini ‘heard men say that in the same will [Edward IV] appointed as protector of his children and realm his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester’. Both André and Vergil repeat these details. It appears that Edward intended that Gloucester should govern the kingdom while the King was a minor, and have care and control of the royal children: this is implied in the Lord Chancellor’s draft speech for the state opening of Parliament in June, 1483. Rivers, it seems, was to be removed from his office of Governor, and the Queen was apparently given no power at all. What probably prompted the late King’s change of heart was his realisation of the need to mitigate the rapaciousness and unpopularity of the Wydvilles.

  Mancini tells us that on 9th April, the day the King died, ‘the Queen, with her second son, the Duke of York, and the rest of her family [sic], were in London, where was also the chamberlain, Hastings, with the Bishops of York and Ely, friends of the King. The royal treasure, the weight of which was said to be immense, was kept in the hands of the Queen and her people’ at the Tower. In March 1483 the office of deputy constable of the Tower of London had been transferred from Rivers to Dorset, who was now in effective control of both the late King’s treasure
and the royal ordnance at the fortress. The Queen and her supporters held sway over the court, and Rivers had the young King in his charge. The Wydvilles were firmly entrenched and meant to stay that way, having determined to resist all attempts to make Gloucester protector. Their intention was to ignore Edward IV’s will and use Edward V as a puppet, whose strings they themselves would pull.

  England, just then, was in a critical situation, having recently declared war on France, and it was essential that a stable regency government be established without delay. According to Croyland, on 9th April the late King’s councillors ‘were present with the Queen at Westminster’. Almost their first act was to decree that a new bidding prayer be said in churches ‘for our new prince, our dread King Edward V, the Lady Queen Elizabeth his mother, all the royal offspring, the princes of the King, his nobles and people’. There was no direct reference to Gloucester, the protector-designate.

  Over the next two or three days, the councillors held several important and sometimes heated discussions, and there was some in-fighting between factions now that the firm hand of Edward IV was no longer there to control them, but the Queen, says Croyland, ‘most beneficently tried to extinguish every mark of murmur and disturbance’. Very soon, it became clear that the councillors were divided into three camps: the Queen’s party, which was the largest and included her kinsmen and most of the bishops, Archbishop Rotherham of York in particular; the smaller anti-Wydville faction led by Lord Hastings with the support of Lord Stanley; and a group including the Archbishop of Canterbury and John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln, who would not commit themselves either way. No-one declared openly for Gloucester. Croyland says that the only common cause between these factions was loyalty to the son of Edward IV.

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