The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir


  To outward appearances, what Gloucester was planning was the political elimination of the Wydvilles. Yet Mancini believed that from the moment he learned of Edward IV's death, Gloucester was plotting to take the throne for himself, and Croyland was of the opinion that such a plot was hatched in the North at this time. Vergil agreed with Mancini, stating he had learned that 'Richard began to be kindled with an ardent desire for sovereignty' immediately he heard that his brother was dead, while More went so far as to assert that he had had designs on the throne even before that event, which is hardly likely as no-one expected Edward IV to die so young while his heir was still a minor.

  It was vital that, whatever he was really planning, Gloucester led the Queen and the Council to believe that his intentions were honourable and posed no threat to themselves. Croyland states he immediately

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  wrote 'the most pleasant letter to console the Queen; he promised to come and offer submission, fealty and all that was due from him to his lord and king, Edward V. Mancini, corroborating this, adds that he said he was willing to take on the office of protector entrusted to him by his brother. Vergil observes wryly that the Duke's 'loving' letters to the Queen promised her 'seas and mountains'.

  Gloucester next sent a formal letter to the Council, saying -- according to Mancini -- that 'he had been loyal to his brother Edward, and would be, if only permitted, loyal to his brother's son and to all his brother's issues, even female, if perchance, which God forbid, the youth should die. He would expose his life to every danger that the children might endure in their father's realm. He asked the councillors to take his desserts into consideration when disposing of the government, to which he was entitled by law and his brother's ordinance, and he reminded them that nothing contrary to law and his brother's desire could be decreed without harm.' In fact, Edward IV had had no legal right to name Gloucester as protector; a dead king's wishes held no force in law. In 1422 both Parliament and Council had rejected the late Henry V's choice of Humphrey of Gloucester as protector during Henry VI's minority, on the grounds that the King's will had been made 'without the assent of the three estates'. Only the Council and Parliament had the right to decide who should govern the realm during a royal minority.

  If Gloucester was aware of such legal niceties, he had no time for them. He left Middleham for York around 20th April on the first stage of his journey south. With him were 300 gentlemen of the North, all wearing deepest black like the Duke. It was a sizeable but not an alarming retinue. The plan was that the Duke would intercept Lord Rivers and the King on their journey to the capital.

  Gloucester arrived in York around 21st April. He came, says Croyland, 'all dressed in mourning, and held a solemn funeral ceremony for the King, full of tears. He bound by oath all the nobility of those parts in fealty to the King's son; he himself swore first of all.'

  Buckingham had learned of the death of Edward IV around 14th April, when he was on his estates at Brecon on the Welsh Marches. A week later he received Gloucester's letter, in which the Duke, says Mancini,

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  complained 'of the insult done to him by the ignoble family of the Queen. Buckingham, since he was of the highest nobility, was disposed to sympathise, because he had his own reason for detesting the Queen's kin.' It was his burning desire to see the Wydvilles crushed, and his hope that once in power Gloucester would grant him the position he had hitherto been denied and hand over the Bohun inheritance, that made Buckingham decide, more or less immediately, to ally himself with the Duke, even if it did mean pitching his fortunes in with those of the House of York.

  More says that Buckingham sent his most trusted agent, a man called Humphrey Persivall, to carry the Duke's pledge of support to Gloucester and tell him that Buckingham was ready to march with 'a thousand good fellows, if need be', because he agreed with Hastings that securing the person of the King was the most effective way of executing a coup against the Wydvilles. According to More, Persivall saw Richard at York, but this cannot have been so because Buckingham could not have received Gloucester's letter until 21st April at the earliest and even if he had despatched Persivall that same day, it would have taken the man at least four days to ride from Brecon to York. York Civic Records confirm that Richard had left York for Nottingham by 23rd April. More says that Persivall went back to Brecon and then rode to Nottingham for a second interview with Gloucester, but it is clear that there could only have been one meeting between the Duke and the agent due to the speed of events and that it must have taken place at Nottingham. Buckingham, his decision made, instructed Persivall to inform Gloucester that he would rendezvous with him at Northampton. Then, after Persivall had gone, his master spent a few days gathering together an escort of 300 men and preparing for the journey before setting out from Brecon by 26th April at the latest.

  In London, meanwhile, according to Mancini, 'on completion of the royal obsequies, and while many peers of the realm were collecting in the City, a Council assembled', summoned by the Queen and Dorset in the King's name. This was a lawful assembly of the magnates, summoned in accordance with the precedent of the previous minority, on the basis that there had to be some form of administration until Edward V was crowned and that the late King's councillors were best suited to

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  assume the mantle of royal authority in the interim. Tradition decreed that this Council should meet regularly at Westminster until the coronation, when its powers would lapse and Parliament could decide on which form of government would be best. Nevertheless, many were uneasy about its convening, and were not reassured when Dorset commanded its members to gather in the Queen's presence as if she were already regent. In fact Dorset had already incurred the anger and resentment of several councillors by issuing orders himself in the name of Edward V, signing them 'Brother Uterine to the King'.

  The Council met around 20th April and sat for several days. Croyland states that 'the most urgent desire of all present was that the Prince should succeed his father in all his glory'. Dorset opened proceedings by urging that the King be crowned as planned on 4th May, but some councillors raised objections, guessing the motive for such haste, and Mancini says there were those, foremost amongst them Hastings, who 'said that everything ought not thus to be hurried through; rather they should await the young King's uncle'. To this Dorset 'is said to have replied, "We are so important that even without the King's uncle we can make and enforce our decisions."' This arrogant remark provoked a heated debate over who should govern the country which lasted for several days.

  'The problem of government during the royal minority,' observes Mancini, 'was referred to the consideration of the barons.' The Wydville party believed they had the Council in their pocket, but with the majority of its members recently arrived in London it soon became obvious that they did not after all have a sufficiently large majority to persuade the councillors to invest the regency in themselves. There is no evidence that the Queen herself wished to be regent; either Dorset or Rivers would have been an obvious choice. Yet even thus curbed, the Wydvilles were still a political force to be reckoned with. But they had many enemies opposing them, above all Hastings, who had insulted them in the council chamber by insisting that the base blood of the Queen's kindred unfitted them for the task of governing the realm. Already, not a fortnight after the King's death, there were rumours in the land that the Wydvilles were plotting to seize power, which only further inflamed the people's hatred towards them. The Council were aware of this, and Croyland states that 'The more prudent members were of the opinion that the guardianship of so youthful a person [as

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  the King] ought to be utterly forbidden to his uncles and brothers of the mother's side.'

  Further debate ensued and then, says Mancini, 'two opinions were propounded'. Hastings proposed that the Duke of Gloucester should govern 'because Edward, in his will, had so directed, and because by law [sic] the government ought to devolve upon him'. The Council considered this, discussing what powe
rs Gloucester might enjoy as protector, a subject on which opinions were divided. Dorset envisaged Gloucester as a figurehead presiding over the Council, but other councillors argued that the King's will had conferred upon him sovereign power. If he were to be appointed protector now he would expect to have his powers extended beyond the coronation, until the King gained his majority. This might not, however, be for very long, for Edward IV had only intended the Council of the Marches to act on his son's behalf until the boy reached fourteen. Henry VI had declared himself of age at sixteen, but there were no set rules as to when a minor achieved majority, and it is probable that Edward IV confidently expected his son to attain his on his fourteenth birthday in November 1484, eighteen months hence.

  The Wydvilles did not want Gloucester exercising sovereign power as protector, even for this short time, and made a second proposal. Mancini states that this 'was that the government should be carried on by many persons, among whom the Duke, far from being excluded, should be accounted the chief. By this means the Duke would be given due honour and the royal authority greater security, because it had been found that no regent ever laid down his office save reluctantly and from armed compulsion, whence civil wars had often arisen. Moreover, if the entire form were committed to one man, he might easily usurp the sovereignty. All who favoured the Queen's family voted for this proposal, as they were afraid that if Richard took unto himself the crown, or even governed alone, they, who bore the blame for Clarence's death, would suffer death or at least be ejected from their high estate.' The Wydvilles obviously feared Gloucester as much as he feared them: already it had occurred to them that he might try to usurp the throne. Contemporary writers recognised that both factions based their policies on fear of what would happen to themselves if the other party achieved power.

  Whilst the Council was debating these two proposals, Gloucester's

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  letters arrived. That to the Council was publicly circulated by his supporters, on his instructions. Mancini says, 'This letter had a great effect on the minds of the people who, as they had previously favoured the Duke in their hearts from a belief in his probity, now began to support him openly and aloud, so that it was commonly said by all that the Duke deserved the government. However, the Council voted in a majority for the alternative policy, and they fixed a day for the coronation,' 4th May. Mancini was of the opinion that by not naming Gloucester protector the Council was deliberately flouting Edward IV's wishes, but in actual fact it had acted with wisdom and moderation, curbing the ambitions of the Wydvilles whilst according Gloucester, not supreme power, but the leadership of the Council and a say in the government.

  Finally, Dorset reminded the councillors that a state of war existed between England and France, and that the country should be defended from any invasion. As a result, Sir Edward Wydville was appointed Admiral of the Fleet with responsibility for assembling a navy and recruiting men, a task he began carrying out straight away, making sure that his chief officers were Wydville supporters. On 29th April he put to sea, his ostensible purpose being to move against French and Breton pirates in the English Channel.

  At Ludlow, Earl Rivers had assembled the King's escort, and on 23rd April, according to Rous, 'the accustomed service of the Knights of the Garter was solemnly celebrated, concluding with a splendid banquet'. The next day, Edward V, Rivers, the King's tutor Bishop Alcock, his faithful servant Vaughan, and his relative Sir Richard Haute, set out with a 'sober company' of 2,000 men, travelling along Watling Street, the old Roman road.

  Two days later, Gloucester was in Nottingham, as the city records show. Here Humphrey Persivall found him and spoke with him, says More, 'in the dead of night in his secret chamber', delivering Buckingham's message and informing the Duke that Buckingham would meet him at Northampton. Gloucester then sent Persivall back to meet up with Buckingham on the road and confirm the arrangements. Thus, says Mancini, 'the Duke allied himself with the Duke of Buckingham', and, 'having united their resources, both Dukes wrote to the young King, to ascertain from him on what day and by what route he intended to enter the capital, so they could join him, that in their

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  company his entry to the City might be more magnificent.' The ducal messengers met up with the King's party on the road south; learning that Gloucester and Buckingham were to meet in Northampton, Mancini says Rivers agreed to do 'as they requested' and join them there. More and Rous state that he even went several miles out of his way to accommodate them, which indicates that, firstly, he did not expect anything untoward, and secondly, that he was anxious to foster good relations with Gloucester.

  Gloucester was still in touch with Hastings, meanwhile, who was sending him regular reports on the Council's proceedings and events in London. When, a day or so later, the Duke left Nottingham, his plans for a coup were complete.

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  7. 'An Innocent Lamb in the Hands of Wolves'

  The King and Lord Rivers arrived at Northampton on 29th April, 1483, just as -- says Croyland -- Gloucester and Buckingham met up north of the town where all parties had arranged to meet. Soon after his arrival the King was joined by Sir Richard Grey, hot-foot from London and probably bearing orders from the Queen to Rivers, urging him to press on to the capital without delay. Rivers thereupon escorted King Edward fourteen miles further south, to Stony Stratford, that same day. Here, tradition says, he commandeered for his young master the Rose and Crown Inn for the night, an inn that still stands on the High Street, its ancient bricks hidden by a modern facade.

  Rivers and Grey then took a small escort and prepared to ride back to Northampton. Mancini says the King asked Rivers to greet Gloucester on his behalf and pay his respects, while Croyland believed that Rivers' chief intention was to convince the Duke that the Council's plans for the minority government were in the best interests of everyone; to this end, he would adopt a conciliatory approach. Rivers ordered that the King was to continue his journey to London the next morning, with or without him. He then left for Northampton, intending, says More, 'on the morrow to follow the King and be with him at Stony Stratford early, ere he departed'.

  Meanwhile Gloucester, Buckingham, and their combined escorts of 600 men, had arrived in Northampton to find the King gone. In the High Street there were three inns, side by side. Gloucester took one, which Mancini describes as 'a very strong place', and Buckingham

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  another. When Rivers and Grey returned, Gloucester was settled in his lodging and, according to Mancini, 'graciously received' them there. Addressing Gloucester as 'my Lord Protector', a sop calculated to mollify the Duke, Rivers explained, somewhat lamely, that the reason for the King's unexpected departure had been the lack of suitable accommodation for all parties in Northampton. Gloucester appears to have accepted this with equanimity, and to have hidden any chagrin he may have felt as a result of the King having been moved for the present beyond his reach. Rivers had certainly exceeded his authority: the correct action for him to have taken would have been to wait with the King for Gloucester to arrive and then to have consulted him as to what to do. His failure to do so had been an act of gross discourtesy and inexcusable presumption. But Gloucester betrayed no trace of anger. Instead, he arranged for Rivers, Grey and their escort to occupy the third inn in the row, and then invited the Earl to take dinner with himself and Buckingham that evening at his own inn.

  During the course of that meal Rivers must have acquainted the two dukes with the proceedings and rulings of the Council in London, and this, together with his awareness of the Wydvilles' deliberate withholding of the news of his brother's death from him, indicated clearly to Gloucester precisely where he stood. Supreme power was to be denied him: he was to be a figurehead, one voice on the Council, while his dangerous enemies, the Wydvilles, controlled and dominated a king who would soon reach his majority. This was not what his brother had intended, and certainly not what he himself could tolerate. But he dissembled, showing no sign of concern, and, as More tells us, there
was 'made that night much friendly cheer between these two dukes and the Lord Rivers', passing, says Mancini, 'a great part of the night in conviviality'. But, continues More, when Rivers had retired to bed in his own inn, Gloucester, Buckingham and a north country ducal councillor of Richard's called Richard Ratcliffe sat up discussing the situation until nearly dawn, deciding at length to effect a coup the next day, with the purpose of seizing the King's person and eliminating the hated Wydvilles. Vergil says: 'As is commonly believed, [Gloucester] even then discovered to [Buckingham] his intent of usurping the kingdom.' This accords with the assertions of Mancini and Croyland that Richard plotted to take the throne from the time he learned of Edward IV's death.

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  Gloucester and Buckingham slept not at all that night. Before dawn, they secretly ordered guards to be posted along all roads out of Northampton, to guard, says Mancini, against anyone informing the King of what was going on. Then they gathered their escort, ready to march on Stony Stratford. The doors to Rivers' inn were locked.

  All sources agree that Rivers had been lulled into a sense of false security by the apparent friendliness and compliance of the two dukes. Therefore he 'marvellously disliked it' when he woke at dawn and found himself a prisoner. Mancini says that when everything was prepared for the journey, Gloucester, Buckingham and a few armed guards entered Rivers' inn and confronted him, accusing him of influencing Edward V against them and charging him with having tried to remove the King from the guardianship of the protector appointed by his father. Gloucester's men then 'seized Rivers and his companions and imprisoned them in that place', in the charge of Sir Thomas Gower.

 
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