The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir


  He had laid his plans carefully and, says Humphrey Lluyd, 'maliciously'. No-one would have expected him to employ violence in the council chamber, and the element of surprise would only be to his advantage.

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  After one and a half hours the Protector returned, says More, 'frowning, fretting and gnawing on his lips'. He sat silent for a while, glowering, then asked Hastings, 'What do men deserve for having plotted the destruction of me, being so near of blood unto the King, and Protector of his royal person and realm?' Hastings, astonished, replied, 'Certainly, if they have done so heinously, they are worthy of a heinous punishment.' At this, Gloucester rose to his feet and snarled, 'What? Dost thou serve me with "ifs" and "ands"? I tell thee, they have done it, and that I will make good upon thy body, traitor!'

  More states that Gloucester went on to accuse Hastings, Morton, Rotherham, Stanley and Oliver King, a former secretary of Edward IV, of plotting with the Queen and Elizabeth Shore against his authority and his life. Crimes against the Protector were not in fact treason, since he was not the sovereign, but Gloucester was not concerned with such niceties. More says the Duke also alleged that 'yonder witch', Elizabeth Wydville, in conjunction with Mistress Shore, 'had by their sorceries withered his arm'. As we have seen, there is no contemporary evidence that Gloucester had a withered arm. He had, however, been suffering from a bodily weakness for a few days, and probably based his accusation on this. By More's time the story had doubtless become heavily embroidered.

  Mancini heard that what happened next was that Gloucester, 'as prearranged, cried out that an ambush had been prepared for him, and they [the councillors] had come with hidden arms, that they might be first to open the attack'. Whatever the exact nature of Gloucester's accusation, Hastings and the rest were given no chance to reply. Several accounts state that the Protector had secretly placed armed men either in an adjoining room or behind the arras in the council chamber. Mancini says they were under the command of Buckingham, but Vergil says that Sir Thomas Howard shared the command with two Yorkshiremen, Robert Harrington and Charles Pilkington. When Gloucester, concluding his tirade, banged on the table, the armed guard cried 'Treason!' and rushed into the room. A violent scuffle ensued which resulted in the arrests of Hastings, Stanley, Rotherham, Morton and one John Forster, a follower of Hastings and former receiver-general to the Queen. Stanley was wounded in the fracas and had blood streaming from his head. Hastings, says Mancini, was 'cut down on the false pretext of treason': he mistakenly thought that Hastings had been

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  killed there and then by the soldiers. Then Gloucester told Hastings that he had better see a priest at once and confess his sins, 'for, by St Paul, I will not to dinner till I see thy head off!' Dinner was usually served around 11.00 am or slightly later: Hastings knew he faced imminent death.

  All sources agree that Hastings was executed within minutes of his arrest, 'suddenly without judgement'. Magna Carta provided for magnates of the realm to be tried by their peers in Parliament, which was due to meet in less than a fortnight. But Gloucester could not afford to wait that long, and dared not risk an open trial since Hastings knew too much about his plot to seize the throne. The Great Chronicle states that the execution was done 'without any process of law or lawful examination'. It was a blatantly tyrannical act that heralded a new phase in the protectorate, that of rule by terror.

  Gloucester put Buckingham in charge of the execution, who paid no heed to Hastings' pleas for mercy and protestations of innocence. A priest was summoned but, says More, no time was allowed for 'any long confession or other space of remembrance'. Then an usher led, or rather dragged, Hastings 'forth unto the green beside the chapel within the Tower, and there, on a squared piece of timber, strake off his head'. The timber, says Fabyan, 'lay there with other for the repairing of the said Tower'. Humphrey Lluyd states that Hastings 'was slain by sword', which is likely in the circumstances. It is even possible that Edward V witnessed the execution, for the west windows of the royal apartments faced Tower Green and the noise and commotion must have attracted attention. Hastings' broken body was buried soon afterwards, as he had requested in his will of 1481, near Edward IV in St George's Chapel, Windsor, where his chantry may be seen today.

  'Thus fell Hastings,' wrote Mancini, 'killed not by those enemies he had always feared, but by a friend whom he had never doubted. But whom will insane lust for power spare, if it dares violate the ties of kin and friendship?' Mancini's observations support the circumstantial evidence that Hastings turned against Gloucester only days before his execution. Croyland commented that innocent blood had been shed, 'and in this way, without justice or judgement, the three strongest supporters of the new King were removed'. He was referring also to Rivers and Grey, imprisoned and condemned without trial. Hastings' contemporaries were in no doubt that his execution was a foretaste of

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  violence to come. It proved just how ruthless Gloucester could be. At a stroke, on one day, four of his chief opponents had been silenced: one had been openly murdered. When the news of this atrocity broke it sent shock waves of horror throughout the City and the kingdom.

  Vergil says that as soon as Hastings was dead Gloucester sent his men running through the streets of the City crying 'Treason! Treason!' The Londoners, hearing them, 'began to cry out likewise', becoming, says Mancini, 'panic stricken; and each one seized his weapons'. When the reason for the uproar was disclosed, the citizens were shocked and saddened, for Hastings was popular with them for his liberality and his charitable works. Vergil says 'those who favoured King Edward's children [and] had reposed their whole hope and confidence in him generally lamented' his death. Most people felt alarmed by it, for until now there had been no indication that anything was amiss in the government, and the Great Chronicle records how Hastings' death convinced the Londoners that Gloucester was scheming to seize the throne. In the troubled City wild rumours spread, and a wool merchant, George Cely, scribbled brief notes about what he was hearing on a spare piece of paper that still survives today: 'There is great rumour in the realm. The Scots has done great in England. Chamberlain [Hastings] is deceased in trouble. The Chancellor is disproved and not content. The Bishop of Ely is dead. If the King, God save his life, were deceased; the Duke of Gloucester were in any peril. If my lord Prince, which God defend, were troubled; if my Lord Howard were slain.' Most of these rumours were, of course, unfounded. The King was still at the Tower and would be seen there after this date.

  Gloucester, meanwhile, was enjoying a celebratory dinner, after which he sent for the Lord Mayor and leading citizens of London, and informed them that Hastings had planned to murder him and Buckingham at that morning's council meeting; he had acted just in the nick of time to save himself. The Mayor then went back through the streets, telling the people of the 'plot' against the Protector. Two hours after the execution Gloucester sent a herald out to calm the populace by reading a proclamation giving details of Hastings' 'treason' and formally announcing his execution. The proclamation was so long, so detailed, and issued so swiftly that it is almost certain that it had been drawn up before the Council met. Typically, it contained an attack on Hastings' morals. It also, says Mancini, bade the

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  people be assured. 'At first the ignorant crowd believed, although real truth was on the lips of many, namely that the plot had been feigned by the Duke to escape the odium of such a crime.' Thus, observed the Great Chronicle, 'was this nobleman murdered for his truth and fidelity which he bore unto his master'. Significantly, perhaps, Hastings was never retrospectively attainted of treason, unlike other enemies of Gloucester.

  His death meant that the moderates on the Council now lacked a leader, which effectively deprived them of the means of opposing the Protector. Not that many were keen to now: Vergil says that 'Men began to look for nothing else than cruel slaughter, as perceived they well that Duke Richard would spare no man so that he might obtain the kingdom.' From now on many would support him
'rather for fear than any hope of benefit', for, says Croyland, all the rest of Edward V's 'faithful subjects were fearing the like treatment'. The King's supporters had been effectively intimidated.

  As for those men who had been arrested with Hastings, Rotherham, according to Vergil, was committed to the temporary custody of Gloucester's trusted retainer Sir James Tyrell and, by 21st June, imprisoned in the Tower. The University of Cambridge pleaded his case and he was released on 4th July and restored to the Council. Morton was also incarcerated in the Tower, and the University of Oxford interceded for him, but Gloucester was not so merciful in his case and after a time committed him to Buckingham's custody at Brecknock Castle on the Welsh Marches. Croyland says both prelates were 'saved from capital punishment out of respect for their order', which is borne out by Mancini. Forster was briefly imprisoned, as was Stanley, but the latter was released within two weeks and restored to the Council, where he quickly ensured that he recovered the good opinion of Gloucester.

  Elizabeth Shore, accused of being the go-between for her lover Hastings and the Queen, was also punished. Gloucester instructed the Bishop of London to sentence her to do public penance at St Paul's, wearing only her kirtle and carrying a lighted taper, a sight that moved many men in the watching crowds to lustful thoughts, we are told. This took place on Sunday 15th June, after which Mistress Shore was cast into prison. After her release, much to Gloucester's disgust, she married his solicitor, Thomas Lynom, and disappeared into obscurity.

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  She died, widowed and destitute, around 1526 and was buried in Hinxworth Church, Hertfordshire.

  Around the time of Hastings' death, writes Mancini, Gloucester 'learned from his spies that the Marquess [of Dorset] had left the Sanctuary and, supposing that he was hiding in the same neighbourhood, he surrounded with troops and dogs the already-grown crops and sought for him, after the manner of huntsmen, by a very close encirclement, but he was never found'. There can be little doubt that Dorset's flight was prompted by news of Hastings' end. In fact he fled to France, probably taking his share of Edward IV's treasure with him, as Gloucester tried, and failed, to find it. Later on Bishop Lionel Wydville left sanctuary openly and was allowed to return to his diocese.

  On 15th June, Ratcliffe reached York where he delivered to the Civic Council the Protector's order for them to send an armed force to the Earl of Northumberland at Pontefract before 25th June; Northumberland would then march to London.

  In the Tower, meanwhile, something very ominous had happened. Mancini tells us that 'After Hastings was removed, all the attendants who had waited upon the King were debarred access to him.' This was alarming because it meant that Gloucester was isolating his nephew and preventing others from finding out what was happening to him. He may well have feared that the King's servants might help him to escape. These servants had of course been chosen by Gloucester, but in the present situation he obviously felt he could not count on their loyalty.

  Edward V could not have been anything but horrified at the death of Hastings and what it portended, the dismissal of his servants and the knowledge that he was now a virtual prisoner. The available evidence suggests that he feared he too would go the way of Hastings. Mancini says that Dr John Argentine, 'a Strasbourg doctor and the last of his attendants whose services the King enjoyed, reported that the young King, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance, because he believed that death was facing him'. The French chronicler Molinet corroborates this testimony. Forensic evidence which will be discussed later indicates that the King was suffering from a diseased jaw and perhaps toothache, which would explain why Dr Argentine had been in attendance; the pain he may have suffered can only have contributed to his depression and sense of hopelessness.

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  10. 'This Act of Usurpation'

  On Monday 16th June a wary and nervous Council met at the Tower. The date of the coronation was less than a week away and Gloucester, says Mancini, 'submitted how improper it seemed that the King should be crowned in the absence of his brother, who, on account of his nearness of kin and his station, ought to play an important part in the ceremony'. 'What a sight it shall be,' he said, according to Vergil, 'to see the King crowned if, while that the solemnity of triumphant pomp is in doing, his mother, brother and sisters remain in sanctuary.' Mancini says the Protector stated that, since the Duke of York 'was held by his mother against his will in sanctuary, he should be liberated, because the Sanctuary had been founded by their ancestors as a place of refuge, not of detention, and this boy wanted to be with his brother'. Gloucester spoke scathingly of 'the Queen's malice' and how she was trying to discredit the Council; he said it was bad for York to have no one of his own age to play with and to be 'in the company of old and ancient persons', and he proposed that Cardinal Archbishop Bourchier convey a command to the Queen to release her son. When the octagenarian prelate refused to sanction the boy's removal from sanctuary by force, fearing that reasonable persuasion might fail because of 'the mother's dread and fear', Buckingham retorted that the Queen's behaviour was not prompted by fear but by 'womanly frowardness. I never before heard of sanctuary children.' A child had no need of sanctuary, he argued, and therefore no right to it.

  The Council, much intimidated and now without Hastings to voice

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  any opposition, allowed itself to be persuaded by the Duke and agreed to Gloucester's demand. Whereupon, says Mancini, 'he surrounded the Sanctuary with troops'. Lord Howard's account books show that on that very day Howard and his son hired eight boats full of soldiers to escort Gloucester, Buckingham, Bourchier, Russell and themselves to Westminster and then form an armed chain round the Abbey.

  York had been brought up at court by the Queen his mother. All we know of him comes from Molinet, who says he was 'joyous and witty, nimble, and ever ready for dances and games'. Such a lively child would probably have welcomed being released from the restrictions of life in sanctuary. But then York was only nine years old, and too young to understand what his liberation might mean.

  Croyland says that Gloucester and his entourage of magnates, prelates and soldiers 'came with a great multitude to Westminster' that same day, 'armed with swords and staves'. Stallworthe testifies that there were 'great plenty of harnessed men' in the area around Westminster Abbey that day. On arrival, Gloucester, continues Croyland, 'compelled the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, with many others, to enter the Sanctuary in order to appeal to the good feelings of the Queen and prompt her to allow her son to come forth and proceed to the Tower, that he might comfort the King his brother'.

  Bourchier and Howard confronted the Queen in the Abbot's House, conveyed Gloucester's message, and informed her that the Protector desired to take her son York under his protection. They begged her to agree to this in order to avoid a scandal, and promised that her son would be safe and well looked after. The Queen expressed reservations about York's future safety, whereupon Howard asked her why her sons should be in any danger. She was at a loss for an answer, and Bourchier indicated firmly to Howard that he should 'harp no more on that string'.

  Elizabeth Wydville's only hope of returning to power lay with her son the King, and while York remained with her Edward V was relatively safe and her ambitions realistically based. She did not trust Gloucester, and said so. Both More and Hall portray her as making a long speech to this effect, saying she knew there were 'deadly enemies to my blood. The desire of a kingdom knoweth no kindred; brothers have been brother's bane, and may the nephew be sure of his uncle? Both of these children are safe while they are asunder.' But Croyland,

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  who was almost certainly an eyewitness, refers to no such speeches.

  Howard now joined with Bourchier to reassure the Queen, persuading her that surrendering York was the best course. The Archbishop, who, says the Great Chronicle, 'thought and planned no harm' and, says Mancini, 'was suspecting no guile, persuaded the Queen to do this, seekin
g as much to prevent a violation of the Sanctuary as to mitigate by his good services the fierce resolve of the Duke'. No one doubted that if the Queen refused Gloucester would employ force to remove York: the soldiers outside bore testimony to that, and the House of York had its precedents for sanctuary-breaking. But Bourchier, says Croyland, assured the Queen that Gloucester 'thought or intended none harm', which was rather naive of him, considering what had happened three days earlier.

  'When the Queen saw herself besieged and preparation for violence,' says Mancini, 'she surrendered her son, trusting in the word of the Cardinal of Canterbury that the boy should be restored after the coronation.' And although Vergil writes that 'thus was the innocent child pulled out of his mother's arms', Croyland says that the Queen 'assented with many thanks to this proposal'. Later accounts describe an emotional parting, but no contemporary writer refers to any.

  York was delivered, says Stallworthe in a letter to Stonor dated 21st June, to Bourchier, Russell 'and many other lords temporal', who took | him to the Palace of Westminster, where 'with him met my lord of | Buckingham in the midst of the hall of Westminster, my lord Protector receiving him at the Star Chamber door with many loving words'. Howard and Bourchier then conducted York by boat to the Tower, where he was reunited with his brother and, says Stallworthe, 'where he is, blessed be Jesu, merry'.

  Gloucester now had both the male heirs of Edward IV in his power; he had neutralised the Wydvilles and removed nearly all those who had opposed him. 'From this day,' says Croyland, 'the Duke openly revealed his plans.' Now that those plans were being finalised, Gloucester apparently decided that the royal apartments should be vacated by the King and his brother in preparation for his own coronation. Vergil states that Gloucester was in fact lodging in the Tower from 16th June, and shortly after that date, says Mancini, Edward V and York 'were withdrawn to the inner apartments of the

 
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