The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir


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  Tower proper, and day by day began to be seen more rarely behind the bars and windows'. Mancini's reference to bars indicates that the boys were Gloucester's prisoners, which is borne out by the Great Chronicle, which states that they were 'holden more straight, and then was privy talk in London that the Lord Protector should be king'.

  The Tower was a very public place to which the citizens were admitted to view the menagerie or for administrative purposes; therefore it is quite credible that the Princes (as we shall refer to them) were seen on several occasions. To begin with they were allowed outdoors for exercise. The Great Chronicle records that 'During this Mayor's year, the children of King Edward were seen shooting and playing in the garden of the Tower by sundry times.' The Mayor referred to was Sir Edmund Shaa, who held office from October 1482 to October 1483. However, the reference to the boys playing must relate to the period immediately after 16th June and before the second week in July, when Mancini says the boys had ceased to appear at the windows altogether; it may also refer to Edward V before he had been joined by York. Mancini makes it clear that these outdoor games occurred less frequently as the days went by.

  No source is specific in naming exactly which part of the Tower the Princes were withdrawn to after 16th June. Tradition has it that they were held in what is now known as the Bloody Tower. In 1483 it was called the Garden Tower because the left side of it adjoined the garden of the Lieutenant's (now the Queen's) House. Because the Princes were seen playing 'in the garden of the Tower' it has long been assumed that they were lodged in the Garden Tower, once a means of access to the old royal apartments. This assumption has been given credence by the high standard of accommodation in the Garden Tower and its proximity to the Lieutenant's House, vital for security purposes. But there is no other evidence that the Princes were ever there, nor was the Garden Tower re-named the Bloody Tower until 1597. In 1532 it was still being referred to as the Garden Tower, which argues a contemporary lack of association with the Princes.

  The garden of the Lieutenant's House was also in close proximity to the massive White Tower, the old Norman keep with its 9-foot-thick walls. Here were the original royal apartments, still occasionally used, and here too, on the upper floors, important state prisoners had been housed since the twelfth century. This was the most secure part of the

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  Tower, 'the Tower proper', as Mancini says, and the place most likely to have been chosen as the Princes' abode by Gloucester. Here they could be lodged in relative comfort in any one of the turret chambers or rooms in the upper regions. Here, too, was later found forensic evidence to indicate their presence, which will be discussed later. In the White Tower the Princes were out of the way, and no-one could gain access to them without Gloucester's authority.

  The Protector now turned his attention to another possible obstacle to his schemes, the eight-year-old Earl of Warwick who, since the flight of Dorset, was without a legal guardian. Mancini says that 'about this time Gloucester gave orders that the son of the Duke of Clarence should come to the City, and commanded that the lad should be kept in confinement in the household of his wife, the child's maternal aunt. For he feared that if the entire progeny of King Edward became extinct, yet this child, who was also of royal blood, would still embarrass him.' What Mancini is here implying is that Gloucester had already contemplated the extinction of Edward IV's sons.

  Gloucester was now apparently in a very strong position: he had all the Yorkist male heirs to the throne in his power, he had rid himself of his enemies, and armed support was on its way to him from York. But his position was still under threat. Firstly, both the Wydvilles and the King were now permanently alienated from him: More says Gloucester told Buckingham that Edward V had been so offended by their actions that there was no chance of a reconciliation. When the King attained his majority, both dukes could expect the worst for, according to Gloucester, he would never forget what was done to him in his youth. Secondly, the execution of Hastings had alienated a number of Gloucester's supporters on the Council, further reducing his minority and the likelihood that the Council would support an extension of his powers after the coronation. Thirdly, that coronation was only days away, and many lords had already arrived in London to attend it and the Parliament that was to follow. The King could not open Parliament until he was crowned, and that event could not be deferred any longer because the business of the kingdom was being held up. Gloucester therefore had to act quickly if his plan was to succeed, and there can be no doubt that his ambition, his fear of what the future would otherwise hold, and his chronic sense of insecurity all gave added impetus to this necessity.

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  Croyland states that, with the strongest supporters of the King having been removed 'and all the rest of his faithful subjects fearing the like treatment, the two dukes did henceforth just as they pleased'. Buckingham had been involved in Gloucester's plans from the beginning: More refers to his 'guilty foreknowledge', saying that 'when the Protector had both the children in his hands he opened himself more boldly to the Duke of Buckingham, although I know that many thought that this Duke was privy to all the Protector's counsel'. What Gloucester opened himself about was almost certainly the exact details of his scheme to seize the throne.

  The plan was to declare Edward V and Richard of York unfit to inherit the crown; therefore, as Warwick was supposedly barred from the succession by his father's attainder, Gloucester would be next in line to the throne and would demand to be acknowledged as the rightful king. But, given that the act of recognition by the magnates at his crowning would have the effect of erasing any doubts about Edward V's title to the throne, Gloucester knew he had to make public his claim before 22nd June, the date set for the coronation.

  In what Croyland refers to as his 'haughty mind', Gloucester was already king. He began acting like one, according to Mancini, who says that 'when Richard felt secure from all those dangers that at first he feared, he took off the mourning clothes that he had worn since his brother's death and, putting on a purple robe, he then rode through the capital, surrounded by a thousand attendants. He publicly showed himself so as to receive the attention and applause of the people, as yet under the name of Protector; but each day he entertained to dinner at his private dwellings an increasingly large number of men,' doubtless with a view to winning their support. 'When he exhibited himself through the streets of the City, he was scarcely watched by anybody, rather did they curse him with a fate worthy of his crimes, since no-one now doubted at what he was aiming.'

  Undaunted at the loss of his early popularity, Gloucester pressed on with his plans. By 17th June he had decided to cancel the Parliament called for 25th June, and on that day issued writs rescinding the official summonses sent to the members and magnates. Lord Chancellor Russell's draft speech for the state opening of that Parliament, composed at this time, still survives; ironically, after urging unity amongst the opposing factions in government and praising the good qualities in

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  the King, Russell recommended the continuance of Gloucester's protectorate until Edward V attained his majority, when 'ripeness of years and personal rule be concurrent together'. He envisaged Edward V having cause 'to rejoice himself and say, "Uncle, I am glad to have you confirmed in this place, you to be my Protector in all my business"' with powers encompassing 'the defence of the realm and the tutele [education] and oversight of the King's most royal person during his years of tenderness, to be his tutor and protector'. Gloucester, even had he known of Russell's recommendation, may nevertheless have felt that he lacked sufficient support to push the motion through in Parliament.

  Between 17th and 21st June, Gloucester postponed the coronation indefinitely; on what grounds, we do not know. The Tudor chronicler, Richard Grafton, says a new date was set, 2nd November, but there is no contemporary evidence for this, and the magnates who gathered in London on 25th June, speculating as to when the ceremony would in fact take place, certainly did not
know about it. What was more, preparations for a coronation were still going ahead. The accounts of Piers Curteys, Keeper of the Royal Wardrobe, show that Edward V's coronation robes were ready: a short gown of crimson cloth of gold and black velvet and long gowns of crimson cloth of gold lined with green damask, blue velvet and purple velvet, as well as a doublet of black satin and a bonnet of purple velvet. Dishes had already been prepared for the coronation banquet, and animals slaughtered in readiness. By Saturday, 21st June, London was a-buzz with rumour and speculation.

  Two days earlier the Civic Council in York had called up the troops required by the Protector; Mancini says they numbered 6,000 and were mainly from the estates of both Gloucester and Buckingham. News that a large armed force had been summoned from the North reached London on that Saturday, causing much alarm and concern, especially since there was already a considerable military presence, wearing Gloucester's livery, in the City. 'With us is much trouble, and every man doubts other,' wrote Stallworthe to Stonor that day, mentioning that all Hastings' men 'are switching allegiance to the Duke of Buckingham'. The mood of the capital was so tense and hostile that the Lord Mayor, a supporter of the Protector, organised a watch in the interests of keeping the peace.

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  Gloucester now, says Mancini, 'took special opportunity of publicly showing his hand'. Sunday, 22nd June, should have been Edward V's coronation day. Instead, Londoners attending a sermon at Paul's Cross in London heard for the first time Edward's claim to the throne impugned. The preacher was Dr Ralph Shaa, the Mayor's brother, a Cambridge-educated doctor of theology. Like his brother he supported Gloucester, and the latter saw in him the perfect instrument for making public some astonishing revelations concerning the royal succession. Indeed, both the Shaa brothers had exerted themselves to win over the Londoners to Gloucester's party, and there were a few cheers for Dr Ralph from several strategically placed retainers of the Protector as he entered the open-air pulpit before the cathedral. There he delivered his sermon, taking as his text a quotation from the Apocrypha: 'But the multiplying brood of the ungodly shall not thrive, nor take deep rooting from bastard slips, nor lay any fast foundations.'

  Gloucester, avers Mancini, had 'so corrupted' Dr Shaa and other 'preachers of the divine Word that in their sermons' -- that at Paul's Cross was not the only one of its kind delivered that day -- 'they did not blush to say, in the face of decency and all religion, that the progeny of King Edward should be instantly eradicated, for neither had he been a legitimate king, nor could his issue be so. Edward IV, said they, was conceived in adultery, and in every way was unlike the late Duke of York; but Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who altogether resembled his father, was to come to the throne as the legitimate successor.' At this point Gloucester was meant to appear with Buckingham and other lords in a nearby gallery but he mistimed his entrance and the dramatic gesture fell flat. Dr Shaa resolutely continued, ignoring his silent audience, praising the Duke's virtues and stressing that by character and descent he was legally entitled to the throne. But his speech, and those of other preachers in London, met with scant approval from the citizens, whose initial liking for Gloucester had dissolved in the wake of Hastings' execution, the cancelled coronation -- which boded no good -- and what they viewed as an armed threat from the North. Dr Shaa, they felt, was little better than a traitor. Indeed, his sermon wrecked his good reputation as a preacher, and his death in 1484 was attributed by the London Chronicles and More to shame and remorse.

  Nevertheless, both he and other preachers had called for the disinheriting of Edward IV's children on the grounds of that King's

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  alleged bastardy. In making this allegation, Gloucester was well aware that he was defaming the venerable reputation of his aged mother the Duchess of York, who had become a Benedictine nun in 1480 and lived in pious retirement at Berkhamsted Castle. To make matters worse, the Duchess had just arrived in London for her grandson's coronation.

  Allegations of bastardy were common propaganda tools in the fifteenth century. This was not the first time they had been levelled at Edward IV. Mancini's tale that the Duchess, angry in 1464 at her son's marriage to Elizabeth Wydville, had offered to declare him a bastard, dates from 1483 and probably reflects rumours current at that time: it is not supported by contemporary evidence. Both Warwick and Clarence had called Edward IV a bastard for their own political purposes, but without substantiating their claims by evidence. No-one, in 1483, believed the allegations of Dr Shaa and others, but this was scant comfort to the Duchess who, according to Vergil, 'being falsely accused of adultery, complained afterwards in sundry places to right many noble men, whereof some yet live, of that great injury which her son Richard had done her'. It may be that her complaints carried some weight, for the allegations were suddenly dropped and not followed through. We know very little of Gloucester's subsequent relations with his mother; only one letter from him survives, expressing conventional filial devotion. But there is no escaping the fact that he had, to further his own ambitions, publicly insulted and slandered her, an appallingly unfilial act; and in 1484, when the Act 'Titulus Regius' was passed, setting out Richard's title to the throne, he insisted on the allegations of bastardy being indirectly levelled again, having himself described as 'the undoubted son' of York.

  It was obvious in June 1483, however, that this particular horse was not going to run, and necessary therefore that Edward V's unfitness to wear a crown be established by other means. Shortly after the fiasco of Shaa's sermon, Gloucester had it put about that Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Wydville was invalid because he had at the time been contracted to another lady, and that their children were bastards and incapable of inheriting the throne. It was this that was the eventual basis of Gloucester's claim to sovereignty.

  Although the supposed facts of this matter were recorded in 1484 in the Act 'Titulus Regius', the fullest contemporary account of the 'precontract story' was written by Philippe de Commines more than

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  ten years later. According to this, Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, had presented himself before the Council on 8th June and disclosed some astonishing information. He 'discovered to the Duke of Gloucester that his brother King Edward had been formerly very enamoured of a certain English lady and had promised her marriage upon the condition he might lie with her. The lady consented and, as the Bishop affirmed, he married them when nobody was present but they two and himself. His fortune depending on the court, he did not discover it, and persuaded the lady likewise to conceal it, which she did, and the matter remained a secret.' Commines says the Bishop produced 'instruments, authentic doctors, proctors and notaries of the law with depositions of divers witnesses' to prove his story.

  The lady in question was a gentlewoman called Lady Eleanor Butler. Lady Eleanor, whose name first appears linked to Edward IV's in 'Titulus Regius', was described in that Act as the daughter of John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury (1388?-- 1453), although Commines casts doubt on this; an unidentified Sir John Talbot is described in other sources as Eleanor's brother. Her date of birth is recorded as 1435, but this cannot be verified. Around 1449-50 she married Sir Thomas Butler (or Boteler), the son and heir of Ralph, Lord Sudeley, and went to live at Sudeley Castle near Winchcombe, Gloucestershire. Sir Thomas died in 1460-61, leaving Eleanor a childless widow with a legal dispute on her hands. Lord Sudeley had transferred two manors in Warwickshire to his son on his marriage, but had failed to obtain the King's licence to do so beforehand; as a result these manors were confiscated. Shortly after being widowed Eleanor is said to have petitioned Edward IV for their restoration, which was granted her in 1461. This is the only contemporary record of any dealings between her and the King, and if a precontract ever existed between them then it would have dated from the period between Eleanor's widowhood in 1461 and Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Wydville in 1464.

  Lady Eleanor died shortly before 30th June, 1468, the day on which she was buried in the conventual church of
the Carmelites in Norwich. Buck states that she had retired there shortly after giving birth to a child by the King, but there is no contemporary evidence for this. The child, said to have been known at first as Giles Gurney and later on as Edward de Wigmore, was supposed to have been the great-grandfather of Richard Wigmore, secretary to Elizabeth Ps chief minister, Lord

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  Burleigh. Buck also says that Lady Eleanor's family persuaded Stillington to go to Gloucester with the truth.

  But was it the truth? The answer to that question is crucial, and for centuries writers have argued the pros and cons of the matter, and still cannot reach agreement. The overwhelming consideration must be that public acceptance of the invalidity of Edward V's claim to the throne was highly advantageous to Gloucester, who had everything to gain from it. Furthermore, these revelations of Stillington's, if they were made at all, were made at a most convenient time. Indeed, as several writers have pointed out, their very timeliness undermines their credibility. And if we examine the facts of the story, several flaws immediately become apparent.

  Commines was the only contemporary writer to state that the precontract story came from Stillington; English writers do not mention him. The Bishop's allegations are unsubstantiated by any other evidence or source, and none of the proofs he allegedly produced are referred to elsewhere. Commines believed that 'this bad, wicked bishop' had 'kept thoughts of revenge in his heart' because Edward IV had had him imprisoned in 1478, and that this had prompted him to take his story before the Council; he had fallen from favour and hoped to regain it when a grateful Protector became king. Stillington's imprisonment was brief, however, and he had regained some of his former influence. Moreover, Gloucester at no time in the future showed him any mark of favour nor rewarded him as he did his other supporters.

 
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