The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir


  The reign of Richard III, for so the new King was styled, was dated from that day, 26th June, 1483, as he himself confirmed in a letter of 12th October, 1484, referring to it as the date 'when we entered into our just title'. He had ascended the throne with very little blood being spilt, yet his usurpation would lead in a short time to a second outbreak of the War of the Roses and the ultimate destruction of his own House.

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  11. Richard III

  Following the precedent set by Edward IV, Richard III left Baynard's Castle on the day of his accession and rode to Westminster Hall where, according to Croyland, 'he obtruded himself into the marble chair' called the King's Bench. Thus enthroned, he took the sovereign's oath in the presence of a vast gathering that included his magnates, justices and serjeants-at-law, exhorting the latter most sternly to 'justly and duly minister his laws without delay or favour', dispensing justice 'indifferently to every person, as well as to poor as to rich'. He then rode back to Baynard's Castle, saluting and bowing to the people lining the roads: 'A mind that knoweth itself guilty is in a manner dejected to a servile flattery,' commented More. In the evening the new King rode to St Paul's to hear the heralds proclaim his title. On this occasion he received an enthusiastic reception 'with great congratulation and acclamation of all the people in every place', according to a letter of Lord Dynham, Captain of Calais. How much of this was dictated by fear, how much was flattery and self-seeking, and how much the momentum of the occasion it is impossible to tell, but since the beginning of June the Londoners had been distinctly cool towards their former protector.

  The manner of Richard Ill's usurpation of the throne revealed traits in his character hitherto suspected only by a few. Many had praised him for his courage, his blameless private life and his loyalty to his brother. Now that much-vaunted loyalty had been proved to be merely skin-deep: Edward IV had not been dead three months yet Richard had

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  already branded him a bastard and a bigamist, attacked his government, and disinherited his children. Croyland and other contemporary observers all make much of Richard's duplicity, and Croyland in particular constantly implies that Richard's public image of an upright, principled monarch was a sham which concealed his innate dishonesty and deceitfulness. More also stresses the contradictions between what Richard said and what he actually did. Mancini states he was renowned for concealing his real faults, and his tone suggests he believed the King to be a crafty villain. He was, says More, 'close and secret'. Rous accuses Richard III of being 'excessively cruel' and even likens him to the antichrist, and Commines records that Louis XI of France, who was not the nicest of men, condemned Richard as 'extremely cruel and evil'. More calls him 'malicious, wrathful, envious and ever froward'.

  Nevertheless, Richard III did possess great abilities and potential as a ruler. Croyland says he carried out all his enterprises 'swiftly and with the utmost vigilance', but even this had its darker side, according to Vergil, who asserts that the King was 'a man much feared for his circumspection and celerity'.

  There were still those who found much to praise in him. Two men who met him in 1484 were decidedly impressed: Nicholas von Poppelau spoke of him having 'a great heart', and Archibald Whitelaw, the Scots envoy, declared he had 'so much spirit and great virtue'. Undoubtedly Richard had a charismatic charm that he could exert when he wished to; there are many still in thrall to it today. More praise came from Pietro Carmeliano who, in his introduction to his Life of St Catherine (1484), eulogised Richard in the conventional manner then adopted in such works:

  For justice, who can we reckon above him throughout the world? If we contemplate the prudence of his service, both in peace and in waging war, who shall we judge his equal? If we look for truth of soul, for wisdom, for loftiness of mind united with modesty, who stands before our King Richard? What emperor or prince can be compared with him in good works or munificence?

  Undoubtedly this was the persona that Richard meant the world to perceive; it should be remembered, however, that the book was dedicated to Sir Robert Brackenbury, one of Richard's most devoted

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  supporters, and was hardly likely to contain anything less than flattering to Brackenbury's patron.

  The high moral tone of Richard's propaganda was in glaring contrast to his private life. Early in his reign he declared to his bishops that 'his principal intent and fervent desire is to see virtue and cleanness of living to be advanced, and vices provoking the high indignation and fearful displeasure of God to be repressed. And this put in execution by persons of high estate,' who would show 'persons of low degree to take thereof example'. Less high-minded were his attacks on the morality of his opponents. No king before him had used the propaganda of character assassination to discredit his enemies, and Richard's preoccupation with other people's sinfulness seems on the face of it almost to have bordered on the obsessive or prurient. One proclamation offering rewards for the capture of certain traitors was titled 'Proclamation for the reform of morals', and reads more like an attack on illicit sexuality than a condemnation of treason. Elizabeth Shore's humiliating penance at Paul's Cross was another example. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that Richard felt any real concern for public morality beyond affecting an interest to enhance his own reputation and using accusations of immorality as a propaganda weapon to destroy the reputations of his enemies.

  Mancini speaks of Gloucester's 'blameless morals', referring to his private life, of which little is known but enough to prove him a hypocrite. He had bastards, born probably before his marriage, and it is true that there are no references to him keeping a mistress for many years after it. But there is evidence that Richard's morals were not all they were vaunted to be. In September 1483 Bishop Thomas Langton, who had a good opinion of the King, wrote a letter in English praising him to the Prior of Christ Church, Canterbury. Yet in that same letter is a Latin postscript, so written because it refers to a subject of some delicacy. Unfortunately this part of the letter is damaged by damp and barely decipherable now, but what it appears to say, in translation, is: 'I do not take exception to the fact that his sensuality [voluptas] appears to be increasing.' And there is other evidence, which will be discussed in Chapter Seventeen, that Richard was not faithful to his wife after his accession.

  But if the new King was a hypocrite in his private life, he appeared to be no such thing in his spiritual life. 'Which of our princes shows a

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  more genuine piety?' asked Carmeliano. Certainly Richard III professed a deep and genuine religious faith in the conventional Catholic form: he conscientiously attended to his devotions, went on pilgrimages to religious shrines, was a most generous benefactor to many religious houses, such as Durham Cathedral, and founded eighteen chantries. He also cherished an ambition to go on a crusade against the Turks. The Convocation of Canterbury commended him for having a 'most noble and blessed disposition' towards the Church.

  Richard also owned a number of devotional books, all of which he acquired second-hand and all, save one, in English, which indicates that they were for private reading and of significance to him. They included a copy of the first version (c.1390) of John Wycliffe's English translation of the New Testament, which had been banned in England as heretical -- it bears Richard's signature, 'A vo me ly Gloucestre', and is now in the New York Public Library. There was also an account of The Visions of St Matilda, inscribed 'Anne Warrewyk' and 'R. Gloucestre'. Most interesting of all is Richard's illuminated Book of Hours, his only Latin work, which may have been passed on to him by his wife. After Richard's death it became the property of the Lady Margaret Beaufort, one of his greatest enemies, who was almost certainly responsible for deleting his name from the text and the end page. It is now in Lambeth Palace Library.

  This Book of Hours contains an interesting private prayer, written in English by or for Richard III and dedicated to St Julian, an almost certainly fictitious nobleman who, through mistaken identity, killed his own parents. As penance,
he and his wife founded a refuge for the poor, where one day a mysterious traveller appeared and informed Julian that Christ had accepted his penance. The cult of St Julian was a popular one in western Europe in Richard's time, and many religious foundations were dedicated to him. It appears that Richard's prayer to St Julian was inserted into his Book of Hours by a scribe with indifferent handwriting some time after his accession, and while the sentiments expressed in it were by no means uncommon at the time, they must have held a special significance for the King, for this was, after all, a prayer used in private devotions:

  Deign to release me from the affliction, temptation, grief, infirmity, poverty and peril in which I am held, and give me aid. Show to me

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  and pour out all the glory of Thy Grace. Deign to assuage, turn aside and bring to nothing the hatred they bear towards me. Deign to free me from all the distresses and griefs by which I find myself troubled.

  There is more in the same vein, with the King pleading for aid against his enemies and detractors and, presumably, the threat of invasion from abroad. Then there is a passage that may be especially significant.

  You made me from nothing, and have redeemed me by Thy most wonderful love and mercy from eternal damnation to everlasting life. Because of this I ask You, O most gentle Jesus, to save me from all perils of body and soul and, after the course of this life, deign to bring me to You, the living and true God.

  The references to griefs, enemies and possible invasion date this prayer almost certainly to the year 1485. Richard praises Christ with heartfelt gratitude for having redeemed him from eternal damnation: what, one is tempted to wonder, had he done to merit such damnation? Was it his usurpation of the throne and disinheriting of his brother's progeny? Or was it something far worse? His tyrannical rule had led to the deaths of several innocent men; yet, ask the revisionists, how could such a pious man, with an obvious leaning towards the religious mysticism popular in his day, be capable of acts of tyranny and violence? The fact is that he was indeed capable of them. There are many historical examples of men of genuine faith acting with appalling savagery and tyranny, which they themselves believed were justified. Richard Ill's own contemporaries, Ferdinand of Aragon, Louis XI and Cesare Borgia, took a pragmatic approach to such matters, as he himself did. They lived in a violent, opportunist age, but that did not preclude them professing a sincere devotion to God and the Church.

  Besides being a benefactor of that Church, Richard III was also a generous patron of the arts and learning. His court exceeded his brother's in magnificence, for he was well aware of the political value of impressive ceremonial. He lived in ostentatious luxury and dressed himself in sumptuous imported Italian velvets, cloth of gold, silks and satins, many embroidered and furred with ermine. His preferred colours were crimson, purple and dark blue. Foreign visitors to his

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  court were awed by the splendour. Not only was it an exquisitely dressed court, but also an impressively housed one. Rous praises Richard's achievements as a builder, and there is evidence that the King was interested in architecture. As well as beautifying his own castles at Middleham, Barnard Castle, and Sudeley, after it was confiscated from the Butler family, he made improvements to many royal residences, including Warwick Castle and Nottingham Castle. He also had a great interest in heraldry: in 1484 he founded the College of Arms in London; earlier, Caxton had dedicated his book, The Order of Chivalry, to Richard.

  Musicians from all over Europe came to Richard III in search of preferment, for his cultural and musical interests were well known. The court of Edward IV had been famed for its music, and Richard now built on that reputation, patronising the composers William Pasche and Gilbert Banastre, and taking a special interest in the choir of the Chapel Royal. Queen Anne had her own minstrels as well.

  Scholars, too, sought the King's patronage. He was a notable patron of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and of King's College, Cambridge. He was interested in the study of politics, and employed as his personal chaplain the humanist John Droget. As well as devotional books, Richard also owned volumes on heraldry, war, the art of government, and the works of Chaucer.

  For all his high-minded interests, his piety and his obvious abilities, Richard III was not popular. His usurpation of the throne had been achieved at the cost of his popularity in the South, where his subjects did not approve of the manner in which he had mounted the throne; nor did they believe his claim to it to be lawful. His actions during the weeks leading up to his accession had incurred public opprobrium and dismay, and there is every reason to suppose that many people in England, like the chroniclers of the time, viewed Richard III as an usurper, tyrant and hypocrite. While the Londoners reeled, shocked and stunned by the murder of Hastings and paralysed by fear of the northern troops summoned by their Protector, Richard had seized his advantage and pressed home his claim.

  But now he would have to hold on to what he had taken, and to do that he would need the support of his chief magnates, those men who had helped him rise to his present eminence; men such as Buckingham, Howard and Northumberland, who might all be kept loyal with

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  lavish rewards and the promise of future preferment. The rest of the magnates, moderates and older nobility, who had supported Richard through fear of the consequences to them if they didn't, must now be won over by the example of good government that the King intended to set in order to justify the satisfaction of his ambitions. On these magnates his continuance in his regal office depended, and at the present time they, like his common subjects, resented, feared and distrusted him. Nor was their antipathy solely the result of the disinheriting of Edward IV's children by an uncle who had always professed his profound loyalty to them and their father. It was also a reaction to the insidious promotion by Richard of northerners, a process which had already begun by the time of his accession.

  In the South of England northerners were regarded then as uncouth, brutish, undisciplined savages, a view cemented by the appalling behaviour of Margaret of Anjou's rampaging northern troops who accompanied her south in 1461. Londoners in particular retained horrified memories of them. Fifteenth-century society was insular and localised and therefore northerners were regarded as another race, and a hostile one at that. Yet, from the time of his appointment as Protector, Richard, who had good reason to favour the northerners for their love and loyalty towards him, began appointing them to prestigious court and administrative posts, much to the fury of the southern magnates and the Londoners. On his accession he promoted three of his northern retainers to high office: Sir Francis Lovell became chamberlain of the royal household, Sir Robert Percy became comptroller, and John Kendal of York became Richard's secretary. For a time the King retained the services of Edward IV's household officials, but then he began replacing them with northerners loyal to himself, which gave rise to many complaints and much resentment. He also preferred several northerners to the Council itself, and during his reign over 80 per cent of those made Knights of the Garter were northerners. Richard was seen as almost a northerner himself because he had identified himself so much with northern interests, and this, as much as anything else, was at the root of his unpopularity. It also accounts for much of the hostility of contemporary chroniclers, most of whom came from the South.

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  On the day that Richard ascended the throne, says More, the deposed King Edward V, still in the Tower, 'had it showed to him that he should not reign, but his uncle should have the crown. At which word the Prince, sore abashed, began to sigh, and said, "Alas, I would my uncle would let me have my life yet, though I lose my kingdom."' The boy, continues More, was comforted by the unnamed messenger, who was probably a person of rank and standing, perhaps Lord Howard. More, as we shall shortly see, had good reason to know what was happening in the Tower at that time, and that Edward went in fear of his life, which is independently corroborated by Mancini.

  On 27th June, the King confirmed that Bishop Russell would
continue as chancellor. He then proceeded to reward those who had supported him, meaning to retain their loyalty by his munificence. On 28th June Lord Howard was created Duke of Norfolk and hereditary Earl Marshal of England, and was given half the Mowbray estates. On that same day, Lord Berkeley was given the other half and created Earl of Nottingham. Howard's son Thomas was created Earl of Surrey.

  The dukedom of Norfolk and the earldom of Nottingham had until that day been vested in Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower, by Acts of Parliament passed in 1478 and 1483. These Acts had not been repealed because Parliament had not yet convened, nor had any legislation depriving York of his legitimate status or his honours been passed. The titles, however, had come to him through marriage and not by hereditary right, and thus would not be affected by any Acts disabling York from inheriting the throne. Certainly Howard and Berkeley, as coheirs of Anne Mowbray, had the better claim to the titles, but York's claim, irregular as it was, was enshrined in a law which still stood unchallenged by Parliament.

  Richard III, as we have seen, had no time for legal niceties. He had had his nephews declared illegitimate and probably felt that this was sufficient justification for depriving them of all their other titles and honours. His subjects had not opposed Edward V's deposition and were not likely to protest much about York losing his dukedom to Howard. Some writers have suggested that Richard had murdered York before 28th June, but there is good evidence that he was alive after that date, which will be discussed in due course.

 
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