The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir

  On 3rd October, 1483, Henry Tudor's fleet sailed from Brittany but a storm drove his ships back and kept them in port. From then on, nothing went as planned for the conspirators. Those in Kent rose prematurely on 10th October, their aim being to march on London. Unfortunately for the rebels, Norfolk was in the capital, and hearing of their advance he speedily raised a force and blocked the Thames crossing at Gravesend, thwarting their plans. The Duke then sent an urgent letter to the King in Lincolnshire, warning him what was afoot and breaking the news of Buckingham's treachery, which had been disclosed to him by captured rebel leaders, along with details of the planned rebellion.

  Richard III entered Lincoln on 11h October and there, the next day, he received Norfolk's letter. Its contents shocked him deeply: he had not guessed that Buckingham had abandoned him, and the news came as a blow. Croyland says Richard received more information 'by


  means of spies', and in a very short time 'the whole design of this plot became perfectly well-known to [him], who exerted himself in no drowsy manner, but with the greatest alacrity and vigilance'. Thanks to the premature rising in Kent, Richard had time to take effective measures against the rebels. He 'contrived that, throughout Wales, armed men should be set in readiness around the Duke, as soon as ever he had set foot from his home, to pounce upon all his property'.

  On 12th October Richard sent to Lord Chancellor Russell in London for the Great Seal, informing him that 'here is all well and truly determined, for to resist the malice of him that had best cause to be true, the Duke of Buckingham, the most untrue creature living. We assure you there never was false traitor better purveyed for.' Three days later Buckingham was publicly proclaimed a rebel and a traitor; on the same day violent gales swept across Wales and the West Country.

  Buckingham was not yet aware that the King had learned of his treachery. On 18th October, the day on which Henry Tudor again sailed from France, the Duke raised his standard and, defying the gales, marched south towards the River Severn, planning to cross it and link up with the conspirators in the South-West, who had also risen as planned on that day. The next day the King sent proclamations to the South and West, advising the people that £1,000 would be given as a reward for the capture of Buckingham, and naming Morton, Dorset and others traitors. Meanwhile, Buckingham's neighbour, Sir Thomas Vaughan, had seized the Duke's stronghold at Brecknock for the King. Further proclamations were issued by Richard from Leicester on 23rd October: one, typically, accused Dorset of immorality and adultery with 'Shore's wife'. At around this time in Bodmin, Cornwall, it appears that a group of rebels actually proclaimed Henry Tudor king. Certainly, from this time on he adopted the royal style, signing his letters 'Henricus Rex' or 'H.R.'. On 24th October, Richard III left Leicester with an army and marched south, hoping to intercept Buckingham's forces and prevent them from meeting up with the rebels in the South West.

  The gales, however, had accomplished his task for him. Ten days of storms and torrential rain had left the countryside flooded, with houses and bridges swept away; many people had drowned. Buckingham's men, who were mostly unwilling Welsh conscripts who bore him several grudges, grew demoralised and resentful and eventually


  deserted him. Left alone in the Forest of Dean he took shelter with one of his tenants, Ralph Banastre, who betrayed him. The Duke, says Croyland, was 'discovered in the cottage of a poor man', and was delivered to the King's men at Salisbury on 1st November by the Sheriff of Shropshire.

  By then, the rebellion had collapsed; some leaders were taken, and the rest fled, either abroad or to sanctuary. In the confusion, Morton had escaped from Brecknock, later making his way secretly to Henry Tudor in Brittany. Buckingham's five-year-old son Edward was smuggled to safety by his nurse, who shaved his head and dressed him as a girl. On 2nd November, two of Henry Tudor's ships landed at Plymouth, but when Henry learned of the collapse of the rebellion he sailed back to Brittany at once, there to meet up with Dorset, the Courtenays and a considerable number of other refugees from England, including Lionel Wydville, who died soon afterwards.

  Buckingham was not so lucky. Croyland says that the King came to Salisbury with a very large army. A trial took place and Buckingham was sentenced to death. He begged an audience of the King before he died, but Richard refused to see him. Many years later the Duke's son alleged that his father had planned to stab Richard III with a hunting knife. Croyland, as a churchman, was outraged that the King gave the order for the execution to go ahead that same day, a Sunday: 'Notwithstanding the fact that it was the Lord's day, the Duke suffered capital punishment in the market place of that city.'

  Vergil states that the King had several other conspirators executed, 'even of his own household', but only six are known to have perished at Tyburn as well as St Leger, Richard's brother-in-law, at Exeter. When Parliament met in 1484 it passed so many Acts of Attainder that, says Croyland, 'we do not read of the like being issued by the Triumvirate of Octavius, Antony and Lepidus. What immense estates and patrimonies were collected into the King's treasury in consequence of this measure!' A hundred people, including Henry Tudor and Buckingham retrospectively, were attainted, representing one-quarter of all attainders passed in fifty years. One-third were later pardoned by the King; their offices, however, were distributed amongst at least 100 of 'his northern adherents, whom he planted in every spot throughout his dominions, to the disgrace and lasting and loudly-expressed sorrow of all the people in the South, who daily longed more and more for the


  hoped-for return of their ancient rulers rather than the present tyranny of these people'. This was one of the chief factors prompting a steady trickle of defectors to join Henry Tudor in Brittany, a trend that would escalate as time went on.

  Although Richard punished Yorkists formerly loyal to Edward IV, Wydville partisans and Lancastrian diehards, he made no move against Elizabeth Wydville and her kinsfolk; in fact he offered clemency to Dorset, Morton and Richard Wydville. This may, however, have been a trap, and they wisely stayed in Brittany. Margaret Beaufort fared worse. She was attainted, but the Rolls of Parliament record that 'the King, of his especial grace, remembering the good and faithful service that Thomas, Lord Stanley, has done and intends to do for him', and not daring to offend Stanley, for he now needed all the support he could muster from the peers, 'for his sake remits the great punishment of attainder on the said Countess that she deserves'. Instead, her servants were removed from her, she was disabled in law from owning any property, her estates were declared forfeit to her husband and she was placed under his jurisdiction. Henceforth she was known merely as Lady Stanley. These strictures, however, did not prevent Margaret Beaufort from continuing to work in secret against the King by spreading further rumours, nor from embarking on a campaign to convert Stanley to her way of thinking and win his support for her son.

  Stanley was given Buckingham's former office of Lord High Constable and remained in favour. However his wife's persuasions eventually had the desired effect and brought about his gradual alienation from the King. Richard, obviously, did not trust him; indeed, he would shortly have cause to regret his clemency to Lady Stanley.

  On 25th November, 1483, Richard returned in triumph to London. He now appeared invincible, but this was largely an illusion: the rumours about the princes had cost him many supporters, high and low, and he could not rely on the loyalty of those left to him. Buckingham's fall had brought to prominence three great magnates, Norfolk, Stanley and Northumberland, and the King meant to retain their support, even if he had to buy it. Towards those who had opposed him in the past he would from now on adopt a policy of conciliation, winning over some with lucrative offices and grants. It was also essential to gain, if not the love, then the approval of the people, and to this end Richard made, in the months ahead, strenuous efforts to


  present an image of himself as a sovereign worthy of respect, a man of high morals and political integrity, keen to up
hold the liberties of Church and State, a man whose patronage it would be worth seeking. Richard hoped to establish himself as a popular ruler before his enemies had time to retrench for a further attack on him.

  Nevertheless he was acutely aware of the insecurity of his position and conscious of the fact that there were two potential focuses for rebellion: the former Queen and her daughters in sanctuary and Henry Tudor in Brittany. Of the two, Henry Tudor was the more dangerous, for the rebellion had greatly strengthened his position as the Lancastrian pretender to the throne and his presence in Brittany was acting as a magnet to all those who were dissatisfied with Richard III, a steadily increasing number. Already Henry had established a court in exile, and it seemed certain that one day he would make another bid for the crown, perhaps with the aid of a European power hostile to Richard.

  This was exactly what Henry Tudor intended. To establish his position clearly in the eyes of his supporters and the world at large, on Christmas Day, 1483, as Richard III was keeping the festival of the Nativity with great solemnity and splendour at Westminster, Henry made a solemn vow in Rennes Cathedral that as soon as he should be king he would marry Elizabeth of York. Afterwards his supporters, many of them prominent Yorkists, swore to be loyal to each other before kneeling to Henry and paying him homage as though he had been already crowned king. They then swore they would one day return to England and overthrow the tyrant Richard. This ceremony was intended to inspire others to join Henry's cause and to bring over to his side those Yorkists who were loyal to the line of Edward IV, thus uniting them with the Lancastrian faction.

  It was a masterful move, but it would not, and could not, have happened if Henry and-his supporters had not by then been certain that the Princes in the Tower were in truth dead.


  16. An Especial Good Lord

  By January, 1484, it was widely believed, not only in England but in France also, that Richard III had murdered his nephews. The new French king, Charles VIII, was a minor, as Edward V had been, and his elder sister, Anne de Beaujeu, had been appointed Regent. However, certain French nobles were reluctant to accept her as such and on 15th January the Estates General met at Tours for the purpose of bringing them to heel. On that day Guillaume de Rochefort, Chancellor of France, a grave and learned man not given to flights of fancy, addressed the assembly, and these nobles in particular, warning them of the perils of a minority, reminding them of what had happened in England:

  Look, I pray you, at the events that have taken place in that country since the death of King Edward. Think of his children, already big and strong, murdered with impunity and the crown transferred to their murderer by the will of the people.

  Rochefort was obviously reminding the French government of what they already knew, and his statements may have been based not only on the gossip then infiltrating the court of Europe but also on high-level intelligence that has not survived. It is also possible that he had spoken with Mancini, who is known to have been his friend. Mancini had stayed at Beaugency in December 1483 when Rochefort had been nearby on the King's business. It is likely that the two men


  met and that Mancini passed on what information he had about the Princes; the subject was highly topical just then on account of the rumours seeping in from England. However, when Mancini wrote his account of Richard Ill's usurpation that December he referred only to rumours current in London before mid July 1483. Rochefort must therefore have had something more to go on, but it is notable that he assumed that the murder had taken place before Richard's accession. There is no doubt that he spoke with conviction, not only because he believed he was speaking the truth, but also because he welcomed the opportunity to vilify Richard III, who had been unpopular in France since he had advocated the revival of England's dynastic claims to that kingdom.

  In England, on 23rd January, 1484, the only Parliament of Richard Ill's reign met at Westminster and passed the Act of Settlement known as 'Titulus Regius', formally confirming the King's title to the crown. Its purpose was to remove 'all doubts and seditious language' and to quieten men's minds, but many were strongly critical of its legality. Croyland, a canon lawyer himself, wrote: 'Although that lay court found itself unable to give a definition of his rights, since matrimonial law was at issue, this body of laymen was not qualified to pronounce on the matter; nevertheless, even the stoutest were so swayed by fear that Parliament presumed to do so, took that power upon itself, and did so pronounce.' The difficulty was that Parliament had no jurisdiction to determine the validity of Edward IV's marriage: only an ecclesiastical court could do that. But the members were cowed into overturning all legal precedent for fear of the King's vengeance. After the Act was passed, Edward, Prince of Wales was recognised by Parliament as heir to the throne.

  The legislation passed by Richard Ill's Parliament was seen retrospectively as wise and beneficial. In 1525 Cardinal Wolsey was informed by the Lord Mayor of London that 'although the King did evil, yet in his time were many good Acts made'. Francis Bacon called Richard 'a good law maker' who legislated 'for the ease and solace of the common people'. However, it is not known how far Richard was personally responsible for these laws, which provided for the first legal-aid system in England, bail for offenders, the reform of oppressive land-tenure laws, the regulation of qualifications for jury service, and the abolition of livery and maintenance practices and of the hated


  'benevolences', the system whereby wealthy men were forced to make financial gifts to the Crown. This last was a very popular measure, enacted in response to public opinion and Richard III may well have intended it to be a placatory measure to keep the magnates in check and boost public support and his own popularity. But the people who benefited most from the majority of the new laws were the lower orders of society and this left the magnates, on whom Richard depended, disgruntled and dissatisfied, and the King no more popular than he had been before.

  Richard III was an energetic and efficient ruler with many qualities of leadership. In 1484 he proclaimed to the men of Kent that he was 'utterly determined that all his true subjects shall live in rest and quiet and peaceably enjoy their lands, according to the laws of this, his land'. Rous, writing in Richard's reign, called him 'an especial good lord. He ruled his subjects in his realm full commendably.' Other commentators also praised his abilities as a sovereign. He was hard-working and generally lenient. Because of his preoccupation -- or obsession -- with security, he was forced to employ conciliatory policies and to make constant bids for popularity, doubtless hoping that in time he might overcome the prejudices of his subjects. But it was already too late for this. Public feeling was against him, fuelled by the promotion of northerners and the dark rumours about the Princes. Men imputed a cynical motive to whatever he did, and late in 1484 he became even more unpopular when, short of money, he was obliged to extort forced loans from his wealthier subjects, which were equivalent to the benevolences he himself had declared illegal. Croyland thought this scandalous because the King had 'openly condemned' such practices in Parliament. Now he was being 'careful to avoid any use of the word benevolence'. 'Oh, God,' lamented Croyland, seizing the opportunity to enlarge upon Richard's shortcomings, 'why should we any longer dwell on this subject, multiplying our recital of things so distasteful and so pernicious in their example that we ought not so much as to suggest them? So, too, with other things which are not written in this book, and of which I grieve to speak.' Was Croyland, that most discreet of chroniclers, referring here to the Princes?

  Elizabeth Wydville, meanwhile, remained in sanctuary with her daughters. The failure of Buckingham's rebellion had extinguished her hopes of a return to power, and the punishment of her allies had left


  her isolated and demoralised. She had now been confined for nine months and must have found her life tedious in the extreme. Even so, she undoubtedly regarded sanctuary as a place of safety and showed no sign of leaving it. This caused embarrassment to the
King, who was doing his best to convince his people that his rule was benevolent and conciliatory. He was also aware that many of his subjects regarded Elizabeth of York as the rightful Queen of England, and he was consequently determined to obtain custody of her. Besides, if she was at court he could arrange a suitable marriage for her and thus put her beyond the reach of Henry Tudor. Elizabeth Wydville's refusal to leave sanctuary was a constant thorn in Richard's side, and early in 1484 he made up his mind to do something about it. However, his cause was prejudiced from the first because not only had Parliament just enacted a Statute confiscating Elizabeth Wydville's property, leaving her penniless, but also, says Vergil, because the 'grave men' sent by the King to persuade the former Queen to leave Westminster Abbey with her daughters upset her by referring to the death of her sons, which amounted to official confirmation that they were dead.

  Croyland states that Richard's emissaries used 'frequent entreaties and threats' and 'strongly solicited' Elizabeth Wydville to comply with the King's wishes, while Rous says she was 'harassed by repeated intercessions and dire threats'. It soon became alarmingly clear that the Sanctuary could no longer be regarded as a place of refuge, since Richard would obviously not hesitate to use force to remove her and her daughters if she resisted him. This was the main reason why, in the end, the Queen agreed to compromise by sending her daughters 'from the Sanctuary at Westminster to King Richard', but only, says Vergil, after being promised 'mountains' by him after she had shown signs of weakening. In striking such a bargain she showed herself to be both a realist and a pragmatist.

Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]