The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir


  The marriage between Richard III and Elizabeth of York never took place. The rumours that Richard had poisoned his queen so that it could be accomplished made it impossible for him to carry through his plans. The rumours perturbed him deeply, for he had seen their effect in the past and knew that his throne was too unstable to survive another scandal. If he made Elizabeth his queen it would only serve to fuel the rumours and might lose him valuable support when he most needed it.

  The majority of Richard's Council were violently opposed to the marriage. Croyland says that when 'the King's purpose and intention [was] mentioned to some who were opposed thereto, the King was obliged to summon a Council and exculpate himself by denying profusely that such a thing had ever entered his mind. There were some persons however, present on that Council, who very well knew the contrary' -- including, presumably, Croyland himself:

  Those who were most strongly against the marriage were two men whose views even the King himself seldom dared oppose: Sir Richard Ratcliffe and William Catesby. By these persons the King

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  was told to his face that if he did not abandon his intended purpose and deny it by public declaration, all the people of the north, in whom he placed the greatest trust, would rise in rebellion and impute to him the death of the Queen, through whom he had first gained his present high position, in order that he might gratify his incestuous passion for his niece, something abominable before God.

  Again, Croyland is implying a sexual relationship. 'For good measure they brought him 12 doctors of divinity who asserted that the Pope could grant no dispensation in the case of such a degree of consanguinity.' This was not strictly true but in the climate of the time people were willing to believe it.

  Croyland says there were other, more personal, reasons for the objections of Catesby and Ratcliffe. 'It was widely assumed that these two, and others like them, raised so many obstacles out of fear, because if Elizabeth became queen, it would be in her power sooner or later to avenge the deaths of her uncle, Earl Rivers, and her brother Richard [Grey]', and punish those, such as Ratcliffe, who had been involved in their deaths. The very real fear felt by Ratcliffe and Catesby is testimony to the general belief of the councillors that Elizabeth of York was capable of such vengeance. After all, she had not scrupled to involve herself with the King while his wife lay dying. Some councillors feared her because of her Wydville mother and would have placed any obstacle in the way of that faction's return to favour. Some northern councillors had been given confiscated Wydville lands by the King and feared to lose them. Vergil says that the Council was opposed to the marriage mainly because 'the maiden herself opposed the wicked act', but contemporary evidence does not bear this out. Vergil, writing in Tudor times under royal patronage, could hardly have accused the wife of Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII of having wished to marry Richard III; his job as official historian was to exonerate her from all culpability.

  Richard, says Croyland, followed the advice of his councillors. Two weeks after Anne's death, 'a little before Easter, in the great hall of St John's [Hospital at Clerkenwell] and before the Mayor and citizens of London, the King totally repudiated the whole idea in a loud, clear voice.' The Acts of Court of the Mercers Company record that he 'showed his grief and displeasure and said it never came in his thought

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  or mind to marry in such manner-wise, nor willing nor glad of the death of his queen, but as sorry and in heart as heavy as man might be'. He then commanded his subjects to cease all discussion of the matter on pain of his displeasure and imprisonment, while he investigated whence the rumours originated. Letters reiterating his public denial were sent to major towns and cities such as York and Southampton.

  The King's statement was seen as a public humiliation. Few were deceived by it; Croyland says 'people thought it was more because of his advisers' wishes than his own'.

  Hell, it is said, hath no fury like a woman scorned. Richard's public denial that he had ever planned to marry her deprived Elizabeth of York of her lover, her matrimonial prospects, and the crown which she felt was hers by right. Richard probably made it clear that their affair could not continue because of the scandal it would create. She was abandoned and dishonoured with no immediate prospect of ever regaining her rights. Within an indecently short time the King was considering other matches for her, with the Earl of Desmond or the Portuguese Duke of Beja, while he himself was negotiating to marry Juana of Portugal. It was as if the close relationship between them had never existed.

  Not for nothing her mother's daughter, Elizabeth was both ambitious and determined. Twice she had aimed for a crown and twice she had been thwarted, but this second disappointment was made all the more bitter by Richard's rejection of her. Now her infatuation for her uncle metamorphosed into vengeful hatred, and she firmly resolved to place her hopes once more in Henry Tudor and do all in her power to ensure the success of his planned enterprise.

  According to The Song of the Lady Bessy, Elizabeth waylaid Lord Stanley at court and asked him to come secretly to her rooms at night. He refused, whereupon Elizabeth staged a dramatic swoon which made him realise that it might be wiser if he went along with her request. Accompanied only by his esquire, Humphrey Brereton, the author of the poem, he visited Elizabeth in secret and began plotting with her on Henry Tudor's behalf. Elizabeth Wydville, baulked of a restoration to power, joined the conspirators, and together with Margaret Beaufort persuaded Elizabeth to send Henry a letter and a ring to signify that she was still willing to become his wife, should he take the crown. The Song of the Lady Bessy may exaggerate Elizabeth of York's role in the

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  conspiracies that preceded Henry Tudor's invasion, but there is no reason to doubt that she took part in them. It also portrays her as revolted by the idea of marriage with Richard III, and that is probably the impression she desired people to gain, to save her honour and reputation.

  Richard III may well have discovered that Elizabeth was now working against him. Sometime between the end of March and June he sent her to live at the royal household at Sheriff Hutton in Yorkshire. In that secure stronghold she would be out of Henry Tudor's reach should he attack in the South, and away from those persons of whom Richard was suspicious.

  The King now prepared to face his enemy. In June he moved to Nottingham Castle and made it his military headquarters. From there he commanded his magnates to raise armies on his behalf. He was painfully aware that his success in the field would depend on those same magnates staying loyal. In July he dismissed Lord Chancellor Russell and appointed in his place a northerner, Thomas Barrow, Master of the Rolls.

  Many people in England were preparing to support Henry Tudor. Most came from the ranks of the gentry families who had supported Buckingham's rebellion in 1483. Others were Wydville supporters and several Welshmen of note. Those members of the nobility who meant to support Henry were already in France with him, preparing to invade, and the French government was providing financial support.

  On 1st August, 1485, Henry Tudor sailed from Harfleur. He landed at Milford Haven in Wales six days later and marched unopposed via Welshpool, Shrewsbury and Stafford to Lichfield, arriving on 19th August. Richard III learned of the invasion whilst hunting in Sherwood Forest; Croyland says he 'rejoiced' and summoned his forces, promising them they would triumph with ease 'over so contemptible a faction'. On 19th August he left Nottingham and set up his headquarters at Leicester.

  On Sunday 21st August, says Croyland, 'the King left Leicester with great pomp, wearing his diadem on his head'. Knowing that Henry Tudor's army was approaching he set up camp near Ambien Hill, overlooking Redmore Plain, not far from the little town of Market Bosworth. Here, he spent a miserable night. Vergil says he was troubled by nightmares, which Croyland corroborates, telling us of the inauspicious

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  beginning to the day on which battle would be joined. 'At dawn on Monday morning the chaplains were not ready to celebrate mass for King Richard, nor was
any breakfast ready with which to revive the King's flagging spirit. The King, so it was reported, had seen that night, in a terrible dream, a multitude of demons apparently surrounding him, just as he attested in the morning when he presented a countenance which was always drawn but was then even more pale and deathly, and affirmed that the outcome of this day's battle, to whichever side the victory was granted, would totally destroy the kingdom of England.' Diego de Valera, the Spanish envoy, says that a Spanish mercenary warned the King that he had not a hope of winning the battle for those whom he trusted had betrayed him. He answered, 'God forbid that I yield one foot. This day I will perish as king or have the victory.'

  The Battle of Bosworth, which took place that day, 22nd August, 1485, was, says Croyland, 'a most savage battle'. No eyewitness accounts survive, but the evidence we have shows that it was fought on Redmore Plain below Ambien Hill, where the King took up his position and directed his army. The conflict lasted two hours. Henry Tudor did not engage in the fighting but remained under his standard behind the lines. The Stanleys stood off with their forces to the north, to see which way the battle was going before joining it; Richard waited in vain for their support. When the royal forces appeared to be losing the day, Northumberland, who should have intervened with his men on the King's behalf, did nothing. Seeing that his soldiers were struggling, and realising that he had been deserted by those in whom he had trusted, Richard gathered round him a small band of loyal adherents and made one final, desperate charge, bearing down on the red dragon banner of Henry Tudor. He cut down the standard bearer and was about to swoop on Henry himself, but at that point the Stanleys came to Henry's aid, which turned the tide of the battle. Rous says of Richard: 'Let me say the truth to his credit, that he bore himself like a noble soldier and honourably defended himself to his last breath, shouting again and again that he was betrayed, and crying, "Treason! Treason! Treason!"' Croyland records that during the fighting, and not in the act of flight, King Richard was pierced with many mortal wounds, and fell in the field like a brave and most valiant prince'. 'King Richard alone,' says Vergil, 'was killed fighting manfully in the

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  thickest press of his enemies.' 'The children of King Edward,' commented Croyland, had been 'avenged' at last.

  Vergil says that when the news spread that the King was slain, 'all men forthwith threw away their weapons and freely submitted themselves to Henry's obeisance'. 'Providence,' wrote Croyland, 'gave a glorious victory to the Earl of Richmond.' The crown was found where it had rolled under a hawthorn bush -- later a popular Tudor emblem -- and one of the Stanley brothers placed it on Henry Tudor's head, proclaiming him King Henry VII, the first sovereign of the Tudor dynasty. With the death of Richard III, 331 years of Plantagenet rule had come to an end.

  There had been many casualties. Norfolk, Ratcliffe, Brackenbury and nearly 1,000 soldiers were killed. Surrey and Catesby were taken prisoner. Lovell fled and led the life of a fugitive for the next two years. Northumberland offered his allegiance to King Henry.

  When the news of Richard's death and Henry Tudor's accession reached Westminster, London burst into celebration. But in York, the clerk to the City Council recorded that 'King Richard, late mercifully reigning upon us, was, through the great treason of many that turned against him, piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this city.' The available evidence shows, however, that very few other than the prosperous burghers and local gentry whose relationship with Richard had been mutually beneficial, mourned him in York. When he had sent a plea for military aid against Henry Tudor, the city Council sent only eighty men, an insignificant offering from the second greatest city in the realm. Croyland states also that many northerners in whom Richard had placed his trust also deserted at Bosworth.

  Hated though Richard III had been, every chronicler expresses outrage at what happened to his corpse. Croyland says that it 'was found among the slain and many insults were heaped on it, and it was removed to Leicester in an inhuman manner, a halter being put about the neck, as was the custom with condemned felons'. The Great Chronicle says that the King's body was 'despoiled to the skin and, nought being left about him so much as would cover his privy member, he was trussed behind a pursuivant' -- his own herald, Blanche Sanglier -- 'as an hog or other vile beast'. Vergil described the body's

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  'arms and legs hanging down both sides' of the horse. And so, recounts de Valera, 'all besprung with mire and filth', Richard was brought to Leicester when Henry VII entered the town in triumph that evening. The new King ordered the body to be taken to the conventual church of the Franciscan or Grey Friars, where, says de Valera, it was 'covered from the waist downward with a black rag of poor quality [and] exposed there three days to the universal gaze', for all men 'to wonder upon'. Croyland commented acidly that this usage of a human corpse was 'not exactly in accordance with the laws of humanity'.

  Two days later, says the Great Chronicle, Richard III was 'indifferently buried' in an unmarked grave in the choir of the Collegiate Church of St Mary, by the charity of the friars and without, says Vergil, 'any pomp or solemn funeral'. In 1496 Henry VII paid £10 .15 , a paltry sum, for a coloured marble tomb and alabaster effigy to be placed above his rival's grave. This bore a Latin inscription proclaiming that Richard had come to the throne by betraying the trust placed in him as Protector during his nephew's reign.

  During the Reformation of the 1530s the monastery of the Franciscan friars was dissolved and the church despoiled. Richard's tomb was destroyed and his bones disinterred and thrown into the River Soar. They were either lost at that point or recovered and reburied at Bow Bridge: the evidence is conflicting. Richard's coffin is said to have been used as a horse trough in Leicester but had been broken up by 1758 and its pieces used to build the cellar steps in the White Horse Inn. Some ruined walls and foundations are all that is left of the monastery; a car park now occupies most of its site. However, there is a modern memorial stone to Richard III in Leicester Cathedral, put up by the Richard III Society.

  The fall of the House of York and the Plantagenet dynasty may be attributed directly to the fatal effects of Richard Ill's ambition: his usurpation and the murder of the Princes. Had these events not occurred there would have been no need for an opposition party to focus its hopes on Henry Tudor.

  The view of Richard's contemporaries was that God had delivered His judgement upon the King at Bosworth: Richard's death was seen as divine punishment for his crimes. 'In spite of being a powerful

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  monarch,' wrote de Valera, 'Our Lord did not permit his evil deeds to remain unpunished.' 'Thus ended this man with dishonour as he that sought it,' commented the Great Chronicle, 'for had he continued still Protector and had suffered the children to have prospered according to his allegiance and fidelity, he should have been honourably lauded over all, whereas now his fame is darkened and dishonoured as far as he was known.' 'No killing was more charitable,' wrote the Welsh bard Dafydd Llywd. Rous was scathing: 'This King Richard, who was excessively cruel in his days, reigned in the way that antichrist is to reign. His days were ended with no lamentation from his groaning subjects.'

  Hall, writing over fifty years after Richard's death, acknowledged his qualities of courage and leadership and his early loyalty to Edward IV, but commented that his character was perverted by his overweening ambition. More's analysis was even more damning to Richard's reputation, for he held that his ambition had warped all his fundamentally decent feelings and turned him into the tyrannical monster of the 'Black Legend'.

  But for the murder of his nephews, Richard III might have been a successful king, despite his acts of tyranny and his ruthless seizure of the throne. It was the murder of the Princes that gave Henry Tudor his opportunity and which brought down the House of Plantagenet. Thus the murder may be viewed in its wider context as a single event that dramatically changed the course of history.

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  18. A Dark Prince

  Henry
VII made it clear from the first that he came to the throne with the intention of reconciling both Lancastrians and Yorkists and putting old quarrels behind him. His first act as king was to send Sir Robert Willoughby to Sheriff Hutton to pay his respects to Elizabeth of York and escort her to Westminster. Henry meant to keep his oath and marry her, thus bringing about the longed-for alliance between Lancaster and York. He was aware that Elizabeth was widely regarded as the rightful Queen of England and the legitimate heiress of the House of York, and he meant to turn this to his own advantage. Once 'Titulus Regius' was repealed and he was married to her, his title could not be disputed.

  Henry and Elizabeth, both descendants of Edward III, were within the forbidden degrees of consanguinity, however, and until a dispensation for the marriage could be granted, Henry was vulnerable to potential conspiracies on behalf of the Earl of Warwick, the last direct descendant in the male line from Edward III. Although there was no Salic Law in England, the concept of a female sovereign was repugnant to most people, and there were those who might look to the heir male of the House of York in preference to the man whom Richard III had aptly described as 'an unknown Welshman'. Henry VII knew he was by no means secure on the throne, and therefore entrusted Willoughby with a second mission, that of secretly escorting the ten-year-old Warwick to the Tower of London to forestall would-be abduction attempts. Deprived of the society of all save his gaolers the boy was to

 
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