The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir


  In the spring of 1464 Edward was on his way north to put down successfully a rising in favour of Henry VI. On the way he stayed at Stony Stratford, from whence he rode -- on the pretext of going hunting -- to Lord Rivers's manor at Grafton. Here, early in the morning of 1st May, he was married to Elizabeth, with only the priest, the Duchess of Bedford and three others as witnesses. Then the King went back to Stony Stratford and only returned late at night when, with her mother's connivance, Elizabeth came secretly to his bed. A little known contemporary French chronicler called du Clercq implies that this was not the first time they had slept together, but the English chroniclers are silent on the subject.

  The marriage, predictably, proved to be very unpopular. Lord Wenlock told the Burgundian ambassador that the King's announcement of it had been the cause of 'great displeasure to many great lords, and especially to the larger part of all his Council'. Jean de Waurin, the

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  French chronicler, says the Council told the King to his face 'that she was not his match, however good and however fair she might be, and he must know well that she was no wife for a prince such as himself, for she was not the daughter of a duke or earl, but her mother had married a simple knight, so that though she was the child of a duchess and a niece of the Count of St Pol, still she was no wife for him'.

  The marriage also caused divisions within the royal family. Mancini even asserted, some years later, that the King's own mother, the Duchess of York, 'fell into such a frenzy that she offered to submit to a public enquiry and asserted that Edward was not the offspring of her husband but was conceived in adultery, and therefore in no wise worthy of the honour of kingship'; this tale, however, features nowhere in contemporary accounts. Mancini says that both the King's younger brothers, the Dukes of Clarence and Gloucester, were 'sorely displeased at the marriage', especially Clarence, the King's heir-presumptive, who 'vented his wrath more conspicuously by his bitter and public denunciation of Elizabeth's obscure family'. Gloucester, 'being better at concealing his thoughts', kept quiet.

  The person who was offended most by the marriage was Warwick, who had urged the French alliance. The Earl soon had further cause for anger because the King rapidly promoted Elizabeth's large and rapacious family, 'to the exaltation of the Queen and the displeasure of the whole realm'. This led to the creation of a powerful new faction at court which quickly came to rival the influence of the Nevilles.

  The Wydvilles were never popular. Mancini says they were 'detested by the nobles because they, who were ignoble and newly-made men, were advanced beyond those who far excelled them in breeding and wisdom'. Elizabeth's father was created Earl Rivers, her son Thomas Grey was married to the King's niece and later made Marquess of Dorset, and her brother Lionel was appointed Bishop of Salisbury. Another brother, John, aged only twenty, made -- according to a contemporary letter quoted in James Gardner's Letters and Papers Illustrative of the Reigns of Richard III and Henry VII -- 'a diabolical marriage' with the aged Duchess of Norfolk, 'a slip of a girl' of sixty-seven. Most of Elizabeth's sisters made brilliant marriages amongst the nobility, including Katherine, whose resentful bridegroom was the Queen's ward, Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, a descendant of Edward III. All of these marriages and elevations were made 'to the secret

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  displeasure of the Earl of Warwick and the magnates of England'.

  The divisions created by Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Wydville were therefore critical; they not only helped to bring about the eventual rift between Edward and Warwick, but they would also split the Yorkist party and lead directly to the downfall of the dynasty.

  As for the woman who was the cause of all this havoc, her contemporaries observed that she was outwardly 'lovely looking and feminine smiling, neither too wanton nor too humble'. Humble she most certainly was not, but Mancini thought her 'an undistinguished woman promoted to exalted rank', while Sir Francis Bacon had no doubt that she was 'a busy and negotiating woman'. She was also wily, vengeful, arrogant, greedy and ruthless. All commentators, however, are agreed on her beauty: she was 'moderate of stature and well made', having very long pale gold hair and ice-blue eyes. Two remarkable portraits of her survive: one is a wooden panel in Queen's College, Cambridge (which she co-founded), which is a copy after an original of c.1464, possibly by John Stratford. The other is a stained-glass portrait, one of a series of Edward IV's family, in the Great North Window of Canterbury Cathedral. Crafted by William Neve around 1482, it was badly damaged by the Puritans in 1642, and the faces of the King and Queen are the only surviving originals; those of their children have been restored. Elizabeth's is striking in its beauty.

  Elizabeth was crowned in 1465, and bore three daughters in succession -- Elizabeth in 1466, Mary in 1467 and Cecily in 1469. Throughout these years relations between the King and Warwick deteriorated steadily, the situation worsening after 1468 when Edward, far from concluding the French alliance that Warwick still urged, made a treaty with the Duke of Burgundy, who married Edward's sister Margaret that year. Warwick, seeing his power corroded, began to intrigue against his master, and in 1469 he allied himself to Clarence, initially with a view to gaining control of the King and ruling through him.

  Clarence was then twenty, tall, fair and regal. He had a surface charm and, according to Mancini, 'a mastery of popular eloquence', but these barely masked a weak, discontented and vicious character. Edward had been very generous to his brother, but Clarence was jealous of him and hungry for power. Warwick now bolstered Clarence's pretensions by offering to overthrow Edward, make him king, and marry him to Isabella, one of his two daughters who, as Warwick had no son, were

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  the greatest heiresses in England. Edward had consistently refused requests to marry them by both his brothers, foreseeing that such alliances would enhance the already disconcerting power of the Nevilles, and naturally this had given Warwick further cause for grievance. In July 1469 Clarence openly defied the King and married Isabella in Calais. Then he and Warwick sailed back to England, where Edward IV was defeated and taken prisoner at the Battle of Edgecote. After this battle, Warwick had the Queen's father, Lord Rivers, and her brother, John Wydville, beheaded, and spread the story that Edward IV was a bastard, the son of Duchess Cecily and an archer called Blaybourne.

  In late 1469, problems on the Scottish border engaged Warwick's attention and his resources and forced him to release Edward IV. By the spring of 1470 the King had regained control of the government and denounced Warwick and Clarence as traitors. They fled abroad and began plotting with Louis XI for the restoration of Henry VI. Warwick made an unlikely alliance with Margaret of Anjou, and together they invaded England on 13th September.

  At that time, Queen Elizabeth was in the Tower of London, seven months pregnant with her fourth child. She had prepared a luxurious chamber in the royal apartments for her confinement, but was destined never to use it, for on 1st October she learned that the King and his brother Gloucester had fled to the Low Countries. Four days later Warwick and Clarence entered London, and the Queen secretly left the Tower to take refuge in the Sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. The feeble Henry VI was restored to the throne that same day and transferred from his prison in the Tower to the opulent rooms prepared for the Queen.

  The Sanctuary was almost deserted when Elizabeth arrived with her three daughters and her mother, 'in great penury and forsaken of all friends'. But the Abbot of Westminster, Thomas Millyng, into whose charge the Queen entrusted herself, was a kindly man, placing the three best rooms in his own house at her disposal and providing her with several things 'for her comfort'. A London butcher, John Gould, donated half a beef and two muttons each week 'for the sustention of her household', and her Italian physician, Dr Serigo, visited regularly. These details are recorded in a letter written by Edward IV to the Lord Privy Seal in 1473. Yet for all these comforts Elizabeth was painfully

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  aware that she was in what the chronicler John Warkworth called '
great trouble', and that there was an ever-present threat from the new regime.

  It was not the most auspicious time to give birth, but on the night of 2nd November, 1470, 'she was lighted of a fair prince' whom she named Edward after his father. The Council had magnanimously paid Lady Scrope £20 to assist at the birth, and Old Mother Cobb, the Sanctuary midwife, delivered the child. His birthdate is verified by a later grant to him of the issues of the duchy of Cornwall, backdated to 2nd November, 1470, 'on which day he was born'. Edward came into the world, says Commines, 'in poor estate', and his baptism by the Sub-Prior of Westminster in the Abbot's House was carried out 'without pomp' and with no more ceremony than if he had been a poor man's son. The Abbot and Prior were godfathers, and the Duchess of Bedford and Lady Scrope godmothers.

  The Queen and her children remained in the Sanctuary 'in the greatest jeopardy that ever they stood', according to the French chronicler Jean de Waurin, for five more months until, in March 1471, Edward IV, with financial aid from Burgundy, invaded England. Many rallied to his cause and, through the good offices of their mother, Edward was reconciled to his brother Clarence, who had now realised that there was little to be gained from supporting Henry VI. When he reached Dunstable, Edward sent a message to his wife to comfort her. Then he marched on London, which, on 11th April, opened its gates to him and declared its loyalty. Henry VI was deposed that same day and returned to prison in the Tower.

  By the King's order the Queen and her children were brought that day from the Sanctuary to the Palace of Westminster, where they were reunited with him. Fleetwood's Chronicle describes how he comforted the Queen, who carried their son, 'wherewith she presented her husband, to his heart's singular comfort and gladness'. Edward kissed all his daughters 'full tenderly', and took the infant Prince, 'his greatest joy', in his arms, weeping as he did so. Then, after a night spent at Baynard's Castle, he had his wife and children escorted to the Tower for their own safety, for the realm was not yet won back. Warwick, Margaret of Anjou, and the heir to Lancaster were still at large.

  On 14th April, Easter Sunday, Edward scored a victory at the Battle of Barnet, in which Warwick lost his life. Then the King marched west

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  in pursuit of Queen Margaret, whose army he encountered at Tewkesbury on 4th May. A bloody battle ensued, which resulted in the deaths of the last of the male Beauforts and the 17-year-old Prince Edward of Lancaster. Most contemporary sources state the Prince was killed in the battle, but Croyland says he died 'either on the field or after the battle by the avenging hands of certain persons'. Vergil says that Gloucester, Clarence and Lord Hastings killed him in the King's presence. This may well be true, and would explain Croyland's reticence in naming names, especially that of Edward IV.

  After the battle Margaret of Anjou was taken prisoner, being later ransomed by Louis XI. She returned to France, where she died in poverty in 1482.

  On 21st May Edward IV entered London in triumph, to an enthusiastic reception. Commines says this was due to three things: the birth of an heir to York, the hopes of the City merchants that he would now be able to repay the loans he had forced them to give him, and the efforts of 'the ladies of quality and rich citizens' wives, with whom he had formerly intrigued', who 'forced their husbands to declare themselves on his side'.

  Edward had come into his own again; the immediate threat from Lancaster had been removed and all was set fair for a period of stable government. Later that year he would create his son Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester (he had been Duke of Cornwall at his birth), and would handsomely reward Abbot Millyng, Butcher Gould, Mother Cobb and Dr Serigo, all of whom had succoured his queen during her stay in sanctuary.

  When Edward IV returned to London that May there was just one unpleasant task remaining to be done -- one that could not wait.

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  3. Richard of Gloucester

  In May, 1471, Henry VI was still a prisoner in the Tower of London, and it was here, according to the reliable contemporary chronicler John Warkworth, that he was 'put to death, the xxi day of May, being a Tuesday night, between eleven and twelve of the clock, being then at the Tower the Duke of Gloucester, brother to King Edward, and many other. And on the morrow he was chested and brought to [St] Paul's, and his face was open that every man might see him, and in his lying he bled on the pavement there. And afterwards at the Black Friars was brought, and there he bled new and fresh. And from thence he was carried to Chertsey Abbey in a boat, and buried there in Our Lady's chapel.'

  The murder of Henry VI was committed in strict secrecy, and it was given out officially by the Government that, upon learning of the death of his son and the capture of his wife, he had taken 'to so great despite, ire and indignation that, of pure displeasure and melancholy he died'. This fooled no one. A corpse that bled profusely on the pavement had not died of displeasure, as anyone could see. And that Henry VI died violently was borne out by the examination of his remains in 1910: the medical report in Archaeologia states that his skull was 'much broken', as if it had been crushed by a blow, and still had attached to it some hair, 'apparently matted with blood'. There was, both in 1910 and in 1471, little doubt in anyone's mind that Henry VI had been murdered. The Milanese ambassador in England informed the King of France almost at once that Edward IV had 'caused King Henry to be secretly

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  assassinated at the Tower. He has, in short, chosen to crush the seed.'

  Croyland, writing in 1486, says, with his usual reticence: 'I shall say nothing about the discovery of King Henry's lifeless body in the Tower of London. May God have mercy upon, and give time for repentance to, him, whoever he may be, who dared to lay sacrilegious hands on the Lord's Anointed! Let the doer merit the name of tyrant.' Croyland's use of the word 'tyrant' must mean that he is referring to a ruler, namely Edward IV, who had without doubt given the order for Henry VI's murder. But, as the Great Chronicle states, 'the common fame went that the Duke of Gloucester was not altogether guiltless', and Warkworth's significant mention of Gloucester's presence in the Tower on the night of the murder seems to infer that the Duke was somehow implicated -- otherwise, why mention him at all? Commines says that Gloucester 'killed this good man with his own hands, or at least had him killed in his presence in some hidden, obscure place'; Carmeliano, in 1486, made a similar accusation, and John Rous, writing before 1490, stated that Gloucester 'caused others to kill the holy man, or, as many think, did so by his own hand'. Fabyan has Gloucester stabbing Henry with a dagger, while Vergil says he 'killed him with a sword, whereby his brother might be delivered from all fear of hostility'. And More says that Richard slew Henry VI 'without commandment or knowledge of the King'. All these writers found it credible that Gloucester had been guilty of committing the murder.

  Bernard Andre alone stated what was probably nearest the truth -that Gloucester arranged the murder of Henry VI at Edward IV's command. Only the King himself could have given the order for the killing in cold blood of a crowned and anointed monarch, whose death would give him such a political advantage. Gloucester, as Constable of England, would have had the duty of conveying those orders to the Tower and ensuring that they were carried out. Thus far he was almost certainly involved in the murder.

  We should pause now to consider why people believed that this young duke was capable of regicide, and to trace his early life and the development of his character. Richard Plantagenet, youngest son of the Duke of York, was born on 2nd October, 1452, at Fotheringhay Castle. John Rous's hostile account of his life describes him as coming into the world, after two years in his mother's womb, with teeth, long hair to his shoulders, a humped back, and his right shoulder higher than

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  his left. More repeats these details, adding cautiously that 'either men of hatred report the truth, or else nature changed her course in his beginning'. It is of course quite possible that Richard was born with teeth and long hair and deformities, and that there was some truth in what Rous and More wrote, but it seems
likelier that over the years some embroidery had been added to the tale for dramatic effect.

  The new baby seems to have been a weakling: 'Richard liveth yet,' recorded the anonymous annalist in the Chronicle of William of Worcester, with apparent surprise. However, Richard survived the perils of early childhood and seems to have spent his younger years in the company of his elder brother George, in the care of their mother at Fotheringhay. After Edward IV's accession in 1461, Richard was created Duke of Gloucester and sent to receive a knightly education in the household of the Earl of Warwick, which was based mainly at Middleham Castle in Yorkshire. Here, Richard's companions included Warwick's daughters, Isabella and Anne, and the Earl's ward, Francis Lovell, who would remain a lifelong friend. Here, too, Richard learned the arts of warfare and the skills required by a nobleman, as well as receiving some rudimentary training in law.

  During the 1460s Edward IV did little for his youngest brother, heaping honours instead upon George, whom he had created Duke of Clarence and brought to court. But it was Richard who stayed loyal to the King when Warwick and Clarence turned traitor in 1469. Richard was then appointed Lord High Admiral of England, Chief Justice of the Welsh Marches, and Chief Constable of England, a post he had held briefly in childhood. He was also given other honours and offices in Wales and the duchy of Lancaster. The following year he replaced the disgraced Warwick as Chief Steward and Chamberlain of South Wales, thus becoming the King's chief representative in the principality. Later that year Richard accompanied Edward IV into exile, and after Edward's restoration in 1471 was rewarded for his loyalty with yet more offices, replacing Warwick as Great Chamberlain of England and becoming Chief Steward of the duchy of Lancaster.

 
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