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Richard III and the Murder in the Tower
By Peter A. Hancock
The History PressCopyright © 2011 Peter A. Hancock
All rights reserved.
The path to the Throne
The king is Dead
Edward IV died on Wednesday 9 April 1483, not yet forty-one years of age. He was one of the youngest kings of England ever to die of natural causes. While this might possibly suggest some form of foul play, there is existing evidence that Edward's health had perhaps been deteriorating for some time. Indeed, it has even been speculated that he was suffering from the advanced stages of a sexually transmitted disease. Regardless of the precise cause, the king's demise must have been a disconcerting event and the tension and uncertainty that it caused was felt around the realm. The primary issue to hand was, of course, the succession. Had Edward IV lasted only four or five more years, his eldest son, the youthful Prince Edward, would have been sixteen or seventeen years of age and in those times considered well able to rule in his own right. However, being aged twelve and a half, his father had appointed a protector for the young boy during his final years before maturity. The role of protector, and de facto ruler of the realm, fell naturally to Edward's younger brother. This was natural, because Richard, Duke of Gloucester had been Edward's most staunch and loyal supporter throughout his brother's lifetime. From this decision, expressed in Edward's last will and testament, we can assume that there was no one the dying king trusted more. Whether he was wise to do so has been a subject of contention almost ever since.
Any judgment that is made upon the character of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, depends directly upon when one dates his conscious decision to take the throne. The earlier one believes him to have made this decision, the more likely one is to render an adverse judgment on Richard and vice versa. Although some individuals believe that the Duke of Gloucester schemed for the throne from his earliest childhood, most reasonable commentators would agree that up until the death of his elder brother he exhibited no direct ambition to rule the kingdom in his own right. Indeed, ensconced in his favorite castle of Middleham in Yorkshire, (see Figure 1) Richard served one of the greatest possible supporting roles for his monarch in securing the northern counties and maintaining the strength of the border against the ever-troublesome Scots.
Up until early 1483, Richard may well have expected to continue to fulfill this function as bulwark of the north throughout his brother's lifetime. However, it would also be reasonable to suppose that even when his nephew did later ascend the throne, no matter how grasping the Woodville side of his family might be, it would still be a wise and prudent policy to keep Richard in this role he had assumed for ensuring the peace of the realm. Also, we have reason to believe that Richard himself was fairly content with his northern hegemony and, in the normal run of events, would most probably have proved as useful and loyal a servant to his nephew as he had previously for his brother. Had this been the case, Richard would have proved to have been largely a footnote to history and not in the centre of the controversy that he currently occupies.
The Duke of Gloucester Goes South
All changed on that day in early April 1483, as news of Edward's death spread across the country. The initial reaction of almost everyone, but especially Richard, Duke of Gloucester made it plain that the young prince would soon be crowned the next King of England. However, the political realities of the situation mandated that Richard, now Lord Protector, travel as quickly as was practicably feasible to the capital, London. That it took him more than a week to prepare for this journey does not suggest a tremendous sense of urgency, but certainly information was beginning to accumulate with respect to the changing tide of events in London. The need for his personal presence in the capital was exacerbated by news that members of the queen's family were questioning the dead king's wishes and were arguing that a protectorate was simply unnecessary. Under the circumstances, it was very clear that there were the beginnings of a struggle for control of the heir to the throne and with it control of the realm itself. We have no evidence that Richard initiated this conflict. However, we do have a number of indications that the Woodville clan, many of whom were already resident in London, were the source of this emerging dispute.
At the time of his father's death, the young prince, now nominally Edward V, was at his residence at Ludlow Castle on the borders of Wales. Arrangements were made for him to go to London as soon as possible. As the young Edward headed east, Richard headed south and was most probably kept in touch with the tenor of events in London by those still loyal to the old king's wishes. In this, his most reliable reported informant was William, Lord Hastings. As the contemporary commentator Mancini indicated:
According to common report the chamberlain Hastings reported all these deliberations by letter and messengers to the duke of Gloucester, because he has a friendship of long standing with the duke ...
At this stage of events, we can see that Richard had cause to be very grateful to Hastings, his old friend and comrade-in-arms, for keeping him apprised of developments. Indeed, he appeared not to be receiving information through more formal channels which, as Protector, he should have been. Thus, what was clearly coming, and what would have been evident to almost all, was nothing less than a struggle for the kingdom. Richard had to move quickly in order to neutralise the Woodville strategy of dominating events through the manipulation of the young king. In this, we have to be very sensitive to Richard's motivations, since his actions at this juncture were almost certainly self-protective in nature. There is little doubt that if the Woodvilles had succeeded in their immediate aspirations, Richard himself, along with others such as Hastings, would most probably have lost not only their position but probably their lives as well. The written evidence of the letter Richard sent to York from London indicates that he was certainly aware of this threat by 10 June. However, it is more than reasonable to suppose that he must have known of this danger even as he began his journey from the north down to the capital. If Edward IV's demise had been anticipated, it is likely that Richard cogitated upon such eventualities even before the death of his brother and, indeed, it is natural that he and those of his affiliation would have debated future possibilities anyway, even if Edward had not been in failing health.
The evidence which demonstrates Richard's unequivocal understanding of the situation comes from his actions as his party from the north and that of Edward V from the west met around Northampton and Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire on 29 and 30 April respectively. Richard moved with appropriate dispatch to secure the leaders of the Woodville faction that had accompanied the young Edward V from Ludlow. He had Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers (the uncle of the new King), Sir Richard Grey (the new king's half brother), Thomas Vaughan (Edward's chamberlain) and Sir Richard Hauteall arrested and sent under guard to his strongholds in the north. Rivers, for example, was sent to Sheriff Hutton Castle in Yorkshire (see Figure 2). In adopting this course, Richard was evidently supported by a new ally, Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham perhaps resented the Woodvilles because by the age of eleven in 1466, he had been forced to marry the queen's sister, Catherine Woodville. Obviously, Buckingham had bided his time, and now saw the present situation as an opportunity to revenge himself upon his erstwhile oppressors. Together with the two dukes, Edward V now proceeded toward London and his expected coronation.
News of the events from Stony Stratford reached the queen and the rest of her party in London. Realising their plans for near-term control were now defunct, they separated in order to find their respective places of safety. Elizabeth Woodville herself, now the queen dowager (see Figure 3), decamped with her youngest son and daughters to Westminster Abbey. She was certainly familiar with these surroundings, since she had previously availed herself of this sanctuary and it was here that she subsequently stayed throughout the tumultuous summer to come.
The Entry into London
The king in waiting, Edward V, and his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, entered London on the auspicious twelfth anniversary of Edward IV's famous victory at Tewkesbury. It was 4 May 1483 and the old king had been dead less than a month. At this juncture, all appeared to have been proceeding as everyone would have expected and, despite the Woodville intrigues, the plan for the young boy's coronation progressed on schedule. Up to this point, we have no direct indication of any action by Richard that would show that he was seeking the throne. This is not necessarily to say that he was not. However, none of his actions to that time directly support such an interpretation and many of his actions, in contrast, show him discharging his duties as Protector appropriately. Just over two months later, however, Richard was crowned king, and it is the events of this critical period of transition which form the present focus.
Preliminary preparations for Edward V's coronation, which was now scheduled for 24 June, appear to have been proceeding as planned. Letters were sent out summoning those who were to be honoured at the coming ceremony, which was indicated in some documents to occur on 22 June. Those individuals so summoned seem to have begun preparations to attend on the young king in Westminster Abbey. A coronation of a new king was an involved business and from the records that we have, that business seems to have been proceeding apace. Letters also appear to have been sent out summoning individuals to a parliament to be held shortly after the coronation on 25 June. What is vital here is to try to establish a specific window in time in order to identify when Richard takes the decision to deviate from this generally anticipated course of action. We can ascertain this date by working both forwards and backwards from events around this general interval to fix, with the greatest level of confidence that we can, when the fateful decision was made. De Blieck argues convincingly that a major dimension which would influence the timing of any such decision must have been the presence of troops in the capital available to Richard and by which he could enforce his decision. It is a dimension that certainly underlies the consideration of the account which follows. Let us now see what we know of those events early in June 1483.
The Events of June 1483
Thursday 5 June 1483
We know that Richard, Duke of Gloucester was at the Tower of London on Monday 2 June, as we have evidence of his presence there on that day. Further, it is believed that Richard's wife, Anne Neville, arrived in London on Thursday 5 June, since on this same day it has been reported, perhaps incorrectly, that she sent wafers to John Howard's wife. Richard wrote a letter to the city of York and gave it to John Brackenbury to deliver. Richard moved from Baynard's Castle to Crosby Place, his London home, a move which may well have been associated with his wife's arrival in the capital. Letters were sent out in Edward V's name to individuals who would be honoured at the forthcoming ceremony. The letter read:
Trusty and well-beloved, we greet you well, and by the advise of our dearest uncle, the duc of Gloucester, protector of this, our royaume during our young age, and of the lords of our council, we write unto you at this time willingly, nathlelesse, charging you to prepare and furnish yourselves to receive the noble order of knighthood at our coronation, which by God's grace we intend shall be solemnized, the 22nd day of this present month, at our palace of Westminster, commanding you to be here at our Toure of London, four days afore our said coronation, to have communication with our commissioners concerning that matter, not failing hereof in any wise as ye intend to please us, and as ye will answer – Given the vth day of June.
Much appears to depend upon how prepared some of these individuals were to receive the coming honours. The letter, dated 5 June, might have taken a number of days to reach some of the more distant points in the kingdom. Further, the individual who was, by this command, required to attend at the Tower was required to reach there by Wednesday 18 June. A journey of five days for the letter to reach the north country and five days for the individual in their turn to reach London would have left some honourees precious little time to prepare for such an important occasion.
Sunday 8 June 1483
It has been claimed that on this day Robert Stillington, the Bishop of Bath & Wells, provided evidence to the Council of the pre-contract between Edward IV and Eleanor Butler. The first individual to have identified Stillington as the source of this information was De Commines. However, this specific date appears to originate with the early-twentieth-century speculation of Markham. We shall return to this proposition later. However, in contrast to this later speculation, one contemporary observer, Simon Stallworth, who recorded the events of the Council that day, reported no such revelation. It is highly probable that Stallworth would have made at least a note of such a significant happening had this actually occurred. The absence of any such observation in Stallworth's letter reflects unfavourably on the accuracy of Markham's interpretation of De Commines's report.
Monday 9 June 1483
As we have seen, the letter that Simon Stallworth, the servant of John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln, wrote on this day, 9 June 1483, to Sir William Stonor is a vital clue in our search for the truth of the present matters. He noted that, 'There is great business against the coronation which shall be this day fortnight as we say.' This we may take to mean that there was much business associated with the preparations which were going ahead for the crowning of Edward V. While plans for the coronation were quickly going forward, the negotiations between the Council and Elizabeth Woodville, the Queen Dowager, now in sanctuary in Westminster Abbey, had broken down. Council members refused to visit her any more, and Stallworth comments:
My lord protector, my lord of Buckingham with all other lords, as well as temporal and spiritual, were at Westminster in the council chamber from 10 to 2, but there was none that spoke with the Queen.
Stallworth noted that a meeting of the Council had occurred, but had nothing to report except the plans for the coronation, now scheduled for 22 June. He said that the queen, her children, her brother Lionel Woodville and others remained in sanctuary. Stallworth also mentioned that the Prior of Westminster was in trouble because of certain goods that the queen's son, Thomas Grey of Dorset, had delivered to him (presumably in support of his mother). Stallworth's observations are critical here since they indicate that, although there were problems with the queen, the plans for Edward V's coronation were still progressing. In this light, we can see that Richard, Duke of Gloucester continued to fulfill his duties as Protector. Up to this point, then, there is no evidence that Richard had made any move which would indicate unequivocally that he intended to seek the throne.
Tuesday 10 June 1483
One day later, on Tuesday 10 June, Richard himself wrote to his supporters in the city of York. The letter, which eventually reached York five days later, on the 15 June (just one day after the letter sent on 5 June) specifically asked for help in relation to the actions of the queen, her blood adherents and affinities. He indicated that they were trying to destroy him, Buckingham and the old royal blood of the realm.(Parenthetically, this letter cannot have left London until the day after, the 11th, since, as discussed below, it was carried by the same messenger as another letter dated on this subsequent day.). However, these appeals to his adherents in the city of York only reiterate what Richard had known since the events at Stony Stratford and most probably even before. Thus, the letter can hardly be described as recognition of any antipathy in respect to William, Lord Hastings who, after all, had himself warned Richard of the Woodville intentions in the first place. Again, from this evidence, we can look to place the window of Richard's decision in regard to the throne after the 10th and most probably after 11 June. The cessation of Privy Seal writs under Edward's name is, however, pertinent to the timing of this decision. Assuming Sunday 8th was exempt from business, this suspension of action would appear to have started on Monday 9 June. This observation is open to multiple interpretations, including the possibility that such issuances ceased because of other concerns or a natural lull in activity or a natural focus upon the more important business of the upcoming coronation. However, it is a point that should be borne in mind as we progress.
Excerpted from Richard III and the Murder in the Tower by Peter A. Hancock. Copyright © 2011 Peter A. Hancock. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
Setting the Scene,
1. The Path to the Throne,
2. Eleanor Talbot, Lady Butler,
3. William Catesby, Esquire of the Body,
4. William, Lord Hastings,
5. Jane Shore, Mistress of the King,
6. Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath & Wells,
7. Return to the Tower,
8. Summary and Narrative,
I The Cely, York and Stallworth Letters,
II On the Date of the Death of William, Lord Hastings,
III The Manor of Great Dorsett,
IV The Letter of Sir William Catesby, 15 September 1452,
V The Letter from Richard III to William Catesby,
VI The Offices and Lands of William Catesby,