Children in the Wood, The (The Babes in the Woods) [Laws Q34] --- Part 03

DESCRIPTION: Continuation of the notes to "The Children in the Wood (The Babes in the Woods)" [Laws Q34] --- Part 02. Entry continues in "The Children in the Wood, The (The Babes in the Woods) [Laws Q34]" --- Part 04 (File Number LQ34C)
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Edward IV, in the latter part of his reign, almost completely ignored Henry Tudor (Ross-Wars, p. 94). With his more serious opponents displaced, Edward had time to relax and carouse -- and burn himself out. (Lamb, p. 15, speculates that Richard and Edward may have drifted apart during this period; certainly Richard seems to have avoided Edward's frivolous court when he could. Pollard, p. 83, thinks that this is exaggerated, as is the story of Richard's conflict with the Woodvilles -- but admits that Mancini reported that Richard avoided Edward's court to "avoid the jealousy of the queen.")
Edward died in 1483, after a brief and unexpected illness (Kendall, pp. 181-182). He was only 40, and had made few preparations for the succession except to name his brother Richard Lord Protector. At least, that is the general belief; Edward's will does not survive (Hicks, p. 139, Jenkins, p. 143, Ross, p. 40. Kendall, p. 539, speculates that the Woodvilles destroyed it. Cunningham, p. 32, questions whether Edward even named Richard protector; he implies that the title was claimed by Richard after Edward's death. Pollard, p. 97, observes that Croyland referred to a codicil in Edward's will but offers no details; he speculates on p. 91 that there was debate in the Council whether Richard should be protector or merely a member of the Council, and suggests that the compromise was that Richard should be chief councilor. The problem with this is that the Council had no such power of decisions -- and the contemporary witnesses all seem to have thought Edward made the declaration). Richard, unfortunately, was not present in London; he was in the North, where he was in charge of the war with the Scots.
There was every reason to expect chaos. In an attempt to cement his power in a period when the civil wars had extinguished many noble families and left others untrustworthy, Edward IV had created a few very powerful blocks of nobles, such as the Woodvilles at the court and Richard in the north (Hicks, p. 136; Dockray, p. 17, points out the fact that this was almost inevitable, because at this time there were so few trustworthy nobles. Richard continued the system -- but did not know which nobles to trust). Since Edward IV's son Edward was only twelve years old, it was inevitable that these factions started to quarrel over who would take charge. Many historians, from Mancini until the present day, have placed a large part of the blame for Richard's usurpation on the unsettled political situation left by Edward IV (Dockray, pp. 143-144).
The problem was, the court faction, the Woodville clan, was neither trusted nor trustworthy. They had no historic standing; the patriarch of the clan, Richard Woodville, had been a mere knight of no great wealth during the Lancastrian era -- the whole clan was Lancastrian. But Richard's children were very beautiful, and one of the daughters, Elizabeth, had managed to marry Edward IV in 1464 (Dockray, pp. 40-41, etc.). The methods by which she convinced him to marry her would come to be a source of great controversy.
Almost every authority agrees that the Woodvilles had risen too high too quickly -- although Ross-Edward, p. 96, notes that few of the children were given offices; they were merely granted rich marriages. Still, they had infiltrated themselves so heavily into the nobility that, in the 1460s, an ambassador wrote that the only other lord of any significance in England was the Earl of Warwick (Laynesmith, p. 181). Some of the families may have wanted Woodville marriages; it tied them to the monarchy (Laynesmith, p. 196). But that wouldn't mean that the children who were so married would appreciate it! And this doesn't explain the fast promotion in the church given to Lionel Woodville (Laynesmith, p. 200, quoting Wood).
RicardianXIII includes an article by Hicks noting the seven major power blocks built up by Edward IV in his second reign (pp. 263-264): Clarence's (based on Warwick lands), Gloucester's (also Warwick lands), the Prince of Wales's, the Duke of York's, Hastings's, Stanley's, and Dorset's. Clarence's was dissolved. Of the other six, three (the Prince of Wales's, the Duke of York's, and Dorset's) were given to sons of Elizabeth Woodville, and the first of those was run by her brother. Talk about a concentration of power in Woodville hands!
Laynesmith, pp. 127-128, notes that when Elizabeth Woodville died, only her personal friends and relations turned out for the funeral. Laynesmith thinks that she wanted a small, private service, and it is also possible that Henry VII deliberately kept things low-key -- but I have to think that this was possible only because of her unpopularity.
Only Dockray has the slightest sympathy for the Woodvilles -- and even he admits that "the queen's family was both large and predatory; in particular, Woodvilles virtually cornered the aristocratic marriage market for a time, completing no fewer than seven marriages (all with members of noble families) by the end of 1466" (Dockray, p. 41). In Edward IV's reign, they had been limited by the fact that they were merely allied to the crown. The obvious fear was that, with a King whose mother was a Woodville, they would dominate the crown -- and use it entirely for their own ends.
Ross makes the interesting observation, p. 36, that Edward IV had "made a frontal assault on the ark of the covenant of any landowning society -- the law of inheritance." And the Woodvilles were almost always the beneficiaries. Between 1464 and 1467, the father of the clan was made Earl Rivers and appointed Lord Treasurer. Six of the queen's sisters were married to peers -- one Duke, three earls, and two barons. Her brothers were given high posts (Seward-Richard, p. 39). Rivers even managed to grab the possessions of an arrested Lord Mayor of London, and apparently was never made to disgorge them (so Fabian's Chronicle; see Dockray, pp. 47-48). It was one of the most amazing power grabs in English history, and it set the stage for what they attempted in 1483. Ross-Edward, p. 337, quotes Pugh as saying that this gave much of the aristocracy "a vested interest in the downfall of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville."
On the other hand, Laynesmith, p. 203, declares, "Rivers and Scales did pervert the laws of inheritance and extort land on several occasions prior to 1469, but to see the queen's entire family as a horde of grasping and ambitious parvenus dominating the court is to exaggerate the behavior of the two principal members of the family and then unfairly attribute it to all their kin." But this, of course, is exactly what people were likely to do in the Middle Ages.
Elizabeth Woodville did have a problem few other Queens faced: She had two children other than those by Edward IV, and she needed a way to provide for them. This meant more pressure on Edward to find them titles and, perhaps, heiresses for wives (Laynesmith, p. 238).
How unpopular did all this make them? The women mostly survived, but the mortality rate among Woodville males was extremely high. Richard Woodville, the first Earl Rivers, the patriarch, was executed in 1470 along with one of his younger sons; Dockray, pp. 69, 71, 72. The second Earl Rivers, Anthony Woodville, was executed in 1483. And, of course, Edward V and his brother, whose mother was a Woodville, did not survive. Neither did one of Elizabeth Woodville's two sons by her first marriage. The Earl of Warwick's rebellion of 1468-1471 was largely blamed on resentment of Woodville influence; Dockray, p. 71.
Pollard, p. 103, claims that Richard rode a "Woodville scare" to the Kingship, and argues that the arguments about their power were false -- the Woodvilles never put up an effective resistance. This is another example of where our sources betray us. Certainly Pollard is right that the Woodvilles accomplished nothing in June 1483. Does this mean that they were powerless? Possibly, but it does not follow. Who would know of a Woodville plot except the Woodvilles, and we no more have a pro-Woodville source than we have a pro-Richard source. We don't even have a Croyland who was an insider. Richard succeeded because he acted quickly.
Richard, note, had the advantage of being just one man. The Woodvilles were a clan -- an unusually close-knit clan, but they had no head. The senior members of the family, Earl Rivers and the Queen, were at opposite ends of the country when Edward IV died; they could not really concert plans. Elizabeth Woodville was probably surprised by the doubts cast on her marriage; she would not have known of the precontract. By the time she knew of Richard's coup, her brother was in Richard's custody; so was one of her sons by her first marriage. Edward V himself was in Richard's hands. The Woodville conspiracy, if there was one, was foiled before it could start to act. We simply cannot tell if it existed.
On the other hand, Laynesmith, p. 201, notes that when the Earl of Warwick fulminated against the Woodvilles in 1469, it didn't earn him all that much support.
Ideally, the government officials should have stepped up to prevent the faction fight after Edward's death. But Edward's uncle by marriage, Henry Bourchier Earl of Essex, who had been Lord Treasurer, had died only days before Edward, leaving the govenment almost bereft of qualified administrators (Hicks, p. 138). The most experienced men left were the Chamberlain, Lord Hastings, and the Steward, Lord Stanley. Neither of these was much help; Hastings, Chamberlain since 1461 (Dockray, p. 37), had commanded a wing of the the Yorkist army at the great battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury, and was captain of Calais, home of England's one regular military force -- but in practice had been more Edward's companion in carousing than his colleague in government (Seward-Richard, p. 80 calls him "not very intelligent"). Stanley, though he held his post for more practical reasons, was not a policy-maker either, since he had no cause except his own advancement.
Nor were the nobles in parliament in position to calm things down. The Wars of the Roses had decimated the higher nobility (Ross-Wars, p. 119, notes that 12 peers died and six were executed in 1459-1461, and ten were killed and seven executed 1469-1471. Five more died 1483-1485. Some of these had successors or had new lords appointed in their places, but not all). The remaining lords often were not closely tied to their people; as SaulII observes on p. 441, "As a result of the long blood-letting many of the old regional lineages had been removed -- the Nevilles from Yorkshire, the Mowbrays from Norfolk and the Hastingses from the midlands. The crown stood almost alone...." Perroy, p. 341, observes, "The lord temporal, less and less numerous -- barely thirty by 1485 -- remained without any constructive program." The lower nobility had suffered badly; Ross, p. 154, says that only 26 barons were summoned to Richard III's one parliament in 1484; there had been over forty in the period 1453-1461.
The situation was even more extreme in the higher nobility. With Essex dead and his heir a grandson of about 11, Ross calculates on p. 41 that there were only eleven adult dukes and earls left in the realm in 1483: Duke Richard of Gloucester; the Duke of Buckingham, who became Richard's closest ally; Earl Rivers, the titular head of the Woodville family; the Marquis of Dorset, the son of Elizabeth Woodville by her first husband; the Duke of Suffolk (married to a sister of Edward IV); the elderly earls of Westmorland, Arundel, and Kent; and three fairly vigorous earls, Huntingdon, Northumberland, and Lincoln -- the latter being the son of Suffolk and eventually Richard III's endorsed heir. (This of course excludes the shadow Lancastrian earls such as Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond; Jasper Tudor, earl of Pembroke; and the de Vere Earl of Oxford)
Of the three younger earls, Ross, p. 55, thinks that Richard had Northumberland on his side (though certainly not whole-heartedly, given that Northumberland sat inert when Richard was fighting at Bosworth; Burne, p. 294. Northumberland would be killed by his own people as a result -- though the immediate cause was the taxes Henry VII tried to raise for a war he almost certainly didn't intend to fight; WilliamsonJ, p. 35-36). Huntingdon seems to have been a cipher, though he eventually married Richard's illegitimate daughter (Ross, p. 158). Lincoln became a supporter of Richard, but may have been hesitant at first.
Henry Tudor, incidentally, inherited the same extreme situation -- and made it even more extreme. Richard, according to Ross, p. 154, granted only four titles of nobility, mostly to men who were already titled: William, Viscount Berkeley became Earl of Nottingham; John, Lord Howard, became Duke of Norfolk; his son Thomas Howard became Earl of Surrey; and Edward, Lord Lisle became a Viscount. Meanwhile, three dukes -- Buckingham, Gloucester, and Norfolk -- died between 1483 and 1485. Thus Suffolk was the only adult duke left when Henry succeeded -- and he was not a royal duke, and Ross, p. 158, calls him "aged and ineffectual." Aged he was not, since OxfordCompanion, p. 758, says he was born in 1442 -- but he certainly kept a low profile; the OxfordCompanion calls him a "political lightweight."
Henry of course reinstated his own earls, such as the de Vere earl of Oxford -- meaning that he instantly created a near-majority in the Lords. But he kept the circle small, and entirely of his own cronies (Chrimes, pp. 138-139); sometimes he didn't even summon eligible Lords to parliament (Chrimes, p. 140). As a result, there was only one active Duke when Henry died; Halliday, p. 82. Plus, if Edward IV had violated the "covenant" between the monarchy and the nobility with his treatment of the Woodvilles, Henry made his own violations -- as when, e.g., he appointed his uncle Jasper Tudor Duke of Bedford; WilliamsonJ, p. 23. (Even stranger, Henry married Jasper to a Woodville, the wife of the Duke of Buckingham executed by Richard; RicardianXIII, p. 269). Dukedoms were supposed to belong to members of the royal family -- which Jasper was not; Henry Tudor had Beaufort blood, but Jasper did not. Being part of Henry's family was not the same thing.)
In that sense, the Tudor pretender was very lucky. He took advantage of his parliamentary strength, too, getting parliament to annul almost every land grant made since 1455, thus chopping off the Yorkists almost completely and vastly increasing his revenue; WilliamsonJ, p. 20. WilliamsonJ, p. 19, says that there were few executions and attainders after Bosworth -- though thirty hardly qualifies as "few" in my book -- but the taking of those lands had the effect of attainder, and gradually Henry would pick off his enemies. It was a cute trick: Make an outward show of mercy but don't carry it out. (Interesting how much that sounds like what the Tudor historians charged against Richard. Could it be that their own king gave them the idea...?) Even WilliamsonJ, p. 23, admits that "[the Yorkists] were adjudged to give it all back, and their mood was pardonably combative. The surprising thing is that they did not make a greater fight of it...."
Perhaps this explains why Henry made little use of parliament as a legislative body, preferred to solicit opinions from the justices whenever possible (Chrimes, p. 161).
Lyon, p. 144, says of Richard's usurpation, "Seen from a constitutional standpoint, Richard III's seizure of the throne followed earlier precedents," but also points out that "Henry IV and Edward IV could claim to be avenging wrongs done to themselves and their fathers, as well as taking the place of a predecessor unworthy of the crown. Richard III seized the throne from a boy very clearly innocent of any personal wrongdoing. The murders of Edward II, Richard II and Henry VI are regarded with hindsight as demonstrating the twisted values of a brutal age. The disappearance and probably murder of Edward V and his brother inspire a unique popular revulsion."
And Richard's following, especially in the south of England, was small. Referring to Richard's assumption of the throne, Ross says ( p. 147), "Never before had a king usurped the throne with so slender a base of committed support from the nobility and gentry as a whole.... Moreoever, earlier usurpations had found some justifications as protests against misgovernment."
Gillingham, p. 242, takes this to another level, claiming that apart from the reluctant Northumberland and the captive Lord Strange, only five peers -- Norfolk, Surrey, Viscount Lovell, Lord Ferrers (whose family had been ennobled and made rich by Edward IV in 1463; Dockray, pp. 31, 39), and Lord Zouche (who was the father-in-law of Richard's close friend William Catesby, according to Seward-Richard, p. 119, but who also was a ward of the Woodvilles in his youth, according to Dockray, p. 52) -- were present with Richard at the final battle at Bosworth. This, however, seems to be an argument from silence -- Gillingham lists only peers directly stated to have been present (Norfolk because he died, as did Lord Ferrers; Surrey because he was taken captive on the field; Lovell because he was stated to have escaped; I'm not sure about Zouche).
There is a big hole in this argument -- and that's the Earl of Lincoln. He was Richard's heir, and had borne the orb at Richard's coronation (Cheetham, p. 123); if Richard lost, he would certainly lose the chance to become King, and might well be executed -- yet he wouldn't take the field for Richard? It's ridiculous. Thus it is highly unlikely that the argument from silence can be accepted, and we have to say that we just don't know who fought with Richard.
And Ross, no friend of Richard, paints a very different picture of the behavior of the nobles than Gillingham. Ross, p. 159, counts eight active earldoms at the time of Bosworth. Ross says that three apart from Northumberland (Lincoln, Surrey, and Nottingham) were certainly present at Bosworth (note that Gillingham says that only Surrey was there). The evidence for Lincoln's presence is strong; Henry Tudor originally said he was slain at Bosworth (Chrimes, p. 51). Ross thinks it likely that Westmoreland was. Arundel was not, but he was old; his heir probably was present. The Earl of Kent was too old (and the "Ballad of Bosworth Field" says he was there anyway). Huntington was not present but probably worked to keep south Wales from supporting Henry Tudor. Thus only Northumberland showed active hostility to Richard -- and even he mostly just sat still (and, to give him his due, he had sat still during the wars of 1470-1471 also -- Ross-Wars, p. 89 -- though in that case, he seems not to have made even a pretense of participating in the conflict).
The "Ballad" -- which is probably one of Ross's sources -- lists as being present with Richard the Duke of Norfolk, his son the Earl of Surrey, the Earl of Kent, the Earl of Shrewsbury, the Earl of Lincoln, the Earl of Northumberland, the Earl of Westmoreland, "young Arrundell" (i.e. presumably the heir of the Earl of Arundel), and Lords including Ferrers, Zouche, Maltravers, Scroop, Dacres, Greystoke, Wells, Audeley, and at least five others whose names appear to be corrupted (or else I can't figure out the spelling). Bennett, p. 11, tentatively reconstructs several other names.
Bennett's list of those present (p. 95) is the Duke of Norfolk, the earls of Northumberland, Surrey, Lincoln, and Shrewsbury (an earldom Ross doesn't even admit was active at thie time!); and Lord Ferrers and Zouche, plus probably Scrope of Bolton, Scrope of Masham, Fitzhugh, Olgle, and Greystoke.
Ross also believes that a majority of the barons supported Richard; he counts at least 16 out of 26 on the King's side in parliament (Ross, p. 161). Some of these had of course been given grants by Richard, but Ross admits that "not all [were his supporters] for materialistic reasons."
In any case, Gillingham, p. 7, claims that most peers were unwilling to fight for *anyone* in this period, not just Richard. Whether this was true in 1460, or even 1470, is debatable, but the Paston Letters certainly seem to support the supposition in 1485. The Paston Letters (a trove of letters from a contemporary family of gentry) contains an appeal from the Duke of Norfolk for the Pastons to come to Bosworth (Letter #138 in the brief Oxford Paperback edition selected, modernized, and edited by Norman Davis). The Pastons simply ignored it; they did not fight for Richard, but neither did they fight for Henry Tudor. They had fought at Barnet.
Pollard, p. 171, says that it is almost certain we will never know how many peers fought for Richard. He does say that at least four Lords could not make it to Bosworth in time, and suggests that others may have come as part of Northumberland's contingent -- and hence been willing to fight but not in position to do so.
Pollard, p. 147, cynically notes that it is hard to tell which side most of the nobility really wanted to succeed: "After 22 August 1485 a veil was discreetly drawn; it was in nobody's interest to challenge the myth that they had all to a man longed for the return of their old lords." This supports the interesting note by Bennett, p. 13, that few of the lords on Richard's side were attainted after the battle. (They ended up losing lands, but that was much later, when they could no longer continue the fight.)
RicardianXIII, pp. 268-269 (an article by Hicks) gives data which gives it a different twist: In essence, all attainted lords supported Henry Tudor. Only a relatively small fraction of the un-attainted lords served Richard -- but most of them sat neutral. Except for the Stanleys, very few indeed supported Tudor.
Hicks, p. 58, makes another interesting point: when young Edward (V) was declared heir to the throne in 1471, 46 nobles -- five dukes, five earls, 16 barons, nine bishops, and 11 knights -- signed the document. 32 were still alive in 1483 when Edward IV died. Hicks thinks only Richard, Buckingham, and maybe Bishop Stillington betrayed the oath. Yet very few of the other 29 fought on the Tudor side.
In a deeper sense, though, Gillingham is right about Richard's troubles with the nobility. Even Thomas More said it: "with large gifts he got him unsteadfast friendships" (Gillingham, p. 245). Ross, p. 163, argues that "in the final analysis... Richard's political future depended upon the attitudes and loyalties of the four great surviving magnate families. They were the more important simply because they were so few."
Ross lists four of these "great magnates": The Duke of Buckingham, Lord Howard (who was made Duke of Norfolk by Richard, succeeding the extinct line of the Mowbrays), the Percy Earl of Northumberland, and Lord Stanley -- at this time only a baron, though he would eventually be made Earl of Derby under Henry VII (Chrimes, p.55). But his family had controlled the Isle of Man since 1405 (Tuck, p. 232), which gave them a very secure base.
Howard of Norfolk, the dominant power in East Anglia, had gone with Edward IV into exile in 1470 (Dockray, p. 77), and was loyal to Richard to the death. Buckingham, given great power in Wales, betrayed Richard at first chance, seemingly out of pure lust for power. Northumberland, the leading figure in the northeast, stood neutral. And the Stanley family, with much power in the northwest, had a foot in both camps but finally went against Richard. Seward-Richard, p. 116, agrees (in a passage which appears inspired by Ross, though Seward does not acknowledge the dependence in any way): "Buckingham, Norfolk, Northumberland, and Stanley, these were the four props of the new regime. They formed an alarmingly narrow power base. All were 'over mighty', with large private armies. The desertion of anyone of them could place Richard in grave peril."
(As, indeed, it turned out; the elimination of Buckingham left Richard scrambling to goven Wales. He had not entirely solved the problem when Henry Tudor invaded via Wales; RicardianXIII, pp. 172-173. For that matter, Richard was himself an example of an overmighty subject taking advantage of his might; according to Ross-Edward, p. 203, he used his power in the north to take the throne. It's worth noting that those overmighty lords weren't necessarily the richest men in the realm; Bennett, p. 30, notes that most of the nation's military might was found along the marches with Wales and Scotland -- and Northumberland and Stanley were both Marcher lords, and Buckingham had also had substantial power on the Welsh border.)
Seward-Richard, p. 73, puts it this way. "His modern defenders have made much of [Richard's] popularity in York [and elsewhere in the North]. But... they were politically negligible even though they paid good taxes and supplied soldiers. It is a cliche among historians of the Wars of the Roses that the cities took little part in the struggle. The Duke should have concentrated his energies on winning more friends among the magnates." This is unquestionably true -- though I've never quite understood how making friends with ordinary people and refusing to buy off the wealthy and powerful is a sign of moral turpitude.
It is true that Edward IV had followed a similar course in the 1460s, building up his friends and forgiving his enemies (Ross-Edward, pp. 41-42). But Edward had had more nobles to choose from -- and he was facing the incompetent Henry VI, not the unpleasant but intelligent Henry Tudor.
This brings us to the heart of the issue: What was Richard like? This is where the Tudor smear campaign really makes things hard.
Even before the discovery of his skeleton, which shows spinal curvature but not a hump (Langley/Jones, p. 142), it was all but universally agreed that Richard was not a hunchback; see e.g. AshleyM, p. 622, Seward-Roses, p. 272 -- though Seward-Richard, p. 37, says he had a "imperceptible crookback." (Another case where the comment tells us more about the person who wrote it than the person it is written about. If it's imperceptible, then it isn't a crookback!) HarveyJ, p. 207, notes that "from his portraits he was by no means ill-looking," and the reconstruction of his face based on his skeleton seems to confirm this (see photos of the reconstruction facing p. 117 of Langley/Jones); it shows real similarities to his portraits (which may, of course, be due to unconscious influence), though Seward-Roses speaks of his "normally somewhat acid expression."
Based on his paintings, Seward's description seems correct -- except that the evidence is not contemporary and has been tainted. For this, see especially Fields, pp. 281-283. There are three early portraits of Richard. One, dated by tree rings analysis of the frame to the year 1516-1522, shows a perfectly normal man with dark hair, reasonably handsome, though his lips are tightly clenched. A second portrait, dated 1518-1523, may well be based on the first, but in its current form it is said to have been retouched to raise Richard's right shoulder and narrow his eyes (Saul3, p. 239; the purpose was perhaps to make him look more angry). It certainly shows an asymmetric man, and it is geometrically impossible as drawn.
And then there is the third painting, the so-called "broken sword" portrait, which looks rather unlike the other two. Tree ring examination makes it likely that it was painted in the period 1533-1543. X-ray evidence shows unquestionably that it was retouched. Weir, p. 145, says that "drastic alterations were made later on, when Richard's reputation was rehabilitated [um -- when was that?], to give the deformed-looking king a more normal appearance." Fields also thinks the current version shows a more natural-looking Richard than the painted-over version. Yet Ross, p. 139, says that the painting "in which, under recent X-ray examination, there was an original straight shoulder-line, [was] later painted over to give the impression of a raised right shoulder."
Cunningham, pp. 86, 97, shows both the painting and the X-ray, as does Fields; in both cases, the left shoulder appears higher than the other but it appears to me that in the final version of the painting, Richard's right shoulder has been raised and looks unnatural. So my (casual) examination seems to reveal that Ross is right and Weir wrong, but what does it tell you that moderns can't even agree on what still-extant evidence shows? (And why doesn't someone digitally superimpose the two images to make sure?)
It is possible that there is a fourth portrait of Richard, shown in in Cunningham, p. 10; Ross-Wars, p. 83; Pollard, p. 57. The painting is of an author (Waurin) presenting a book to Edward IV, and there is in the foreground a man wearing the emblem of the Order of the Garter. It is suggested that it is Richard. The man looks far less handsome than the other portraits, but he is wearing a short, tight coat and hose, there is no evidence of a crookback or a deformed shoulder. We also have some sketches, including one by Rous, which seem to show a normal man but which are generally too hasty to mean much and which are surely not taken from life.
Kendall, p. 52, concludes that Richard's only deformity was that one shoulder may have been somewhat larger than the other -- a common condition among those trained to arms in the Middle Ages. (Indeed, Richard's great-grandnephew Edward VI had mismatched shoulders; Morris, p. 98). Pollard, p. 29, allows this possibility but adds that "no one in [Richard's] lifetime thought [he had] a physical deformity... worth reporting." Pollard does speculate that Richard may have stooped.
Oddly, there is disagreement about which shoulder had the problem -- Thomas More says Richard's left shoulder was higher (Fields, p. 277), as seemingly does Polydore Vergil (Ross, p. xxv); John Rous (who was contemporary but not close to Richard or the court) said it was the right. Kendall concludes that Richard's right shoulder was larger, while Cheetham, p. 203, follows More. Kendall may have been going by the fact that it is usually the right shoulder that was larger (see, e.g. Prestwich, pp. 137-138, describing the case of a knight whose right arm was longer than his left, based on his skeleton). Ross, p. 139, mentions the possibility of something called "Sprengel's Deformity," which limits the use of the shoulder, but given Richard's generally-conceded martial prowess, this seems pretty unlikely to me. Keegan/Wheatcroft, p. 262, declare that "the 'deformed' shoulder was, in fact, the overdeveloped arm and shoulder of an expert swordsman."
The one voice arguing the other way is Seward-Richard, p. 22, who appears to accept that Richard had a withered arm, presumably based on the fact that Thomas More said it; he speculates that Richard may have been a breech birth. On this basis, he suggests (p. 37) that Richard developed mismatched shoulders because he over-exercised his intact arm. Possible, of course, except that there is no need for the major premise of a withered arm. (I suppose we should point out that, if he did have a withered arm, it must have been his left, because his handwriting was firm and attractive. But, as we saw, his skeleton shows no sign of a withered arm; Langley/Jones, p. 137.)
Fields, pp. 278-279, notes that no contemporary other than Rous reports Richard to have had any deformity; the Croyland Chronicler, who certainly knew him, never mentions it, the Great Chronicle has nothing to say of it, Mancini never describes any such thing, and Commynes, who actually describes Richard's appearance and who was very critical of Richard's acts, portrays a whole man. On pp. 280-281, Fields lists other sources who briefly describe Richards -- including the Countess of Desmond, who said that Richard was the handsomest man at a ball she attended except his brother Edward IV. The contemporary sketches -- including even those by Rous! -- show no deformities, though they are probably not intended to be accurate portrayals.
Seward-Richard, p. 85, deduces much about his appearance and character based on little evidence, but it is not unlikely that Richard was indeed high-strung and excitable. Vergil said that he would bite his lip and toy with a dagger at his belt when thinking -- which strikes me as one of several slight hints that Richard was on the autism spectrum (repetitive behaviors are one of the diagnostic criteria of autism), although More carefully described this behavior as a form of barely restrained violence, with Richard constantly handling his dagger and giving threatening looks (Langley/Jones, p. 45) rather than a mere repetitive trait.
Our genuine indications about his character are few but mostly positive. Pollard, p. 84, devotes much space to claims that Richard tried to aggrandize himself in the north of England -- but has no choice but to conclude that "He served his brother well." Seward-Roses, p. 257, credits him with being "impeccably loyal to Edward IV" and having much charisma, but also accuses him of "a streak of vicious rapacity." Elsewhere, Seward modifies this view: he thinks Richard feared and resented Edward IV (Seward-Richard, p. 41, where he bases this opinion on an interview between the two brothers which he admits to having simply imagined); he concedes that Richard probably also felt "deep affection" for Edward. Nearly every other source calls Richard loyal to Edward without all the rigmarole of resentment.
Curiously, Seward-Richard, p. 90, calls Richard's coup against Edward V "brilliant," but clearly regards him as a poor planner overall. Seward's conclusion on p. 91 is that Richard's coup was pre-planned, but here again he is almost alone; given the number of things Richard could not foresee in advance, pre-planning seems extremely unlikely.
Seward-Richard, p. 19, tells us that Commynes calls Richard "more filled with pride" than any other recent monarch. Commynes also reported that Louis XI of France called him "extremely cruel and evil" -- but even if you don't consider such a comment from the Spider King a compliment, it should be remembered that Richard had opposed peace with Louis's France. Louis, who would say anything, probably did. Commynes also thought Richard killed Henry VI, which is usually regarded as highly unlikely.
Wilkinson, p. 286, makes the observation, "Had he lived, Richard might have gone down in history as the first modern ruler of England." (Make of that what you may. Wilkinson does not seem to think it a compliment.) Saul3, p. 72, observes that Richard was unusually willing to trade, buy, and sell lands -- in other words, he had a modern attitude of trying to run an efficient holding. Saul considers this a sign of rapacity and considers it a disagreeable trait; again, I am not sure why. Saul3, p. 196, also notes that Richard's religious foundations were unusual in that they were intended to pray only for his immediate relatives, not his remote ancestors. This might be a sign of a different and more personal piety -- or of a lack of compassion for his ancestors. There is no way to tell.
Laynesmith, pp. 101-102, notes that the description of Richard and Anne Neville's coronation made them more than usually equal; usually queens were more subordinate. Laynesmith thinks this may just be an error in the description, but it might imply that Richard had a concern for women's rights.
HarveyJ, p. 206, says that "Richard was innocent of nine-tenths of the abominable charges made against him," while admitting the likelihood that he killed his nephews. He adds, p. 208, that "in many directions [Richard] gave proof of a genuine desire for conciliation."
AshleyM, p. 624, writes, "When his brief reign is viewed in the round, Richard was undoubtedly a worthy king... History... has chosen to focus on the vicious and ruthless side of his character rather than a balanced view. Richard was certainly not someone to have as either your friend or your enemy, but he was a better king than many who had come before him and many who would come after."
Jenkins, p. 205, suggests, "He was anxious above everything to make a good impression. He used the [royal] power well when he had paid its terrible price."
Cheetham, p. 202, considers Richard an enigma, while noting on p. 204 that "His loyalty to Edward IV during his brother's lifetime is beyond dispute" -- but concludes that Edward's wife Elizabeth Woodville "had valid reasons to be afraid of him."
On p. 214, Cheetham describes Richard as follows: "'Old Dick', for all his solid virtues as an administrator and his undoubted courage on the battlefield, lacked Edward [IV]'s knack of making friends. More's observation that he had a 'close and secret' nature hits on an uncomfortable truth.... The extraordinary circumstances of Richard's upbringing cannot have failed to leave their mark on him, just as they did on his brother George. But whereas George's shallow nature gave way to a mixture of paranoia and bravado, Richard became wary, self-reliant and inaccessible.... While he was Duke of Gloucester this self-reliance was a source of strength. But the King was a public figure whose words and gestures would be carefully marked."
Cheetham, pp. 204-205, also notes that Richard had a strong streak of what we would now call puritanism (the more hostile Pollard on p. 203 calls him "either a prig or... a hypocrite) -- he did father two bastard children (Ross, p. 138), but compared to Edward IV, who typically had three or more mistresses at the same time, that's pretty tame. (For a song about one of Edward's mistresses, see "Jane Shore.") Even Seward-Richard, p. 86 grants that he "does not seem to have shared [Edward IV's] taste for whoring." (WilliamsonA, p. 73, suggests that he was not puritanical but rather undersexed. Given that he did have the two bastards, however, this strikes me as unlikely. Besides, who is more likely to be a puritan than someone who doesn't understand the temptation others feel? Pollard's explanation, on p. 165, is that Richard wanted to give the same impression as the saintly Henry VI -- who, however, probably wasn't so much saintly as genetically defective.)
Mancini reports that Richard "set out to acquire the loyalty of his people through favours and justice. The good reputation of his private life and public activities powerfully attracted the esteem of strangers" (Fields, p. 61).
Cunningham, p. 93, confesses, "Assessment of Richard's morality is extremely difficult. His use of character assassination and defamation makes it hard to separate Richard's public presentation of himself from the private feelings he must have held. The Tudor vilification of Richard III only compounds the problem."
Ross, p. 136, thinks Richard's concern with sexual morality was a sham -- something he used as a means to attack the Woodvilles. Certainly he was always slamming their behavior in his proclamations; Ross, p. 137, says he was "the first English king to use character-assassination as a deliberate instrument of policy." But Richard certainly wasn't the first King to engage in propaganda; Dockray, p. xvii, notes two publicity pamplets released by Edward IV's government after the 1470-1471 rebellion, and Ross-Wars, p. 43, mentions Yorkist propaganda prior to the invasion of 1460; on p. 45 he quotes a popular ballad they used to influence opinion, beginning, "Richard duke of York,Job thy servant insigne, Whom Satan not ceaseth to set at care and disdain, But by Thee preserved he may not be slain."
Henry VII has in his own propaganda, at least as vile as Richard's (according to pp. 56-57 of Russell, during Lambert Simnel's rebellion, a man was said to have blasphemed, died, and turned black; Henry therefore claimed Lollard influence on the movement and campaigned as a champion of orthodoxy. Ironic indeed for the father of Henry VIII....) His propaganda was also utterly absurd, as when he petitioned three different Popes to make his half-uncle Henry VI a saint (Wolffe, p. 4); fortunately, the Popes were not bright enough to confuse idiocy with sanctity -- or to believe anything Henry Tudor said. And having affairs before getting married was pretty much standard procedure for royal dukes at the time.
Regarding Richard's bastard children and his later sexual strictness -- I strongly suspect Richard felt guilty in his later years about the raging hormones of his youth. Realize that the two children were probably conceived when he was between 16 and 20 years old. Hicks, p. 26, says that his older child, a daughter Katherine, was married in 1484 at the age of at least 14 (meaning that she was probably conceived when Richard, who was born in 1452, was 17), and estimates that Richard's son John of Pontrefract was born in 1471 -- Richard knighted the boy in 1483 (Ross, p. 138), so it is likely that he was indeed approaching his teens. Richard did not marry until at least 1472, and apparently had no side affairs after he married.
It is interesting to note that Katherine Plantagenet's husband, Richard Herbert, eventually seems to have been fairly friendly with Henry VII (RicardianXIII, pp. 170-171)
In connection with Richard's strait-laced behavior, we note that Sir William Stanley, who was a generation older than Richard and who would betray him, called him "Old Dick," as if the king were uninteresting in his lifestyle (Cheetham, p. 208). Ross, p. 19, mentions that, though Edward IV built up a significant library of romances, Richard's (rather smaller) library features no such light reading; the few books we know of seem to be mostly religious in nature (Ross, pp. 128-129, though Rubin, p. 316, says that he also had a copy of Geoffrey of Monmouth, which he annotated with his own hand. Geoffrey is almost pure fiction, but it seemed to describe ideal kings, and the annotations seem to imply that Richard wanted to be a good king of a peaceful land. Pollard, pp. 206-209, shows samples from several of Richard's books -- and notes that they were generally not heavily illuminated. Although this is heavily debated, this probably means that Richard actually read them, rather than showing them off; he was trying to learn, not make an impression).
Seward-Richard, p. 85, says that we know little of his personal tastes, though he argues that Richard was fond of fancy clothing and on p. 86 offers evidence that he was very fond of hawking.
Ross does give a list of rather sharp real estate dealings on Richard's part on p. 31. It is hard to deny that he used all the tricks available to him for his own advantage -- but this was standard operating procedure at the time (and Fields, p. 47, offers evidence that some were not necessarily unfair to the other parties). Ross, p. 29, observes that contemporaries thought the action in the case showed just how intelligent Richard and his brothers were. Even Ross, p. 128, says that "there is no good reason to doubt that Richard was a genuinely pious and religious man" though he is not convinced that Richard was very clever.
There would come a time when Edward IV would condemn his middle brother, George of Clarence, to death for treason. (And there isn't much doubt that the charge was valid -- George had been part of the Earl of Warwick's 1470 rebellion, and Edward had forgiven him for that, but George kept on conspiring.) Ross, pp. 32-33, declares that the contemporary sources all held Richard innocent in this, and that some say he was sorely grieved. Yet Ross on p. 33 concludes that Richard almost certainly had a hand in the overthrow of Clarence. His evidence for this is that Richard gained much in the apportionment of Clarence's lands which followed, plus a statement by More that Richard "secretly... lacked not in helping forth his brother Clarence to his death, which he resisted openly" (Dockray, p. 107). Dockray, p. 97, agrees with this and believes that Richard helped pack the parliament which condemned Clarence. Mancini, on the other hand, declares that Richard vowed revenge on the Woodvilles for bringing Clarence down (Lamb, p. 15).
Kendall, of course, makes Richard seem a near-saint. Weir makes him a pure demon intent on seizing the throne "as soon as possible." The only thing good to be said about Kendall's view is that it makes more sense than Weir's.
Richard seems to have had a genuine fondness for music, including secular music and dance; several bishops expressed disapproval of the sort of music he permitted at his court events (Ross, pp. 141-142; the clerics involved seem to have regarded it as licentious, but that probably just means it involved dancing and didn't have religious themes).
One point is rarely mentioned by the controversialists. They seem to think they know Richard III personally. But they did not. Neither did Thomas More. Edward IV did. And Edward IV entrusted Richard with his son. Mistakenly, to be sure, but could Richard really have fooled his older brother for more than thirty years?
Also, if it be charged that Richard III seems to have wanted power -- there isn't much doubt of that. (Most barons at this time did!) But consider this: In 1483, when Edward IV died, Richard was no worse than #9 in line for the throne, and probably higher. Henry Tudor stood at least three spots lower (behind Richard, Richard's son, and Henry's own mother), even if you discount the Beaufort illegitimacy. (It is interesting to note that, though Henry VII pretended to hereditary right, the act of parliament declaring him King asserts no such thing; WilliamsonJ, p. 19, or see the text on p. 62 of Chrimes. It in effect says, Look, he's king now and we aren't going to fight it. Or, as Russell says on p. 69, Henry VII "had shown that the only indispensable condition for possession of the throne was power," and Henry, unlike Richard, would let no hint of mercy or justice interfere with his possession of that.)
WilliamsonJ, p. 18, allows that Henry's claim came through the Beauforts, and grants that "On the most favorable interpretation the Beaufort claim was not the best of the existing claims to the throne.... The Beaufort claim was therefore the Lancastrian claim, strong in history though weak in law." Yet Henry could not logically call himself the Lancastrian claimant, because Lancastrian rule was based on succession in the male line, and Henry Tudor's claim came through his mother. In male line, Edward IV was the heir of Henry VI and his son, and then Edward IV's sons, and then George of Clarence and his son (barred by attainder), and then Richard III. There were *no other descendents of Edward III in male line*. None.
And if you ignore all that -- well, Henry's mother was still alive, so she surely came before him in line. And Henry Tudor was actually of dubious legitimacy on both sides -- supposedly his paternal grandfather, Owen Tudor, had married Katherine of France, the widow of Henry V, but no proof was ever offered (Cheetham, pp. 132-233), and even if they did marry, it is possible that the oldest son, Edmund Tudor was born before the marriage took place (Langley/Jones, p. 188). The children of this match, including Edmund Tudor the father of Henry VII, were ennobled by Henry VI -- but not due to any hereditary claims to a place in the English peerage. (They might have had claims to *French* titles -- after all, they were the nephews of Charles VII -- but they certainly never attempted to gain any.) So which one was madly ambitious -- Richard of Gloucester, who had a good claim to the throne, or Henry Tudor?
This is not to deny Richard's ambition, which is undeniable, nor to justify it. It's just to show that the choice at the time was Richard, or a government led by Edward V and dominated by the wildly ambitious Woodvilles, or a goverment led by the wildly ambitious Henry Tudor. Of the three, only Richard had demonstrated any sort of competence, and also had the best record of "public service."
And ambition did not make a bad king. Quite a few English kings other than Richard openly conspired in one way or another to take the crown -- starting, of course, with William the Conqueror. Of those who followed him, Henry I, Stephen, Henry II, John, Henry IV, Edward IV, Henry VII, and William III all took direct action to attain a crown that was not automatically theirs. Stephen and John are usually accounted bad kings, and Henry IV, Edward IV, and Henry VII are debated, but Henry I, Henry II, and William III are usually considered good kings by English historians.
Nor -- and this bears emphasizing -- was usurpation an uncommon thing. In the fifteenth century, as Pollard points out (p. 172) there were *four* usurpers -- presumably Henry IV, Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII. One could even argue for a fifth, the re-enthroned Henry VI. I've seen it argued that usurpation was only justified when the previous king had proved himself incompetent, and that Edward V never had the chance to prove himself one way or the other. But, by this token, then Henry VII must also be treated as unjustified; what little evidence Richard gave in his two years on the throne indicates that he would have been a good king.
Pollard concludes, p. 203, that ther were "profound contradictions in Richard's behavior, and perhaps, therefore, in his personality."
If you want my guess, it appears to me that Richard had a soldier's sort of impatience. (If the Yorkists collectively had a fault, it was an inability to control their lusts: Edward IV never controlled his desire for women and pleasure, George of Clarence never controlled his lust for the throne, and Richard seemed never to curb his lust for some sort of action.) Saul3, p. 68, suggests that his father has similar attitudes: "York's rather old-fashioned, traditional sense of chivalry was to be inherited by the youngest of his... sons." On p. 99, Saul3 suggsts that he wanted to restore "chivalric kingship" -- apparently by starting wars.
Richard clearly didn't like hanging around court, and he didn't like waiting for the slow wheels of justice (even though justice at that time was swift compared to today). This matches Croyland's assessment that he "never acted sleepily, but incisively and with the utmost vigilance" (Pollard, p. 190). Pollard agrees (p. 191) that Richard's "[i]ntelligence, alertness and decisiveness are not much in doubt." Whatever the problem, he leapt in and solved it (just witness the way he died! -- the one and only thing Shakespeare seems to have gotten right in "Richard III." WilliamsonA, p. 151, suggests that in his decision to charge Henry Tudor we sense "a crisis of temperament, the rage of a man who had shown rage before"). So he executed men like Lord Hastings and Earl Rivers without trial rather than wait for a court decision (Seward-Roses, pp. 258, 265-266).
I find myself wondering if some of Richard's tendency to rush to judgment might not be the psychological trauma of his childhood; he was born around the beginning of the Wars of the Roses, and by the time he was ten, he lost his father, an older brother, and an uncle, and had been repeatedly forced to flee home (cf. Cunningham, pp. 3-4). Ross, p. 23, adds that, by the time he was 18, he had seen brutal executions carried out on many occasions, either *of* people he loved or *by* people he loved: Margaret of Anjou had executed his father and brother in 1460; Edward IV had executed many in 1461; the Earl of Warwick, who had had charge of Richard's education in the 1460s and whose daughter Richard would later marry, had engaged in mass executions in his 1469-1471 power grabs; and Edward IV had ordered more executions in the aftermath of Warwick's rebellions -- including, eventually, George of Clarence, who was Edward and Richard's own brother.
Even Seward-Richard, p. 60, admits that Richard "never had time to be young" -- though few people at this time did have a childhood as we would now recognize the term. Still, most children merely found themselves farming in the fields or learning weapons by the age of eight or so; they were not subjected to the sorts of wrenching changes of fortune Richard faced.
Richard's brutality was hardly exceptional; Seward-Roses, p. 7, notes that in 1460-1461 alone eighteen peers died in battle or were executed; in the course of the Wars of the Roses, no fewer than twelve senior members of the Royal Family died. There is a report that, after Towton, 42 Lancastrian knights were beheaded. Seward claims that some 60 were attainted.
Richard's overall record was one of surprising mercy. Consider the first serious rebellion faced by Richard, that of the Duke of Buckingham,. Buckingham's rebellion was widespread and featured a man who had every reason to grateful to Richard -- Ross, p. 114, observes that no one at the time could figure out why Buckingham rebelled, since Richard had made him the most important man in the kingdom (he had been the richest noble in England even *before* that, and his lands would be used to endow many nobles after his death, according to Cheetham, p. 160).
Pollard, p. 91, notes that Buckingham was kept out of the government during Edward IV's reign, and conjectures that it was because Edward sensed that he was very ambitious. Similarly Ross-Edward, p. 335, who notes that Buckingham was not even allowed to participate in Edward's invasion of France. But, even if true, we don't know what Buckingham was ambitious *for*. Moderns have no more idea of what Buckingham was thinking than did his contemporaries. Chrimes, p. 20, and Cunningham, p. 52, speculate that the wily John Morton, Bishop of Ely, talked him into it, but while Morton had a mind more twisty than a snake with a broken back, that can't really explain what Morton offered him. Buckingham was descended from Edward III in two lines, but no matter how you look at it, he was pretty far down -- in the Beaufort line, he trailed Henry Tudor, and in the true Plantagenet line, he trailed not only Richard III but also all of Edward IV's surviving sisters and their children. Nonetheless, Cunningham, p. 104, concludes that he must have been trying for the throne, since there was nothing else he could aspire to.
More, who on this topic might have inside information from Morton, seems to imply that Morton worked to convince Buckingham to rebel, possibly tempting him to take the throne himself. But More's account breaks off just as things might have gotten really interesting (WilliamsonA, p. 100).
WilliamsonA, p. 84, does note that Buckingham's wife was the sister of Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Most historians think the marriage -- which was forced upon Buckingham -- was unhappy, but Williamson thinks Catherine Woodville might have brought him back to the family alliance. But why, then the alliance to Henry Tudor? Why not back the princes? Even this explanation is hard to fathom.
Bennett's suggestion (pp. 47-48) was that Buckingham thought the rebellion would succeed, and wanted to be among the winners. The problem with this is, Buckingham himself was by far the strongest supporter of the rebellion. Yes, the plotting probably preceded him -- but had he been devoted to suppressing it, it would surely have failed. He must have wanted it to succeed.
Though I have never seen this stated, it's possible that Buckingham's ambitions explain one of the contradictions of Richard III's usurpation: Was the official party line that Edward IV was illegitimate, or that Edward IV's children were illegitimate? For Richard, it was easier to argue that the children were illegitimate -- but, for Buckingham, it was better that Edward IV and all his siblings were bastards.
If you set aside all of Edward IV's siblings, and considered the Beaufort/Tudor connection to be barred by illegitimacy, then there was hardly anyone left senior to Buckingham in the line of succession (cf. Chrimes, p. 20). There were a few foreign descendants of John of Gaunt in the female line (doubly suspect because they were foreign and female), including the heiress of Burgundy, the King of Portugal, and the famous Queen Isabella of Castile (Fields, p. 153; cf. Mattingly, p. 25, who speculates that the wedding of Henry VIII with Catherine of Aragon was arranged partly to bring in her Lancastrian blood), but among residents of England, I see only Henry Bourchier, the grandson of the Earl of Essex and Richard III's first cousin once removed, who was only about 11 years old. Buckingham could surely have had him set aside, too.
So Buckingham could, perhaps, have been involved in a truly grand conspiracy: Use Richard III to eliminate all the Yorkists except Richard himself; used Henry Tudor to eliminate Richard III, and then let Henry Tudor's illegitimacy eliminate the Tudor (compare Cheetham, p. 136). Or maybe Buckingham planned to knock off Henry and argue that he was the next heir of the Beaufort line; Seward-Richard, pp. 90-91, seems to think this was Buckingham's primary idea. Most of this scheme worked, except that, ironically, Buckingham showed his hand too soon and wasn't around to pick up the pieces.
Had this been the real explanation for what happened, Richard could really have gone on a witch hunt. Many of the rebellion's leaders were in Richard's hands. Richard considered Buckingham ungrateful, and he was executed (Ross, p. 117). But few others suffered so; the rebellion resulted in "less than a dozen executions" (Cheetham, p. 211). WilliamsonA, p. 108, says that Henry Tudor, the Marquess of Dorset (Elizabeth Woodville's son by her first marriage), two Woodvilles, and Bishop Morton of Ely and the Bishop of Exeter were attainted, plus a few knights -- but many of them lived.
Even Ross, p. 117, admits that "few paid for their treason with their lives," though he adds (p. 119) that "none of the men pardoned in 1484 and 1485 was ever restored to the commissions of peace in his native county." (This is at least partly false, given that Lord Stanley retained his power, but it may have been generally true. Still, that's only two years!) Ross does add (pp. 119-120) that several of these men lost estates, which Richard arbitrarily re-granted to his supporters. Ross is probably right in thinking that this cost Richard some support -- but it happened in every regime of this period. Richard did not take any real action against Buckingham's young son -- he was executed by (ahem) Henry VIII, seemingly just because he was the leading descendent of Edward III who wasn't directly linked to the Tudors (WilliamsonJ, pp. 98-99).
We might note also that, when Richard had invaded Scotland in 1482 at Edward's orders, he had Edinburgh at his mercy -- but he did not burn it, as other English invaders had done (Ross, p. 47). The Croyland Chronicler was rather sarcastic about this act of humanity (Dockray, p. 114), though Edward IV officially told the Pope that Richard had "spared the supplicant and prostrate citizens" (Dockray, p. 118). This at a time when captured cities could expect to be sacked. Richard, in fact, must have had very good control of his men to have been able to keep them from wrecking the place. (Of course, that control could come from respect or from fear.)
Even at the end, at the Battle of Bosworth, Richard shows signs leniency. Lord Stanley, at that battle, refused a peremptory order to join his forces with Richard's. Lord Strange, Stanley's son, was in Richard's camp, and tried to escape. He was caught. Richard sent Stanley another order, on threat of Strange's head, and Stanley declared he had other sons.
(That's the story, anyway. Believe however much you wish. That tale has been told of others -- e.g., centuries earlier, of William the Marshal, the man who saved England after the death of King John. King Stephen had taken William hostage, and threatened to hang him unless William's father surrendered to him. The father declared he had other songs, and the king obviously did not kill his hostage; Davis, p. 34. It sounds as if this is one of those stories people like to tell about "bad" kings.)
Whatever Richard ordererd, Strange was not executed. (It's not quite certain what Richard actually did. Jenkins, p. 213, says Richard did not order the execution. though Wilkinson, p. 304, thinks Richard did order him executed, and his subordinates refused to carry it out. Cheetham, p. 191, splits the difference: "Either because Richard retreated when his bluff was called, or because his orders were disobeyed, Lord Strange survived his ordeal." Potter cites "the legend" as saying Strange's execution was ordered but postponed; the "legend" seems to be the "Ballad of Bosworth Field," which implies that Richard was willing to let Strange's fate be decided by the battle). Strange in fact, died in 1503 of what was said to be poison (AshleyM, p. 584). But note that it doesn't matter what Richard did; what matters is that, clearly *Stanley did not expect Richard to execute Strange*, or he would not have said what he said.
Quite frankly, Richard's clemency would in the end would cost him. (Fields, p. 92, mentions his "surprising leniency, a characteristic of Richard that was sometimes foolish and even reckless. Pollard, p. 148, has a more cynical explanation: Richard thought it safer to have Stanley in the government than out of it. But why, then, turn him loose when Henry Tudor invaded?) Seward-Richard, p. 75, makes the grim jest that Stanley was an "outstanding security risk," who would go on to help kill Richard. Stanley would not have been around to betray him had Richard not forgiven him earlier. Richard's soft treatment of Stanley is particularly surprising given that they may have had disputes over property as early as c. 1470 (Pollard, p. 47). Bennett, p. 76, thinks Richard had spared Stanley in 1483 because he "feared him more than anyone." But surely it would have been safer to eliminate Stanley in, say, 1484, than to not know what he would do at Bosworth!
Of course, what people really condemn Richard for was killing Edward V and Richard of York. Not that it was unusual to get rid of deposed kings. Edward II was murdered. So, in all likelihood, was Richard II. Henry VI was eventually disposed of. All of them, it is true, were adults -- yet the saintly but half-witted Henry VI was no more responsible for his actions than was the underage but intelligent Edward V. And don't forget that Henry VII would trick the Earl of Warwick -- another mentally fragile Plantagenet -- to justify executing him, and eventually Henry VIII would execute the Countess of Salisbury (Warwick's sister) on even feebler grounds. Don't forget, too, that Henry VII was trying for the throne even before Edward IV died, so he would also unquestionably have killed the princes.
Ross, p. 127, concludes, "Past discussions of Richard's character and ability as king of England have always been bedevilled by the problem of his motivation. Confronted by the paradox between a man apparently capable of ruthless political violence, indeed infanticide, [sic. -- Richard of York, his youngest possible victim, was about nine] on the one hand, and a seemingly beneficent, concerned, and well-intentioned monarch on the other, Richard's critics and detractors have had no hesitation in seeking a cynical explanation."
The real problem was that the situation in 1483 put Richard, and many others, in an impossible position. Ross-Wars, p. 94, admits "Probably it was fear for his own safety and future which inspired his action, rather than any deep-laid plan or the determination 'to prove a villain' which Shakespears and the Tudor tradition attributed to him." The problem arose when Edward IV died young in April of that year.
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