Children in the Wood, The (The Babes in the Woods) [Laws Q34] --- Part 04
DESCRIPTION: Continuation of the notes to "The Children in the Wood (The Babes in the Woods)" [Laws Q34] --- Part 03. Entry concludes in "The Children in the Wood, The (The Babes in the Woods) [Laws Q34]" --- Part 05 (File Number LQ34D)
Last updated in version 3.8
NOTES: THE USURPATION
When Edward IV died, his son Edward V was only twelve years old. So how was England to be governed until Edward V came of age? This was the question which destroyed both Edward V and Richard III.
Even Edward V's youth might not have mattered had he not been in the hands of his mother's family, the Woodvilles, who had already shown that they placed their own interests ahead of England's; if they were allowed to dominate Edward V, even pro-Tudor scholars generally agree it would have been disastrous. And even anti-Richard historians agree that they had been given far too much power -- they dominated Wales as part of the entourage of Edward V, who was of course Prince of Wales. The younger of Edward's sons, Richard Duke of York, had also been given the Dukedom of Norfolk when he had been married to the young Anne Mowbray. Anne had since died, so Richard should have lost the title, but Edward IV had never rescinded it, giving the Woodvilles power in East Anglia.
As Ross-Edward says on p. 103, "Edward had created a real risk to the future political peace of his realm in allowing his heir to be surrounded by Woodvilles from infancy, educated under their guidance, and necessarily under their influence. When Edward died prematurely in April 1483, the likelihood of a regency dominated by the queen's unpopular family was a prospect which recommended itself to no one." Nor had he built a useful circle of internal or external allies, because of the way he handled his own childrens' marriages; as Ross-Edward observes on pp. 246-248, Edward seemed to be letting monetary considerations determine all his alliances. Had Edward lived longer, it might not have mattered, but his early death meant that his daughters, who had been expected to marry kings, "had to be content with an earl, a viscount and a gentleman, a knight and a nunnery" (Ross-Edward, p. 249).
Give the chance to overcome their reputation, the Woodvilles blew it after Edward's death. It is ironic; they could have pointed, e.g., to the fact that Elizabeth Woodville ran her household on far less money than Margaret of Anjou (Laynesmith, p. 235) -- she may have aggrandized her family, but as a queen, she came cheap.
But instead of addressing the real problems, he clan simply moved quickly to gain control of the prince and set Richard of Gloucester aside -- they didn't even send messages to tell Richard that Edward IV was dead! (Jenkins, p. 143; Kendall, p. 193. Seward-Richard, p. 88, conceals this by saying that a messenger from Lord Hastings brought the message), and scheduled a very premature coronation for May 4 (Kendall, p. 196; Jenkins, p. 180, notes the irony that, when the time came, Richard himself would rush his own coronation to prevent any sort of rebellion or demonstration). They also seized the royal treasure and put a fleet to sea under their command (Ross, p. 65; Mancini reportedly thought this action so egregious as to amount to theft; Langley/Jones, p. 107). The only thing that made it appear anything less than a coup d'etat was the fact that they were of course loyal to the new King.
The Woodville-dominated council decided immediately after Edward IV's death not to give Duke Richard broad powers as protector (Hicks, p. 139; Ross, p. 65). One council member, the Marquis of Dorset -- one of Queen Elizabeth Woodville's sons by her first marriage -- went so far as to declare "We are so important that even without the King's uncle we can make and enforce our decisions" (Ross, p. 68; Lamb, p. 18). This even though, with Edward IV dead, they had no official role. Yet the Council sent out messages in the name of the Queen, without mention of Richard -- as if Elizabeth Woodville were regent, even though Parliament had not met (Lamb, p. 18).
The non-Woodville members of the council reportedly acted as it did out of fear that Richard of Gloucester would usurp power -- and so they responded by helping the Woodvilles grab it instead (Cheetham, p. 102, based on Mancini). It was a truly stupid move. It was also, in effect, a declaration of war on Richard. The Woodville plan seems to have been to crown Edward V, have him open a hastily-summoned parliament, and put themselves in complete control (Hicks, p. 147). They wanted Edward V to reach London no later than May 1.
Despite the panic in London, no one away from the capitol seems to have worried too much about the aftermath of the king's death. Things might have been different had the royal party set out for London at once. But Earl Rivers did not leave home with his nephew until probably April 24 (Kendall, pp. 195-196; on p. 540 he says the exact date is uncertain but most authorities seem to agree with his chronology). True, he had been requested to bring 2000 soldiers with him. But he could probably have set out quickly, gathering soldiers as he went; instead, he sat.
Once he heard of his brother's death, Richard gave overwhelming evidence of grief, according to Jenkins, p. 146, and Seward-Richard, p. 93.
The chronology here is murky. Edward IV died on April 9, 1483 at the age of 40 (Dockray, pp. 143-145, citing Croyland; it appears no other source gives the exact date). Seward-Richard, p. 88, says that the message from Lord Hastings reached Richard two days later. Kendall, p. 183, says it was "mid-April." Neither one documents their date. Some time not long after, word reached Richard from Hastings that the Woodvilles were taking charge. Seward-Richard, p. 92, seems to imply it happened almost at once; Kendall, p. 194, seems to imply a longer time. Seward-Richard, p. 93, has Richard at York on April 20, grieving for his brother.
Some time soon after that, a message from the Duke of Buckingham reached Richard, offering to bring a large force (Seward-Richard, p. 93). Richard told him to bring only 300 men, and to meet him at Northampton, where they would meet the King and Rivers.
Rivers had, by that date, made it to Stony Stratford, somewhat beyond Northampton. But Rivers himself returned to the town to meet Richard on April 29. There the Duke of Buckingham joined Richard -- and Richard, for reasons we can only guess, went from grief-stricken brother to man of action.
Had there been a battle, Rivers would surely have won; Rivers was supposed to have gathered 2000 men, whereas each duke, according to Kendall, p. 195, had only 300 retainers, and Ross, p. 74, credits them with only 500 combined. But there was no battle over the prince (Ross, p. 94, says there was "violence," but what he means is "swift action"). Richard managed to get Edward V out of the Woodville clan's hands (Seward-Richard, pp. 94-95, says he surrounded Rivers's hotel with his men), and to put Rivers and others of his party in custody (though, ironically, he sent Rivers a dish from his own table at the time).
It tells you something about the internal conflicts of this period that, the moment she heard Edward V was in Richard's hands, Queen Elizabeth Woodville took her other children and fled into sanctuary (Jenkins, p. 151; Seward-Richard, p. 95; Hicks, p. 145 notes that the Woodville faction made no attempt to negotiate. They just checked local opinion, found it was against them, and ran). Mancini says the Woodvilles tried to get the available nobles to support them -- and found that the nobles were not interested (Langley/Jones, p. 114).
Jenkins, p. 147, thinks the maneuvering by Richard shows how hard the Woodvilles were fighting him, but I'm not sure this follows. Although the other three Woodville brothers "were hated by everybody" (Seward-Richard, p. 79). Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, who had custody of Edward V, was a bit different. Seward-Richard, p. 79, calls him "chivalrous, cultivated and travelled, a patron of letters, something of a mystic, and even a poet." Jenkins, pp. 168-169, notes the graciousness of his last will, which left large bequests to charity and did nothing which would have supported the Woodville cause, though Hicks, p. 126, accuses him of what we would now call real estate fraud; Laynesmith, p. 91, calls him "ambitious and frequently ruthless," and Ross-Edward, p. 98, reports that he made strong use of his rights as governor of the household of the Prince of Wales.
Ross, p. 69, Cheetham, p. 123, and Kendall, p. 204, all report that Rivers wore a hair shirt under his robes. He seems to have been driven by a strong and rather mystical piety (ironically, much like what we see in Richard III's surviving library and writings). And, although he was a noted jouster, he doesn't seem to have liked actually fighting -- several sources at the time called him a coward (Langley/Jones, p. 109), which, given the culture of the time, probably does not mean that he was afraid of combat but that he didn't like killing people. (Painter, p. 86, suggests that "something had come over the romantic Earl in 1471" that had changed his attitude toward fighting; Painter suggests that it might have been Warwick's execution of his father and brother, or his own role in the fighting in that year, or Edward's attitude when he wanted to go on pilgrimages).
I would add that Woodville's Sayings of the Philosophers was probably the first book from an English author printed in England; Caxton published it in 1477. Most English nobles at this time were literate -- Richard III wrote a beautiful secretary hand, though Edward IV had a pretty sloppy signature and Edward V's writing was rather stiff -- but few were scholars enough to compile a book like Woodville's.
Percy's Reliques, in fact, prints a poem by Rivers (as preserved by Rous, and supposedly written shortly before his execution); it is given under the title "A Balet by the Earl Rivers," and begins
Sumwhat musyng, And more mornying,
In remembring The [=Thy?] unstydfasness;
This world being Of such whelyng,
Me contrarieng, What may I gesse?
(Reprinted on pp. 48-49 of volume II of Percy/Wheatley.)
Cheetham, p. 123, speculates that this is precisely why Richard killed Rivers: he was "the one member of the [Woodville] family whose talents and popularity might have redeemed the greed and cruelty of his kin and threatened the ascendancy of his executioner."
Unfortunately for him, he had recently taken as a second wife a relative of the Beauforts (Painter, p. 116), so he was linked to both factions opposed to Richard, the Lancastrians and the Woodvilles.
Opinion in London at the time was apparently mixed, with the citizens fearing the coming of the Dukes. Richard managed to calm almost everyone (Seward-Richard, p. 96) -- except, of course, the Woodville faction.
Keep in mind that if the Woodvilles had reason to fear Richard, Richard had reason to fear them as well (even Seward-Richard, p. 81, admits this point). *Someone* had instigated the treason trial of George of Clarence, and it probably wasn't Edward IV (since he had hesitated long to sign the actual death warrant; Fields, p. 57, though Dockray notes on p. 97 that most sources say Edward was responsible for the whole thing). Almost everyone thinks the Woodvilles had pushed Edward into it (so Mancini; see Dockray, pp. 97, 102 -- though Thomas More, as Dockray puts it, accuses Richard of "conniving at" the execution). If the Woodvilles were willing to kill one of Edward IV's brothers, why not two? And there was the disturbing precendent of Humphrey of Gloucester, who had been Protector during Henry VI's minority: It was widely believed that his death in 1447 had been the result of murder (Fields, p. 73, and see below).
As Ross says on pp. 72-73, "The volte-face at Northampton and Stony Stratford is a key event in the history of Richard's usurpation, since for the first time the Woodville group was now deprived of the initiative. But it was very far from solving Richard's problems. When the news reached London on the night of 30 April-May 1, it produced consternation. The queen, taking her younger son, Richard of York, and her daughters with her, at once withdrew to sanctuary in Westminster Abbey, a clear indication of how little confidence she had in Richard's good faith. The Woodville group contemplated raising an army to recover the king by force, only to find it did not command enough support."
Elizabeth probably expected to stay in sanctuary a while; the history of Thomas More reports that she took so much stuff that they had to do some sort of reconstruction on the building to get it all in (Jenkins, p. 151; Poole, p. 6). Everything in More must be taken with a grain of salt, of course, but there is sense to this; she had fled to sanctuary once before (during the 1469-1471 rebellion against Edward IV -- Edward V in fact had been born there) and had found it an uncomfortable experience. This time, she would be ready. It's barely possible that she saved her life by fleeing, but what is certain is that by this act she "declared war" on Richard and his allies (Jenkins, p. 156). She had, in effect, said, "Either you or I rule the King" -- and Richard was "in possession." And he didn't look threatening; he had always been loyal to Edward IV (Bennett, p. 54, declares that "even in retrospect it is impossible to find evidence of any higher ambition" during Edward's reign), and he arrived in London with only a small escort (Hicks, p. 146).
The dowager Queen's behavior clearly put Richard in a bind (though neither he nor she may have realized it at the time). As Pollard says on p. 98, "Whatever their relationship before April 30, there can be no doubting the animosity between Richard and the Woodvilles thereafter." If the young King were allowed to rule with his mother's family at his side, their administration would very likely prove incompetent (since the only actual skill the Woodvilles had demonstrated was a keen ability to be social climbers) -- and Richard would be in grave personal danger, since they clearly distrusted him (Mancini in fact said that she and her family had driven him from the court, though Dockray, p. 98, questions this). For his own and the nation's survival, Richard probably needed to cement his power. (Indeed, Hicks, p. 148, thinks he executed Earl Rivers, Lord Grey, and Sir Thomas Vaughan -- associates of Edward V -- so hastily because, if Edward were crowned, Richard would no longer be Lord Protector and they could safely move against him.) As Ross says on p. 80, "No one familiar with the Woodvilles could have looked forward to gentle forgiveness."
It would be hard even for him to retreat to his lands. Although he had significant holdings as Duke of Gloucester, a very large portion of his wealth came through his wife, the younger daughter of the Earl of Warwick -- and some of that was in a strange legal position; he could only hold it as long as his wife's cousin was alive (Cunningham, p. 20; apparently this had to do with the fact that the boy George Neville, the son of Warwick's brother the Marquis of Montagu, was the heir of Warwick in male line. Pollard, p. 68, says that the arrangement was to protect more distantly related Nevilles: Richard could only keep the inheritance as long as the actual line of Neville traitors was alive). The idea had been Edward IV's (Langley/Jones, p. 82); apparently he didn't think much about the long-term consequences. And George Neville in fact died, seemingly unexpectedly, soon after Edward IV (Cunningham, p. 36; Langley/Jones, p. 119).
Cunningham therefore thinks that Richard may have been worried about his own and his son's position -- he would still hold the Gloucester dukedom, but Edward V, once he came of age, could take all his authority in the north away. This would effectively leave Richard without a power base. Similarly, if his wife died, many of his lands in the north would be lost. And Pollard, p. 85, speculates (while admitting that he had no "direct and irrefutable" evidence) thinks that Richard may have been financially overextended.
And Edward had handed Richard an office that had a history of being a very hot potato. In living memory, there had been two Protectors, both for Henry VI. Humphrey of Gloucester, the king' uncle, had held the post when Henry VI was a boy. Later, when Henry went insane, Richard of York (the father of Richard III) had held the post. Neither had survived. Humphrey had not been a great protector, but he hardly deserved his arrest in 1447 which led to his death (Rubin, pp. 231-232, though she gives the date of his death as 1448; Seward-Hundred, p. 246). Richard of York had governed reasonably well while in power (Gillingham, p. 82), but had all his acts reversed once out of power and was eventually hounded to death by Margaret of Anjou. (As Gillingham quotes on p. 84, "If Henry's insanity had been a tragedy, his recovery was a national disaster." It left Margaret in power, with no agenda but to pursue her feuds.)
To top it all off, England was in a foreign policy mess. Edward had invaded France in 1475, in association with the Burgundians. but had then let himself be bought off when the Duke of Burgundy went off on a wild goose chase (Kendall, p. 134). Richard opposed the peace (Kendall, p. 136), but Edward accepted a pension from Louis XI and made a deal to marry his daughter Elizabeth to the Dauphin.
Louis XI was playing for time. Burgundy had been the key to English foreign policy since the reign of Henry V. England plus Burgundy could defeat France. England without Burgundy could do nothing. When Charles the Rash of Burgundy died, his heir was a daughter. She married Maximilian of Austria -- and Louis XI, shortly before Edward died, put together a deal which obtained the reversion of a big chunk of Burgundy.
The result was that all of Edward's international policies came crashing down. France no longer needed to fear an alliance between England and Burgundy, which meant the French subsidy that had propped up Edward IV was halted (Fields, p. 61), leaving the English government broke. The French were raiding English property, and might threaten Calais. Louis broke the engagement between the Dauphin and the princess Elizabeth (engaging the Dauphin to the Burgundian heiress instead). Edward had let Burgundy be destroyed because he wanted Louis's money. Now he had neither. Mancini, the Croyland Chronicler, and even Polydore Vergil note that Edward IV himself realized that he was in a real mess (Dockray, p. 122; Commynes would actually suggest that despair over this hastened Edward IV's death; Dockray, p. 143). Croyland says explicitly that Edward "had been tricked by King Louis" (Dockray, p. 124). Plus the Flemish, who had been keeping France busy, agreed to peace terms in 1482 (Dockray, p. 130). And Edward was no longer around to pick up the pieces. Someone else -- someone forceful -- was clearly needed.
The first step once Richard reached London was to postpone Edward's coronation from May 4 to around June 23 (Ross, p. 74) -- a fairly obvious need, since the coronation would presumably eliminate the Lord Protector's role and leave England without a government apart from the Woodville faction.
Langley/Jones, p. 119, thinks Richard tried to have his protectorate extended after the coronation, but there was no precedent. A good regency law would really have helped, and the English must have known it; every child king since the Norman Conquest (Henry III, Richard II, Henry VI) had faced a major rebellion, and the latter two had been overthrown.
But William the Marshal, who had been regent at the beginning of the reign of Henry III, had insisted that he not have a successor in the role (Davis, p. 49), and perhaps as a result, England didn't have such a thing (Hicks, p. 139; Lyon, p. 172, notes that it was not until the time of Henry VIII that actual statutes were passed to deal with royal minorities. To be sure, there had been a regency in England when Edward IV invaded France in 1475, with the queen and prince Edward nominally in charge, but it was understood that the council would manage the realm until Edward returned; Laynesmith, pp. 156-157. What would have happened had Edward died is a wide-open question.... It is noteworthy that, when Henry VI went mad, no law was passed; it was all ad hoc; Laynesmith, p. 160. But that probably hurt Elizabeth Woodville's chances for a regency; no one wanted to recall the bad precedent when Margaret of Anjou was de facto regent; Laynesmith, p. 162).
Jenkins, p. 145, says that no one even really knew what the Lord Protector was supposed to do, and Ross, p. 75, notes the contradictory precedents of previous minority reigns (e.g. Richard II had been treated as an adult monarch when he came to the throne at age ten because there was no acceptable regent; SaulII, p. 28; Saul3, p. 51; Tuck, p. 175). There was no custom of queen mothers taking charge -- fortunately, in this case -- but neither was there a clear alternative. The best thing would surely have been to have the Lord Protector be in control until the King came of age -- it appears that some people were preparing for this, according to Ross, p. 75 -- but it never happened.
For, of course, the postponement of the coronation was also a first step toward displacing Edward V. Poole, p. 7, says, "So far all had gone well for Richard and so far he had behaved quite correctly. There was nothing as yet... to suggest that he was the monster that Shakespeare and the Tudor apologists made him out to be.... But perhaps the ease with which the Protector had got his own way with the Council and overcome the Woodvilles now awakened his dormant ambition to be King."
St. Aubyn, pp. 104-107, strongly implies that postponing the coronation was Richard's first move toward the throne, but still admits, "Because Richard finally seized the Crown, it is tempting to see his entire career as directed toward that end. Nevertheless, in April 1483 he had done nothing more than seek his own safety in a swift pre-emptive bid." Hicks, p. 142, says, "United by their hostility to the [Woodvilles], Buckingham and Hastings thought Richard was serving their purpose. What Richard himself intended, apparently a temporary protectorate and management of the new regime, may really have been much more ominous. It appears most likely [read, of course, 'I think but I can't prove it'] that he was already planning to usurp the throne when the time was right."
Wilkinson, p. 298, confesses that "The exact time when [Richard] first directed his ambition towards the throne will probably never be known," and on the same page points out, "If Richard allowed his dignity of Protector to be taken from him, or if what powers he had were diminished rather than increased, it was probable that his complete destruction [presumably at the hands of the Woodvilles] would be only a matter of time." "Thus it can be said in his defence that his enemies did not leave him the luxury of loyalty and moderation. They drove him to usurpation as a measure of self-defence." Yet Wilkinson also adds, on p. 299, that it does not appear that Richard did not "drift" into usurpation and murder; "All his actions seem to fall into a consistent pattern of a cold and deeply calculated design upon the throne."
Cunningham, p. 31, says that at the time of Edward IV's death, "There can be no suggestion at this stage of a conspiracy against Edward V. Rather, the confederation of these nobles [Richard, Buckingham, and Hastings] was probably a move to delay Edward's coronation, since such a ceremony in April 1483 may (sic.) have left the three lords isolated, making it difficult to gain footholds in the Woodville-dominated household and council that would surely have followed."
Seward-Richard, pp. 99-100, will not even admit the possibility that Richard had not already made up his mind; his only question is the point at which Richard *revealed* those ambitions to allies such as Buckingham and Howard; he is sure it was before Richard Duke of York was taken from sanctuary. The one relevant piece of data that Seward-Richard offers (p. 104) is that the Princes in the Tower seem to have been more closely confined after the death of Hastings -- which would seem to imply that Richard by then planned to set Edward V aside. Similarly Saul3, pp. 70-71, is convinced that "the spur to Richard's actions was naked ambition," and is sure he was gunning for the throne from the moment he heard of Edward's death.
Yet Cheetham, p. 124, contents that Richard was not planning usurpation at this stage: "The portrait makes better sense if Richard is seen as a man whose eyes were only by degrees opened to the logical consequences of his own actions. His reaction to each succeeding crisis bears the mark of an impulsive man of action taking the short cut to his immediate objective without pausing to work out the long term effects. If Richard is to be judged, then he must be accused of not too much guile but too little." I must say, this fits what appears to be his impetuous personality.
Jenkins, p. 171, remarks that Richard had perhaps set his foot on a slippery slope (a phrasing perhaps inspired by Thomas More, who accuses Richard of building "upon how slippery a ground"; Seward-Richard, p. 111). He had defeated the Woodvilles -- but he had also probably made an enemy of the boy king.
Bennett, p. 40, observes that the last known grant issued in the name of Edward V was made on June 8, and thinks it likely that that was when Richard made his decision.
Even Pollard, no fan of Richard, says on p. 96, "The earliest story, followed by Shakespeare, was that Richard had long intended to take the throne for himself and had only been awaiting the opportunity. This can be safely discounted. There is no evidence to suggest that Richard entertained such ambitions before Edward IV died; on the contrary the whole purpose and direction of his career until 9 April was to establish himself as a great northern magnate." But by taking action at Stony Stratford, he had left himself with no good options.
Ross, pp. 64-65, sums up this way: "The extraordinary problems of the evidence are highlighted by the difficulty which historians have always found in providing a convincing answer to one vital question: when, and why, did Richard decide to seek the throne for himself. We need not take seriously the Tudor back-projection, that he was planning to make himself king before the death of Edward IV, for he could not have anticipated that his vigorous, if debauched, brother would die at the age of forty. Was the violent seizure of Edward V at Stony Stratford a planned step on the way to the throne? Few historians would dare claim this with any certainty....
"Most scholars now tend to connect his final decision with the execution of Hastings on 13 June.... But even this is not without its difficulties. Was the violent action against Hastings an essential move in a pre-conceived plan, or did he decide only later, in the realization that his action was irreversible, and that having gone so far, he could only go further.... It has recently been argued that only as late as 20 June, two days before he claimed the throne, did he finally admit to himself that 'the spectre of continuing crises and conflicts' could only be dispelled by eliminating 'the one common bond among his enemies, loyalty to Edward V.'"
Ross seems to think this position extreme, and I agree. It is more likely, as Pollard suggests on p. 99, that Richard eliminated Hastings because he thought Hastings would interfere with his campaign for the throne. But Pollard's further conjecture -- that Richard invented a conspiracy by Hastings to justify his usurpation -- makes less sense; why, then, the execution without trial? More and Vergil both say Richard made up a conspiracy story so as to get rid of Hastings, but this shouldn't have been necessary; many modern observers think there really was a conspiracy and Richard simply acted quickly (Laynesmith, p. 176).
The problem shows how little we know of Richard's plans. Ross, p. 78, notes that the two most important contemporary observers (Mancini and Croyland) thought that Richard had decided to take the throne by the end of May. But both wrote this after his usurpation. Ross eventually (page 83) comes down firmly for dating Richard's decision to the time of the execution of Hastings. (This also strikes me as the most likely time, though this does not make the matter certain. As Ross says, every possibility raises difficulties; this one merely raises the fewest.)
On the other hand, St. Aubyn, p. 107, declares that "the majority of his early historians believed that he plotted to seize the Throne the moment his brother died." (To be sure, the early historians were all living under the Tudors, and didn't dare say anything else -- and not even St. Aubyn accuses Richard of plotting *before* Edward IV died.)
WilliamsonA, p. 64, suggests that Hastings had wanted to replace Richard as protector, but I know of no evidence for this.
If the execution of Lord Hastings is the key moment, it is an event we know little about. There are even those who argue that it did not take place on June 13 but on June 20 (WilliamsonA, p. 69), and it has been questioned whether Hastings was really executed without trial. Thomas More gave us a detailed version of the council meeting at which Hastings was arrested -- but he claims that Richard at this time declared his arm suddenly withered (Seward-Richard, p. 102, which actually repeats the whole scene as fantasized by More).
Since the arm was *never* withered, let alone suddenly by witchcraft, it's clear that the account is unreliable (Fields, p. 91) -- although, if you think about it, if Richard's arm *had* been withered, it must have happened suddenly since it wasn't born that way -- in which case Richard must have genuinely been a victim of witchcraft. Which casts an interesting light on More's story.... Recall that More was not a witness, and even if he had this from Morton, Morton by his own account was not present for much of the conversation! WilliamsonA, pp. 70-71, notes the oddity that we have no record but that of Morton/More of this meeting, and suggests the official account was destroyed, perhaps by Morton's nephew, who was Keeper of the Rolls under Henry VII.
The one thing that occurs to me is that More might have described an actual accusation of witchcraft but not the one he thought. That is, that Richard at that council meeting declared that magic had been performed against him, but not that it withered his arm but rather that it had caused his spine to become bent -- since he actually did have a deformed spine. Langley/Jones, p. 227, similarly conjecture that the "torpor" Vergil says Richard suffered from June 10 to 13 was the result of his condition, and that it was painful enough for him to suspect witchcraft. But, of course, there isn't a shred of evidence for this; if we're going to "conjecturally emend" More's history, why not emend it to say that Richard never made the accusation in the first place?
Jenkins, pp. 170-171, thinks that it was the execution of Hastings, which took place right after the meeting and arrest, which started people questioning Richard's motives. Certainly it is one of the biggest blots on his record. It was Hastings -- the former bosom friend of Edward IV -- who had first warned Richard about the Woodville conspiracy. Yet Hastings, according to Richard's charges, was soon sending messages to Elizabeth Woodville (using, of all people, Edward's old mistress Jane Shore as intermediary; Jenkins, pp. 162; Seward-Richard, p. 100, notes that even the anti-Richard historian Gairdner accepted that Hastings used this peculiar messenger), and that caused Richard to turn against his former ally. Jenkins, p. 163, seems to feel that it was at this time that Richard started thinking about the throne, because he could not trust a parliament to confirm his powers. Similarly, Langley/Jones, p. 123, suggest that it may have *forced* Richard to take the throne, because so many people blamed him for killing a popular lord; the only way he could protect himself from reprisals was for him to be king himself.
Richard's charges against Hastings may well have been unfair -- Ross, p. 81, calls the evidence "slight indeed,." But it was a strange turnabout, since Hastings and the Woodvilles had been trading accusations and spying on each other shortly before (Ross, p. 39). Richard, having disposed of Hastings, started calling his supporters to London (Jenkins, pp. 164-165).
It seems unlikely that many people held up Hastings as a paragon of virtue before his death, given the nature of his friendship with Edward IV. But, afterward, all that was forgotten. People started to wonder about what Richard was doing (Ross, p. 85). Ross calls the killing of Hastings an "irreversible" step toward taking the throne. It also removed the strongest member of the already-too-small moderate faction (that hostile to the Woodvilles, loyal to Edward V, and not inherently hostile to Richard).
Edward V's younger brother Richard Duke of York was at this time with his mother in sanctuary, but Richard of Gloucester eventually managed to lure him from there. It's not clear how. More claimed that Richard in effect told his mother to give him up voluntarily or he'd be taken by force; Jenkins, pp. 166-167. But that section of More seems very artificial. Hicks, p. 160, says that the Duke of York was simply "removed" from sanctuary, but does not footnote his basis for the statement. Ross, pp. 86-87, says that the Archbishop of Canterbury was somehow involved but admits that the sources are not clear on whether the boy was given up voluntarily or by force. Cunningham, p. 40, also says that the Archbishop was involved but can add little else. Fields, p. 94, offers the suggestion that Elizabeth may have been feeling resignation by then, while admitting the possibility of arm-twisting.
Poole, p. 16, makes the interesting observation that Elizabeth's relations with Richard III were cordial toward the end of the latter's reign -- very strange if she believed he had killed her sons! However, Ross, p. 100, and Cunningham, p. 45, manage to regard her exit from sanctuary as evidence against Richard: They argue that Elizabeth would never have accepted his olive branch if she thought there were any chance her sons could still succeed Richard, and that this was therefore proof that Richard had killed the princes. This makes no sense to me, but I suppose we'd better note this opinion.
There are plenty of other suggested explanations for why she left sanctuary, to be sure. Griffiths/Thomas, p. 115, suggest that the "Song of the Lady Bessie" refers to actions of Elizabeth Woodville, who returned to public life to open the door for Henry Tudor. And then there is the notion, mentioned by Magnusson, p. 271 although there is no hint of it in English records, that James III might marry Elizabeth Woodville and his son marry one of her daughters to cement Anglo-Scottish relations. One can imagine Elizabeth Woodville being interested in being the wife of two different kings and coming out to try to arrange it. But James III was born in 1452, making him at least a dozen years younger than his potential wife. Again, I don't see it happening.
It is noteworthy that, as soon as he had Richard of York in his possession, Richard of Gloucester issued writs canceling what was to have been Edward V's first parliament -- the one to establish the new administration (Ross, p. 87).
Suspicious as that seems in hindsight, it may have seemed justified at the time, because of the Woodville crisis. Maybe. If so, it was the last thing Richard did which was defensible if you assume the princes were the proper heirs to the throne. The events of the next two months form the basis of the great controversy over Richard III.
As Seward-Richard says on page 19,"The whole controversy about Richard III hinges on the interpretation of a very brief part of his life.... The usurpation of April to July 1483 is the one time when we are reasonably well informed about him" (which statement, however, is false -- Seward claims to have four sources, Croyland, Mancini, More, and Vergil. But, of course, the latter two are secondary. There is no denying that this period is the crux -- but in fact our information is utterly inadequate). When the period began, Richard was Lord Protector and Edward V was expected to be crowned in the near future. When it ended, Richard was on the throne and Edward V was one of the "Princes in the Tower," the subject of the greatest mystery in English history.
Richard now started taking steps that would certainly Edward V to hate him if by any chance he didn't hate him already. He executed Edward V's tutor Thomas Vaughan, who seems by all accounts to have been completely harmless, and a friend of the boy's. Plus he executed Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, who also had been captured at Stony Stratford (Ross, pp. 87-88). It is hard to imagine Richard doing this if he ever expected Edward V to take the throne. Richard would probably have six years of power as Lord Protector -- but what could he expect when Edward V came of age? Of all the things Richard did, this is, to my mind, the most inexcusable.
Soon after, people began to hear whispers about the legitimacy of Edward V and his family. St. Aubyn, pp. 142-143, thinks Richard arranged for a cleric by the name of Ralph Shaa (sometimes spelled "Shaw"; so Poole, p. 8, and Bennett, p. 42; or Sha, in Seward-Richard, p. 84), the brother of the Lord Mayor of London, to preach a sermon on the subject on June 23. Thomas More, a source for this tale, thought Richard was supposed to arrive in the middle of the sermon (Seward-Richard, p. 105), and blew it -- but, of course, this is yet another thing More simply cannot have known (and Seward should have known he could not have known). Seward-Richard, p. 106, claims that "other preachers delivered similar sermons." As usual, he cites no source for this statement.
Whether Richard was behind it or not, the underlying text of Shaa's sermon is agreed by all authorities to be "Bastard slips shall not take root" (St. Aubyn, p. 146; Kendall, p. 263; Jenkins, p. 172; Seward-Roses, p. 271).
This is an interesting quotation in several senses. The source is Wisdom of Solomon 4:3. Wisdom of Solomon was at this time of uncertain canonical status; it is not part of the Hebrew Bible. Protestants have by and large rejected it. The Catholic church would eventually affirm its canonicity, but not until the Council of Trent more than half a century after Richard's time. Since England was Catholic, it used the Vulgate Latin version, but this was one of the books Jerome never translated from Greek into Latin, so the Vulgate used a very poor text.
The English translation is somewhat dubious, too. The highly scholarly A New English Translation of the Septuagint renders the Greek "But the prolific brood of the impious will be of no use, and illegitimate seedlings from them will not strike deep root or take firm hold." The New Revised Standard Version, which is less literal, reads "The prolific brood of the ungodly will be of no use, and none of their illegitimate seedlings will strike a deep root."
The Latin reads "spuria vitulamina non dabunt radices altas nec stabile firmamentum conlacabunt." There was, at this time, no English translation of the Bible accepted by Catholics (Wycliffe's translation, the only one available and the one Richard owned, was officially banned by the Catholic church, partly because it was heretical but mostly because it was something lay people could understand. It in any case has a rather different rendering: "plauntyngis of auoutrie schulen not yyue deepe rootis" -- "plantings of adultery shall not have deep roots").
Given the lack of a proper English text, preachers had to make up their own translation, and Shaa's rendering, while technically sort of correct, ignores context: The verse is really about the progeny of the unrighteous, and is not a condemnation of bastardy but a warning to those who stray from righteousness. So Shaa was preaching from a dubious rendering of a dubious book!
Although we know his text, there are conflicting accounts of what conclusion Shaa preached (Kendall, p. 318). Vergil says that Shaa called Edward IV illegitimate, and says that Edward IV's children were SAID to be illegitimate but were in fact legitimate ( Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 162). Among moderns, Hicks, p. 160, says that Shaa argued that Edward V was illegitimate (followed, e.g., by Bennett, p. 42). Ross, p. xxxix, thinks Shaa was arguing that *Edward IV* was illegitimate and that Richard III was the proper heir to the throne. Lyon, p. 146, accepts this but thinks the story was quickly changed to make Edward V the bastard.
Fields, pp. 96-98, gives a list of what the early sources said about the sermon: Fabyan (near-contemporary) says that Shaa declared only the princes illegitimate. Croyland (contemporary) seems to say the same, but does not mention Shaa directly. Mancini (contemporary) reports that "corrupted preachers" called Edward IV illegitimate. More (not contemporary) has Shaa declare the princes illegitimate and hint at illegitimacy for Edward and George of Clarence. Vergil (not contemporary) says that Shaa declared Edward IV a bastard -- and caused Edward's mother to become very upset (Hall amplifies this to say that Richard too was upset, according to WilliamsonA, p. 78, but Hall is too unreliable for this to mean anything); Vergil also mentions the claim that the princes were illegitimate, but does not mention the precontract that would have rendered them so and does not link the claim of their bastardy with Shaa. Hall, who amplified More, also reported that Shaa said Edward IV had married a different woman, Elizabeth Lucy ( Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 164; more on this below), but this is clearly just fiction by Hall. Rous, in his work written while Richard was on the throne, also says that Richard was descended from early English kings by "very [i.e. true] matrimony," which presumably is a swipe at Edward IV's marriage.
The claim that Edward IV was illegitimate is not as crazy as it sounds; the family claim to the throne came through their father Richard Duke of York, and Richard of York was short and dark. Edward IV was very tall, and he was fair-haired, as were most of Richard of York's other children. Only Richard III, who was dark-haired and not remembered as being tall (Ross, p. 139) really resembled his father (Seward-Richard, p. 84, says he bore a "striking" resemblance to Richard of York. Seward also calls Richard III "very short," but the authorities Seward cites are not Croyland or Commynes, who knew Richard, but Vergil, who did not, and Rous, who would say anything. Langley/Jones, p. 37, describe More calling Richard "little of stature," but again, this is not reliable testimony. Based on the skeleton that is believed to have been Richard's, he was 5'8" -- somewhat above average for the time, although short compared to Edward IV.)
Jenkins, p. 110, says that George of Clarence had spread rumors that Edward was illegitimate, and Hicks, p. 52, and WilliamsonA, p. 60, agree that such rumors were in circulation in 1469, spread because of Warwick's rebellion that year, and encouraged by the fact that Edward was born at Rouen (apparently Louis XI "the spider king," who loved to mess with other people's minds, at one time claimed that Edward was the son of Cecily Neville and a French archer!). Ross-Edward, p. 240, says that the spreading of such rumours was one of the charges Edward used to execute George. Ross-Edward, p. 133, observes that the whispers were widespread enough to be reported by the Milanese ambassador.
One of the key charges that Edward IV brought against Clarence, when he had Clarence condemned to death, was that George had claimed Edward was illegitimate. The indictment does not charge Clarence with calling the King's children illegitimate, although it does say he plotted against them (summary on pp. 154-155 of Ashdown-Hill-Queen).
According to Mancini, Duchess Cicely had threatened to call Edward IV illegitimate when he married Elizabeth Woodville; supposedly a man of royal blood would have been unable to even think of marrying such a woman (Laynesmith, pp. 68-69; cf. Seward-Richard, p. 39, although he couldn't be bothered to cite a source). He also suggests that this gave Richard an idea for future use. More likely, if it happened at all, George was the one who got ideas from the Duchess's statement. If the idea was still floating around in 1483, Richard could have called his mother to testify, and one non-contemporary source claimed she was willing to do so -- but Langley/Jones, p. 125, suggest that he didn't want to put his mother through that.
The problem with the 1469 rumors, which made George, not Edward, the heir was that George looked a lot like Edward; if Edward was a bastard, then George probably was too. Also, it made Richard's mother an adulteress -- and she was still alive in 1485! (Saul3, p. 218).
Dockray, p. 2, tells us that an examination of Edward IV's skeleton in 1789 revealed that he was six foot three. Fields, p. 101, observes that his brother George of Clarence was five foot five -- in other words, shorter than Richard. (Strangely, everyone seems to have regarded Clarence as tall -- Seward-Richard, p. 41. He wasn't short for the time, but he was far smaller than Edward. At least, assuming that the skeleton they checked was really his; according to Ashdown-HillDNA, p. 116, this is open to doubt; the bones do not appear to be the right age) But George was blonde, like Edward and unlike Richard. (At least, most sources regard Edward as blond; Ashdown-HillDNA, p. 45, claims Edward had dark brown hair -- but cites only a secondary, possibly a tertiary, source.) It's quite a difference in height -- but it's also worth remembering that Edward was already in his teens when the Wars of the Roses got serious. George was still quite young. It is just my speculation -- but some of his shortness may have been the inadequate diet he perhaps suffered while fleeing all over England when he was supposed to be having growth spurts.
Hicks, p. 26, does cite a modern authority who thinks, based on what is known about the locations of Richard Duke of York and Cicely Neville at the time of Edward IV's conception, that Edward actually was not the son of the Duke of York, but this is very thin evidence. Hicks, p. 165, mentions the possibility of DNA testing -- but, to this date, it has not been done. And, given that Elizabeth II has denied permission to test the bodies claimed to be those of the Princes in the Tower, I doubt she would allow a test of Edward IV's DNA either. And it's worth remembering that while Edward IV didn't look like his father, he *did* a lot like the earlier Plantagenets, who were mostly tall, blond, and handsome.
The bottom line: We have no clear evidence either way about the heredity of either Edward IV or his brothers, and won't until the DNA testing is done. In any case, it doesn't matter; what matters is how people responded to the stories spread by Shaa and others.
Jenkins, p. 173, quotes More to the effect that Shaa's sermon was greeted with such disdain that he went into hiding, and Ross, p. 92, cites the Great Chronicle to the effect that Shaa lost his popularity and died not long after. But eventually a tale emerged in which Edward IV was rightful king but Richard was his heir. It became the Official Party Line, because there was a bishop behind it: it is reported that Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, came forward to say that Edward IV, before he married his official wife Elizabeth Woodville, had been engaged to one Eleanor Butler (St. Aubyn, pp. 156-157; Kendall; pp. 257-258; Fields, p. 111.) (Saul3, p. 219 and n. 27 on p. 267 suggests that Stillington was not the originator of the story but merely a canon lawyer consulted about it. However, when Henry Tudor went about repealing the Titulus Regius that made Richard king, there were references to it as "Stillington's Bill," making it quite clear that Stillington had something to do with revealing the story; Langley/Jones, p. 127)
Eleanor Talbot, later Butler, was born about 1436, the daughter of John Talbot (c. 1387-1453), Lord Talbot and Furnival, later first earl of Shrewsbury (known as "Old Talbot"), and his second wife Margaret Beauchamp, daughter of the Earl or Warwick -- which means, ironically, that Eleanor Butler was the first cousin of Richard III's wife Anne Neville. (See the genealogies in Ashdown-Hill-Queen; the book also explains this in words, but tosses so many names about that it's almost impossible to keep track). Talbot was one of the heroes of the war with France; Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part I makes him the leading positive role model insofar as it has one, and his death at the battle of Castillon in 1453 finally settled the Hundred Years' War: England had lost.
Eleanor's first marriage was to Thomas Butler (at least, that's the modern spelling; the seal of the Butler family spelled it "Buttiler"; Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 53, with his plate #25 showing the seal; other spellings such as "Botiler" are also found). Thomas Butler, the son of Ralph Butler, Baron Sudely (1389-1473) was born about 1421; he and Eleanor Talbot were married around 1449 or 1450 (meaning that she was only about half his age, just barely in her teens; Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 58). Thomas Butler probably died in 1459 ( Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 62), without ever inheriting his father's title -- and without any children by Eleanor.
We do not know the cause, or even the exact date, of the death. Eleanor had by then lost her father and her oldest full brother, and her father's heir, her half brother, does not seem to have been fond of his father's second family ( Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 82). Plus there are hints her husband's family was Lancastrian (Thomas Butler's father had fought for Henry VI at the First Battle of Saint Albans, and even borne his banner; Ashdown-Hill-Queen, pp. 60, 84; he also served in the procession at Henry VI's restoration; Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 151; it appears Edward IV later punished him for this, although this was after Eleanor's death). And her income was not great -- Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 91, gives a very rough estimate of the income from her manors as 75 pounds per year, with not all the lands actually hers so she could not use them as securities.
So: she was both financially and politically struggling; she was probably in a vulnerable position when Edward IV proposed to her (if he did). Her one advantage is that she did have some access to the Yorkist court; even though she was probably considered Lancastrian, her younger sister Elizabeth was married into the Mowbray family, the Dukes of Norfolk ( Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 48), whose intervention in the Battle of Towton had won that great battle for Edward IV. And her social status was respectable if not especially high; as an earl's daughter, she out-ranked Edward's acknowledged wife Elizabeth Woodville, who until her father was made Earl Rivers was only a baron's daughter.
The two may have known each other even before Towton. Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 104, suggests that Edward's initial secrecy about the relationship with Eleanor Talbot Butler was because he met her while his father was still alive -- and his father surely would not want his son marrying a baron's widow half a dozen years older than he was. No doubt the last part is true, but evidence for the two young people knowing each other while the old Duke of York was alive is non-existent. We simply cannot say.
Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 101, claims Eleanor and Edward must have met by Spring 1461 at the latest.
And if he promised to marry her, but didn't, who can doubt that he was deceiving her to get into her bed? No other explanation makes sense, knowing Edward IV. And if he slept with her, having promised marriage, by law they *were* married. No clergyman needed, even. This was official church doctrine (Ashdown-Smith, p. 106): marriage was a "self-conferring" sacrament.
( Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 108, hints that Eleanor's real problem was her infertility: Since she never bore children to Edward IV, why should he admit to the marriage, which would have denied him an heir? It is true that there was a late report that Eleanor bore Edward a son, but nothing contemporary supports this assertion.)
Since engagement was considered equivalent to marriage, and Eleanor Butler was still alive when Edward married Elizabeth Woodville, the promise to Eleanor, or "precontract" (i.e. contract of marriage made before Edward's contract with Elizabeth) would have made Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth bigamous and his children illegitimate and unable to inherit (WilliamsonA, p. 55). To be sure, WilliamsonA, pp. 55-56, notes that in cases where one member of the marriage deceived the other, as was allegedly the case here, the children of the union were considered legitimate heirs at least of the innocent parent -- but only if the marriage had been publicly known (presumably so people could object), and Edward's marriage to Elizabeth has been secret. This, however, is irrelevant to the case; the innocent parent here was Elizabeth Woodville, and she could not transmit the succession.
Richard's later document affirming his right to the throne also claimed that the Woodvilles had seduced Edward IV by magic (Hicks, p. 163; Seward-Richard, p. 108) which to our modern ears makes the rest of his claim less plausible, but this is not really relevant -- George of Clarence was said to have accused the king of black magic ( Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 154), so it was presumably a common bit of propaganda. The marriage also was done without consent of Parliament; how much of a legal barrier this was is harder to state, but probably not much of one; past princes -- including Richard III himself -- had married without parliamentary consent. All that really matters is the precontract: Did Edward IV promise marriage to and sleep with Eleanor Butler, or did he not?
We should confess that our sources for this, apart from Richard's official explanation for taking the throne, are thin. Commynes said that Stillington "revealed to the Duke of Gloucester that King Edward, being very enamored of a certain English lady, promised to marry her, provided that he could sleep with her first, and she consented. The bishop said that he had married them when only he and they were present" (Dockray, pp. 45-46). It appears that neither Richard III's mother nor his sister objected to his usurpation ( Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 156). Mancini implies that George of Clarence knew of some such story and that it caused Elizabeth Woodville to turn against him and have him executed ( Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 153). Clearly this is at best rumor.
However, additional evidence that Stillington was the one who announced the "precontract" comes from the fact that Henry VII later had him imprisoned without charge; Fields, p. 116. I find it fascinating that Stillington helped officiate at Henry's coronation. What sort of man would help put Richard on the throne, then help put his successor on the throne, then be imprisoned by the successor? Even more interesting, after imprisoning Stillington, Henry gave him a free pardon -- apparently to prevent parliament from asking him questions about the precontract (Langley/Jones, p. 127).
Stillington, we might add, seems to have had a knack for trouble; Fields, p. 83, mentions that, soon after Clarence was executed, Stillington was also imprisoned. We don't know what he was accused of; it sounds as if the record was suppressed; Fields, p. 84; WilliamsonA, p. 59). This hints that perhaps Stillington blabbed the story to Clarence -- cf. Cheetham, p. 118 -- a strange thing to do if the story wasn't true, since clearly Edward would be very unhappy if word leaked.
It almost looks as if Edward set out to bribe Stillington at the time of the Woodville marriage; Stillington was given the first bishopric, which turned out to be that of Bath and Wells, that became available after the marriage -- even though the Pope had another candidate in mind ( Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 136). Edward was stubborn, and eventually had his way when the Pope's candidate died. Why not give Stillington a different bishopric? Presumably because Edward had given Stillington the temporalities of the office during the conflict ( Ashdown-Hill-Queen, pp. 113-114); clearly he really wanted Stillington to be a bishop at once.
Mancini and Vergil both make references to a previous contract of marriage but do not give a name although they say the woman was a member of the family of the Earl of Warwick; Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 105 -- which Eleanor was by marriage; her aunt was Warwick's wife.
Curiously, Sir Thomas More knew the story of the precontract, but seemingly did not know the name of the woman involved, and so listed the woman's name as Elizabeth Lucy. At least, this is what some authorities think is the reason for More's change: he needed a name and could not look the correct name up in the suppressed parliamentary records. Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 163, hints at another possibility: Since Elizabeth Lucy was a married woman (her maiden name was Wayte, at least according to Buck, although it's not clear if he had a real source), she could not marry Edward under any circumstances. Thus, although Edward could have offered her marriage, the marriage could not have taken place, even if they slept together, because Elizabeth Lucy was already married. In other words, in Ashdown-Hill's view, More suggests a precontract but one that pointed the other way. The whole idea, on this argument, was to confuse people's memories -- to make them have a different view of the precontract they vaguely remembered.
WilliamsonA, p. 54, suggests that the change was based on the fact that Elizabeth Lucy was known to have born Edward a child very early on; Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 102, says he was involved with Lucy by the fall of 1461. If so, the alteration was possibly deliberate (cf. RicardianXIII, p. 230, who lists Elizabeth Lucy's son as Arthur Plantagenet, later Viscount Lisle; although we do not know his date of birth except that it was before 1470 -- meaning that, if bastards were eligible for the throne, he, not Edward V, was the proper king! But Ashdown-Hill-Queen says Elizabeth Lucy bore Edward a daughter in 1462).
Fields, p. 286, suggests even more strongly that More's change was deliberate -- Elizabeth Lucy was a nobody, but Eleanor Butler was a daughter the great Old Talbot and not likely to be forgotten or ignored, so More had to suppress mention of her. Rubin, p. 312, makes another interesting point: That suits for annulment of a (second) marriage on the grounds of precontract were common at this time; what made the case of Edward IV unusual was the fact that it was a third party, not one of the participants, who wanted the later marriage declared invalid.
A half a century later, a papal envoy named Eustace Chapuys makes several references to Richard having declared the princes bastards (copies of the texts in Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 209). He seems to have believed it, but this was political (because the Papacy was upset with Henry VIII). In any case, it proves only that Richard's claims were remembered, not that there was anything to them.
Although the claim of Edward IV's own bastardy is implausible (and his mother apparently raised a stink about it, although the details here are very hazy -- Mancini heard that Cicely Neville's complaint was that Edward IV *was* illegitimate, not that he wasn't; Langley/Jones, p. 124), there is nothing inherently implausible about the claim of the precontract. The marriage between Edward and Elizabeth Woodville had also been secret; (Hicks, pp. 37-48; Dockray, p. 41, cites six early sources to this effect; the citations on pp. 46-47 show that few members even of their families knew about it -- e.g. Fabyan's Chronicle reports that "almost none but [Elizabeth Woodville's] mother was of council." The marriage was not revealed until Edward was forced to admit it to stop foreign negotiations for another marriage -- and it was greeted with incredulity among the nobles (Dockray, p. 41, has 11 sources for this. One of them, Gregory's Chronicle, notes that it was half a year before Edward revealed his marriage, and another half year before Elizabeth was crowned queen; Dockray, p. 44).
HarveyN, p. 6, says that Edward IV's own mother, Cicely Neville, had invented the precontract to try to scuttle Edward's marriage with Elizabeth Woodville. This speculation is based on Holinshed, who of course has no value (and apparently came up with yet another name for the Other Woman: Elizabeth Boulton).
Hicks speculates that Edward had tried to trick Elizabeth into his bed, and she counter-trapped him somehow (perhaps by having witnesses to overhear?). But if Edward *did* try some sort of false promise of marriage with Elizabeth, it of course makes it more likely that he might have done so with other women before he met her.
On the other hand, if he did so, why didn't Eleanor Butler raise a stink ( Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 115)? This, after all, is what church courts were for. To be sure, trying to get a judgment against the reigning King was likely to prove tricky....
Unlike Hicks, Dockray, p. 4, argues that Edward IV genuinely fell on love (as opposed to lust) with Elizabeth Woodville -- but lists on p. 5 the sources that tell the story of her refusing to sleep with him unless he married her. On p. 45, he quotes Mancini's version, in which Edward supposedly held a knife to her throat and was once again refused. There was another version, in circulation by 1468, in De Mulieribus Admirandis (Laynesmith, p. 67). The story that she refused him unless he married her, which is the indirect justification for the attack on Edward's marriage, was very widespread. And Laynesmith, p. 67, notes that the two supposedly married on May 1 -- a day which hints at a love match. So does the Queen's adoption of the red gillyflower -- an emblem of love and marriage -- as her device (Laynesmith, p. 69).
The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that the easiest explanation for the Shaa sermon is as follows: By the time Shaa preached, Richard of Gloucester was at least contemplating a bid for the throne, but had little claim. He had Shaa preach of Edward's bastardy, perhaps as a first step in Richard seizing the throne, perhaps to test the reaction. Obviously it went over like a lead balloon -- but Bishop Stillington, seeing which way the wind was blowing, came forward with the story of the precontract. Whether true or false, this was direct evidence of the princes' bastardy, and so was adopted as a reason to set them aside.
This raises a sore point among historians: Was Richard entitled to declare the children a bastard? In terms of legal inheritance of property, the answer at that time is certainly "no." Hicks, p. 165; Pollard, p. 100, and Seward-Richard, p. 120, all say that the matter should properly have been investigated in church courts. But this ignores the real-world problem: Under what circumstances is it practical for the church to declare the son of a king illegitimate? The answer is -- none. Edward IV would never have permitted it, since it would leave him without an heir. If the claim were asserted after the coronation of Edward V, then that king would have even more reason to suppress it. The only way to properly investigate was to bring in impartial experts at a time when there was no king. But there had to be a king! Thus, though Hicks et al would be correct for any other position in the land, I must respectfully disagree with their conclusions as regards the kingship. In that case, judgment *had to* rest with Parliament.
But it is a black mark against Richard that he never ordered an investigation into the point. He just took Stillington's story and ran with it; he quickly had Edward V declared a bastard.
That should have given the throne to the children of Edward's next brother George of Clarence -- but Edward IV himself had had George executed on a well-deserved charge of treason, and George's attainder was generally held to disbar his children (Hicks, p. 163; Ross, pp. 91-92. Both note that being attainted did not automatically mean that a man could not become king. This is true -- indeed, it was only in the reign of Henry IV that it began to be held that the act disbarred the heirs from succeeding to an estate; Given-Wilson, p. 444 -- but the general sense at the time was that an act of attainder, *if not repealed*, would bar one's offspring from the succession; Lander, p. 67n. And the act of attainder, according to Fields, p. 59, had specifically disbarred Clarence's children from the succession. This decision was enacted by Edward IV, not Richard III; one suspects the Woodvilles had wanted to be sure there were no more pro-Clarence conspiracies. But, with their usual tendency to ignore long-term problems in the quest for short-term advantage, they had made Richard III the heir should Edward IV's children be unable to succeed.)
(Incidentally, Henry VII got around that little problem by an interesting means; he had his lawyers declare that, although attainder barred a candidate from succeeding to the throne, it did not bar him from occupying the throne; Lyon, p. 163. By this bit of casuistry, Henry -- who was already on the throne -- got to stay there!)
With the candidates senior to him disbarred, Richard could, at least theoretically, take the crown himself as the legitimate heir of Edward IV. The parliament scheduled for 1483 did not officially meet; Richard's only parliament was summoned for 1484, and made the transfer of power official with the passage of Titulus Regius (Seward-Roses, p. 272, and Cunningham, p. 60, give portions of the text) -- though Hicks, p. 162, says that it is effectively identical to the document of 1483 giving Richard the crown. That document was accepted by a sort of quasi-parliamentary meeting (Ross, p. 93).
On a side note, some have questioned whether illegitimacy should have disbarred Edward V. Hicks, p. 164, argues that William the Conqueror had been illegitimate. However, that was the *Norman* succession, and irrelevant. Hicks also notes the succession of Henry IV -- but that too is irrelevant since Henry IV's descendants had been deprived of the throne. In any case, Henry IV was entirely legitimate; he just wasn't the legal heir general of Richard III, merely heir male. Finally, Hicks mentions the succession of Henry VII -- as if that illegal succession had anything to say about the *earlier* succession of Richard III!
In any case, Henry VII, unlike his ancestors in both the Beaufort and Tudor lines, was a legitimate child; it's just that, like Henry IV, he wasn't legal heir of anyone in particular. (The Beaufort legitimacy is discussed elsewhere in this article. On the Tudor side, Henry's father Edmund Tudor was the son of Owen Tudor and Catherine of Valois, and there is some doubt that this marriage was ever solemnized -- although Chrimes, p. 5 n. 1 says that the legitimacy was not questioned at the time; it is a modern doubt only.)
History is clear: In England, legitimacy was an absolute requirement for a monarch -- something which had been established as early as the grandson of William the Conqueror. The Conqueror's son Henry I, when he died, left behind several dozen bastards, one of whom -- Robert of Gloucester -- was clearly extremely competent and would surely have commanded universal support had he been legitimate. But he wasn't, and so the crown went to the disastrous King Stephen. (Warren-Henry, p. 17: "Fate was unkind to Robert of Gloucester. If he had not had the wrong mother he would have been the unquestioned king of England on his father's death, and the claims of Matilda and the pretensions of Stephen would have been unknown to history. [Thus saving England a civil war.] By all the evidence he was well fitted to rule.")
In any case, think of the chaos if all illegitimate children could succeed -- Edward IV is known to have had three illegitimate sons (Hicks, p. 25), and RicardianXIII, pp. 229-233, finds evidence of five illegitimate children, and in all likelihood (given his habits) there were actually at least a dozen others -- and you could easily have children claiming to be his bastards even if they weren't, should the succession be open to them. In the absence of DNA testing, it made *sense* that only legitimate children could succeed.
Fields devotes four pages (pp. 118-121) to the issue of Edward's succession; as a lawyer, his summary is "Assuming that there was, in fact, a precontract, Richard's assertion that the princes were disqualified as rulers and that he was the rightful king was not only a colorable claim but a strong one." Even Pollard, p. 99, admits that "The case finally put together concerning the bastardy of the princes... is theologically sound" (which does not make it factually accurate).
What's more, as WilliamsonA notes on p. 57, parliament did have the final word (if it didn't, then the whole argument over whether Henry IV could de-legitimize the Beauforts would never have come up). Parliament declared Richard III king -- and did so entirely properly. WilliamsA argues that this means Richard didn't even usurp the throne -- which may even be legally true, although it strikes me as more wordplay than reality.
Pollard, p. 101, makes the more subtle argument that parliament could have declared Edward V the heir, and the ceremony of the coronation and anointing would have removed the problem of illegitimacy. But "could" is not "must" or "should." Why should Richard have set himself aside to set up the Princes as heirs? No sane person will deny that Richard was ambitious; neither will any sane person deny that Richard had a record as a good leader, whereas Edward V had none. If Richard considered himself the proper heir, there was no reason for him to set aside his claim to raise a younger prince to an office for which he might not be competent, particularly as that prince might then turn against Richard.
To sum up: Richard's taking the throne was actually proper and legal -- *if* (and only if) Stillington's story was true. And Jenkins, p. 174, notes that, while the people hadn't seemed enthusiastic about Richard displacing Edward V, parliament gave less trouble. Some doubtless remembered Henry VI and were afraid of another royal minority. Jenkins recalls also the precedent of the Witan, which before the Norman Conquest had selected the King (though of course the Witan was defunct in 1483). And, as she notes, "no one was in doubt" of Richard of Gloucester's ability to rule. (Well, other than Seward and Weir, anyway, and they don't count.)
It is easy to see why the precontract generated controversy. According to Bishop Stillington's own account, there were only three witnesses, Stillington, Edward IV, and Eleanor Butler, and the latter two were dead. So it all depended on Stillington's word.
For doubters not convinced by this, Richard could also point to the undeniable fact that child-kings had been disastrous for England -- Edward the Martyr was murdered. Ethelred II "the Unready" was unable to face the Danish invasions. Henry III was nearly overthrown for incompetence. Richard II had turned despot. And Henry VI had been perhaps the worst King in English history. (The counter-argument being that Edward V was older than any of those child kings -- only a couple of years younger than the brilliant Edward III when that king succeeded, though Edward III had not taken power into his own hands until three years later.) Still, if I'd been living then, and known what could be known in 1483, I would rather have had Richard III than Edward V as king. Would I have wanted it enough to overthrow Edward V? I don't know. Would I have wanted Richard III to be king so badly that I would countenance the murder of Edward V? To that, I am forced to say "No."
Hicks, pp. 32-33, is not clear on what to believe; he thinks it odd that Butler did not make more noise about the marriage if she had been tricked, but observes that Edward IV could have used a promise of marriage to get into her bed, then told her that he simply would not go through with it -- and, without witnesses, she could prove nothing.
Fields, pp. 58-59, thinks there is some secondary evidence. Butler, who died in 1468, was said to have ended her life in a convent, never having married after the alleged precontract (Fields, p. 111). There is a story that she had an illegitimate child. For a woman of high birth, this is astounding (though poorly attested; if Eleanor was truly contracted to Edward, their child would have been rightful monarch of England, but there seems to have been no hint of this).
Edward's appetite for women was almost proverbial. Mancini reported, "He was licentious in the extreme; moreover, it was said that he had been most insolent to numerous women after he had seduced them, for, as soon as he grew weary of dalliance, he gave up the ladies much against their will to other courtiers. He pursued with no discrimination the married and unmarried, the noble and the lowly; however, he took none by force. He overcame all by money and promises and, having conquered them, dismissed them" (Dockray, p. 13). Thomas More declared, "[N]o woman was there anywhere, young or old, rich or poor, whom he set his eye upon... but without fear of God or respect of his honour, murmur or grudge of the world, he would importunately pursue his appetite and have her, to the great destruction of man a good woman" (Dockray, p. 14).
Edward IV was perhaps England's lustiest liege since Henry I three and a half centuries earlier. His gluttony eventually killed him. If he really wanted a woman who spurned him, might he not offer marriage? He did with Elizabeth Woodville....
Remember, in this context, that Edward married Elizabeth Woodville secretly. Had the marriage been public, perhaps Eleanor could have objected. But how could she object to a marriage she didn't know was happening?
The flip side is, Stillington wasn't exactly a paragon of virtue -- according to Weir, p. 202, he had an illegitimate son, and Ashdown-Hill-Queen, p. 137, says he had had multiple illegitimate children as a student in Oxford and was "essentially a man of the world" (p. 105). To give him his due, he founded a school in his home village, and set it up to teach useful rather than highly abstract subjects (Bennett, p. 32). And he had little reason to lie in 1483 -- he was by this time an old man (he had been doing diplomatic work for Edward IV since at least 1466, and had already gained his bishopric by then; Ross-Edward, p. 108; he had been Chancellor in 1468; Ross-Edward, p. 112), and he gained no rewards from Richard III, according to Fields, p. 110.
It's all very thin evidence; we simply cannot be sure, at this late date, whether the precontract was real. We can only confess that it was possible.
As for whether the precontract was real -- the question simply cannot be answered today. Historians have argued both ways: Ross, p. 89, considers Richard's claims against his brother's marriage "each inherently weak and implausible," and on p. 91, seems sure Stillington's tale is a fabrication. Poole, p. 8, argues that it must have been false because Butler was a Lancastrian, and married the Lancastrian Earl of Shrewsbury, and so wouldn't have gone near a Yorkist. This strikes me as weak -- after all, Elizabeth Woodville came from a Lancastrian family (Dockray, p. 41) and went on to marry Edward IV!
On the other hand, WilliamsonA, p. 58, notes that the three contemporary observers, Commynes, Croyland, and Mancini, "all show clear knowledge of the prior contract.... None attempts to claim it was a fabricated story." Improbably enough. Seward-Richard, p. 105, admits that "there may [have been] some truth in Sha[a]'s story," though he obviously denies its significance. HarveyJ, p. 195, thinks it likely on the grounds that so many -- including parliament -- accepted it at the time, but this too seems weak; parliament would doubtless have done the most expedient thing, not the "right" thing. Cheetham, p. 119, observes that 'There is in fact no reason to suppose that the story was not true; Edward could never resist a pretty face and troth plight was a common device for coaxing reluctant virgins to bed."
Personally, I think it not unlikely that the precontract was real. And, if real, it would have barred the succession of Edward V. That is all we can say now.
According to Mancini, after Stillington's story came out, Richard took off the black of mourning and started dressing in purple (Jenkins, p. 173; Cheetham, p. 120). Clearly he was now looking toward the throne -- though he reportedly feigned surprise when it was offered to him (Cheetham, pp. 121-123). He scheduled his coronation for July 6, 1483 (Ross, p. 93; Pollard, p. 99, considers him to have assumed the throne on June 26 -- just 13 days after the execution of Hastings) and set about the business of kingship --including a series of reforms which we shall cover below.
Cheetham, p. 129, says, "But first the three men who had made his usurpation possible received their rewards. Buckingham had the lion's share: he was appointed Constable and Great Chamberlain of England. In addition Richard recognized his long-standing claim to a huge part of the de Bohun unheritance.... To the Earl of Northumberland went the wardenship of the West March [with Scotland; he was already in charge of the East March] and Richard's palatinate in Cumberland. John Howard, the newly-created Duke of Norfolk, received crown lands... in Suffolk, Essex, Kent, and Cambridgeshire. The princely extent of these grants, which virtually created three principalities in Wales and the West Country, in the North, and in East Anglia, showed how desperately narrow had become the clique on which Richard's power rested."
Richard seems to have realized this eventually; as Cheetham goes on to observe on pp. 161-162, the king later gave much of Buckingham's wealth to lesser men, trying to build up a new faction: "The harsh lessons of the careers of Warwick and Montagu, Clarence and Buckingham had taught Richard not to build his fortunes solely on the shifting sands of baronial loyalty." Unfortunately, he had to rely mostly on northern men whom he knew, and they were too few and too weak -- and too resented by Southerners -- to become a force during Richard's brief reign. And Time would prove that his other choices were not always good....
THE UNKNOWN FATE OF THE PRINCES
Richard III's coronation left the problem of what to do with Edward (V) and Richard of York, the two brothers held in the Tower of London -- soon to be known as "The Princes in the Tower." It is important to note that, though the boys were lodged in the Tower, putting them there was not a sinister behavior; it was the Tudors who created its dreadful reputation. The Tower was primarily a fortress, where the boys could be kept safe, but it was also still a palace; the boys's sister Elizabeth would die there -- as Queen of England! (Poole, p. 7). And queens usually spent the night before their coronation there (Laynesmith, p. 83). In Plantagenet times, the Tower contained a decent royal residence which has since been taken down (Ashdown-HillDNA, p. 43).
The Tower was probably the best place for the boys -- although there were a half dozen royal residences around London, Westminster (the primary one) was too close to where Elizabeth Woodville had taken sanctuary (Seward-Richard, p. 98). And the other palaces were too far from the government center. It had to be the Tower, which was the #2 or #3 royal residence anyway (Hicks, p. 151). Plus, coronation processions started at the Tower (WilliamsonA, p. 51), so they would have to eventually spend some time there anyway.
In a time of relative stability, the two boys probably would not have been a threat to Richard. But whom one bishop or parliament could declare a bastard, another could re-legitimize (cf. AshleyM, p. 623). The princes were a pawn any power-seeker could seize on. And England had been through thirty years of civil war; there were many barons out to feather their own nests.
The boys did not immediately disappear, but Edward had of course lost his titles, and Richard III soon moved to take away Richard of York's titles as well. Richard of York's title Duke of Norfolk was given to Lord John Howard (Jenkins, p. 175).
This is frankly a very strange situation. York had been given the title because he was married as an infant to Anne Mowbray, the Ducal heir. But she had died in 1481, with the marriage obviously not only childless but unconsummated. The key to marriage was consummation -- that's why Edward's promise to Eleanor Butler could be regarded as binding! True, the title was supposed to remain York's even if Anne Mowbray died childless; Fields, p. 54. Edward IV had later given the Norfolk title to York unconditionally and for life; Seward-Richard, p. 97.
This made the transfer to Howard illegal, according to Jenkins -- but Bennett, p. 43, calls Edward's grant to his son the illegal part, and on its face this is clearly so. John Howard was clearly the heir if Anne Mowbray had been unmarried, so he had a strong claim to the Dukedom. And, unlike a pre-pubescent boy, he could actually use it -- important in those troubled times. And the Howard family certainly used it well; descendants of John Howard would win the Battle of Flodden and defeat the Spanish Armada. The Howard family still has the Norfolk Dukedom, making their house the senior Ducal family in England.
Over the summer, the boys were seen less and less often, though Jenkins, in talking of the withdrawal of their privileges, constantly uses words such as "it is said," rather than citing an actual source. Seward-Richard, p. 113, says that they were moved to more guarded quarters the day Richard executed Hastings. But, contrary to what Shakespeare would have us believe, the princes' fates are completely unknown. Seward, pp. 120-125, tries to catalog the evidence. Had he looked at the evidence without prejudice, he would have seen how thin it is -- effectively non-existent. Let us summarize:
Almost the only non-Tudor testimony we have is that of Mancini, who wrote in late 1483 that the boys had been seen "more rarely" toward the end of his visit to England (which ended in the summer of 1483), but that no one knew their fate (Kendall, p. 466; Jenkins, p. 176; Seward-Richard, pp. 120-121). Mancini did suspect that Richard would soon dispose of the boys if he hadn't already (Cheetham, p. 141), and said that many were deeply distressed by what happened to them (Langley/Jones, p. 160).
The Anlaby cartulary, it is true, says that Edward V died June 22, and a king list at Nottingham says June 27 (Saul3, p. 221). But these dates are extremely early, both sources display other errors, and how would they know anyway?
Commynes gives conflicting testimony (three different versions, according to Pollard, p. 123), at one point blaming Buckingham for disposing of the princes, elsewhere blaming Richard. The obvious conclusion is that he didn't know what happened. He thought the princes were dead before France's Louis XI died in late August 1483 (Seward-Richard, p. 121).
WilliamsonA, p. 94, observes that the evidence of the Great Chronicle of London claims that there was "whispering" after Easter  that the boys were dead. However, Easter 1483 was before Richard usurped the throne, meaning that the date should probably be transferred to 1484. In any case, all this actually attests is the known fact that the boys vanished.
Bennett, p. 58, points out the peculiar fact that, while Richard would later loudly denounce the idea that he had considered marrying his niece, he never said anything about the fate of the Princes. This, to Bennett, implies guilt (and I have to agree that it is an indication, although by no means proof. It may well mean that Richard at least held himself somewhat responsible).
The first definite mention of them being dead comes from a French reference in January 1484 (Seward-Richard, p. 121). Given the nature of the situation, this is clear evidence that people thought the princes had been killed, but it is not in fact evidence that they were dead. Kendall, p. 468, and Cheetham, p. 141, doubt the value of this mention by the French Chancellor Rochefort; they believe it came from Mancini, who was merely hypothesizing, and think Rochefort, in typical political fashion, turned a possibility into a fact.
The last time they were seen by the public seems to have been July 1483, though Croyland says they were still around as late as September (Weir, p. 149). Weir seems to think this conclusive evidence that they were still alive, since Croyland was in the government, but by that argument he should also have known something about their death, and he didn't. I think we can only say that they died no earlier than July, with the latest possible date being early in the reign of Henry Tudor but an extremely high likelihood that they were dead before Buckingham's rebellion. Croyland does say that people *suspected* they had been killed by late 1483 (Kendall, p. 469), but never actually says that they were -- indeed, Cheetham, p. 141 says "the wording [of Croyland's account] here implies that the rumour may well have been spread by [Buckingham's] rebels with malice aforethought."
Pollard's summary, on p. 123, is "there is an impressive array of evidence dating from before 1500... which points to the boys meeting their deaths at Richard's hands in 1483. The reports are, however, muddled, contradictory, and inconclusive."
WilliamsonA, p. 121, mentions a wardrobe entry from March 1485 of clothes for the "Lord Bastard," a title sometimes used of Edward V -- but too vague to mean much.
Henry VII's 1486 act claiming the throne accuses Richard of "shedding of infants' blood" (Seward-Richard, p. 121). This appears to be the first open mention of the crime in England. Even if you ignore the fact that it offers no details at all, it will be clear that it has no evidentiary value -- Henry VII *had* to blame Richard (as WilliamsonA says on p. 61, the princes, if alive, "were in fact more dangerous [to Henry] than to Richard"), but apparently did not know what actually happened. As Chrimes says on p. 73, "If the princes in the Tower had still been alive after Bosworth -- a most unlikely conjecture -- they would hardly have survived that event very long. But Henry VII was never able to demonstrate the fact of their death."
WilliamsonA, p. 94, observes that the parliamentary act Titulus Regius, which formally gave Richard the throne, was passed in the parliament of 1484, yet refers to the boys in the present tense. The text cited by Cunningham, p. 60, however refers primarily to their bastardy in the present tense, and they would be bastards even if dead. In any case, Titulus Regius was probably drafted in 1483; it is quite likely that no one thought to amend the language. I doubt it is significant.
The main evidence appealed to by Seward and Weir is, of course, the account of Thomas More (quoted in detail, e.g. by Cheetham, pp. 142-146). It is extremely circumstantial, naming names all over the place -- some of them familiar to history as servants of Richard, such as Sir Richard Ratcliffe, Sir William Catesby, and Sir James Tyrell, some unknown such as the conveniently-named "'Black' William Slaughter." In this account, Richard gives (far too public) orders for the murder of the princes, which Tyrell proceeds to carry out by the hand of accomplices. The bodies are secretly buried near the Tower -- and then secretly exhumed and moved by an unnamed priest.
As Cheetham comments on page 146, "More's account, written in 1513, carries a certain glib conviction, because he claims as his source the confession of the alleged assassin, Sir James Tyrell, who was executed for treason in 1502. But to accept it at face value rasies a number of unanswerable questions: why would Sir James make such a damaging confession? Why did Henry VII never have it taken down in writing anc circulated? Why does his official historian, Polydore Vergil, omit all mention of the confession?" And why is it that no copy of the confession has survived (Pollard, p. 120)? Even Chrimes, who is mostly pro-Henry, admits (p. 93 n.1) that there is no "reliable evidence" that Tyrell actually confessed.
It is extremely curious that More, who has had a lot of trouble with dates and facts until this point, is so circumstantial. Was he working from a copy of Tyrell's confession? There is every reason to think Henry faked this account. There were no bodies and no living witnesses; Tyrell, the alleged murderer, was executed without making a public statement (Fields, p. 231; he notes on p. 232 that the public record of Tyrell's execution refers only to treason in aiding the Earl of Suffolk, the brother of Richard's heir the Earl of Lincoln). Weir, pp. 243-248, devotes a chapter to More's account of Tyrell's alleged confession, then on p. 249, says that Tyrell's confession was "suppressed." This, of course, makes no sense -- Henry VII needed it to be public.
WilliamsonA, p. 174, does offer a sort of an explanation: The alleged confession had to be kept hidden until the deaths of three women who could have demonstrated its falsehood if false or been offended by it if true: The grandmother of the princes, Cecily Duchess of York (died 1495), their mother Elizabeth Woodville (died 1492), and their sister, Queen Elizabeth of York (died 1503).
But why should Tyrell confess anyway? It has been argued that he wanted absolution -- but that's a matter for the confessional, not a public declaration. Confessing merely gave a weapon to the man who was about to execute him!
Plus, would Tyrell have been willing to turn against Edward IV's children? Yes, he worked for Richard -- but it was Edward IV who had knighted him in 1471, after the Battle of Tewkesbury, and given him enough offices and properties to make him one of the richest men in England (WilliamsonA, p. 91).
Finally, and even more conclusively, if More knew where the bodies were buried, why didn't someone tell Henry Tudor? As Jenkins, p. 195, observes, Henry cannot have known where they were, or he would have exhumed them in 1485 or 1486 to stop the pretenders. It is curious to note that, when Henry VII came to London, he seems to have made no attempt at all to find out what had happened to Edward V and Richard of York (Fields, p. 189); this is one of the reasons why the most extreme defenders of Richard accuse Henry Tudor of killing the boys (I remember Thomas B. Costain making a big argument about this in The Last Plantagenets, though it was more wishful thinking than actual reasoning).
Of course, the possibility exists that someone invented More's unnamed priest who moved the bodies to justify why Henry VII couldn't find them. But if we don't know who the priest was, how do we know he did anything? More's excessive details, far from bolstering his case as Seward and Weir claim, makes it weaker -- take out Slaughter and the claim of Tyrell's confession and the unnamed priest, and *then* you have an account which works. But there is no basis for this shortened version of More's tale.
Note, too, that the bodies which are claimed to be those of the princes were found, not where More says they would be found but where More said they were *before* the unnamed priest came along and moved them away! This says that either the bodies are not those of the princes or that More's tale is inaccurate in its conclusion. Either way, More is at least half wrong. As Poole says on p. 10, "No credit can be placed on the Tyrell story as reported by Sir Thomas More.")
Hicks allows a sort of pseudo-justification for murder of the princes -- that deposed kings had to die (Hicks, pp. 168-170). He notes the cases of Edward II, Richard II, and Henry VI. We might also mention that King John likely murdered his rival Arthur of Brittany. Certainly being an ex-king was a very dangerous career choice. On the other hand. William the Conqueror had spared Edgar the Atheling, the heir of the Saxon dynasty, and (admittedly this was later) Lady Jane Grey would be spared after the first attempt to place her on the throne; they didn't kill her until after the second try. And, contrary to what Hicks asserts, Edward V was *not* ever the actual king, since he was never crowned.
So it does not *automatically* follow that Richard would have killed his nephews. It was not the Yorkists who slaughtered their rivals (the Beauforts mostly were allowed to live, except when actually found on the battlefield, though not trusted too much); it was the Tudors who elevated murder-for-being-alive to an art form,, as Henry VII executed Clarence's son the Earl of Warwick and Henry VIII killed the Earl of Suffolk (Richard's nephew), the Duke of Buckingham (the son of Richard's Duke), the Marquess of Exeter, the Countess of Salisbury (Clarence's daughter), and even Lord Montagu, who had almost no Plantagenet blood at all.
In passing judgment on all these men, we must remember that it was a cruel age. Henry V, the allegedly great king, had ordered a friend of his burned at the stake, and had watched as another "heretic" was burned. John Tiptoft, responsible for "justice" under Edward IV, was so cruel that he executed children too young even to understand that they were being killed (Dockray, p. 32). Margaret of Anjou had murdered Edward IV's younger brother Edmund of Rutland -- one version of the story has it that this was after he had been made to watch his father being killed, and while this is an after-the-fact legend, it shows how Margaret treated other enemies. Traitors at this time were half-hung then drawn and quartered -- eviscerated while alive. (This would be the fate of Perkin Warbeck, for instance.) It was Henry VIII, not Richard III, who executed those who denied transubstantiation -- even after the Anglican revolution! (Halliday, p. 89). *Everyone* was bloody-handed by our standards; the question is not whether they were cruel but whether they were more or less cruel than others of the period. And Richard, based on all things other than the fate of the princes, seems to have been less cruel than most.
Oh, and speaking of princes disappearing in the tower -- Henry Pole, the last Yorkist prince (descended from Edward IV and Richard III's sister) -- vanished in the Tower in the 1540s (reign of Henry VIII). Henry never explained what happened to him.
Several stories circulated about the Princes' fate. The Burgundian chronicler Molinet thought they were walled up in a room and left to die (Poole, p. 9). And Ross, p. 97, has a tale of skeletons being found in a walled-up room that were said to be theirs. This was published in 1647, though Fields, p. 247, says that the actual discovery came earlier. But all evidence of this has vanished, and Ross dismisses it. And such stories were common at the time -- e.g. Richard III's friend Viscount Lovell disappeared after the Battle of Stoke, and there was a story that he too was walled up, and the skeleton later found in his home at Minster Lovell. Or, who knows, maybe that was the body of the princes.... This cannot possibly be checked; Minster Lovell was allowed to fall to ruin, and little but the foundation remains (Kerr, pp. 116-117).
Potter, p. 230, points out a story that the bodies were thrown in the Thames, but there is even less evidence for this.
Much more significant was the discovery, in 1674, of a coffin found under a stairway outside the Tower of London (Weir, p. 252). Details about the original find are unfortunately murky; it appears the coffin and the bones it contained were actually tossed on a rubbish heap for a time (Potter, p. 229; Fields, p. 240). We do know that , when recovered and opened, the coffin contained the bodies of two young children. (When it was reopened later, it was also found to contain oddities such as pig bones; Weir assumes that some of the children's bones had been stolen and replaced by animal bones, probably after the exhumation).
This is fascinating because at first glance it seems to match the circumstantial description found in Thomas More's history of Richard III. Except that, to repeat, it *doesn't,* because More says the bodies were moved after their initial burial, yet they were found right where we would expect them to have been had they not been reburied. As Pollard points out on p. 124, "In other words, if one chooses to believe More's highly improbable story, the skeletons cannot have been those of the princes; for according to him their final resting place was elsewhere."
Fields, p. 239, observes that though we do not really have precise details about where the coffin was located, we can offer a general idea, then goes on to demonstrate, pp. 240-246 that, contrary to Weir, the discovery does *not* match Thomas More's account of the burial and of Sir James Tyrell's confession (though of course More had the whole thing at about fourth hand and much could have been distorted). Nor is this the only problem with More's account. Jenkins, p. 197, observes that the initial report says they were buried ten feet deep. This report may, of course, simply be inaccurate -- but if accurate, could a hole large enough to contain a chest with two bodies in it truly be dug, and filled in, in a single night by a party small enough to keep a secret?
The bodies were claimed to be those of the princes, and eventually they were treated as such. Nonetheless, there was no evidence for this supposition except for the fact that no one knew of any other bodies likely to be there -- and while More's account could not explain where the princes' bodies were actually buried, it did offer an explanation for why there were children buried near the Tower. Ross, p. 97, makes the interesting point that the king at the time of the discovery, Charles II, had "a certain interest in this matter of deposition" -- as in, his father had been deposed and executed. Thus he would naturally be interested in tales of other deposed kings. Fraser, p. 329, notes that Charles was convinced that the bodies were those of the Princes, and ordered then to receive great care as a result.
In 1933, the bodies were re-examined by two experts (but not subjected to laboratory examination; Lamb, p. 77, and by experts who were convinced from the start that they were the princes; Pollard, p. 126). They concluded that their ages -- twelve or thirteen for the elder, probably nine or ten for the younger though with a larger margin of error -- were consistent with the ages of the princes in 1483 or 1484 (Weir, p. 257, based on both the 1933 examination and more recent discussions of the photographs taken in 1933). Although the bodies are widely claimed to have been male, both children were pre-pubescent, meaning their sexes could not be determined (Weir, p. 255; Jenkins, p. 200; Poole, p. 9; Pollard, p. 126).
No cause of death could be determined; indeed, the 1933 examiners couldn't even determine the approximate date of burial of the bodies. (Weir claims that we can date them based on a casual reference to "velvet" being found in the coffin when they were excavated. It is true that velvet was invented in the middle ages, so the bones had to be relatively recent if they indeed were wrapped in velvet. However, the quote is that there were "pieces of rag and velvet about them"; WilliamsonA, p. 183. The reference is clearly too vague to allow certainty as to whether it was really velvet.) The 1933 examiners did make some guesses about what had killed the children, but scholars since then have almost universally declared these guesses untrustworthy.
So we are again stymied. Ross asks who the bodies belong to, if not the princes, but that is obvious special pleading. Hicks, p. 191, declares the matter "conclusively answered" but nowhere that I can see gives any reason to think that the bones were those of the princes, except that they were in the right place to fit More's account -- if you ignore the story that the bones were reburied and the fact that we don't actually know where they were found! Fields, p. 252, observes that several other bodies have been found on the Tower grounds, so what makes the bones of 1674 more likely to be the Princes?
Certainly, if the boys were Edward V and Richard of York, then they must have died during the reign of Richard III -- but it could not be established in 1674 or in 1933 that the skeletons were those of Edward and Richard (Kendall, p. 481). All we can say is that the skeletons fit such minimal details we have. The fact that they might be the right age to be the princes in 1483 does not prove that they are the princes, nor does it prove that the princes died in 1483. We must *either* know that the boys died in 1483 to prove that they are the princes, or know that they are the princes to know that the boys died in 1483.
Today, using genetic testing, we *could* determine if the bodies are Plantagenets, and a more accurate age at the time of their deaths, and a more accurate time of death (to within a century, anyway, as opposed to the only current objective dating, which is "we dunno"), and maybe even the cause of death -- but I read in an issue of Renaissance magazine that Elizabeth II has forbidden the re-exhumation of the bodies; this is confimed by Fields, p. 257. The staff of Wesminster Abbey, which holds the bones, is also opposed (Weir, p. 256). Those who most doubt Richard's guilt wonder if it isn't possible that Elizabeth II knows that her ancestor Henry VII, rather than Richard III, killed the two boys, who were an even greater threat to him than to Richard. This strikes me as highly unlikely -- if Richard had had the boys, he would have exhibited them in 1485, when the invasion by Henry Tudor was threatening. So it seems nearly certain that they were dead by then.
Kendall, p. 482, concedes, "As the matter stands, it can be asserted that, (a), if these are the skeletons of the Princes, then the boys were killed in the summer of 1483; and (b) it is very probable that these are the skeletons of the Princes." This, contrary to Lamb, WilliamsonA, and Fields, is still the best summary of the case. But it is also so vague a statement that it cannot be used to start a chain of inference.
To add to the uncertainty. the years since the 1933 examination have led to many attempts to extract more information from the minimum made available at that time -- and the result has been much questioning of the 1933 results; Fields, pp. 251-255, lists a number of studies on the subject, which have given age estimates for the older boy ranging from perhaps as young as eight or nine to as old as fifteen or sixteen!
Even if the bodies are those of the princes, and they were murdered, Kendall, p. 482, observes that this does not prove that Richard was the one who ordered their deaths -- though an honest person must admit that the probability of Richard ordering it is extremely high.
Pollard, p. 127, declares "Essentially the bones are a red herring. They cannot settle the question of whether Richard III murdered the princes." I would disagree in part. They cannot prove that Richard killed the boys. But modern methods *can* determine whether the two skeletons are those of the princes, and if they are, we can at least *prove* that the boys did not survive.
Although Richard III is obviously the leading candidate to have ordered the death of the princes, several other candidates have been mentioned. Two of them are genuine possibilities (Ross, pp. 102-104; Kendall devotes 31 pages -- pp. 465-495 -- to the issue): They had motive, and at some time or another also means and opportunity.
One is Henry Tudor. The case against him, in a way, is even stronger than against Richard III: Had the boys been alive, he would have *had* to murder them to take the throne. (Supposedly Henry Tudor, after Bosworth, said that if anyone of the line of Edward IV had a right to the throne, Henry himself would yield the throne to him; Arthurson, p. 2. As a way to suppress pretenders, it failed miserably.) And, being the man he was, Henry surely would not have hesitated. But, of course, he could only kill them if they were still alive. Which is nearly impossible if the 1674 bones are those of the princes, and unlikely even if the bones were someone else's.
(To be sure, WilliamsonA, p. 87, offers the suggestion that Henry managed to have someone kill the princes in 1483 while they were still in Richard's custody, the idea being that he had to get them out of the way so that he could marry Elizabeth of York. Henry is certainly sneaky enough to try such a thing, but it's hard to believe he could have pulled it off or that it could have gone unreported.)
The second possibility is the Duke of Buckingham, Richard's right-hand man in usurping the throne. Even Ross admits the possibility that he might have been the one to talk Richard into the murders. And Buckingham's influence in Richard's early reign was such that he might have been able to order their death on his own authority. But this does not answer *why* he might have done it. Some have argued that it was to make Richard look bad. Possible, since he went into rebellion soon afterward, but pretty convoluted. And, as Cheetham, p. 148, points out, Richard never once accused Buckingham of killing the boys. This does not entirely clear Buckingham, but it is a very strong argument in his favor. Pollard, p. 124, concludes that "the evidence is hardly enough to support the hypothesis... that [Buckingham] murdered the princes without the King's authority." However, even the anti-Richard Bennett notes that there is some circumstantial evidence for the hypothesis that Buckingham arranged for the deaths at the end of July -- and that Richard blew up when he learned (Bennett, pp. 45-46).
Occasionally others are mentioned -- e.g. John Howard, since he got the Dukedom of Norfolk out of it. I really doubt this, since Howard had little access to the Princes and probably would have been promoted anyway. WilliamsonA, p. 106, mentions that Lord Stanley was Constable after Buckingham's rebellion, and could have killed the Princes on his stepson's behalf. But this assumes, first, that Stanley would do something that blatant (which he never did at any other time), and second, that Richard failed to catch him at it. This us extremely unlikely. We truly have only three candidates.
In this context, genetic testing on the 1674 skeletons would really help. As Cheetham says on p. 147, "if the skeletons are those of the princes, and their ages have been accurately assessed... Henry VII is exonerated from any part in their deaths.... [I]f the prices died in the autumn of 1483, there are only two men who could conceivably have been responsible -- Richard and Buckingham."
There is another possibility, rarely brought out in the studies of the matter (as best I can tell, only Fields, p. 218, considers it, and primarily in the context of the extremely unlikely notion that Perkin Warbeck was Prince Richard). The 1933 examination of the bones did seem to reveal advanced dental problems in the older skeleton (Kendall, p. 472; Weir, p. 255; Jenkins, p. 176, notes that the report says the older boys "suffered from extensive disease, affecting almost equally both sides of the lower jaw; The disease was of a chronic nature and could not fail to have affected his general health. The gums in the lowar molar region would have been inflamed, swollen, septic and no doubt associated with discomfort and irritability").
Thus there is a real possibility that Edward (V) died of this, or of blood poisoning consequent to this, forcing whoever was in charge at the time -- probably Richard -- to cover it up. Modern examinations would doubtless make this clearer, too, but, again, no such examination has been permitted.
In connection with this, I note a report that Prince Richard was reported to have been ill in the period before he was taken into custody (WilliamsonA, p. 85). Is it possible that *he* was the older skeleton, the one with the infected jaw, and the younger some unknown playmate? Could he have lived that long, or could our birth date for him be that far off? If so, what happened to Edward V? The answer once again is surely, "We will never know."
WilliamsonA, p. 117, notes the curious fact that the feigned boys who arose in Henry VII's reign pretended to be Prince Richard, not Edward V. She speculates that this was because people knew Edward V was dead (implying that he died of natural causes). But there is absolutely no historical hint of this. Far more likely that the pretenders claimed to be Richard because he was less-known than his brother, and so easier to "fake." Plus a boy who was nine at the time of the key incidents would not be as likely to remember details as a boy of twelve. By pretending to be Richard, the claimants made it harder to disprove their claims.
It's also possible that one of Richard's followers killed the boys, not realizing the problems it would cause. It's also possible that someone -- likely Buckingham -- killed them in full knowledge that it *would* cause problems. Some of of Richard III's extreme partisans have argued, e.g., that Henry Tudor might have tried to kill them at this stage, to clear the way for his marriage to Elizabeth of York. And if he had a means to do so, he might have tried. But Henry never took useless risks. If he had sent an assassin, and the assassin had been caught, he would be completely discredited. Unless the assassin was almost certain to succeed, he wouldn't have tried. Which means that Henry would have had to have the cooperation of either Richard or Buckingham.
Cheetham, p. 148, summarizes the case against Buckingham while concluding it unlikely; Kendall, pp. 487-495, offers a much more detailed case, including the statement on p. 494 that "empirically, Buckingham appears more likely than Richard to have been the murderer of the princes." Hicks, while dismissing the possibility, notes on p. 182 that several contemporary or near-contemporary sources suspected Buckingham, and that he was the only possibility mentioned at the time other than Richard.
In practical terms, this makes no difference -- if either boy had died against Richard's will, either naturally or by murder without his knowledge, Richard would still have been blamed for the deaths; he might well have felt that a coverup was the best he could do. (It probably was, too, though I'd say he should have come out and told the truth anyway.)
As Kendall, p. 495, notes, "This famous enigma eludes us, like Hamlet: we cannot pluck out the heart of its mystery. But at least we can do better than Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who thought there was no mystery at all."
Richard's attackers frequently claim that his murder of children was exceptional -- this is the point at which they go into histrionics (about a third of Hicks's book is devoted to this point; so is Pollard, pp. 135-139). This is bunk. Tales of children being exposed because they were threats to the throne go back to tales of Oedipus and Cyrus. Cnut had devastated the Saxon royal family when he took the throne, and when William the Bastard became William the Conqueror, Edgar the Atheling, the Saxon heir who was about the age of Edward V, had to flee to Scotland. Henry Tudor killed the Earl of Warwick. Jane Grey was killed as a teenager. The correct statement is not that it was *unusual* to try to kill children, but that it was *more widely reviled*.
The flip side (rarely mentioned by Richard's defenders) is that, *even if he didn't kill them*, he still bears a significant portion of the blame for their deaths. By imprisoning them, he made them a fixed target. If Buckingham decided to kill them, he knew right where they were -- no risk of them being moved and word of the plot leaking out. If by some wild chance they were around for Henry Tudor to kill, *he* knew where they were. And even if they, or at least Edward V, died naturally, Richard prevented doctors from seeing them (admittedly any doctor of the time would have been completely useless, but the doctor could have made the situation known).
As Pollard says on p. 132, "At bottom, the difficulty facing all arguments to the effect that someone other than Richard III [or Buckingham] was responsible for the death of the princes, is the assumption that they were still alive on the morning of 22 August 1485. As an assumption this is less tenable than the assumption that they were dead by then."
Cheetham, p. 151, gives what seems to me the best summary: "We have thus come in a full circle back to Richard as the prime suspect [in the murder] and the early autumn of 1483 as the most likely date. The evidence is not conclusive in a legal sense, and never will be. Richard stands convicted not so much by the evidence against him as by the lack of evidence against anybody else.
"The murders leave an ineradicable stain on Richard's character.... But that does not prove that his nature was warped by a vein of deliberate cruelty. His treatment of the vanquished Nevilles and his defence of Clarence show Richard in a kinder light....
"More important than the moral issue were the political consequences. The murder of the Princes has often been described as a Renaissance solution in the manner later prescribed by Macchiavelli. In fact it was a colossal blunder. Nothing else could have prompted the deflated Woodvilles to hitch themselve to Henry Tudor's bandwagon...." (This point of view in fact goes back to contemporaries of Richard's; Ross, pp. xxxix-xl, quotes the Great Chronicle of London to this effect.)
Incidentally, this is not the only unsolved death of the period. Richard's friend Viscount Lovell seems to have vanished after his part in the Lambert Simnel rebellion of 1487. Ross, p. 50, says that "the circumstances of his death are even more mysterious than those of the princes in the Tower" -- and obviously this conundrum took place in the reign of Henry VII, not Richard III. One story had it that Lovell was left in a walled-up room in his own house -- note the similarity to that 1647 story about the princes!
All that seems really certain is that Richard no longer had the boys in his possession by September 1483, when Buckingham rebelled; under the circumstances, had Richard been able to bring them forth, the rebellion against him would have been weakened (Jenkins, p. 201) -- although it would have raised the hopes of those who wanted to restore the dynasty of Edward IV (Ross-Wars, p. 97). The odds are high that the boys were dead (though it occurs to me that it's just possible Buckingham had stolen them away as part of his scheme. But this is fairly unlikely, since Richard would presumably have proclaimed it, and he didn't.)
Nonetheless, Jenkins, p. 204, argues that at late as January 23, 1484, many thought the boys were still alive (this based on the fact that the Continuator of the Croyland Chronicle is widely thought to be Bishop John Russell of Lincoln -- so, e.g., Ross, p. xliv -- whose speech before parliament in 1484 showed no knowledge of their fate. Ross, however, thinks that the Croyland Chronicle did blame Richard for the deaths).
Interestingly, Richard, once Buckingham's rebellion was crushed, "treated the rebels with a magnanimity worthy of kingship. There were less than a dozen executions; no punitive measures were taken against Bishop Woodville, Sir Richard Woodville or the Marquess Dorset. Bishop Morton himself [probably the chief planner] was offered a pardon, but he did not come home to claim it. The widowed Duchess of Buckingham [another Woodville] was given an annuity; even that discreet but active conspirator the Lady Margaret Beaufort was not attainted..." (Jenkins, p. 203). Richard had also allows the widows of Earl Rivers and Lord Hastings to enjoy significant portions of their former revenues (WilliamsonA, p. 75). As Ross-Wars, p. 157, observes, "Henry VII was much tougher [in punishing rebellious nobles] than the Yorkists had been."
Cheetham, p. 158, gives a mixed verdict: "Ninety-five men has been singled out as leaders of the rebellion and had their lands confiscated.... These measures were not unduly harsh: at least a third of the attainders were subsequently revoked and many of those named had already found refuge at Henry [Tudor]'s court in exile." Richard probably felt that his kingdom was secure, so he didn't need to destroy the rebels -- but if he had been a more vengeful man, he probably could have killed them; they certainly weren't of any use to him!
That very magananimity demonstrates the convenience of the claims that Richard III was responsible for the deaths of the Princes in the Tower: Henry Tudor's justification for his ascension was that, first, Richard had killed the legitimate heir, meaning that Henry had at least some claim to the throne (though very dubious), and second, that Richard's crimes were so black that he needed to be overthrown.
It must be stressed: The Princes almost certainly died during Richard's reign, probably very early on, and very likely at his order. But the evidence, while strong, is not proof; we cannot draw absolute conclusions. Though, of course, this would not stop a good balladeer; it's a matter of legal proof.
The one person who truly benefitted from Buckingham's rebellion was probably Henry Tudor; it went far toward establishing him as the accepted alternative to Richard (Ross-Wars, p. 98).
Last updated in version 3.8
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2016 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.