from Duke to King

The 26th of June 1483 is generally taken as the day that Richard, Duke of Gloucester, became King Richard III of England.

I see arguments about Richard on the history groups very often, he seems to be able to elicit strong feelings of both hate and love, even 500 years after his death.

I would probably call myself a Ricardian, though I don’t always understand his actions and I don’t raise him up as an angel either (ok, he is dead, so his spirit is in the ether, some would say that makes him an angel, but I mean in a perfect guy sense!!).

He was a man of his time, a noble of his time, and he had grown up in violent times.  We should not judge everything that was done in terms of modern day events.

His journey to the crown was a complicated one, and I don’t believe it was one that he sought, but one that fate forced upon him.

During the reign of his brother Edward, Richard was known to have idolised his brother, until Clarence’s death, which seemed to cause a rift between the two.  I will not go into Clarence’s death here, that is an entirely different story.  Richard spent the bulk of his time in the north of England, where he was very well respected, as a fair and even overlord.  He held the Scottish border in a relatively stable state, in his brother’s name.

Edward’s death appears to have come as a surprise to everyone in the royal family and the court in general.  There are rumours of poison, particularly from his wife Elizabeth, but I tend to think, if she were poisoning her husband, she would probably have had her elder son and heir to the throne, brought to London or closer to London rather than leaving him in Wales.  Plus, the marriage is always referred to as a love match, so I do not think Queen Elizabeth would have poisoned her husband.  I do not discount the fact that someone at court ‘could’ have poisoned him, but not his wife.

There was a delay in informing Richard of Edward’s death, and of the fact that Edward had nominated him as Protector to the heir.  Depending on who you are reading, there are a couple of reasons for this delay.

Of course, it would be a couple of days’ journey to the north for a messenger to reach Richard, so this could partly explain it, though a messenger was sent immediately to Wales, so the one going north should in theory have been sent immediately also!

The Queen was not a very popular person at court, particularly with her York family in laws, she knew her position would depend on her son, when he came to London.

Richard had never shown any antagonism towards her, though equally had not shown great support, she must have been worried about how he would treat her, as the Protector.  So she sent for her brother and son, both for support and protection.

The fact that she wanted an army to accompany her son, but the council did not allow this, does tell a little of her worry.

Richard was said to be extremely upset when he heard of his brother’s death and went straight to York Minster, ordering and saying prayers for Edward’s soul.  He gathered a small group to go to London with him, nowhere near an army sized party, but a decent gathering of northern nobles, travelling south to pay their respects to their King.

Somewhere on the way, he was joined by the Duke of Buckingham, his cousin.  The Duke had been forced to marry a 5 years old sister of the Queen, many years before and was not a supporter of the Woodvilles, by any stretch of the imagination.

At Stony Stratford, on the way to London, Richard was met by Anthony Woodville, brother of the Queen and tutor to the young Edward V.  They spent an evening, by all accounts, quite jovially, and planned to travel to London together the next day.

I am not exactly sure what happened the next morning, but it ended up with the Woodville party being arrested and imprisoned, and Richard and his party going to the young King and taking up his escort to the capital.

Perhaps something was said that alarmed Richard or Buckingham, maybe they planned to avoid having the northerners join the  King for the journey south, maybe an assassination of the northerners was planned, but something caused their arrest.

When arriving in London, Richard and Buckingham rode alongside the young King, a little behind him, showing his precedence.  He was taken to the royal apartments in the Tower of London (NOT a dungeon, please read the history books!) and installed there with servants, to rest from his long journey.  There is no evidence that he was put under any other guard than the royal one.

Elizabeth is known to have fled to the sanctuary at Westminster Abbey with her other children, and ordered one of her sons to take charge of the King’s Navy at sea.

The Navy was soon brought back under crown control, and the dislike of the Woodvilles became clearer.

Richard sent to her requests to return to court, which she refused.  She had obviously hoped to retain control of the throne in the shape of her son, and it had been taken from her when he had arrived as the Protector, as Edward had wanted.  Maybe he thought she was sulking and would come round in time!

He set plans in motion for an early crowning of his nephew, once he was given formal appointment as Protector by the Parliament.

Sometime within the next few weeks, a cleric came to Buckingham with some earth shattering news.  This cleric had previously been imprisoned by Edward at the same time as Clarence, though the Bishop had been released, and promoted.  It has been mooted that he took the same information to Clarence, who confronted his brother with it, and it led to George’s execution.  But that is another story.

Bishop Stillington informed Buckingham of the fact that he had married Edward to a lady named Eleanor Butler, two years before his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville.  Buckingham brought Stilliington to Richard, who then told them to take their evidence to Parliament, to let them decide whether the evidence was sufficient and what was to happen next.

The Bishop’s evidence and confession was presented to Parliament, who upheld that the evidence was strong enough to announce the King and Queen’s marriage as invalid and their children as bastards.  We will never know how strong this evidence was, because when Henry Tudor took the crown, he ordered that all copies of the Titulus Regis, the Parliamentary order that came from this evidence, to be destroyed.  Why he did that, is up for discussion, I tend to think it was to make it easier to legitimise his soon to be wife, Edward IV’s eldest daughter.

The acceptance of this evidence, gave the Parliament the right to decide on the next in line to the throne.  George of Clarence’s son and daughter were counted out because of his attainder, so the next in line was the Protector, Richard ( I have sometimes wondered if Edward half expected this to happen and placed Richard, his loyal brother as Protector, in case it did happen, maybe he thought Richard would stay loyal and bury the facts in support of his son….).

Richard and Anne, and in some accounts his mother Cecily Neville, were staying at Crosby Place in London, and members of the Parliament travelled there to see him.  He was officilly offered the crown, which he (reluctantly, some say) accepted.

This is the time that the two boys in the Tower would have been in danger from Richard, if they were seen as a problem.  But he had already been granted the crown, with Parliament’s support, they had been declared bastards, so what would he have gained from disposing of them?

They were seen playing in the grounds of the Tower after this date, in any case, and an attempt to abduct them from the Tower was raised by some Woodville family shortly after.

I wonder if Richard thought it politic to move the boys from London, to take the focus off the boys while he settled into his role.

IF they were killed, I cannot see that Richard would gain anything from their deaths.  IF they had died, say from natural causes or accidental means (a fall, a fight, etc), then it would have made far more sense for him to display their bodies and prove they were dead, as Edward had done with Henry VI.

Another point that makes me wonder if Richard simply moved to the boys to safety, was the actions of Elizabeth Woodville.

She was known as a good mother to her children, yet when she left sanctuary, she handed over her elder daughter to the care of Richard III.  If she had any inkling that he had killed her sons, why would she do that?  Also, after Bosworth, she had every option to declare that he had had them killed but neither her nor her daughter did so.  There was nothing stopping them at this point so why not?  They did not even order masses to be said for the boys’ souls (to explain this significance, to say a mass for a dead soul in mediaeval times, was essential for that soul to be admitted to heaven, to say a mass for a living soul, would bar that soul from admission to heaven), so they either thought the boys to be alive or did not know either way and did not want to risk their souls.

Maybe it is the mother in me just hoping that the boys’ escaped to live a happy life somewhere, or that Richard returned to be executed as Perkin Warbeck many years later.

Whatever happened to the boys, on this day, in 1483, Richard, Duke of Gloucester accepted the offered crown of England and became King Richard III of England.

Well, yesterday, this post took longer to write than I had expected………………………

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