Now that Richard III's grave has possibly been found, I'm republishing my diary on him, shortened up a bit and updated with some images. Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester reigned (briefly) from 1483 to 1485 as Richard III.
Most people will recognize the famous lines of the opening of Shakespeare's dramatization of his reign:
Now is the winter of our discontentUnder Richard, commonly known as Gloucester, after his dukedom, the House of York, seemingly triumphant, came rapidly to its undoing, which is closely linked to the so-called "mystery" of the Princes in the Tower.
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
On 9 Apr 1483,King Edward IV (reigned 1461-1470; 1471-83) died in London. Edward was still young, just 40 years old. He had the distinction of never having been defeated in battle; he was every bit the model for his famous grandson, Henry VIII, only without Henry's ability to hold grudges.
Notably in attendance at the time of Edward's death were the Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, her second oldest son (by the King), Richard Shrewsbury, Duke of York, John Morton, Bishop of Ely, and William, 1st Baron Hastings, who as the Lord Chamberlain was de facto prime minister.
Notably not in attendance was the King's only brother, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, who was in Middleham, 200 miles away.
Princes in the Tower, enemy of Richard III and his faction.
On 11 Apr 1483, in London, Edward V was proclaimed king. At about this time, following some disputes between the Woodvilles (the Queen Dowager's family), and their various adversaries, the decision was made to send notice to Rivers and the new King at Ludlow Castle, to bring the King to London, for a coronation to be held on Sunday, 4 May 1483. Critical here was the size of the escort that was to accompany the new King to London. To the Woodville's many opponents, a stronger force implied a Woodville takeover of all power.
Hastings, a major adversary of the Woodvilles, threatened to retire to Calais, an English possession then, and heavily fortified, of which he was governor. Given that Calais, being the only point where an English standing army was maintained, had been a critical jumping off point for a number of successful invasions of England by the rebel House of York, the meaning of Hastings, that he meant to resort to arms if needed, was only too clear to the council.
The new king is brought south.
It was then the custom for royal princes to be raised separately from the court (probably for good reason, so that a coup to overthrow the King could not capture both King and heir at once.) This custom had been followed in Edward's case, and so upon his death, his oldest son, now Edward V, was then 200 miles way at Ludlow, a traditional Yorkist stronghold, where he was being raised under the governorship of his maternal uncle, Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers. Insofar as prince, now king, Edward, had been nominally ruler of Wales, the post of Governor, held by the Woodvilles of course, of the prince carried with it de facto authority over the entire Welsh principality.
On 14 April, word of the king's death reached Ludlow. Pursuant to an agreement between Hastings and the Woodvilles, Rivers was instructed to come south with no more than 2,000 men and to be in London no later than three days, that is Thursday, 1 May, prior to the scheduled coronation date. Rivers wanted to stick to his previous plans to celebrate St. George's day, the English national holiday, on 23 Apr in Ludlow. In addition he needed time to raise the 2,000 men for the King's escort. Consequently, he and the king did not depart Ludlow for London until 24 April.
Gloucester and Buckingham seize the new King.
Meanwhile, word of the King's death did not reach his brother, Richard Gloucester, then at Middleham until 16 or 17 April. Worried about the possibility of a Woodville takeover of power, Gloucester began gathering forces. With 300 men, he departed Middleham, moving south, and reaching York on 21 April. Gloucester also made arrangements with the Duke of Buckingham, whereby Buckingham would raise a further 300 men and meet Gloucester at Northampton, with the objective of intercepting the King's southward movement. Buckingham, who was of royal blood and one of the highest ranking nobles, was readily agreeable, as he had his own reasons for hating the Woodvilles, even though (or perhaps because) he was married to one.
On 29 Apr 1483, proceeding south from Ludlow, the King, the Earl Rivers, Sir Richard Grey (who was the Queen's son by her first marriage, and hence half-brother to the King) and the King's escort had passed Northhampton, and reached Stony Stratford, about 14 miles further south. Rivers, whom later generations have come to regard as an amiable moron (he was played as such by Robert Downey, Jr. in the 1995 production of Richard III), heard that Gloucester and Buckingham were at Northampton on the evening of 29 Apr 1483, and left the King and his escort at Stony Stratford to greet them
Rivers left instructions that the King and the escort were to move south the next morning, whether or not he should return. This proved prescient, as the next morning, after a convivial evening with his kinsman by marriage, Buckingham (married to River's sister) and his other brother-in-law, Gloucester (Rivers' sister was Elizabeth Woodville, the Queen Dowager.). These familial ties did not keep Buckingham and Gloucester from arresting Rivers the next day. To prevent word of this from reaching the King, they had ordered Watling Street barred to travelers.
Gloucester and Buckingham with their 600 men at arms then rode hard to the south to Stony Stratford, where, without violence, they were able to seize the King, ostensibly as his protector, and disburse the escort organized by Rivers. They also arrested Grey, who like Rivers, was imprisoned and (later) executed, quite illegally, it goes without saying.
From this point onwards, Edward V was entirely within the power of Gloucester.
Rather than advance southward on 30th April, Gloucester and Buckingham returned to Northampton, with the King in their charge, sending word of this on to London. Just prior to midnight on 30 April this news reached the dowager queen, Elizabeth Woodville, and her son, the Marques of Dorset (this was her second son by her first marriage). While her first impulse was to attempt raise armed forces, this proved to be not feasible at such short notice, and so the next day, on 1 May, the queen, together with her two sons (Dorset) and the much younger heir to the throne, Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, as well as the queen's five daughters, went into sanctuary at Westminster Abbey.
The right of sanctuary
Some comment here needs to be made about the right of sanctuary in medieval times. It is often remarked that there were no prisons in those days, just a system of punishments, ranging from the stocks to whipping, branding, and execution. However, if a person fearing such punishments, or perhaps a debtor fleeing his creditors, could get to a sanctuary, such as Westminster Abbey, in theory the secular forces could not remove him. Once in sanctuary, which was sometimes called “asylum”, the asylee would be feed and cared for, but of course he was expected to do his bit to help out. This could go on for years, thus converting the sanctuary into a form of prison. Consequently, the term “sanctuary man” came about, and it was roughly equivalent to “jailbird” or “deadbeat.”
Gloucester brings the King to London.
On 3 May 1483, Gloucester and Buckingham, with about 500 men, left Northampton with the King in their custody. They reached London on 4 May, where a formal reception was held for him outside the city by the mayor and the leading citizens. Gloucester brought with him and displayed four carts of arms bearing Woodville badges to support his claim that the Woodvilles were planning to use force against him.
Establishment of the protectorate
Once the procession entered the city, they proceeded to St. Paul's Church, where there was rather run down palace which was normally reserved for the Bishop, but which was occasionally used for royalty. It was here that Edward V was housed, at least for the first few days. On 10 May, the royal council met and proclaimed Gloucester as the “Protector and Defender of the Realm” and scheduled the coronation for Tuesday, 24 June, later rescheduled to Sunday, 22 June. On the same day, Gloucester sacked the Archbishop of York, Rotherham, from his office as Lord Chancellor of England, Rotherham being perceived by Gloucester as having granted too much aid to Queen Elizabeth and the Woodvilles then in sanctuary.
Gloucester also rewarded Buckingham on 10 May with substantial grants of lands and offices. Other supporters (or persons whose support Gloucester sought) were also made lesser grants.
On 13 May a summons was issued for a new Parliament to convene on 25 June. By 19 May, it appears that Edward V was housed at the Tower of London, ostensibly in preparation for his coronation, the Tower then being a traditional royal residence and superior in quality to the one at St. Paul's.
Usurpation of the throne: Gloucester's precarious position.
At end of May the Protector had the King under his control, but not the heir. Despite his success, Gloucester was in a tight spot At best the King's minority could last only another three years, and the king, upon reaching majority, would well recall who Gloucester had arrested the King's relatives, he had delayed the King's coronation, he had in fact imprisoned the King – any one of which would be worth his head as high treason. And behind the king would be the Woodvilles, who were both hated and numerous, led by the formidable Queen Dowager.
On 9 June, the recalcitrant Queen Dowager was still refusing to come out of sanctuary. By then, with the coronation near, the moderate members of the royal council, who did not necessarily distrust Gloucester began to be concerned – how could a King be properly and formally invested with the crown if his brother, mother, and sisters were in sanctuary and refusing to attend? This would have created grave doubts as to the legitimacy of the regime, and might encourage the Scots or other foreigners to attack, perceiving English leadership to be divided.
Elizabeth Woodville, has inspired numerous works, including this
1791 edition of a 1714 play by N. Rowe.
The head of the royal council was William, Lord Hastings. Although an enemy of the Woodvilles, Hastings was a staunch supporter of the House of York, having literally stood side by side with the late king in all his battles. Whatever might happen, Hastings would never permit his old friend's children to be set aside from the succession.
Gloucester, by letters dated June 10 and June 11, to his supporters in the north, alleged that Hastings, whose mistress Jane Shore, used Shore as a go-between to reached an agreement with the Queen Dowager to jointly oppress Gloucester. Jane Shore had also been a mistress of recently King Edward. Perhaps in the desperate situation the Queen Dowager was in, she might have looked upon Shore as a friend, which gives the allegation some plausibility. Evidence on the point is lacking, however.
Gloucester then moved quickly.
On Friday, 13 June, Hastings, de facto prime minister, was arrested, on Gloucester's orders, at a meeting of the royal council executed without trial or any pretense of legality. He was simply taken outside to the tower yard, and his head was hacked off. Other persons perceived as obstacles, including Bishop Morton, were arrested at the same meeting, but not executed. This was unmistakeable “message of the deed” to the Queen Dowager that he, Gloucester, would not much longer suffer her to remain in sanctuary, law or no.
Gloucester moves step by step towards the crown.
On Monday, June 16 the newly pliable royal council sent the Cardinal of Canterbury, to the Queen Dowager, to persuade her to hand over the Duke of York from sanctuary. The Queen acceded to this request. Probably she had no choice. Sanctuary had been violated before when it was deemed expedient by the ruling party. No doubt some flimsy legal excuse could be cooked up by the gang of lickspittle lawyers whom Gloucester could call upon.
of London, 1893 painting by P.H. Calderon.
Also, about the same time that the Queen Dowager turned over the Duke of York, the plans for the coronation, scheduled for 22 June, were abandoned. The last known document signed by Edward V as king is dated 17 June.
Also on 17 June, writs were issued which cancelled the summons issued for a new Parliament, which was to have convened on 25 June. These writs went out late, so that many who had been previously summoned, showed up anyway, not having heard word of the cancellation.
Orders were also issued for the execution of the Woodvilles and their allies who had been captured at Northampton, that is, the Queen Dowager's brother, the Earl Rivers, her son, Thomas Vaughn, and two other important knights. Accordingly, at Pontefract Castle, they were all executed by beheading on 25 June. Professor Ross states that “only someone who meant to be king could have risked dispatching” these orders. (Ross, Richard III, p.88).
Gloucester arrests the last Yorkist male heir.
In addition to the King and the Duke of York, there was one other male heir of the House of York (not counting Gloucester's own son). This was Edward, the 17th Earl of Warwick, who was the son of Gloucester's brother, George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, seems to have been the Fredo Corleone of the three royal brothers, which in like fashion resulted in his being bumped off, supposedly by being drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. Parliament had passed an act of attainder, which disinherited Clarence's children from the throne. But attainders could be reversed; Gloucester knew it, and he accordingly arrested and imprisoned the young Earl; this is estimated to be about the same time that Gloucester obtained custody of the Duke of York. Gloucester now had all the male heirs of the house of York under his control.
Official challenge to the legitimacy of the King and the heir.
On Sunday, 22 June, Ralph Shaa, a theologian in Gloucester's pay (and the brother of the Lord Mayor of London, Edward Shaa), gave a sermon at St. Paul's Church in London in which he attacked the legitimacy of King and the Duke of York. This was an extraordinary event, as to impugn the legitimate birth of the sovereign was considered treason, and punishable as such. Yet here it was happening on public display, and all the more so because the forum chosen was generally considered to be a place where official pronouncements were made.
Precisely what the attack was that Shaa announced has not been fully resolved. Some believe that Gloucester (through Shaa, and others) claimed that his brother Edward IV, was not in fact the son of Richard Plantagenet, the Duke of York, as shown by the fact that he, Gloucester looked more like York than Edward. Of course this would have been the same as saying that Richard's own mother, Cicely Nivelle, who was then very much alive, had been immoral and licentious as a young woman. Another ground which Shaa may have used was the claim that Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had been bigamous, and therefore void, on account of a prior “precontract” marriage to another commoner. There were a number of weaknesses with the “pre-contract” argument, which must have been apparent at the time to everyone. One can only regard the “pre-contract” theory as a sham to give some color of legality to the seizure of power which Gloucester had been then embarked upon.
Gloucester assumes the crown.
On 25 June some Lords and commoners who had travelled to London expect to sit in a new Parliament assembled at Westminster, where they asked that Gloucester assume the kingship, apparently motivated by fear of the Woodvilles. According to Mancini, the young princes, Edward and the Duke of York, were then housed in the Royal Apartments at the Tower of London. These apartments, which separate from the fortified works, no longer exist. They were quite luxurious for the time of course, and they were not in any way a prison.
On 26 Jun 1483, a deputation led by the Duke of Buckingham, went to Gloucester's residence at Baynard's castle to formally request that Gloucester accept the kingship. Gloucester pretended to be reluctant, but took the oath of allegiance anyway, and then returned with the delegation to Westminster Hall, where he took the King's traditional marble seat known as the King's Bench. At this point, with Gloucester having been recognized and sworn as King, it would not do to have the Princes continue to reside in the Royal Apartments; historians believed they were moved to what is now known as the Bloody Tower, but which was then called the Garden Tower.
On 28 June 1483, Richard ordered that his supporter Lord Berkeley shall carry the title of Earl of Nottingham, and another supporter, John Lord Howard would carry the title of Duke of Norfolk. Previously these titles had been held by the Duke of York, second eldest son of Edward IV. Gloucester's reallocation of these titles has been interpreted by some historians as a sign that the Duke of York was already dead..
On 6 Jul 1483, Richard Gloucester and his wife Anne Neville were formally crowned and consecrated as King and Queen of England in Westminster Abby. Their child, Edward Middleham, does not attend and remains in Middleham; it has been speculated that this was deliberate so as not to remind the spectators of the similiarly aged children of Edward IV, but other historians say it was because the child was ill. Even though Buckingham was the MC at the coronation, one person who certainly did not attend the coronation was his wife, Katherine Woodville, who was the Queen Dowager's sister, and therefore maternal aunt to King Edward V and the Duke of York.
After Hastings was removed (this was on 13 june), the contemporary Italian chronicler Dominic Mancini (who was visiting England) wrote that “the King and his brother were withdrawn into the inner apartments of the Tower proper, and day by day began to be seen more rarely behind the bars and windows, till at length they ceased to appear altogether.” This process would had had to have begun on 16 June, when Gloucester had both King and the heir in his power for the first time.
On 13 Jul 1483 (or sometime in the week preceding) Mancini departed England. He wrote that before his departure, “the Princes had ceased to appear altogether.” Mancini also stated that “I have seen many men burst forth into tears and lamentations when mention was made of [Edward V] after his removal from men's sight; and already there was a suspicion that he had been done away with. Whether, however, he has been done away with, and by what manner of death, so far I have not at all discovered.”
On 15 Jul 1483, as part of his reward for supporting Gloucester's usurpation of the throne, Harry Buckingham was appointed Lord Constable of England. This was the highest law enforcement position in the country, and it theoretically gives him control over the Tower of London where the Princes (assuming they were alive on 15 July 1483) were kept. In actuality, the Tower remained under the control of the Lieutenant of the Tower, and access to the Princes was only possible with the permission of the King.
On 20 Jul 1483, Richard leaves from Windsor on a tour of the kingdom called a “progress”. On 24 Jul 1483, Richard reaches Oxford on progress. He then moved on to Woodstock and thereafter to Gloucester, where he met Harry Buckingham. According to More, en route to Gloucester:
King Richard after his coronation, taking his way to Gloucester to visit in his new honor, the town of which he bare the name of his old, devised as he rode, to fulfill that thing which he before had intended. And forasmuch as his mind gave him, that his nephews living, men would not reckon that he could have right to the realm, he thought therefore without delay to rid them, as though the killing of his kinsmen, could amend his cause, and make him a kindly king. Whereupon he sent one John Greene whom he specially trusted, unto sir Robert Brackenbery constable of the Tower, with a letter and credence also, that the same sir Robert should in any wise put the two children to death. This John Greene did his errand unto Brackenbery kneeling before our Lady in the Tower, who plainly answered that he would never put them to death to die therefore ...On 8 Aug 1483, Richard reached Warwick on progress. It was at Warwick that according to More, John Greene returned to Richard with the news that Brackenbury would not put the princes to death:
… with which answer John Greene returning recounted the same to King Richard at Warwick yet in his way. Wherewith he toke such displeasure and thought, that the same night, he said unto a secret page of his: Ah whom shall a man trust? those that I have brought up myself, those that I had went would most surely serve me, even those fail me, and at my commandment will do nothing for me. Sir quoth his page there lieth one on your pallet without, that I dare well say to do your grace pleasure, the thing were right hard that he would refuse, meaning this by Sir James Tyrell …
He apparently believed Richard to have killed the princes.
On 29 Oct 1483, the year-long term of Edmund Shaa as Mayor of London ended. According to the Great Chronicle of London, during Shaa's term “the children of King Edward were seen shooting and playing in the garden of the Tower, by sundry times.” No more precise date is given in the Great Chronicle for these observations.
The Rebellion of 1483.
In the fall of 1483, a rebellion arouse in several areas of England. The leaders of the rebellion were important and well-connected supporters of the House of York, and, depending on the region, supporters of the Woodvilles were also included. The cause of the rebellion appears to have been concern over the sons of King Edward and the safety of his daughters.
Buckingham joins the rebellion.
We've already seen how Harry Buckingham was instrumental both in besting the Woodvilles and ultimately bringing his brother in law Richard III to the throne. Once the fall rebellion had begun, Buckingham had a change of heart and decided the join the rebels. Why he did this is unknown. Buckingham was descended in multiple ways from Edward III, and possibly with an army and enough money he could make himself king. Other stories run that the crafty cleric John Morton (1420-1495), who was supposedly Buckingham's prisoner, had swaying the vain Buckingham into rebellion.
After the rising began, rumor began that the Princes were dead. By late September 1483, a high-level plot had begun against Richard. Parties to the scheme were Morton, the Beaufort heiress Margaret Tudor, her son Henry Tudor, the Queen Dowager, and her eldest daughter, Elizabeth York, had begun to take shape. The plan was for Buckingham to raise forces from his estates in western England and Wales. Meanwhile, Henry Tudor would invade from Brittany. The would join forces and beat Richard. Henry Tudor would marry Elizabeth York, and thus join the houses of York and Lancaster, and finally ending the dynastic wars.
Events went against Buckingham and the rebellion. Buckingham had been squeezing his tenants hard for years and when he wanted them not only to fork over the rent but rise up in arms on his behalf, the response was half-hearted at best. Then a huge storm broke which flooded the rivers of England, including the Severn, critical in this instance, which blocked off what forces Buckingham did raise from reaching him. The same storm prevented Henry Tudor from landing in England at his appointed time, so when he did appear offshore, his landing place was entirely occupied by forces loyal to Richard. They tried to trick Henry Tudor into landing, but suspecting a trap, he sailed off. Meanwhile, Buckingham had become a fugitive with a price on his head. He was betrayed and executed at Salisbury on 2 Nov 1483.
The Parliament of 1484
With the rebellion put down, Richard called his one and only Parliament to convene on 23 Jan 1484 at Westminster. A variety of laws were enacted, many of which were legimately reformist in nature. Of particular note was the passing of a law, entitled Titulus Regis, which formally declared the children of Edward IV to be bastards, for several reasons, all of them spurious, these included the precontract theory and the old charge that Elizabeth Woodville had compelled the King to marry her by witchcraft.
Death of the Prince of Wales.
9 Apr 1484, Richard's only legitimate child, Edward Middleham, the Prince of Wales, died at the age of 10. Richard and Queen Anne were reported to be overwhelmed with grief. Beyond the personal tragedy, the death of the heir made the throne insecure, and encourage claimants, such as Henry Tudor.
Henry Tudor finally was able to invade again in early August 1485, when he landed near the modern city of Milford Haven, in Wales. He marched north through Wales and then east into England, where he was met near the market town of Bosworth by King Richard and his army. Details of this battle are hard to separate from legend, and many different accounts have been given. Important for this summary account are the facts that Richard III was killed and Henry VII was acclaimed king immediately after the victory. Richard III did fair rather well in the poem Ballad of Bosworth Field, which may have been composed within living memory of the battle. The poem describes the betrayal of Richard by the Stanleys, and word being brought to Richard of the same:
Then to King Richard there came a knight,The skeletons of 1674
And said, 'I hold it time for to flee;
For yonder Stanleys' dints they be so wight,
Against them no man may dree.
'Here is thy horse at thy hand ready;
Another day thou may worship win,
And for to reign with royalty,
To wear the crown, and be our King.'
He said, 'Give me my battle-axe in my hand,
Set the crown of England on my head so high!
For by Him that shope both sea and land,
King of England this day will I die!
One foot will I never flee
Whist the breath is my breast within!'
As he said it, so did it be;
If he lost his life, if he were King.
In 1674, when renovations were being done to the Tower of London, a wooden box was found about ten feet below the ground, in a hollowed out cavity in the foundation of a stone staircase. The box contained the skeletal remains of two children, one laying on top of the other. The skeletons were immediately taken to be those of the princes. Sir Thomas More, whose history of Richard III has a number of flaws, did state that he had heard that at least initially the Princes had been buried "meetly deep beneath" a pile of stones.
In 1933, the remains were examined, and they were found to be of children whose ages would have roughly matched the ages of the princes in 1483.
While there have been many challenges to the skeletal evidence, it seems beyond coincidence that in 1519 More could have recorded that the princes were buried deep beneath a pile of stones and then 150 years later a box containing skeletons roughly matching the ages of the princes was found in a very similar location in the Tower of London. If any further evidence was needed that the Princes died in 1483, I would think this would satisfy.