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The Tragedy of King Richard 111 (not by William Shakespeare)

 

Part 2: The hearts of men are full of fear

“ My Lord, whoever journeys to the Prince,

For God’s sake let us two not stay at home;

For by the way I’ll sort occasion

As indexed to the story we late talked of,

To part the Queens proud kindred from the Prince.”

(Shakespeare: Richard III)

“Why this it is when men are ruled by women…”

Loyaulté me lie. That is Richard Duke of Gloucester’s personal motto. It means ‘loyalty binds me’ and it was much more than a motto to duke Richard; it was a lifestyle choice. Throughout his relatively short life he displayed a rigid and remorseless dedication to the chivalric code of personal loyalty. He was loyal to those he loved, and to those who served him well. He was loyal to those he trusted regardless of the circumstances, regardless of his personal feelings and, fatally for him, regardless of the consequences.

Every schoolboy should have a hero. Richard Plantagenet’s hero was his magnificent eldest brother, Edward. In late 1460, when he was in lodging in London with his other brother George and his sister Margaret, Edward used to visit them every day. To Richard, aged just seven “…he shone with the blaze of mighty affairs and was the companion of paladins. Yet he took care to watch over his brothers and sister, regaling them with tales of his adventures, warming them with his affection and his greatness. How could there be anything better than to follow forever and to serve this wonderful brother, so splendid, so kind?[1] Yet for all his devotion and loyalty to his brother, Richard was his own man: they argued. For example, in 1475 he disliked the fact that Edward had accepted a French bribe to such an extent that he returned to England, having himself refused the French king’s bung. And then there is the question of his relationship with the Woodvilles. We need not give too much credence to the notion that he hated the queen and her relations; his loyalty to Edward would not permit that. However, I think its fair to say he disapproved of the king’s relatives by marriage. When Richard left York on about the 23 April 1483 he was still in the service of the dead king and intent on ensuring that his wishes were fulfilled. He would work dutifully toward the enthronement of his nephew king Edward V because that is what his brother expected of him; that is what he expected of himself.

A lot had happened in the two weeks between Edward’s death and Gloucester’s departure from York. Hastings was keeping him informed of events in London by letter and messengers.[2] Gloucester had been corresponding with Henry Stafford, duke of Buckingham who was in Brecon; they “… exchanged views and agreed to unite their resources…[3] Hastings was clearly aware of the Gloucester-Buckingham alliance and anticipated that they would both journey to London.[4] Finally, Gloucester had written to the king at Ludlow to arrange a rendezvous en route to London so that Gloucester and Buckingham could accompany him “…that in their company his entry to the city might be more magnificent. The king assented to this and did as they requested[5]. Gloucester’s predicament is beautifully summarized by Kendall “ Precisely what was happening in the capital he could not tell; precisely what attitude Lord Rivers and his two thousand men would take at Northampton he did not know. He did know that the authority of the protector was rightfully his, and he trusted in his abilities and the will of the realm to make good that authority. There is something at once naïve and formidable about Richard’s rigorous confidence in the face of opposition so aggressive and a political situation so complex and so explosive.”[6]

“Last night, I hear, they lay at Stony Stratford…”

The rendezvous at Northampton was a defining moment in a series of events that would lead Gloucester inexorably towards the throne. To his detractors, his actions are proof that he intended all along to usurp the throne; to his defenders, they mean the exact opposite. They are proof of a Woodville plot to ambush and kill the dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham. Given this gulf in opinion, it is all the more annoying that we have no eyewitness testimony or a trustworthy third-party report of events.   The versions subsequently published in the vernacular chronicles, in Mancini’s report and in the Crowland Chronicle are all based on hearsay. What’s more, the vernacular chronicles’ are brief and in some cases obviously inaccurate. Furthermore, the two main sources, those of Mancini and Crowland, differ significantly in their detail[7].   This makes it difficult construct a credible narrative of the sequence of events. Nevertheless, there are three things we can be sure of. First, The king did not wait for Gloucester and Buckingham at Northampton as agreed; given the context, it is understandable that the royal dukes might think that was suspicious. Second, Gloucester secured custody of the king’s person, which was the key moment in crushing the Woodville coup. Third, Gloucester arrested Rivers, Grey, Vaughan and others, and sent them to his castles in the north; his breach with the Woodville’s was now irrecoverable.

“ Those uncles that you want were dangerous…”

When Gloucester arrived at Northampton on the 29 April 1483, neither the king and his party, nor the duke of Buckingham was there to greet him. Later that day, Anthony Woodville, earl Rivers arrived and explained the King’s absence. He said that the accommodation at Northampton was insufficient for the needs of the king and his party, and those of the dukes Gloucester and Buckingham. Consequently, the king had moved on to Stony Stratford, fourteen miles closer to London. Gloucester accepted this excuse with good grace but it is certain that he was not fooled by what he regarded as Rivers’ deceit. In view of what Hastings had already told him, Gloucester most probably regarded this as a blatant attempt to prevent him from meeting the king, and part of the Woodville plot to rule through a compliant monarch.

Gloucester Buckingham and Rivers spent a convivial evening together. Later, after Rivers had retired to bed, the dukes discussed the situation: it was dangerous[8]. They were outnumbered three to one and they were no nearer meeting the king. Nevertheless, Gloucester, an able and experienced soldier, was not a man to lose his nerve or to be intimidated by the size of the ‘opposition’; he devised a good plan, relying on speed and surprise. Before dawn on the 30 April 1483, the dukes’ men surrounded Rivers’ accommodation. They disarmed his guards and posted their own. Nobody was allowed in or out. Meanwhile, they deployed men on the Stony Stratford road to prevent news of what was happening in Northampton reaching the king and his party. Rivers, on being told of this by his servants, protested but to no avail: Gloucester was in control of the situation.

Gloucester and Buckingham rode to Stony Stratford. There, they found the king and his retinue on the point of departing. Indeed, one detachment has already started for London. Dismounting, Gloucester, with his whole retinue kneeled in homage to the king.   After paying due condolence to him on the loss of his father, Gloucester explained in calm but plain terms what was happening. He told the king that some of his father’s ministers had encouraged his excesses and ruined his health. They must not be allowed to do the same thing to young Edward. Moreover, he “…accused them of conspiring his death and of preparing ambushes both in the capital and on the road, which had been revealed by their accomplices. Indeed, he said it was common knowledge that they had tried to deprive him of the office regent conveyed on him by his brother (the late king)[9]”.

Edward defended his ’friends’. He said that he was satisfied with the government his father had arranged for him; nevertheless, he was outmatched by the two dukes and had no choice but to acquiesce. Having gained control of the King, Gloucester ordered the escort of armed soldiers to disperse to their homes. His reputation as the first soldier of the realm, his calm authority and the loss of their leadership ensured that his order was obeyed; the Woodville ’army’ seems to have just turned around and gone home. Sir Richard Grey (the King’s stepbrother) and his servant Sir Thomas Vaughan were arrested, along with Rivers and some others, and sent in custody to Richard’s strongholds in the north. The king was escorted back to Northampton, where all contact was severed with his Woodville kin and his old servants.   Gloucester provided his own picked men to serve the king.

Richard’s coup at Stony Stratford was a neat mopping-up operation. He had gained custody of the kings person without bloodshed, using the minimum force to maximum effect. It could not have been handled better. For the first time, Richard had the initiative in the power struggle with the queen and her kindred. What’s more, his action to curb Woodville ambitions was popular — at least for the moment.   Lord Hastings is reputed to have boasted that the transfer of power had been achieved without so much blood as could be got from a cut finger.

After spending a few days at Northampton, tidying-up the kings affairs and writing to the Lord Mayor and Citizens of London explaining his action and assuring them of his good intentions, Richard escorted the King to London. His situation was transformed, but he still had problems. The power struggle was not over yet.

“The tiger now hath seized the gentle hind”

Most historians see only the guilty hand of Gloucester at work on the 29 and 30 April 1483. They regard his ‘ruthless seizure’ of the young king’s person as a prerequisite for his later usurpation. It is an opinion based largely on the near-contemporary hearsay accounts of what happened and the later Tudor embellishments. How anybody can be so certain of Gloucester’s motives after more than five centuries and in view of the ‘mosaic’ of conflicting and confused source material is a mystery, which is almost as baffling as the disappearance of the two princes. The conclusion that Gloucester was the villain in this power struggle seems perverse in the face of the contrasting behaviour of those involved.

The queen and her party acted provocatively, making a deliberate attempt to impose an unconstitutional regency government on the realm: by force of arms if necessary [10]. Gloucester, on the other hand, reacted with impeccable correctness. His response was loyal and measured. He affirmed his fealty to young Edward V on oath, and in a letter to the queen and the council. He made his leisurely way towards London after first hearing a requiem service in York for his brother. He was accompanied by only three hundred of his own retainers and he declined Buckingham’s pragmatic offer to bring a thousand men to the meeting at Northampton. Given that he probably knew the size of the king’s escort, his actions are hardly those of a man intent on seizing the throne. If they were, he could only hope for success without expecting it. There can be little doubt that Gloucester, supported by Buckingham, was intent on gaining control of the situation in order to ensure a constitutional settlement. However, it is irrational to conclude from those facts that Gloucester was intent on usurpation: unless, of course, one has a preconception of his male fides.

Mancini’s interpretation of the facts throughout his narrative is coloured by his assumption that Gloucester always intended to seize the throne[11]. There are also difficulties about Crowland, who had a clear prejudice against Gloucester, which may or may not be due to his unreasoning hatred of northerners[12].  Although Professor Ross assures us that modern historians discount the Tudor tradition in favour of inferring Gloucester’s “…character and motives from a close scrutiny of the events themselves, without preconception”[13], it seems obvious to me that the notion that all Gloucester’s actions were deceitful, regardless of the lack of objective evidence of his evil intent, suggests a predisposition to believe the worst of him no matter what.

The news that Richard had secured control of the King seems to have reached London sometime during the night 30 April-1 May 1483. According to Mancini: “ The unexpectedness of the event horrified everyone.   The Queen and the Marquis, who held the royal treasure, began collecting an army to defend themselves and to set free the young king from the clutches of the dukes. But when that exhorted certain nobles who had come to the city, and others, to take up arms they perceived that men’s minds were not only irresolute, but hostile to themselves. Some even said openly that it was more just and profitable that the youthful sovereign should be with his paternal uncle than with his maternal uncles uterine brothers.”

As Kendall points out, whatever men may have thought about the conflict between the queen and the, duke of Gloucester, few identified the Woodville cause with that of the young king.   In any event, the Woodville’s panicked:“ Lacking either the innocence or the courage to quietly await the king’s arrival, they could only think of flight.” These comments though harsh are probably correct. Panic or not, the Marquis of Dorset did not forget to loot the Tower of London of the king’s treasure before retreating to sanctuary[14].


[1]. Paul Murray Kendall – Richard the Third (Geo Allen and Unwin 1955) at page 38; I accept that Kendall’s flowery writing style verges on the sentimental at times, but his biography of Richard brings him alive in ways other authors cannot hope to reach)

[2]. Dominic Mancini – The Usurpation of King Richard III (AJ Armstrong editor) (Oxford 1969 edition) at pages 71-73.

[3]. Mancini at page 75; see also Armstrong’s note 43 at page 115 for a detailed discussion of how the two dukes might have corresponded.

[4]. Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (editors) – The Crowland Chronicle continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) at page 155.

[5]. Mancini at page 75; see also the note 44 at page 115. Armstrong’s suggestion that Rivers went considerably out of his way to rendezvous with Gloucester and Buckingham is an unproven assumption. Notwithstanding that, Charles Ross (Richard III – Yale 1999 at page 71) and Michael Hicks (Richard III -The History Press 2009 edition at pages 161 and 162) both repeat it. Stony Stratford is situated on Watling Street (now the A5 trunk road), which itself passes within about five miles of Northampton. Watling Street was then and for many years afterwards, the main route from Shropshire to London. To journey by any other route was simply impracticable for such a large party as the king’s (2000 soldiers and their impedimenta, household officials and royal servants with their impedimenta). The alternative route through Worcester and Oxford was possibly shorter but it was hardly quicker for such a large body of men and equipment. The terrain through the Mendip and Chiltern Hills is problematic and the royal ‘snake’ would have been much longer, not to mention the logistical problems.   The rendezvous at Northampton made sense for its convenience if nothing else. However, it may have suited Rivers for other reasons. If he was planning to ambush Gloucester and Buckingham, this was the place to do it. It was close to the Woodville family seat at Grafton Regis and the terrain was ideal for an ambush. The key question is: who suggested Northampton? It is not a frivolous question because what happened in Northamptonshire at the end of April 1483 is regarded as proof either of Richard’s guilty mind or of the Woodville’s guilty minds, depending on one’s point of view.

[6]. Kendall at page 165: however, he is not quite right about Gloucester’s authority as Lord Protector.   The fact is that at this stage he had no authority as Lord Protector. Under the constitutional settlement  of 1422 a king has no power to determine the governance of the realm after his death; he could suggest but not direct.

[7]. I have adopted the Mancini sequence, which though different to Crowland and some of the vernacular sources, seems more plausible to me..

[8]. We do not have the detail of this discussion or what information Buckingham had. He may, for instance, have warned Gloucester of an ambush (See Gordon Smith – Stony Stratford: the case for the prosecution R3S Bulletin, spring 2004 at pages 27-32). www.richardIII.net/http://issuu.com/richard_third/docs/2004_03_spring_bulletin?e=7156033/4522512). Smith postulates the possibility that the RV at Northampton suited Rivers because it was close to Grafton Regis, which was situated on the shortest road between Northampton and Stony Stratford. Rivers sited a deliberate ambush on that road with a view to enticing the dukes into it. However, Buckingham who was following Rivers down Watling Street realized something was wrong after he turned off for Northampton at Weedon. It soon became obvious that the king with his large escort had had continued straight on to Stony Stratford, making no attempt to visit Northampton. Buckingham warned Gloucester, who acted as he did next day. The dukes avoided the ambush by moving to Stony Stratford via Towcester and taking the king’s party by surprise from behind (Smith’s article in the R3S Bulletin has two useful diagrams which explain how the ambush was planned and how it the two dukes foiled it.).

[9]. See Mancini at page 77; it is important to point out that neither Mancini nor the author of the Crowland Chronicle accept Gloucester’s assertion of a plot against him. Both regarded the seizing of the king as part of his plan to usurp the throne at any cost. They also note that despite Gloucester’s popularity in some quarters there were people who were suspicious of his intention even at this time.

[10]. Ralph A Griffiths – The Reign of King Henry VI (Sutton Publishing 1998 edition) at pages 19-24; see also Annette Carson ‘Protector and Defensor: the constitutional position’ at www.ajcarson.co.uk (27 Apr 14). Richard duke of Gloucester’s appointment as Lord Protector was based on a constitutional precedent set in 1422 following the untimely death of Henry V. On his deathbed, the victor of Agincourt appointed his youngest brother Humphrey duke of Gloucester as virtual regent (tutelage) in England during Henry VI’s minority. However, the concept of personal rule by a regent was unknown to English constitutional practice, which owned that ‘royal authority’ can only be exercised by the monarch in person   In council and in Parliament, the lords rejected Henry’s wish on the grounds that it was ‘repugnant’ to them, and also because, as a matter of principle, a king cannot be allowed to determine the governance of the realm after his death. The solution devised was to offer duke Humphrey the post of ‘Defender of the realm and Chief Councilor to the king’. The lords made it clear that his role imported his personal attendance to the defence of the realm against external enemies or internal rebels“…but no name of tutor, lieutenant-general, nor regent nor no name that should import authority of governance of the realm.” The Lords reserved to themselves the right to govern during the king’s minority and they left the personal upbringing of the king to his mother and the royal household. Not only that, but the appointment was in the gift of the king; the Lord Defensor (which would develop into the Lord Protector) must come and go at the whim of the king/lords. Gloucester’s father Richard duke of York knew this in 1454 and 1455 during Henry VI’s incapacity. He resigned his appointment as Lord Protector as soon as he was told to. This is the role that Edward V wished his brother to take-up in 1483. A king cannot rule from the grave, so Edward could only suggest Gloucester’s appointment: he could not compel. There was nothing irregular or unconstitutional about Edward’s deathbed codicil. He was, in fact, expressing his preference for a 1422 type minority rule. The difference between 1422 and 1483 was simply this: in 1422, the lords were moved to prevent the king dead from imposing an unconstitutional settlement, which they feared opened the door for despotism; whereas, in 1483 Gloucester, supported by the anti-Woodville lords, was moved to prevent the queen and her family from imposing an unconstitutional settlement on the realm, which they too feared might lead to despotism. That was a situation that Edward IV had not anticipated. Until his appointment was confirmed by the lords in council Gloucester held no constitutional authority as Lord Protector. The other point of note is that, under the terms of his appointment, Gloucester was not the ‘protector’ of the king’s person. Ordinarily that would be left to his mother and the royal household. Though in this case, the Woodvilles’ behaviour made it impossible for the king to remain in their custody, care and control.

[11]. Mancini at page 17; in his introduction, professor Armstrong notes that Mancini showed little animus to Gloucester “…save for his assumption that the duke of Gloucester was always aiming for the throne.” Such an assumption is so prejudicial that one wonders whether Mancini’s narrative has any historical value at all. It coloured his interpretation of events throughout his account. Every good act of Gloucester’s is regarded as evidence of his deceitful, dissembling nature; every firm or decisive act is proof of his cruelty and tyranny. There are other reasons for not accepting Mancini’s account at face value. Some basic errors of chronology and geography coupled with doubts about the provenance of his sources, and his misunderstanding of the workings of Parliament all suggest that ‘ Mancini is no more reliable that More or Vergil’.

[12]. See AJ Pollard – ‘North, South and Richard III’, an article published in ‘Richard III: crown and people’ – J Petre-editor (Richard III Society 1985) at pages 349-355, for a discussion of regional friction and differences in fifteenth century England. Interestingly, the author (no Ricardian) make a good case for the notion that those people who actually knew or had served Gloucester thought well of him. This article first appeared in the ‘Ricardian’ (volume 5, number 74, Sep 1981 at pages 384-388).

[13]. Ross at page 63: I cannot agree with professor Ross. I see little evidence of objectivity in Ricardian literature generally. Ross (page 64) refers to the “…extraordinary problems of the evidence…” and especially the problem of answering the vital question: when and why did Gloucester decide to go for the throne?   If, as Ross suggests, historians really do eschew the Tudor tradition in favour judging for themselves from peoples’ actions, then there is no rational basis for disbelieving Gloucester’s bona fides; unless you have a preconception that everything he did, was in bad faith. If historians are relying on hindsight to argue that the sequence of events and their timing indicate that Gloucester must have been planning usurpation, then their logic is flawed. That argument is quite simply a non sequitur.

[14]. Kendall at pages 178-179: it seems that Sir Edward Woodville had sailed with the Royal Navy and his share of the treasure on the day before news reached London of the events at Northampton. The loss of this treasure and the Royal Navy were to significantly hamper Richards attempt to carry out the essential government of England. In particular it undermined attempts to protect the south coast from French pirates.

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3 thoughts on “The Tragedy of King Richard 111 (not by William Shakespeare)

  1. If the historical account is correct, and Anthony Woodville did tell Gloucester that the king’s retinue had ridden ahead to Stony Stratford because Northampton was too small to accommodate their combined parties….

    There’s one slight problem with Woodville’s explanation. Northampton had hosted Parliaments, which means Northampton easily had the ability to accommodate far more men than the king, Gloucester, and Buckingham had.

    If Anthony Woodville greeted Richard of Gloucester with a lie, that’s not a good thing to have done when times were tense and dangerous. Having Gloucester catch the lie is an even worse idea.

    The immediate result was to put Gloucester on guard. The next result was to have Gloucester ferret out the true reason(s) Lord Rivers lied to him.

    If Woodville had met Gloucester in Northampton as planned, if he hadn’t lied to the duke, history might have told a different tale.

    For want of the truth….

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  2. hoodedman1 on said:

    Agree with Merlin. Northampton had a castle and numerous priories as well as many hostelries around the largest town square in England. Richard’s own retinue was not very large, nor was Buckingham’s (and surely Ed V, arriving first, would have precedence over them anyway; they should have been the ones to look elsewhere for accomodation). Something WAS wrong with Anthony Woodville’s story and even if it was true, surely a man of his intelligence would have seen how it might have appeared to the Duke…why did Woodville not send a messenger about the change of plan BEFORE he met up withRichard? To wait until he arrived in town made it look as though he was hiding something.

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  3. Agree with both comments. It would be interesting to find out if the accomodation to be had in Stony Stratford for Edward’s party was as good as what they might have found in a much bigger place like Northampton. Besides the distance is about 14 or 15 miles. With a modern car on a modern road that takes about half an hour, but with horses on medieval roads it means that the Prince’s party must have passed Northampton several hours before Richard arrived- double that if Anthony Woodville first accompanied them to Stony Stratford and then returned to meet Richard. So the No Room At The Inn story was obviously fishy and Richard had every reason to be alarmed by it. Had he allowed the Woodvilles to keep the headway they had on him from Stony Stratford onwards until they reached London he would have, by my estimate, been some five to six hours late for the boy’s entrance into London, and might have found either the City or the Tower (at the time commanded by Dorset) barred against him.

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