The Summer of 1483: Who Was Doing What, Where, With Whom and Why.

Reblogged from A Medieval Potpourri

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Today a guest post from Annette Carson, author of many excellent books about Richard III and his times including The Maligned King, Richard III, A Small Guide to a Great Debate, Richard Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector & Constable of England and a new translation of Mancini. Annette was also a member of the Looking for Richard Project.   Thank you Annette:

The summer of 1483 was a hotbed of activity for those people who had a political interest in the disposal of the throne of England.  Richard III had been offered the crown in June and had enjoyed a splendid coronation on 6 July. He had effectively disposed of opposition, and had set off to display himself to his people on a royal progress which proceeded westward from Westminster and then northward to culminate in September with the investiture of his son as Prince of Wales at York. We are fortunate in that his whereabouts at every stage have been traced by Rhoda Edwards in The Itinerary of Richard III (1). 

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Southern England and Wales in the 15th century.

So we know where Richard was at any given time. More interesting is where his opponents were, and what they were up to. For although they had been defeated, they were not eliminated; and in his absence they were busily finding ways to overthrow his rule.

Those whose activities will be traced in this article fall into four main strands: the Woodville family; the Duke of Buckingham; Henry Tudor; and his mother Margaret Beaufort. All four came to be woven together by the month of September.

First there was the Woodville family, whose power-base had been removed with the deposition of the young Edward V. Edward, the 12-year-old son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, had been brought up among Woodvilles who expected him to be their passport to power on the death of his father in April 1483. Misguidedly, they had attempted to bypass Richard’s protectorship as willed by the late king, but were over-ruled by the King’s Council. Rather than reconcile with the new government, they scattered. Elizabeth, together with several family members including her daughters, fled into sanctuary at Westminster Abbey in May. By mid-June the deposed Edward V, together with his brother Richard of York, Elizabeth’s younger son by Edward IV (known to history as ‘the princes in the Tower’) were lodged in the royal apartments of the Tower of London where they soon became a focus for dissidents who wished to see Edward restored to the throne.

One of Elizabeth’s brothers was to play an important role in subsequent events, although Tudor ‘histories’ ensured that no credit would attach to his name. This was Sir Edward Woodville, who as early as April had set himself up with a force of ships at sea, in a foolhardy move to counteract French privateering in the Channel. At the same time Thomas Grey, Elizabeth’s elder son by her previous marriage, had spent several thousand pounds raising men at arms for the venture. When Richard took charge as Protector and Defender of the Realm, most of the fleet was brought safely back to England. Edward Woodville escaped with two ships and large quantities of treasure, including a haul of £10,250 in gold coin audaciously taken from a carrack lying in Southampton Water(2). Woodville and his fortune fetched up eventually in Brittany with Henry Tudor, of which more below. Meanwhile Thomas Grey absconded, and history tells us nothing more of his expensively equipped soldiery; we may guess that he and his family made good use of them in the events that followed.

The second strand we will follow is the career of Harry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who was Richard’s chief lieutenant in 1483 and a principal architect of the constitutional settlement whereby the representatives of England’s Parliament set aside Edward V and petitioned Richard to assume the throne. Buckingham’s status in life had been transformed by his new association with Richard III. So it is hard to understand why, in view of his new prominence on the royal stage, together with all its material rewards and financial gains, within weeks of Richard’s coronation he would rebel against his generous benefactor.

Third we come to Henry Tudor, Richard’s contemporary who had been raised a supporter of the Lancastrian dynasty, and had thus been on the losing side in England’s civil strife commonly known as the Wars of the Roses. Henry and his uncle Jasper Tudor had fled into exile and by 1483 were enjoying the hospitality and financial support of Francis II, Duke of Brittany. During Edward IV’s glory years of consolidating his throne, Henry had been little more than a minor irritant. But evidently he harboured ambitions that prevented him from reconciling to the rule of York, for although terms had been discussed for his return to England to access certain inheritances if he swore allegiance to Edward, so far Henry had refused to budge (3).  Towards the end of Edward’s reign, when he was virtually isolated from his erstwhile European allies, Duke Francis was using Tudor in an attempt to pressurize Edward into complying with his demands for support. As the duke’s grip on reality became more frail, he was persuaded to side with the Tudor camp against England.

Our fourth strand deals with the partnership between Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, and the man who emerged as her politically astute counsellor, John Morton, Bishop of Ely. As our curtain goes up, Morton is under arrest for participating in a plot (led by William Hastings) to assassinate Richard, and has been sent to be held in custody at Buckingham’s seat of Brecon in south-east Wales. Buckingham himself has left London heading for his estates in the west, parting from Richard as the king’s progress leaves Gloucester (on 2 August according to The Itinerary).4 Allowing time for Buckingham to visit others of his estates on the way, he probably reached Brecon about the middle of August.5 Morton was clever enough to suborn him to treason, and secret letters were soon flying between Brecon and Margaret Beaufort, whose great wealth would help to finance their plans.

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