What happened in 1483 was certainly a revolution of sorts, however you dress it up. It is therefore rather naive to expect that everything ought to have been done in strict accordance with common and statute law. After all, it wasn’t in 1399 or 1461, was it? If you think Richard III’s election to the throne was a bit thin, please have a serious read-up on the election of Edward IV – it was a good deal thinner.
Let’s go through the events – again!
First, Richard did not act like a man who was planning to take the throne. After gathering the Yorkshire notables together to swear allegiance to Edward V, he went south with a following of about 300 men. This was probably a bit more than his normal riding-household, but it was certainly not an army, and Richard would have been well aware that Edward V had an escort of 2,000. The only immediate reinforcement he could expect was that of Buckingham (between 200 and 300, depending on who you believe). We have no reason to think Buckingham was, prior to this date, Richard’s lapdog or part of his affinity. At best he was a hoped-for ally. Northumberland, who was Richard’s associate in the north, and had vast resources in manpower, was left behind. Nor is there any evidence that Richard made any attempt to mobilise the rest of his own, considerable following.
Rivers, on the other hand, had taken care to check his own authority to raise men in the Marches. The only reason he did not raise more than 2,000 was that Lord Hastings had threatened to withdraw to Calais if he did. This demonstrates that something was going on at court to make Hastings suspicious. So Woodville plotting was not all in Richard’s head.
Richard met Rivers and Buckingham at Northampton, and here, undoubtedly, something happened. Richard’s suspicions may have been aroused by the fact that Rivers had sent Edward V forward to Stony Stratford, on the excuse (apparently) that Northampton could not hold all their retinues. Northampton was actually a (relatively) large place. Parliaments had been held there in the past. Richard may have assumed that Rivers was trying to delay the meeting between Richard and his nephew, or get Edward V that little bit closer to London.
Alternatively, what Buckingham said may have been the issue. For example, did Buckingham tell Richard that the Woodvilles were planning to ambush him? They were very close to what passed for Woodville country, so the general area would be a likely place for such an ambush. Next day, forewarned, did Richard take an alternative route to Stony Stratford to foil the ambush? It’s impossible to say, but such a scenario would help explain his sudden anger and his decision to arrest Rivers, Grey and Vaughan.
Another explanation is that Richard, having carefully hidden his plans up until this point, suddenly decided to usurp the throne. Perhaps his change of face was caused by a bad dish of lampreys. Anyway, on this explanation, Richard, going against every aspect of his character displayed to this point, inexplicably seized the perfectly innocent Rivers, Grey and Vaughan and had them thrown into custody. If this is the case, one wonders why he did not follow the example of his mentor, Warwick, and simply have his enemies executed on the spot. It would certainly have concentrated a few minds. But one must also wonder why he left so many men behind in Yorkshire if this was what he was planning all along. Why leave himself outnumbered by 2,000 to (at best) 600? It doesn’t make sense.
Surely the most likely explanation is that ‘something’ happened at Northampton which hardened Richard’s attitude. What that ‘something’ was exactly is impossible to say with assurance, but almost certainly it was something which he thought put his life in peril. A plotted Woodville ambush, or a tale of one, is a possibility.