The Battle of St. Albans, 1455.
Having been two years in the womb, Richard was naturally a forward child, and in no time at all he was not only walking but wearing a little suit of armour. The Duke of York had this made for him by the village blacksmith, an advanced craftsman who doubled as the castle armourer. This meant it could easily be adjusted as Richard grew.
Richard was not yet strong enough to lift what we call a two-handed sword, or a poleaxe, but he could manage what is politely described as a kidney dagger, and rapidly became an expert with it, through long hours of practice with the dagger in one hand and a rusk in the other.
The King at this time was Henry VI. As he was a Lancastrian he was obviously a very good man, but more than that he was saintly, so saintly that at times he didn’t know who he was or where. His wife, Margaret of Anjou, was by this time doing most of the heavy lifting. People didn’t like Margaret, even though she was Queen, as she was also French, and a woman, and had too much to say for herself. She also favoured men who weren’t the Duke of York, especially the Duke of Somerset, who hated York and was also grossly incompetent. This team had already comprehensively lost the war with France, and the Government owed the Duke of York a lot of money. This made York very cross.
York got together with his brother-in-law, Salisbury, and his wife’s nephew, Salisbury’s son, the Earl of Warwick. (It’s easier to refer to these two by their titles as the were both called Richard Neville, which was confusing even at the time.) There were other lords there too, but these men were less important and it might confuse you if I gave them names. Just imagine them grunting agreement in the background.
York and his friends had a few beers and they decided they must go to the King and tell him to get rid of Somerset. As the King had lots of people about him they didn’t trust, this meant that for safety’s sake they had to take an army with them.
York decided to take his youngest son Richard with him as a sort of mascot. The idea was that Warwick would hold little Richard’s hand and lead him onto the battlefield before things started, to exchange pennons with the King’s mascot.
However, when they got to St. Albans and met the King’s army, it soon became apparent that none of this was going to happen. The King wasn’t prepared to negotiate and he certainly wasn’t ready to hand over Somerset. He and his men were well dug in behind barricades in the centre of the town, and York and his friends were at something of a loss.
Then little Richard suggested to Warwick that if they (and Warwick’s men) sneaked around the back alleys and gardens, they could take the enemy in the flank and surprise them, And because no one had any better ideas, that’s what they did.
The plan worked wonderfully, and soon Warwick, Richard and a host of followers were cutting their way through the Lancastrian leadership. As they charged they cried ‘A Warwick! A Warwick!’ which confused the Lancastrians, who thought they were in St. Albans – as they were.
Richard, of course, was very small, but he was just the right size to run between men’s legs and stab them in the groin through the gaps in their armour. In no time at all he had killed the Earl of Northumberland, Lord Clifford, and the Duke of Somerset in just this fashion. Whereupon the enemy lost heart and surrendered, much to Richard’s disappointment. He had really enjoyed stabbing those lords and now wanted to stab Henry VI.
His father forbade this. York was now quite content because Somerset was dead, and he and his friends were in a position to force the King to allow them to form his government. When Richard had a tantrum over this decision, York gave him a severe ticking-off and sent him to bed without supper.
It is now time for a little housekeeping and explanation. The political situation between 1455 and 1459 is too boring and complicated to go into here. Suffice it to say that sometimes the Duke of York was in power, and sometimes the Duke of Somerset and Queen Margaret were. Of course, this Somerset was not the one Richard had killed, but his son, who most confusingly had the same title. Similarly King Henry VI was sometimes insane, and sometimes what passed for ‘normal’ in the case of Henry VI. In other words, he wasn’t actually catatonic, and gave the impression that he was merely unworldly, and in fact quite holy. Had he been a friar, he’d quite possibly been made a saint while he still lived, but as a king he was more in the way of an inconvenience, often signing things he was not supposed to sign, and quite frequently granting the same thing to two different people.
Richard had a number of brothers and sisters alive at this time. The eldest was Anne, who was no longer at home, being married to the Duke of Exeter. The idea of these arranged marriages was to build alliances with other noble houses, but unfortunately Exeter hated both Anne and her father, the Duke of York. (This is no reflection on Anne or York. as Exeter hated everyone except Lord Egremont, and was always going around annoying people and getting thrown into the Tower.)
The next eldest were Edward and Edmund. Everyone knows Edward, who was later to become King Edward IV. He was very tall and good looking, and all the ladies liked him, so he always got extra chips on his plate when he lined up for dinner. Eventually, as a direct result, he became rather fat. No one knows much about Edmund, though he was probably similar to Edward, but nicer. These two lived in their own establishment, which may have been at Ludlow, where they were mercilessly bullied by a boy named Croft. Or, as they called him, Bonzo. Later this same Croft became a faithful servant, which probably proves something about bullies.
Next was Elizabeth, who was married to the Duke of Suffolk. If you’d met Suffolk in the street, you’d have thought him a moderately prosperous turnip farmer with no more wits than he needed for the job. But he was in fact a duke, and Elizabeth must have loved him as they had lots of babies together.
Then there was Margaret, of whom little needs to be said except that she was exceptionally tall. Had the House of York put out a ladies’ football team, Margaret would have played centre half. Then there was George, who shouted a lot and tried to be a bully. Then Richard himself. These three were in the nominal care of their mother. However the Duchess Cecily was very devout. She spent most of her time kneeling in the chapel, praying for the souls of her deceased children and also praying that she would have no more, just in case it turned out to be a three year pregnancy.
They were not always at Fotheringhay. Sometimes they would move to Ludlow, or to Berkhampstead, or to Baynard’s Castle in London, which must not be confused with Barnard Castle, a place they did not own. Occasionally they even went to Sandal, which is in Yorkshire, although not very deep into the county. Although the Duke of York had ‘York’ in his title, he actually owned very little of Yorkshire. Indeed, much of the county belonged to Henry VI (in his role as Duke of Lancaster) or to various other nasty Lancastrian persons, like Lord Clifford for example. This had been set up just to confuse foreigners.