Biographies & Memoirs

The Ludlow Effect

In the spring of 1459, aged 6, Richard was moved with his mother and older brother George to Ludlow Castle. As conflict escalated, the Duke of York no longer trusted his family to the defences of Fotheringhay. Ludlow was a seat of Yorkist power in the westand the castle was large, its defences stout. Protected by sharp cliffs and the River Teme, it is today a powerful ruin which, in its prime, must have been awesome to behold.

The young Richard would have met his other brothers there. The tall, handsome seventeen year old Edward and the sixteen year old Edmund. Earls in their own right, of March and Rutland respectively, Richard must have been star struck as they practised their martial skills in the castle courtyard. It may even have been the first time that he had met them.

Over the spring and summer the Duke mustered his forces to Ludlow. Toward the end of summer, news arrived that young Richard's uncle the Earl of Salisbury was coming, and so was his son, the famous Earl of Warwick. Warwick was Captain of Calais and his exploits must have been the stuff of legend to a young boy. Salisbury arrived on 25th September and Warwick a few days later with a large portion of the Calais garrison.

In early October, as Richard celebrated his seventh birthday, news arrived that the King's army was approaching the Ludford meadows outside Ludlow where the Yorkist forces were encamped. The Duke protested his loyalty to the King. The King's message that was returned offered a pardon to anyone who deserted York's cause now.

On 12th October, the King's army arrived with Henry VI himself at its head. To the mediaeval mind, taking the field of battle against God's anointed King was inconceivable. A sin. The King's army camped a few miles from Ludford. As night fell, the Calais garrison Warwick had brought scaled the earthworks around the camp and deserted into the darkness and the King's pardon. At a time when the Crown had no standing army, the Calais garrison was the closest to a professional army paid by the Crown that existed. Its loss was a huge blow.

York, Salisbury and Warwick held an emergency council of war. Their decision was probably the only one available to them. They took to their horses and fled. York and his son Edmund headed to Ireland and a rapturous welcome whilst Salisbury, Warwick and Edward made for the Devon coast and then Calais where they dug in, stealing a fleet of royal ships that assembled to assault them in the kind of act that was making Warwick a legend.

The decision in which we are most interested here is that regarding Cecily Neville and her other sons. The Duchess, George and Richard, now just passed a seventh birthday that may have forgone too much celebration, were left behind in Ludlow Castle. In the morning, the King's army descended upon Ludlow. They found Cecily, with her two young sons, standing alone on the steps of the market cross. The scene is remembered as one of supreme nobility on the part of the Duchess, refusing to cower and hide. For Richard, though, it must have been terrifying. Perhaps Cecily sought to save Ludlow by surrendering willingly, but she did not. As she was hauled to the King with her sons, the army ransacked Ludlow, drinking, stealing and raping until they were sated. The castle was looted of anything of value.

York and his adherents were attainted for treason and their lands forfeit. Cecily, George and Richard were placed into the care of her sister, the Duchess of Buckingham. They were well treated there. The Duke of Buckingham, Humphrey Stafford, was a renowned figure of honour and chivalry who had sought to mediate between his brother-in-law and the King but, when the crunch came, had been unable to break his vows to God's anointed King.

This episode in Richard's life must have had an impact upon him. Thrust into a conflict that he could barely understand and in which his only infraction was being the son of one of the protagonists. He played no part in the events at Ludlow but what he witnessed as a boy of seven must have left its mark. Abandoned by his father and his dashing older brothers, his uncle and his cousin in the night. Left to face an army. Doubtless his mother's actions were noble but how must Richard have felt stood beside her as the rampaging army approached? Frightened? Undoubtedly. Determined not to show it? Perhaps. He was the son of a Duke and had his mother's example to follow. Did he learn the unfair uncertainty of war that day as he saw Ludlow pillaged like a conquered French town? Did he learn the importance of nobility of action from his brave mother? Did he learn real fear? Did he learn that even family could not be trusted? We shall also return to the Buckingham effect later.

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