Biographies & Memoirs

A Royal Prince

Two years after Ludlow, with his father and brother Edmund dead and having served a spell in the Low Countries in the uncomfortable security of exile, Richard's fortunes changed, and his world with them. His brother Edward won. He became King Edward IV and in that instant, on his return to English soil at the age of eight, Richard ceased being a fourth son of a Duke destined for obscurity and became a royal prince. Raised to the Dukedom of Gloucester, Richard was also made a Knight of the Bath and Knight of the Garter.

In line with the tradition of the age, Richard was sent to the household of a noble for his knightly training. Little is known of this period of Richard's life but he spent time at Middleham Castle under the tutelage of his cousin, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. Warwick was nephew to Cecily, the son of her brother the Earl of Salisbury and an increasingly powerful noble. He had been powerful as Captain of Calais but his crucial assistance in winning the throne for Edward brought ever more power. It was at Middleham that Richard met Francis Lovell, who was to become a lifelong friend, probably Richard's best friend right until the end.

No record remains of Richard's training regime at Middleham, but it is likely to have included knightly, martial skills with sword, lance and a horse combined with a deeply religious education, learning Latin and reading scripture.

It is believed that it is during this period, around twelve years of age, that Richard began to develop scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine. Expert analysis of his skeleton has suggested that he was not born with the condition but developed it during his adolescence. Some contemporary descriptions of Richard as an adult hint at an unevenness in his shoulders but there is no widespread discussion recorded of it. After his death, Shakespeare would pass into legend the hunchback with the withered arm. We can be certain that he was neither, but as a young boy, looking at his vital, 6 foot 4 inch brother the King, the pain that he must have begun to feel as the condition showed itself must have affected him emotionally as well as physically. At a time when physical imperfection was believed to be a signal of moral imperfection, Richard must have known how the world would judge him should his secret be discovered. Did he struggle through the increasing pain his training brought without showing the discomfort? Certainly he was considered extremely pious throughout his life and this may have been influenced by his need to prove that he did not deserve his physical affliction.

Richard, for reasons stated above, never dwelt upon his physical condition and I shall not seek to here either, but it undoubtedly shaped the man that he became and perhaps serves to make his later reputation on the field of battle all the more impressive.

The Kingmaker

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick has passed into history as The Kingmaker. He played a pivotal role in the changing tides of the Wars of the Roses but also in the development and experiences of his cousin, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. In 1452, Warwick and his father had backed the King against the Duke of York but in mid 1453 Henry VI slipped into one of his catatonic periods. The Duke of Somerset, a favourite of Henry's wife, Margaret of Anjou, became effective leader of the government. Warwick was in dispute with Somerset over a large inheritance and Somerset's rise, along with the disadvantage that it brought to Warwick, caused the Earl to change his allegiance. During the following decade he became central to the Yorkist cause. Warwick gained the title Constable of Calais during one of York's Protectorates and it provided him with a power base that proved vital.

Once Edward was King, Warwick was the most powerful noble in all the land. He was extravagant in the extreme, throwing huge banquets, always one course longer and more expensive than anyone else, including the King. Warwick also set about the most important task for the fledgling regime. He opened negotiations to arrange the marriage of Edward to the daughter of the French King. Edward tended to favour an alliance with Burgundy, France's enemy, but the Earl pressed on with arrangements, believing that it was the best course for the country, not least because Margaret of Anjou was seeking to marry her son to the same French princess to rebuild and revitalise the Lancastrian threat.

The negotiations were being finalised in 1464 when Edward casually announced to his Privy Council, as though it were some trifling matter that he had forgotten to mention, that he was already married, in secret to a widowed commoner from a Lancastrian family. The open-jawed amazement may have been comical but for the offence that this caused to Warwick. He was embarrassed, both at home and in France, and his honour affronted. His relationship with Edward never recovered. In 1469, after spending nearly an hour on his knees before his old enemy, Warwick was reconciled with Margaret of Anjou and joined her to return Henry VI, who had been a prisoner in the Tower of London for eight years, to the throne. With Warwick's power behind it, the revolt succeeded. Richard was now seventeen and it is here that we can glimpse him again as events unravel, though he is now far from the frightened boy of Ludlow.

Warwick had two daughters, Isabel and Anne. He married Anne to the son of Henry VI to cement their alliance. The elder daughter, Isabel, was married to Edward and Richard's brother, George, now Duke of Clarence. Whether Warwick intended to eventually place George upon the throne is unclear but Clarence was certainly vain and ambitious. He joined Warwick and rebelled against his brother the King. Richard had grown up with the stories that surrounded Warwick of brave adventure. He had spent many of his formative years in Warwick's household and learned how to be a noble knight from the Earl. Warwick must have sought Richard's support for his uprising too, but Richard refused to give it and remained staunchly loyal to Edward throughout all that followed.

Edward lost his throne for six months from October 1470 to April 1471. On his eighteenth birthday, 2nd October 1470, Richard boarded a ship from the Norfolk coast with his King and fled with him into a second period of uncertain exile, this time in Burgundy. When Edward mustered his response, Richard landed with him and had his first taste of real fighting at the Battle of Barnet. He acquitted himself well in the fog and at the Battle of Tewkesbury that followed was given a command of his own. Warwick died at Barnet and there is no record of Richard's reaction but it seems natural that he would have felt relief at the passing of the greatest enemy of his House whilst also mourning the loss of his mentor and father figure. Henry VI's son was killed at Tewkesbury and with him gone the Lancastrian cause collapsed. Margaret of Anjou was captured and ransomed back to France where she lived the rest of her life in obscurity. Henry VI was disposed of when Edward returned to London. The killing of King Henry is often attributed to Richard personally but, although he was in London, there is no direct evidence to link him with the deed. Even if he had done it personally, it would not doubt have been at the instruction of his brother. The story that Richard killed Henry himself seems to have been woven into the dark reputation he acquired as early proof of a predisposition to such acts. Either way, he would have learned from his brother that a King can tolerate no other King to live should he wish for security.

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