Biographies & Memoirs

Lord Of The North

Following Warwick's rebellion, King Edward was left with a problem. A vacuum of power that Warwick had previously inhabited. Edward had come to terms with George and forgiven him, but he could not afford to allow Warwick's estates to fall wholesale into George's hands by virtue of his marriage to Warwick's daughter. That would surely lead to a swift repeat of history.

In 1472, Richard married Warwick's other, widowed daughter, Anne. This match has produced much speculation about Richard and his motives too. Certainly Anne brought with her a hefty inheritance, the other half of Warwick's estates. The match also had advantages for Edward in reducing George's share and therefore his threat. There is a legend that George and Isabel kept Anne under house arrest, working in the kitchens of one of George's retainers to prevent her from remarrying and dividing the inheritance. The story goes that Richard found her and freed her much to George's vexation.

It is also possible, though impossible to prove, that there was at least an element of a love match involved. Richard may well have known Anne a little from his time at Middleham and may have nurtured feelings for her. It is also possible that Richard saw marrying Anne as a way to protect her and repay Warwick for the kindness he had shown the young Richard in his household. Perhaps he saw a kind of duty to his mentor and that formed a part of his thinking too. This, though, is all speculation. Eyewitness accounts report that Richard and Anne were very close and loved each other, but it is difficult to know what goes on behind closed doors, especially ones closed 500 years ago.

The Warwick estate was eventually divided between George, who took the Midlands and Welsh border areas, and Richard, who acquired all of the northern territories. Warwick's widow was deprived of all of her property and there is some evidence that she went to live at Middleham with Richard and Anne for a time. Richard acquired the northern estates at the expense of Anne's cousin, George Neville. For his protection, Edward made Richard's title to the properties dependent upon the line of male heirs of the body of George Neville. Should George's male line fail, Richard's title to the lands would revert to a lifetime interest only. Interestingly, no such restriction was laid upon the rebellious George. Again, we can only surmise the dismay Richard must have felt at being dealt with in such a manner. Clarence had rebelled yet held full title to his wife's inheritance. Richard had been nothing but loyal, sharing the king's exile and aiding in his retaking of the throne, yet was repaid with restrictions that meant that he relied upon others for his own security.

In spite of this, Richard offered a decade of faultless service to his brother in controlling the notoriously uncontrollable north of England. Richard became immensely popular in the region, championing its causes at court. He sought tax reductions for the region and sought to improve the financial situation he found there. He also took a keen interest in legal matters, showing a concern for the common man that must have seemed outrageous at the time. Two examples offered by A.J. Pollard in Richard III And The Princes In The Tower have long stuck in my mind.

A John Randson appealed to Richard in 1480 against Sir Robert Claxton of Horden, a leading member of the local gentry, who Randson claimed was preventing him from working on his own land. Not only was Claxton of higher social rank, but he was father to one of Richard's retainers and father-in-law to another. These social and family ties would have been expected to see Claxton's cause championed by the Duke. However, Richard found in favour of Randson, warning Claxton 'so to demean you that we have no cause to provide his legal remedy in this behalf'.

Even earlier, in 1473, a petition to Parliament told how Richard had unknowingly taken into service the father of Katherine Williamson of Riccall's husband's murderers. When Richard discovered that the man had aided and abetted his sons he ordered that 'the said Thomas should be brought unto the gaol of York, there to abide, unto the time that he ... were lawfully acquitted or attainted'. At this time, it would have been usual for those wearing the livery of a lord to expect their protection from such a charge, but Richard was not swayed by such concerns in his pursuit of fair justice for all.

Acts such as these could be construed as ploys on Richard's part to court favour in the north, yet he also risked upsetting the more powerful elements there. Less favourable opinions of him have viewed such things as examples of Richard's dissembling, disingenuous nature in building his reputation in readiness for an assault upon the throne. If this is so, he played a truly long game, for over a decade with no obvious prospect of the Crown and no hint of any attempt to launch a bid surviving. He was not perfect. He dealt harshly with the elderly Countess of Oxford, bullying her into signing over her lands by threatening to house her in one of his icy northern castles, something that she feared would kill her. He could certainly be ruthless in the pursuit of what he wanted.

Militarily, Richard also proved a boon to his adopted region. The Scottish borders had long been lawless with frequent raids into England, often launched from Berwick. Richard held these incursions at bay so that the region felt secure for the first time in living memory and probably beyond it. He led several successful campaigns against the Scottish, the pinnacle of his achievements coming in 1482 when the Scottish King James III threatened to invade. Seizing the initiative from his dithering brother, Richard marched on Berwick, seizing the town unopposed. The citadel of the castle held out. When Richard got word that the Scottish army was marching south, he rode north to meet it. James III was then seized by his own discontented nobles and imprisoned at Edinburgh. His nobles had little stomach for a fight and as Richard burned towns and villages to try and provoke a confrontation, they moved east of the City. Richard entered Edinburgh without the loss of a single man during the campaign. Such was his control of his men that there was no looting and no trouble from the occupying soldiers. He then left Edinburgh unmolested and returned to Berwick where the siege had been won in his absence by Lord Stanley. The campaign was an unmitigated success for England and Berwick has remained an English town from that time to this. Edward IV wrote to the Pope in praise of his brother that 'he alone would suffice to chastise the whole kingdom of Scotland'.

Whatever his motivations, Richard was beloved of York and the north in general as a champion of their long forgotten region. York rejoiced when Richard became King and mourned him after Bosworth, doing all that they could to resist the influence of Henry Tudor without inviting open attack upon the city.

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