In 1475, King Edward IV invaded France, seeking to claim the French Crown, long considered the right of English Kings. Henry V had secured a promise that he would inherit the French throne but it had been denied his infant son. Edward was going to take back what had been lost in France and capture that which had eluded all other English monarchs to date. The campaign would bring Edward the martial glory that had made Henry V a legend and would expand his empire abroad. The people would love the glory and the nobility would revel in the spoils of war. Edward's increasingly heavy taxation and extraction of benevolences, forced gifts from wealthy subjects which were hated and resented, were beginning to impinge upon the popularity that his infinitely likeable personality had always afforded him. The French campaign would provide an outlet for this disgruntlement
Charles, Duke of Burgundy was a keen ally. Married to Edward and Richard's sister, Margaret, his territory was under almost constant threat from French desires to consolidate their kingdom, absorbing independent Dukedoms. On 4th July 1475, Edward, Richard and George led a force of around fifteen hundred men at arms and eleven thousand archers as it poured over the Channel to fill Calais. Duke Charles had, for reasons no chronicler seems able to explain, hauled his army east to lay siege to Neuss, part of the Duke of Lorraine's lands. He arrived late to meet Edward and without his army. As Edward marched slowly south, pondering his options, word reached him of the French King's force moving north to meet him.
Edward, despairing of his enigmatic brother-in-law, sought peace. He met King Louis XI at Picquigny, the two monarchs meeting through a wooden barrier on a bridge to avoid any threat of assassination. The Treaty of Picquigny was signed and Edward celebrated it as a success. In return for removing the English army from French soil he received an immediate payment of 75,000 gold crowns with an annual pension of 50,000. Edward's leading advisors received similar payments, which were termed by the English as tributes to make the bribes more palatable. The largest payment went to William, Lord Hastings. The Treaty also provided for the marriage of the French heir to Edward's eldest daughter, Elizabeth. The king, his nobles and their army returned to England untested and far from bathed in glory.
During this episode we have another interesting glimpse of Richard's personality. When Edward called his nobles together to discuss his options, the Dukes of Clarence, Suffolk and Norfolk, the Earls Rivers, Northumberland and Pembroke, the Marquis of Dorset, Lord Hastings, Lord Stanley and many others agreed with the King's desire to seek a favourable peace with Louis. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, dissented. He measured the situation and argued that the English force could easily defeat the French army. Then the King would have his glory and, if he still wished to seek peace, could negotiate it from a position of strength. It seems likely that Richard's assessment of the English force's chances was correct. They probably could have won. Edward sought peace anyway, but there was no resentment apparent from his brother that his council had been overruled.
When it came time for the Treaty of Picquigny, Richard refused to be a party to it. He returned the French bribe and did not attend. In its time, such a snub was significant and did not go unnoticed. Louis XI earned his nickname of 'The Universal Spider' because of the diplomatic webs that he spun and he knew his enemies well. Edward probably had no real desire for war and was short of money, so Louis bribed him to leave. When the English army arrived to camp at Amiens, Louis laid on so much food and wine that there was no trouble from the English troops in the town. Anyone who opposed the treaty was wooed by Louis. For example, one of Edward's captains was bribed with a thousand crowns for criticising the capitulation. What price would the Spider King pay, then, to appease the royal brother of England's King? Richard did accept an invitation to dine with the French King and received a gift of plate and fine horses, but Louis apparently found Richard a rigid character upon whom he had been unable to make an impression. No doubt he marked the King's martial brother as one to be wary of, a fact that was to haunt Richard later.
On 9th April 1483, King Edward IV died following a brief illness at the age of forty. He is still the tallest monarch in English history at 6' 4" but his appetite for food and women was legendary (as was that of his grandson, Henry VIII). He had grown portly and lethargic, his taxes and benevolences making him increasingly unpopular in the country. The queen's family, the Woodvilles, were a source of consternation to the nobility. They were a large family and Edward had poured lands and titles upon them to the exclusion of the established nobility so that they were unpopular and resented, considered undeserving upstarts. The queen had children from her first marriage and furnished the king with many more, including two sons. The eldest, Edward, now King Edward V was 12 years of age. His brother, Richard, Duke of York was 9. Young Edward had been installed at Ludlow Castle as Prince of Wales with his own household under the direction of Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, brother of the queen. Woodvilles dominated Edward's household and whilst this may appear somewhat natural as his mother's family, it was to prove a significant issue for the young king.
In mid April, Richard was advised by Lord Hastings, a close friend and advisor to Edward IV, that the King was dead and that the queen intended to seize power. Hastings told the Duke that Edward had named him Protector of the Realm during his son's minority but that the queen intended to ignore this provision and exclude the Duke. Richard must have been concerned that he was not advised officially of his own brother's death and his suspicions must have been roused immediately. He wrote to Earl Rivers at Ludlow to arrange to meet the new King's party at Nottingham so that they might enter London together. He also wrote to Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham to ask him to accompany them. Henry was the grandson of the Duke into whose care Richard had been placed after Ludlow and it is possible that the memories of the honourable old Duke influenced him in seeking out Henry. Richard held a solemn funeral service for his brother at York on 21st April at which he led the pledges of fealty to the new King Edward V. Richard left York on 23rd April and Edward left Ludlow on 24th. At some point in his journey Richard received a letter from Rivers altering their meeting to Northampton on 29th April. This must have felt even more suspicious atop everything else. Rivers and the new King arrived at Northampton on 29th but whilst Rivers stayed there to await the Protector, the King and the rest of his retinue rode further on to Stoney Stratford, a Woodville manor. When Richard reached Northampton to find the King missing, his concern surely grew. Though Rivers protested that it meant nothing, Richard had him arrested the following morning and rode to Stoney Stratford where he took the King into his custody.
On 1st May, the queen took Edward's brother and other members of her family into sanctuary at Westminster. On the 4th May, Edward entered London with Richard and Buckingham to a rapturous reception as Richard hailed the new King to his people. On 10th May council met and Richard was officially installed as Protector. The council seems to have been impressed with Richard's bloodless seizure of the King from the clutches of the Woodvilles. Coins began to be minted in the name of Edward V whose coronation was set for 22nd June. After his father's death, council had previously intended the coronation to take place on 4th May. This delay has been cited by some as testament to Richard's intention to seize the throne, but following events at Stoney Stratford Edward had not arrived in London until this date. It is also possible that the queen had intended Rivers to rush Edward to London to be crowned and proclaimed of age to rule to preclude Gloucester as Protector by rendering the position unnecessary.
News also reached Richard in London of the death without heir of George Neville. His brother's caution was in danger of back firing on his son. The majority of Richard's land and title reverted to life interests, meaning he had none of it to leave to his precious only son, Edward of Middleham. This was another factor that must have weighed heavy on Richard's mind as he fought the Woodvilles for control of the King. As Protector, he could correct the problem in Parliament. If he lost his position, he would lose everything and the Woodvilles would win it all.
The Duke of Buckingham was made Constable of England and given effective sovereign power in Wales as a reward for his support. Richard sought to have Rivers and others seized at Stoney Stratford tried for treason but council resisted. Richard installed Edward in the Tower of London, not as a prisoner but using the Royal Apartments there. The Tower was at this time a royal palace like any other. It had a gaol, like other palaces, but it did not gain its bloody reputation until Tudor times. It is therefore hard to read too much into this in itself. Richard also sought to have Edward's brother released from sanctuary to join him. In early June he was taken from sanctuary and placed in the Tower with his brother.
On 13th June Richard called Lord Hastings, Buckingham, Bishop Morton, Bishop Rotherham, Lord Stanley and John Howard to the Tower for a council meeting. Richard left the meeting, returned and cried treason. Hastings was removed and possibly executed immediately. There is some debate about the precise date of the execution, but nonetheless Richard had removed one of Edward IV and Edward V's key supporters at court on little evidence. We see here a ruthless streak and a determination to act decisively that contributes to the suspicion beginning to surround Richard even at this point. Stanley, Morton and Rotherham were arrested but later released.
Richard appeared to have gained complete control, installing close friends such as Lord Lovell alongside Buckingham to support him and excluding the Woodvilles. Hastings was lambasted as the prime encourager of Edward IV's debauchery. Preparations continued for Edward's coronation. Richard was secure as Lord Protector.