Post-classical history

The Fifth Period

The Implosion Of The House Of York

With the light of Lancaster all but extinguished, Edward set about settling the House of York as the new ruling family. Over the next decade or so, he and Elizabeth extended their family to eventually total eight children who survived infancy, crucially including two sons. Edward had been born in sanctuary and the next child was another son, named Richard. In spite of his earlier betrayals, George was welcomed back into the fold and forgiven, though perhaps watched more closely. Richard married the recently widowed Anne Neville and the king's two brothers divided up the immense Warwick inheritance between them. Clarence took the Midlands and Marches whilst Richard acquired the lands and estates of the Neville heartland in Yorkshire.

As a mark of their dominance, the bodies of their father, Richard, Duke of York and brother Edmund who had both died at Wakefield in 1460 were moved from Pontefract to Fotheringhay in a lavish yet solemn procession that conferred upon the bodies the respect that they were now due. Richard settled in at Middleham Castle, where he had spent time as a child, and proved invaluable to Edward in settling the unruly north. Recognised for his good lordship, Richard enforced peace at the Scottish borders and became popular and well loved.

By contrast, George never seemed to be able to reconcile himself to his brother's rule. When his wife Isabel died shortly after childbirth in 1476, perhaps of tuberculosis, he went into a rage, accusing one of her servants, Ankarette Twynyho of poisoning her. George had Ankarette executed with no due process and there was outrage, not least from Edward. By 1478, George had exhausted all of his brother's good will. As he began to resurrect the rumours of Edward's parentage, the king could endure his threat no longer. In 1478, Clarence was executed on Edward's orders. Reputedly allowed to decide the method of his own execution, George supposedly had himself drowned in a vat of the king's malmsey wine. As a member of the royal family, the execution took place in private and no sure record of it survives to confirm or refute this anecdote.

Crisis was to once again engulf the Crown in 1483, following a dozen years of settled peace. There is some evidence that in the early 1480's Edward was contemplating marrying his eldest daughter to the last, flickering candle of the Lancastrian line, Henry Tudor. Tudor would have been allowed to return from his exile and rejoin his mother, Margaret Beaufort, now married to Thomas, Lord Stanley. The significance for Edward would also have been obvious - with Lancaster's last hope reconciled, no threat to him or his son would remain. This work was, however, to remain incomplete.

On 9th April 1483, a few weeks short of his forty first birthday, King Edward IV died. A tall, athletic figure in his younger days, the years of peace had seen him indulge his appetite for food and women to excess. His court was considered a licentious centre of debauchery and his girth had grown along with his indulgence. After a short illness Edward died. He lingered long enough to alter his will, naming his loyal brother Richard as Lord Protector during the minority of his twelve year old son. Perhaps fearing the unpopularity of a Woodville controlled government and the reflection that it would cast upon his heir, Edward turned to the brother of royal blood who had served him without fault for almost fifteen years.

The events of 1483 have become clouded with the passing of time so that each event can have polar opposite meaning dependent upon the view of Richard taken. They are dealt with in more detail in A Glimpse of King Richard III. Richard, either genuinely or to cover his true intentions, began to fear a Woodville plot to exclude him from government. They intended to crown Edward V swiftly and declare him of age to rule, thus negating the need for Richard's Protectorate. Edward left Ludlow Castle with his household, led by the queen's brother Anthony, Earl Rivers. Richard arranged to meet them at Northampton to accompany his nephew, the new king, into London. The king's party went beyond Northampton to the Woodville manor at Stoney Stratford, from where Earl Rivers rode back to meet Richard. Either sensing a plot or seizing his opportunity, Richard arrested Rivers, rode to Stoney Stratford and took control of the king, also arresting others of his household.

Edward V rode into London in triumph, accompanied by his uncle Richard and Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham upon whom Richard had called for aid. Edward was installed in the royal apartments in the Tower of London. Crucially, he was not imprisoned there as is often asserted. The Tower was a royal palace and was yet to acquire its more gruesome reputation. It would have been the natural place for Edward to prepare for his coronation.

Elizabeth Woodville had taken sanctuary within Westminster Abbey with her other children upon hearing of Richard's actions at Stoney Stratford, doubtless fearful of his intentions. Richard asked that her younger son, Richard, Duke of York be allowed to join his brother to provide him with comfort. After the exertion of some force, young Richard was sent to join Edward. Whilst all of this was happening, Council continued preparations for Edward's coronation. Coins began to be minted and proclamations made in his name. The establishment seemed pleased with Richard's bloodless removal of the upstart Woodvilles.

Council approved Richard as Protector, though only for a short period, with a further decision on an extension to be made later. They refused Richard's request to try Earl Rivers and the others arrested at Stoney Stratford for treason. Also, George Neville died without issue and this left Richard dangerously exposed. Edward IV had tied his brother's Neville inheritance to the survival of the line of George Neville, Duke of Bedford. This was perhaps a form of protection for the effectively disinherited George; as Warwick's nephew he had been the heir to his uncle's fortune. It may have also been an attempt to rein in Richard's own power. Whatever the reason, it backfired now as Richard's position became less stable. The Protector wrote to York asking for an armed force to be sent to protect him from plots and threats. This is perhaps made more suspicious by what was to follow.

At a meeting of the Council, Richard had Lord Hastings, Edward IV's closest friend and advisor arrested and executed for treason, claiming that there was a plot against him. This incident is another key moment in establishing what was happening. No trace of a plot remains for us to see, but that does not mean that it wasn't real. Hastings' ruthless execution, probably with no trial, is possibly the second darkest contributor to Richard's reputation. He was either both justified and decisive or he was a ruthless murderer.

Edward's coronation was due to take place on 22nd June 1483. Instead, on that date, a sermon was preached by Dr Ralph Shaa entitled 'Bastard Slips Shall Not Take Deep Root'. This sermon, attended by Richard and Buckingham, made public a story that had been brought to Richard by Bishop Stillington, who claimed to be party to a pre-contract of marriage between Edward IV and Lady Eleanor Butler. The pre-contract allegedly took place before Edward's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville and although Lady Eleanor Butler was dead by 1483, she had been alive at the time of the wedding of Edward and Elizabeth. A pre-contract to marry was equivalent to a marriage. Under church and civil law, it was valid, making Edward's marriage to Elizabeth bigamous and its issue, including young Edward V, illegitimate and incapable of succeeding to the throne.

The sermon also dragged the issue of Edward IV's legitimacy back into the light. There had long been a rumour in France. King Louis XI was fond of promulgating it and both Warwick and Clarence had used against the king, perhaps the former making the latter aware of it. The rumour was that Edward was himself illegitimate, the son of an affair with an English archer named Bleybourne. Richard dropped this charge quickly, perhaps because his mother was in the City and he did not wish to upset her, or perhaps because he could not prove it. The allegations levelled at the legitimacy of Edward V were, though, proved to the satisfaction of Parliament. Richard was petitioned to take the throne as the senior legitimate claimant. Accepting the call, he was crowned King Richard III on 6th July 1483.

It has become almost impossible to determine the truth of these matters at such a distance. John Ashdown-Hill makes a strong case for the existence of the Butler pre-contract, which would legally have made Richard the legitimate king. The case was proven to Parliament, but it can be argued that Richard was in control of the political scene by that point and could have arranged Parliament's horrified acceptance of the news. As part of the campaign against his excesses, Edward IV's long term mistress Jane Shore, also the mistress of Lord Hastings and Thomas Grey, Elizabeth Woodville's son by her first marriage, was forced to do public penance for her misdemeanours by walking barefoot in just her petticoats through London's streets before a cross and a choir, the traditional punishment for a harlot. It was part of a propaganda campaign against Edward IV's rule. The reputation that had seen London wives aid his return to power in 1471 now undid his son.

The reputation of King Richard III has long been defined by the fate of his nephews, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York. Over the summer of 1483 they were seen less and less, moved to apartments deeper within the Tower of London before disappearing from public sight. Their story is dealt with in more detail in A Glimpse of The Princes in the Tower, but the uncertainty of their fate was to afflict King Richard. The embers of the Lancastrian cause glowed softly in exile. As Richard alienated those who had been loyal to his brother, the fading fire hungrily eyed fresh fuel.

At the end of the summer, a rebellion erupted. Named Buckingham's Rebellion, its initial aim was to free and restore Edward V, but amid rumour he and his brother were dead it quickly shifted to calling for Henry Tudor to return from exile and take the throne. Tudor left Brittany and Buckingham raised an army in Wales. A force from Kent attacked London too early, before the appointed date and alerted Richard to the plot. Raging storms favoured the king, flooding the River Severn to prevent Buckingham crossing and scattering Tudor's fleet. Eventually, Tudor limped back to Brittany and Buckingham was captured and executed.

Praised for the justice his only Parliament brought, Richard was nevertheless besieged by problems. To balance the disloyalty shown by those in the south he imported familiar, trusted men from the north. This in turn caused further resentment. Latent Lancastrian sympathy was swelled by Edwardian loyalists who would not accept Richard's rule. Richard made efforts to gain control of Tudor, but he escaped Brittany for France. There, disaffected Yorkists found a warm welcome and Lancastrians found hope. The Earl of Oxford escaped his long term prison in Calais, providing Tudor's faux court with the military expertise it had lacked. It soon became a question not of if an invasion would come, but when.


King Richard III's personal life began to unravel as his political grip on his kingdom slipped. On 9th April 1484, Richard and Anne's precious only child Edward of Middleham died aged 10. The couple were naturally distraught. Although the end of that year saw reconciliation with Elizabeth Woodville that brought her and her daughters out of sanctuary, 16th March 1485 marked further disaster. Anne Neville died, possibly of the same tuberculosis that killed her sister Isabel. Richard was a widowed, childless 32 year old king. All of that made him vulnerable. It was later rumoured that he had poisoned Anne in order to marry his own niece, Elizabeth of York. In fact, Richard, in need of stability, opened negotiations to marry himself and his niece into the Portuguese royal family. Time, though, was not on his side.

On 8th August Henry Tudor landed at Milford Haven in Wales. Richard had known he was coming but had believed he intended to land at the south coast. Tudor marched across Wales, gathering some support, though perhaps not as much as he may have hoped for. Richard called upon his nobles and the Duke of Norfolk, John Howard came with his son, as did Northumberland and Lord Stanley.

The two forces met at Bosworth Field on 22nd August 1485. Tudor had assembled around 5,000 men, mainly French mercenaries and Welshmen. Richard had around 6,000 men with him and Norfolk, including those men of the north fiercely loyal to him, men like Richard Ratcliffe and Sir James Harrington. Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland fielded about 3,000 men and Lord Stanley brought his own sizeable force, numbering around 4,000. The odds appeared firmly in the king's favour.

After an exchange of canon fire and arrow, the Duke of Norfolk engaged Tudor's army, led by the Earl of Oxford, one of the most experienced military men of the time. Oxford pressed hard and Norfolk himself was slain when Richard spotted Tudor and a small detachment moving across the back of the field toward Lord Stanley's position. Northumberland was ordered to engage but did not, for reasons that are not entirely clear. He may have been blocked by the terrain or he may have betrayed Richard.

Lord Stanley was an unknown quantity from the outset. He was Henry Tudor's step father and reputedly met with Tudor before the battle, pledging his support. He had also nominally taken the field for King Richard. His refusal to engage for either side effectively evened the numbers of each army and Tudor may well have been riding to encourage his step father to support him. With the battle not going as planned, Richard saw a chance to end the matter once and for all. With his household knights he charged Tudor's group. As Richard's men became overwhelmed, Stanley sent his brother Sir William and his men into the fray to finish off the king. Richard fell fighting, as even his critics were to concede, 'manfully in the thickest press of his enemies'.

Lord Stanley supposedly found Richard's crown and placed it upon Henry's head, thus beginning the reign of King Henry VII and the rule of the Tudor dynasty. The story of the Wars of the Roses, though, was not to stop at Bosworth with the death of the last Plantagenet king.

The Fight For The White Rose

Henry Tudor dated his reign from 21st August 1485, the day before Bosworth. It was an early sight of the propaganda tactics that were to define the Tudors. It allowed him to name all of those who took the field against him for King Richard as traitors. Henry had sworn to marry Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, to unite the Houses of York and Lancaster. He did not, however, finally marry Elizabeth until after his own coronation. Although he blamed the delay on the need for a papal dispensation for the wedding because of the couple's blood relationship, it is likely Henry was once more being shrewd. In order to marry Elizabeth and pacify her Yorkist supporters who had helped him to his throne, he had to re-legitimise her. This gave her better claim to the throne than he possessed, and Henry could not tolerate accusations that he ruled by virtue of his wife if he was to have any authority. He was also wary of becoming king by right of conquest, choosing instead to call upon his own scant Lancastrian roots. His rule would be a continuation of Lancastrian rule, correcting the evils of King Richard III. It was not an uprooting, it was a comfortable resettlement.

Uniting the White Rose of York with the Red Rose of Lancaster gave us the powerful iconography of the Tudor Rose that still surrounds us today. The Beaufort portcullis symbol of Henry's mother is to this day the emblem of Parliament. The Tudors imposed themselves upon England, embossing their identity into the country they now ruled, but the fight did not end at Bosworth. The White Rose would not be so easily consumed into the Tudor symbology.

In 1486, an attempt to rise against Henry was orchestrated by Francis, Lord Lovell and Sir Humphrey and Thomas Stafford who had survived Bosworth. The Stafford brothers held Worcester for a time but the uprising lacked a figurehead and was quickly quashed. Sir Humphrey was hung as a traitor, though Thomas was pardoned, and Francis Lovell escaped to Burgundy and the court of Margaret the Dowager Duchess of Burgundy. Sister to Edward IV and Richard III, Margaret was to prove a thorn in the side of the new Tudor Rose for many years.

With Burgundy's support, Francis Lovell landed with an army to place Edward, Earl of Warwick upon the throne. Edward was the son of George, Duke of Clarence. He was held in the Tower of London, yet Lovell brought with him a boy who was proclaimed to be the earl in Ireland. The king's army, led once more by Oxford, met the rebels at the Battle of East Stoke on 16th June 1487. Henry's army outnumbered the Yorkists 15,000 to 8,000 and crushed the invading force decisively. John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, previously King Richard's heir, had joined the rebellion but died at Stoke. Francis Lovell was seen fleeing the battlefield but then disappears from the historical record.

The boy that had accompanied the invading army was exposed as an imposter named Lambert Simnell, schooled to impersonate Warwick. It remains possible that he was in fact the true earl, though Henry paraded the boy in the Tower to prove that he was not. He would later do the same with Perkin Warbeck, a young man identified by Margaret of Burgundy as her nephew, Richard, Duke of York and recognised as legitimate by many of the crowned heads of Europe. It is a testament to the mystery surrounding the fate of the Princes in the Tower that none, including Henry, seemed too sure that he was not in fact Richard.

The de la Pole family, the brothers of John, were to prove a nuisance and threat to both Henry VII and his son Henry VIII. The last threat died with Richard de la Pole in 1525 at the Battle of Pavia. Henry VIII reportedly rejoiced at the news. As Henry VIII's health failed and his succession seemed insecure, there was further White Rose bloodletting. Henry VII had executed both Perkin Warbeck and Edward, Earl of Warwick in 1499, but Clarence also had a daughter. She had married a knight, Sir Richard Pole. Her third son Reginald had sided with Rome during the Reformation, much to the disgust of Henry VIII who had paid for his education. A supposed plot to resurrect the cause of the White Rose was exposed in 1538 and Margaret and two of her other sons were arrested. One son, Geoffrey, was pardoned but the other, Henry, was executed. On 27th May 1541, the 67 year old Margaret was dragged to the block and held down, struggling. The executioner took eleven strokes to kill her.

Reginald Pole became a Cardinal and plotted to reinstall Catholicism in England from the Continent. A marriage was suggested between him and Henry VIII's daughter Mary to effect the change and bring the White Rose back to power, but it did not happen. He did become Archbishop of Canterbury during Queen Mary's reign, dying in 1558. He was the final White Rose threat faced by the Tudors almost 75 years after they had come to the throne. The Wars of the Roses did not truly end at Bosworth and the Tudors always feared it growing too strong in their new garden. For all that they are imbedded into English history and culture, they were never quite as secure as they wished the world to believe.

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