THE KING DIED SO SUDDENLY THAT ALL WERE CAUGHT BY SURPRISE. A tense crisis instantly arose. After Barnet and Tewkesbury the old nobility had had to swallow with such grace as they could muster the return of the surviving Woodvilles to the sunlight of power and favour. But throughout England the Queen’s relations were viewed with resentment or disdain, while the King made merry with his beautiful, charming mistress, Jane Shore. Now death dissolved the royal authority by which alone so questionable a structure could be sustained. His eldest son, Edward, dwelt at Ludlow, on the Welsh border, under the care of his uncle, the second Lord Rivers. A Protectorate was inevitable. There could be no doubt about the Protector. Richard of Gloucester, the King’s faithful brother, renowned in war, grave and competent in administration, enriched by Warwick’s inheritance and many other great estates, in possession of all the chief military offices, stood forth without compare, and had been nominated by the late King himself. Around him gathered most of the old nobility. They viewed with general distaste the idea of a King whose grandfather, though a knight, had been a mere steward to one of their own order. They deplored a minority and thereafter the rule of an unproved, inexperienced boy-King. They were however bound by their oaths and by the succession in the Yorkist line that their own swords had established.
One thing at least they would not brook: Queen Elizabeth and her low-born relations should no longer have the ascendancy. On the other hand, Lord Rivers at Ludlow, with numerous adherents and family supporters, had possession of the new King. For three weeks both parties eyed one another and parleyed. It was agreed in April that the King should be crowned at the earliest moment, but that he should come to London attended by not more than two thousand horsemen. Accordingly this cavalcade, headed by Lord Rivers and his nephew, Grey, rode southward through Shrewsbury and Northampton. They had reached Stony Stratford when they learned that Gloucester and his ally, the Duke of Buckingham, coming to London from Yorkshire, were only ten miles behind them. They turned back to Northampton to greet the two Dukes, apparently suspecting no evil. Richard received them amicably; they dined together. But with the morning there was a change.
When he awoke Rivers found the doors of the inn locked. He asked the reason for this precaution. Gloucester and Buckingham met him with scowling gaze and accused him of “trying to set distance” between the King and them. He and Grey were immediately made prisoners. Richard then rode with his power to Stony Stratford, arrested the commanders of the two thousand horse, forced his way to the young King, and told him he had discovered a design on the part of Lord Rivers and others to seize the Government and oppress the old nobility. On this declaration Edward V took the only positive action recorded of his reign. He wept. Well he might.
The next morning Duke Richard presented himself again to Edward. He embraced him as an uncle; he bowed to him as a subject. He announced himself as Protector. He dismissed the two thousand horsemen to their homes; their services would not be needed. To London then! To the coronation! Thus this melancholy procession set out.
The Queen, who was already in London, had no illusions. She took sanctuary at once with her other children at Westminster, making a hole through the wall between the church and the palace to transport such personal belongings as she could gather.
The report that the King was in duress caused a commotion in the capital. “He was to be sent, no man wist whither, to be done with God wot what.”1 But Lord Hastings reassured the Council that all was well and that any disturbance would only delay the coronation, upon which the peace of the realm depended. The Archbishop of York, who was also Chancellor, tried to reassure the Queen. “Be of good cheer, madam,” he said, “for if they crown any other than your son whom they now have with them, we shall on the morrow crown his brother whom you have with you here.” He even gave her the Great Seal as a kind of guarantee. He was not in any plot, but only an old fool playing for safety first and peace at any price. Presently, frightened at what he had done, he managed to get the Great Seal back.
The King arrived in London only on May 4, and the coronation, which had been fixed for that date, was necessarily postponed. He was lodged at the Bishop of London’s palace, where he received the fealty of all the lords, spiritual and temporal. But the Protector and his friends felt that it was hardly becoming that he should be the guest of an ecclesiastic, and when the Queen’s friends suggested that he might reside at the Hospital of the Knights of St. John in Clerkenwell Richard argued that it would be more fitting to the royal dignity to dwell in one of his own castles and on his own ground. The Tower was a residence not only commodious but at the same time safe from any popular disorder. To this decision the lords of the Council gave united assent, it not being either easy or safe for the minority to disagree. With much ceremony and protestations of devotion the child of twelve was conducted to the Tower, and its gates closed behind him.
London was in a ferment, and the magnates gathered there gazed upon each other in doubt and fear. The next step in the tragedy concerned Lord Hastings. He had played a leading part in the closing years of Edward IV. After the King’s death he had been strong against the Woodvilles; but he was the first to detach himself from Richard’s proceedings. It did not suit him, nor some of the other magnates, that all power should rapidly be accumulating in Richard’s hands. He began to be friendly with the Queen’s party, still in the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey. Of what happened next all we really know is that Hastings was abruptly arrested in council at the Tower on June 13 and beheaded without trial on the same day. Sir Thomas More late in the next reign wrote his celebrated history. His book was based of course on information given him under the new and strongly established régime. His object seems to have been less to compose a factual narrative than a moralistic drama. In it Richard is evil incarnate, and Henry Tudor, the deliverer of the kingdom, all sweetness and light. The opposite view would have been treason. Not only is every possible crime attributed by More to Richard, and some impossible ones, but he is presented as a physical monster, crook-backed and withered of arm. No one in his lifetime seems to have remarked these deformities, but they are now very familiar to us through Shakespeare’s play. Needless to say, as soon as the Tudor dynasty was laid to rest defenders of Richard fell to work, and they have been increasingly busy ever since.
More’s tale however has priority. We have the famous scene at the Council in the Tower. It was Friday, June 13. Richard arrived in the Council chamber about nine, apparently in good humour. “My lord,” he said to Bishop Morton, “you have very good strawberries in your garden at Holborn. I pray you let us have a mess of them.” The Council began its business. Richard asked to be excused for a while; when he returned between ten and eleven his whole manner was changed. He frowned and glared upon the Council, and at the same time clusters of armed men gathered at the door. “What punishment do they deserve,” demanded the Protector, “who conspire against the life of one so nearly related to the King as myself, and entrusted with the government of the realm?” There was general consternation. Hastings said at length that they deserved the punishment of traitors. “That sorceress my brother’s wife,” cried Richard, “and others with her—see how they have wasted my body with sorcery and witchcraft.” So saying, he is supposed to have bared his arm and showed it to the Council, shrunk and withered as legend says it was. In furious terms he next referred to Jane Shore, with whom Hastings had formed an intimacy on the late King’s death. Hastings, taken aback, replied, “Certainly if they have done so heinously they are worth a heinous punishment.” “What?” cried Crookback. “Dost thou serve me with ‘ifs’ and ‘ands?’ I tell thee they have done it, and that I will make good upon thy body, traitor!” He struck the Council table with his fist, and at this signal the armed men ran in, crying “Treason!” and Hastings, Bishop Morton, and the Archbishop of York with some others were seized. Richard bade Hastings prepare for instant death. “I will not dine until I have his head.” There was barely time to find a priest. Upon a log of wood which lay by chance in the Tower yard Hastings was decapitated. Terror reigned.
Richard had ordered his retainers in the North to come to London in arms under his trusted lieutenant, Sir Richard Ratcliffe. On the way south Ratcliffe collected Lords Rivers, Vaughan, Grey, and the commanders of the two thousand horse from the castles in which they were confined, and at Pomfret cut off their heads a few days after Hastings had suffered. Their executions are undisputed fact.
Meanwhile the Queen and her remaining son still sheltered in sanctuary. Richard felt that it would be more natural that the two brothers should be together under his care, and he moved the purged Council to request the Queen to give him up. The Council contemplated the use of force in the event of a refusal. Having no choice, the Queen submitted, and the little prince of nine was handed over in Westminster Hall to the Protector, who embraced him affectionately and conducted him to the Tower, which neither he nor his brother was ever to leave again. Richard’s Northern bands were now approaching London in considerable numbers, many thousands being expected, and he felt strong enough to take his next step. The coronation of Edward V had been postponed several times. Now a preacher named Shaw, brother of the Lord Mayor of London, one of Richard’s partisans, was engaged to preach a sermon at St. Paul’s Cross. Taking his text from the Book of Wisdom, “Bastard slips shall not take deep root,” he impugned Edward IV’s marriage with Elizabeth Woodville upon a number of grounds, including sorcery, violation of the alleged previous betrothal to Eleanor Butler, and the assertion that the ceremony had been performed in an unconsecrated place. He argued from this that Edward’s children were illegitimate and that the crown rightly belonged to Richard. The suggestion was even revived that Edward IV himself had not been his father’s son. Richard now appeared, accompanied by Buckingham, evidently expecting to be publicly acclaimed; but, says More, “the people were so far from crying ‘King Richard!’ that they stood as if turned into stones for wonder of this shameful sermon.” Two days later the Duke of Buckingham tried his hand, and according to an eyewitness he was so eloquent and well rehearsed that he did not even pause to spit; but once again the people remained mute, and only some of the Duke’s servants threw up their caps, crying, “King Richard!”
Nevertheless on June 25 Parliament met, and after receiving a roll declaring that the late King’s marriage with Elizabeth was no marriage at all and that Edward’s children were bastard it petitioned Richard to assume the crown. A deputation, headed by the Duke of Buckingham, waited on Richard, who was staying at the house of his mother, whose virtue he had aspersed. With becoming modesty Richard persistently refused; but when Buckingham assured him of their determination that the children of Edward should not rule and that if he would not serve the country they would be forced to choose some other noble he overcame his conscientious scruples at the call of public duty. The next day he was enthroned, with much ceremony. At the same time the forces which Ratcliffe had sent from the North were reviewed in Finsbury Fields. They proved to be about five thousand strong, “evil apparelled . . . in rusty harness neither defensible nor scoured.” The City was relieved to find that the reports of their strength and numbers had been exaggerated.
The coronation of King Richard III was fixed for July 6, and pageants and processions diverted the uneasy public. As an act of clemency Richard released the Archbishop of York from arrest, and transferred Bishop Morton of Ely to the easier custody of Buckingham. The coronation was celebrated with all possible pomp and splendour. Particular importance was attached to the religious aspect. Archbishop Bourchier placed the crowns on the heads of the King and Queen; they were anointed with oil; they received the Sacrament in the presence of the assembly, and finally repaired to a banquet in Westminster Hall. The King now had a title acknowledged and confirmed by Parliament, and upon the theory of the bastardy of Edward’s children he was also the lineal successor in blood. Thus the whole design seemed to have been accomplished. Yet from this very moment there began that marked distrust and hostility of all classes towards King Richard III which all his arts and competence could not allay. “It followed,” said the chronicler Fabyan, whose book was published in 1516, “anon as this man had taken upon him, he fell in great hatred of the more part of the nobles of his realm, insomuch that such as before loved and praised him . . . now murmured and grudged against him in such wise that few or none favoured his party except it were for dread or for the great gifts they had received of him.”
It is contended by the defenders of King Richard that the Tudor version of these events has prevailed. But the English people who lived at the time and learned of the events day by day formed their convictions two years before the Tudors gained power or were indeed a prominent factor. Richard III held the authority of government. He told his own story with what facilities were available, and he was spontaneously and almost universally disbelieved. Indeed, no fact stands forth more unchallengeable than that the overwhelming majority of the nation was convinced that Richard had used his power as Protector to usurp the crown and that the princes had disappeared in the Tower. It will take many ingenious books to raise this issue to the dignity of a historical controversy.
No man had done more to place Richard upon the throne than the Duke of Buckingham, and upon no one had the King bestowed greater gifts and favours. Yet during these first three months of Richard’s reign Buckingham from being his chief supporter became his mortal foe. His motives are not clear. Perhaps he shrank from becoming the accomplice in what he foresaw would be the closing act of the usurpation. Perhaps he feared for his own safety, for was he not himself of royal blood? He was descended both through the Beauforts and Thomas of Woodstock from Edward III. It was believed that when the Beaufort family was legitimated by letters patent under King Richard II, confirmed by Henry IV, there had been a reservation rendering them incapable of inheriting the crown; but this reservation had not been a part of the original document, but had only been written in during the reign of Henry IV. The Duke of Buckingham, as a Beaufort on his mother’s side, possessed the original letters patent under the Great Seal, confirmed in Parliament, in which no such bar was mentioned. Although he guarded this secret with all needful prudence he must now look upon himself as a potential claimant to the crown, and he must feel none the safer if Richard should so regard him. Buckingham’s mind was troubled by the knowledge that all the ceremony and vigour with which Richard’s ascent to the throne had been conducted did not affect the general feeling that he was a usurper. In his castle at Brecknock he began to talk moodily to his prisoner, Bishop Morton; and the Bishop, who was a master of the persuasive arts and a consummate politician, undoubtedly gained a great hold upon him.
Meanwhile King Richard began a progress from Oxford through the Midlands. At every city he laboured to make the best impression, righting wrongs, settling disputes, granting favours, and courting popularity. Yet he could not escape the sense that behind the displays of gratitude and loyalty which naturally surrounded him there lay an unspoken challenge to his Kingship. There was little concealment of this in the South. In London, Kent, Essex, and throughout the Home Counties feeling already ran high against him, and on all men’s lips was the demand that the princes should be liberated. Richard did not as yet suspect Buckingham, who had parted from him at Gloucester, of any serious disaffection. But he was anxious for the safety of his crown. How could he maintain it while his nephews lived to provide a rallying point for any combination of hostile forces against him? So we come to the principal crime ever afterwards associated with Richard’s name. His interest is plain. His character was ruthless. It is certain that the helpless children in the Tower were not seen again after the month of July 1483. Yet we are invited by some to believe that they languished in captivity, unnoticed and unrecorded, for another two years, only to be done to death by Henry Tudor.
According to Thomas More’s story, Richard resolved in July to extirpate the menace to his peace and sovereignty presented by the princes. He sent a special messenger, by name John Green, to Brackenbury, the Constable of the Tower, with orders to make an end of them. Brackenbury refused to obey. “Whom should a man trust,” exclaimed the King when Green returned with this report “when those who I thought would most surely serve at my command will do nothing for me?” A page who heard this outburst reminded his master that Sir James Tyrell, one of Richard’s former companions in arms, was capable of anything. Tyrell was sent to London with a warrant authorising Brackenbury to deliver to him for one night all the keys of the Tower. Tyrell discharged his fell commission with all dispatch. One of the four gaolers in charge of the princes, Forest by name, was found willing, and with Dighton, Tyrell’s own groom, did the deed. When the princes were asleep these two assassins pressed the pillows hard down upon their faces till they were suffocated, and their bodies were immured in some secret corner of the Tower. There is some proof that all three murderers were suitably rewarded by the King. But it was not until Henry VII’s reign, when Tyrell was lying in the Tower under sentence of death for quite a separate crime, that he is alleged to have made a confession upon which, with much other circumstantial evidence, the story as we know it rests.
In the reign of Charles II, when in 1674 the staircase leading to the chapel in the White Tower was altered, the skeletons of two young lads, whose apparent ages fitted the two princes, were found buried under a mass of rubble. They were examined by the royal surgeon, and the antiquaries reported that they were undoubtedly the remains of Edward V and the Duke of York. Charles accepted this view, and the skeletons were reburied in Henry VII’s Chapel at Westminster with a Latin inscription laying all blame upon their perfidious uncle “the usurper of the realm.” This has not prevented various writers, among whom Horace Walpole is notable, from endeavouring to clear Richard of the crime, or from attempting to cast it, without any evidence beyond conjecture, upon Henry VII. However, in our own time an exhumation has confirmed the view of the disinterested authorities of King Charles’s reign.
Buckingham had now become the centre of a conspiracy throughout the West and South of England against the King. He had reached a definite decision about his own claims to the crown. He seems to have assumed from his knowledge of Richard that the princes in the Tower were either dead or doomed. He met at this time Margaret, Countess of Richmond, survivor of the Beaufort line, and recognised that even if the house of York were altogether set aside both she and her son Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, stood between him and the crown. The Countess of Richmond, presuming him to be still Richard’s right-hand man, asked him to win the King’s consent to a marriage between her son Henry of Richmond and one of King Edward’s daughters, Elizabeth, still in sanctuary with their mother at Westminster. Richard would never have entertained such a project, which was indeed the extreme opposite to his interests. But Buckingham saw that such a marriage would unite the claims of York and Lancaster, bridge the gulf that had parted England for so long, and enable a tremendous front to be immediately formed against the usurper.
The popular demand for the release of the princes was followed by a report of their death. When, how, and by whose hand the deed had been done was not known. But as the news spread like wildfire a kind of fury seized upon many people. Although accustomed to the brutalities of the long civil wars, the English people of those days still retained the faculty of horror; and once it was excited they did not soon forget. A modern dictator with the resources of science at his disposal can easily lead the public on from day to day, destroying all persistency of thought and aim, so that memory is blurred by the multiplicity of daily news and judgment baffled by its perversion. But in the fifteenth century the murder of the two young princes by the very man who had undertaken to protect them was regarded as an atrocious crime, never to be forgotten or forgiven. In September Richard in his progress reached York, and here he created his son Prince of Wales, thus in the eyes of his enemies giving confirmation to the darkest rumours.
All Buckingham’s preparations were for a general rising on October 18. He would gather his Welsh forces at Brecknock; all the Southern and Western counties would take up arms; and Henry, Earl of Richmond, with the aid of the Duke of Brittany, would land with a force of five thousand men in Wales. But the anger of the people at the rumoured murder of the princes deranged this elaborate plan. In Kent, Wiltshire, Sussex, and Devonshire there were risings ten days before the appointed date; Henry of Richmond was forced to set sail from Brittany in foul weather on October 12, so that his fleet was dispersed; and when Buckingham unfurled his flag at Brecknock the elements took sides against him too. A terrific storm flooded the Severn valley, and he found himself penned on the Welsh border in a district which could not supply the needs of his army, and unable, as he had planned, to join the rebels in Devonshire.
King Richard acted with the utmost vigour. He had an army and he marched against rebellion. The sporadic risings in the South were suppressed. Buckingham’s forces melted away, and he himself hid from vengeance. Richmond reached the English coast at last with only two ships, and sailed westwards towards Plymouth, waiting for a sign which never came. Such was the uncertainty at Plymouth that he warily made further inquiries, as a result of which he sailed back to Brittany. Buckingham, with a high price on his head, was betrayed to Richard, who lost not an hour in having him slaughtered. The usual crop of executions followed. Order was restored throughout the land, and the King seemed to have established himself securely upon his throne.
He proceeded in the new year to inaugurate a series of enlightened reforms in every sphere of Government. He revived the power of Parliament, which it had been the policy of Edward IV to reduce to nullity. He declared the practice of raising revenue by “benevolences” illegal. Parliament again legislated copiously after a long interval. Commerce was protected by a series of well-meant if ill-judged Acts, and a land law was passed to regulate “uses,” or, as we should now say, trusts. Attempts were made to please the clergy by confirming their privileges, endowing new religious foundations, and extending the patronage of learning. Much care was taken over the shows of heraldry and pageantry; magnanimity was shown to fallen opponents, and petitioners in distress were treated with kindness. But all counted for nothing. The hatred which Richard’s crime had roused against him throughout the land remained sullen and quenchless, and no benefits bestowed, no sagacious measures adopted, no administrative successes achieved, could avail the guilty monarch.
An impulsive gentleman, one Collingbourne, formerly Sheriff of Worcester, was so much incensed against the King that he had a doggerel rhyme he had composed nailed on the door of St. Paul’s:
The Catte, the Ratte, and Lovell our dogge
Rulyth all Englande under a Hogge.
Catesby, Ratcliffe, Viscount Lovell, and Richard, whose badge was a boar, saw themselves affronted. But it was not only for this that Collingbourne suffered an agonising death at the end of a year. He was undoubtedly a rebel, actively engaged in conspiracy.
Even Richard’s own soul rebelled against him. He was haunted by fears and dreams. He saw retribution awaiting him round every corner. “I have heard by creditable report,” says Sir Thomas More, “of such as were secret with his chamberers, that after this abominable deed done he never had quiet in his mind, he never thought himself sure. Where he went abroad, his eyes whirled about, his body privily fenced, his hand ever on his dagger, his countenance and manner like one always ready to strike again. He took ill rest at nights, lay long waking and musing; sore wearied with care and watch, he rather slumbered than slept. Troubled with fearful dreams, suddenly sometimes started he up, leapt out of his bed and ran about the chamber. So was his restless heart continually tossed and tumbled with the tedious impression and stormy remembrance of his most abominable deed.”
A terrible blow now fell upon the King. In April 1484 his only son, the Prince of Wales, died at Middleham, and his wife, Anne, the daughter of the King-maker, whose health was broken, could bear no more children. Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, now became obviously the rival claimant and successor to the throne. Richmond, “the nearest thing to royalty the Lancastrian party possessed,” was a Welshman, whose grandfather, Owen Tudor, executed by the Yorkists in 1461, had married, if indeed he married, Henry V’s widow, Catherine of France, and whose father Edmund had married the Lady Margaret Beaufort. Thus Richmond could trace his descent through his mother from Edward III, and on his father’s side had French royal blood in his veins as well as a shadowy claim to descent from Cadwallader and the legendary ancient kings of Britain, including King Arthur. His life had been cast amid ceaseless trouble. For seven years of childhood he had been besieged in Harlech Castle. At the age of fourteen, on the defeat of the Lancastrians at Tewkesbury, he was forced to flee to Brittany. Thereafter exile and privation had been his lot. These trials had stamped themselves upon his character, rendering him crafty and suspicious. This, however, did not daunt a proud spirit, nor cloud a wise and commanding mind, nor cast a shadow over his countenance, which was, we are told, “smiling and amiable, especially in his communications.”
All hopes in England were now turned towards Richmond, and it was apparent that the marriage which had been projected between him and Edward IV’s eldest daughter Elizabeth offered a prospect of ending for ever the cruel dynastic strife of which the land was unut terably weary. After the failure of Buckingham’s rebellion Richmond and his expedition had returned to Brittany. The Duke of Brittany, long friendly again accorded shelter and subsistence to the exile and his band of perhaps five hundred Englishmen of quality. But King Richard’s diplomacy was active. He offered a large sum of money for the surrender of his rival. During the illness of the Duke of Brittany the Breton Minister, Landois, was disposed to sell the valuable refugee. Richmond however, suspecting the danger, escaped in the nick of time by galloping hell for leather into France, where, in accordance with the general policy of keeping English feuds alive, he was well received by the French regent, Anne. Meanwhile the Duke of Brittany, recovering, reproved his Minister and continued to harbour the English exiles. In France Richmond was joined by the Earl of Oxford, the leading survivor of the Lancastrian party, who had escaped from ten years’ incarceration and plunged once again into the old struggle. As the months passed many prominent Englishmen, both Yorkist and Lancastrian, withdrew themselves from Richard’s baleful presence, and made their way to Richmond, who from this time forth stood at the head of a combination which might well unite all England.
His great hope lay in the marriage with the Princess Elizabeth. But in this quarter Richard had not been idle. Before the rebellion he had taken steps to prevent Elizabeth slipping out of sanctuary and England. In March 1484 he made proposals to the Dowager Queen, Dame Elizabeth Grey as he called her, of reconciliation. The unhappy Queen did not reject his overtures. Richard promised in a solemn deed “on his honour as a King” to provide maintenance for the ex-Queen and to marry her daughters suitably to gentlemen. This remarkable document was witnessed not only by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, but in addition by the Lord Mayor of London and the Aldermen. In spite of the past the Queen had to trust herself to this. She quitted sanctuary. She abandoned the match for her daughter with Richmond. She and the elder princesses were received at Richard’s Court and treated with exceptional distinction. At the Christmas Court at Westminster in 1484 high revels were held. It was noticed that the changes of dress provided for Dame Elizabeth Grey and her daughters were almost royal in their style and richness. The stigma of bastardy so lately inflicted upon Edward’s children, and the awful secret of the Tower, were banished. Although the threat of invasion was constant, gaiety and dancing ruled the hour. “Dame Elizabeth” even wrote to her son by her first marriage, the Marquis of Dorset, in Paris, to abandon Richmond and come home to share in the new-found favour. More surprising still, Princess Elizabeth seems to have been by no means hostile to the attentions of the usurper. In March 1485 Queen Anne died, probably from natural causes. Rumours were circulating that Richard intended to marry his niece himself, in order to keep her out of Richmond’s way. This incestuous union could have been achieved by Papal dispensation, but Richard disavowed all intention of it, both in Council and in public. And it is indeed hard to see how his position could have been strengthened by marrying a princess whom he had declared illegitimate. However that may be, Richmond was thereby relieved of a great anxiety.
All through the summer Richmond’s expedition was preparing at the mouth of the Seine, and the exodus from England of substantial people to join him was unceasing. The suspense was wearing to Richard. He felt he was surrounded by hatred and distrust, and that none served him but from fear, or hope of favour. His dogged, indomitable nature had determined him to make for his crown the greatest of all his fights. He fixed his headquarters in a good central position at Nottingham. Commissions of muster and array were ordered to call men to arms in almost every county. Departing perforce from the precepts he had set himself in the previous year, he asked for a “benevolence,” or “malevolence” as it was described, of thirty thousand pounds. He set on foot a disciplined regular force. He stationed relays of horsemen every twenty miles permanently along the great roads to bring news and carry orders with an organised swiftness hitherto unknown in England. This important development in the postal system had been inaugurated by Edward IV. At the head of his troops he ceaselessly patrolled the Midland area, endeavouring by strength to overawe and by good government to placate his sullen subjects. He set forth his cause in a vehement proclamation, denouncing “. . . one, Henry Tydder, son of Edmund Tydder, son of Owen Tydder,” of bastard blood both on his father’s and mother’s side, who of his ambition and covetousness pretended to the crown, “to the disinheriting and destruction of all the noble and worshipful blood of his realm for ever.” But this fell cold.
On August 1 Richmond embarked at Harfleur with his Englishmen, Yorkist as well as Lancastrian, and a body of French troops. A fair wind bore him down the Channel. He evaded the squadrons of “Lovell our Dogge,” doubled Land’s End, and landed at Milford Haven on the 7th. Kneeling, he recited the psalm Judica me, Deus, et decerne causam meam. He kissed the ground, signed himself with the Cross, and gave the order to advance in the name of God and St. George. He had only two thousand men; but such were his assurances of support that he proclaimed Richard forthwith usurper and rebel against himself. The Welsh were gratified by the prospect of one of their race succeeding to the crown of mighty England. It had been for ages a national dream. The ancient Britons would come back into their own. Richard’s principal chieftain and officer, Rhys ap Thomas, considered himself at first debarred by his oath of allegiance from aiding the invader. He had declared that no rebels should enter Wales, “except they should pass over his belly.” He had however excused himself from sending his only son to Nottingham as a hostage, assuring Richard that nothing could bind him more strongly than his conscience. This now became an obstacle. However, the Bishop of St. David’s offered to absolve him from his oath, and suggested that he might, if still disquieted, lay himself upon the ground before Richmond and let him actually step over his belly. A more dignified but equally satisfactory procedure was adopted. Rhys ap Thomas stood under the Molloch Bridge near Dale while Henry of Richmond walked over the top. Anything like a scandalous breach of faith was thus avoided. The Welsh gentry rallied in moderate numbers to Richmond, who displayed not only the standard of St. George, but the Red Dragon of Cadwallader. With five thousand men he now moved eastwards through Shrewsbury and Stafford.
For all his post-horses it was five days before the King heard of the landing. He gathered his army and marched to meet his foe. At this moment the attitude of the Stanleys became of decisive importance. They had been entrusted by the King with the duty of intercepting the rebels should they land in the West. Sir William Stanley, with some thousands of men, made no attempt to do so. Richard thereupon summoned Lord Stanley, the head of the house, to his Court, and when that potentate declared himself “ill of the sweating sickness” he seized Lord Strange, his eldest son, to hold him answerable with his life for his father’s loyalty. This did not prevent Sir William Stanley with the Cheshire levies from making friendly contact with Richmond. But Lord Stanley, hoping to save his son, maintained till the last moment an uncertain demeanour.
The city of York on this occasion stood by the Yorkist cause. The Duke of Norfolk and Percy, Earl of Northumberland, were Richard’s principal adherents. “The Catte and the Ratte” had no hope of life but in their master’s victory. On August 17, thus attended, the King set forth towards Leicester at the head of his army. Their ordered ranks, four abreast, with the cavalry on both flanks and the King mounted on his great white charger in the centre, made a formidable impression upon beholders. And when on Sunday, the 21st, this whole array came out of Leicester to meet Richmond near the village of Market Bosworth it was certain that a decisive battle impended on the morrow.
Appearances favoured the King. He had ten thousand disciplined men under the royal authority against Richmond’s hastily gathered five thousand rebels. But at some distance from the flanks of the main army, on opposite hill-tops, stood the respective forces, mainly from Lancashire and Cheshire, of Sir William Stanley and Lord Stanley, the whole situation resembling, as has been said, four players in a game of cards. Richard, according to the Tudor historians, although confessing to a night of frightful dreams and demon-hauntings, harangued his captains in magnificent style. “Dismiss all fear. . . . Every one give but one sure stroke and the day is ours. What prevaileth a handful of men to a whole realm? As for me, I assure you this day I will triumph by glorious victory or suffer death for immortal fame.” He then gave the signal for battle, and sent a message to Lord Stanley that if he did not fall on forthwith he would instantly decapitate his son. Stanley, forced to this bitter choice, answered proudly that he had other sons. The King gave orders for Strange’s execution. But the officers so charged thought it prudent to hold the stroke in suspense till matters were clearer. “My lord, the enemy is past the marsh. After the battle let young Stanley die.”
But even now Richmond was not sure what part Lord Stanley and his forces would play. When, after archery and cannonade, the lines were locked in battle all doubts were removed. The Earl of Northumberland, commanding Richard’s left, stood idle at a distance. Lord Stanley’s force joined Richmond. The King saw that all was lost, and, shouting “Treason! Treason!” hurled himself into the thickest of the fray in the desperate purpose of striking down Richmond with his own hand. He actually slew Sir William Brandon, Richmond’s standard-bearer, and laid low Sir John Cheney, a warrior renowned for his bodily strength. He is said even to have reached Richmond and crossed swords with him. But at this moment Sir William Stanley’s three thousand, “in coats as red as blood,” fell upon the struggling Yorkists. The tides of conflict swept the principals asunder. Richmond was preserved, and the King, refusing to fly, was borne down and slaughtered as he deserved.
One foot I will never flee, while the breath is my breast within.
As he said, so did it he—if he lost his life he died a king.
Richard’s crown, which he wore to the last, was picked out of a bush and placed upon the victor’s head. The Duke of Norfolk was slain fighting bravely; his son, Lord Surrey, was taken prisoner; Ratcliffe was killed; Catesby, after being allowed to make his will, was executed on the field; and Henry Tudor became King of England. Richard’s corpse, naked, and torn by wounds, was bound across a horse, with his head and long hair hanging down, bloody and hideous, and in this condition borne into Leicester for all men to see.
Bosworth Field may be taken as closing a long chapter in English history. Though risings and conspiracies continued throughout the next reign the strife of the Red and the White Rose had in the main come to an end. Neither won. A solution was reached in which the survivors of both causes could be reconciled. The marriage of Richmond with the adaptable Princess Elizabeth produced the Tudor line, in which both Yorkists and Lancastrians had a share. The revengeful ghosts of two mangled generations were laid for ever. Richard’s death also ended the Plantagenet line. For over three hundred years this strong race of warrior and statesmen kings, whose gifts and vices were upon the highest scale, whose sense of authority and Empire had been persistently maintained, now vanished from the fortunes of the Island. The Plantagenets and the proud, exclusive nobility which their system evolved had torn themselves to pieces. The heads of most of the noble houses had been cut off, and their branches extirpated to the second and third generation. An oligarchy whose passions, loyalties, and crimes had for long written English history was subdued. Sprigs of female or bastard lines made disputable contacts with a departed age. As Cœur de Lion said of his house, “From the Devil we sprang and to the Devil we shall go.”
At Bosworth the Wars of the Roses reached their final milestone. In the next century the subjects of the Tudors liked to consider that the Middle Ages too had come to a close in 1485, and that a new age had dawned with the accession of Henry Tudor. Modern historians prefer to point out that there are no sharp dividing lines in this period of our history, and that Henry VII carried on and consolidated much of the work of the Yorkist Kings. Certainly the prolongation of strife, waste, and insecurity in the fifteenth century had aroused in all classes an overpowering desire for strong, ordered government. The Parliamentary conception which had prevailed under the house of Lancaster had gained many frontiers of constitutional rights. These were now to pass into long abeyance. Not until the seventeenth century were the old maxims, “Grievances before supply,” “Responsibility of Ministers in accordance with the public will,” “The Crown the servant and not the master of the State,” brought again into the light, and, as it happened, the glare of a new day. The stir of the Renaissance, the storm of the Reformation, hurled their new problems on the bewildered but also reinspired mortals of the new age upon which England entered under the guidance of the wise, sad, careful monarch who inaugurated the Tudor dictatorship as King Henry VII.