Because Richard III was a married man when he became king, his wife, Anne, would be crowned queen consort alongside him. She was not a well-known figure in London, so the crowd would have been especially interested to catch a glimpse of her on 6 July 1483 as she proceeded from Westminster Hall into Westminster Abbey. Few of those jostling for the best view would have wasted much time looking at the lady who was bearing the queen’s train: Margaret, Countess of Richmond. Undersized and well past her youth at age 40, the stern-looking countess would have caught the eye not because of her person but because of her attire: a long gown of crimson velvet bordered with white cloth of gold.1
Eighteen years before, Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, had followed her daughter Elizabeth Woodville as she prepared to be crowned queen in this same abbey. Much had changed since then.
The nobility, many of whom were playing their parts in the coronation, either in the king’s train or the queen’s, might well have thought of that day in 1465. Others might have thought of the coronation that had never taken place, that of Edward V. That boy’s mother, still in sanctuary elsewhere in the abbey, would have certainly heard the sounds of the coronation – the music and the cheers of the crowd – as she and her five daughters wondered what would become of them now that Elizabeth had been branded Edward IV’s concubine and her children his bastards.
There were some conspicuous absences at the coronation. The king’s mother, Cecily, Duchess of York, was not present. She had not attended Elizabeth Woodville’s coronation either, so perhaps she simply preferred to avoid such events, or perhaps at her age she preferred not to travel beyond her castle of Berkhamsted. Then again, if her son had indeed impugned her honour, she might have chosen to stay away. The queen’s mother, Anne, Countess of Warwick, was also absent. Perhaps she too chose not to make the long trip from the north, or perhaps, as one who had been declared by Parliament for the benefit of her sons-in-law to have the status of one naturally dead, her presence was considered rather awkward. And although Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, was very much at the coronation – as the king’s great chamberlain, he carried the king’s train in one hand and his white staff of office in the other – his duchess was nowhere to be seen. As she was a Woodville, there is no need to wonder at her absence; the only question is whether she was ordered to stay away or chose of her own volition not to attend. Lionel, Bishop of Salisbury, was also missing, as were all of Queen Elizabeth’s other surviving siblings.
The new king was a few months short of his 31st birthday and was, it seems, in excellent health. For Elizabeth Woodville, her siblings, and her children – some in hiding, some in sanctuary, some in exile, some sitting on their estates far from court, some locked in the Tower – it must have seemed that Richard would be on the throne for many years.
They reckoned without the lady carrying Queen Anne’s train.
Born in 1443, Margaret Beaufort was the daughter of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, who had returned to England in disgrace after an ill-managed campaign in France.2 A possible suicide, he had hardly known his only daughter, who had been an infant when he died in 1444. After a brief, unconsummated child marriage to John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, Margaret had married Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, Henry VI’s half-brother, in 1455. Probably anxious to father a child on Margaret so that he could have her estates in the event of her death, Richmond had wasted no time in consummating his marriage to Margaret, but it was he who died in 1456, leaving a pregnant young widow behind. Margaret bore her only child, Henry Tudor, in January 1457, when she was not yet 14.
Taken under the protection of her brother-in-law, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, Margaret married Henry Stafford, a younger son of Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, in 1458. Despite the couple’s Lancastrian ties – Buckingham, a supporter of Henry VI, died at Northampton, while Margaret’s male Beaufort cousins all were either beheaded or killed in battle for their support of that king – Stafford supported Edward IV at Barnet, but was wounded and died later that year. Margaret had then married Thomas Stanley, the king’s steward.
Her son, Henry, had had a precarious youth. He had been made the ward of William, Lord Herbert, in 1462. Like Richard, Earl Rivers, Herbert, made Earl of Pembroke by Edward IV in 1469, had been targeted by the Earl of Warwick as a royal favourite to be eliminated. When Warwick rebelled in 1469, Herbert was accompanied to the Battle of Edgecote by his young ward, whose first experience of war ended disastrously when his guardian was captured and led off to execution. Sir Richard Corbet took Henry from the battlefield to the home of Herbert’s brother-in-law, Lord Ferrers.3 Margaret’s negotiations to recover her son’s wardship were interrupted by the turmoil over the next few months, but when Henry VI’s restoration to the throne brought the exiled Jasper Tudor back to England, Henry Tudor was reunited with his uncle and then his mother in October 1470. It was a brief reunion between mother and son: after a meeting with Henry VI, who supposedly prophesised that the boy would become king, Henry, in Jasper’s care, departed for Wales in November. Holed up at Pembroke Castle after Edward IV’s victories at Barnet and Tewkesbury, Jasper and Henry escaped to Brittany in September 1471 and had remained there in exile ever since.
Margaret had come near to restoring her son to his country and to his inheritance. In 1482, she and Edward IV agreed that Henry Tudor would return from exile and receive a portion of the estates of Margaret’s recently deceased mother. A pardon was drafted, and there was even talk of Henry’s marrying Edward’s oldest daughter. Before the scheme could reach fruition, however, Edward IV died, leaving Margaret having to start over with a new king. Undaunted, she opened negotiations with Richard, using her kinsman Buckingham as an intermediary, to allow Henry to return to England and marry one of Richard’s newly bastardised nieces. Soon, however, Margaret’s plans changed radically.
Shortly after his coronation, Richard left on a royal progress, allowing his new subjects, many of whom in the hinterlands must have been bewildered at having had three kings in three months, to get a look at the latest wearer of the crown. One of his stops, on 26 July, was at Oxford. The chancellor who greeted him was likely not Lionel, Bishop of Salisbury, but Master William Harford, described as chancellor in a commission of the peace for Oxford dated 26 August.4 For the bishop to have to exchange pleasantries with the man who had ordered his brother’s and nephew’s execution would have been an awkward business indeed.
Meanwhile, the Londoners were bestirring themselves at last. On 29 July at Minster Lovell, Richard III wrote a letter to his chancellor, John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln, in which he ordered him to take action against ‘certain persons’ who had been engaged in what is described only as an ‘enterprise’.5 As Rosemary Horrox has suggested, this probably refers to a plot, described by John Stow, to set fires around the city and to rescue Edward V and his brother from the Tower under cover of the resulting confusion. Robert Russe, a sergeant of London, William Davy, a pardoner, John Smith, Edward IV’s groom of the stirrup, and Stephen Ireland, a wardrober in the Tower, were sentenced to death at Westminster and beheaded on Tower Hill, after which their heads were placed on London Bridge. The French chronicler, Basin, believed that fifty Londoners joined the conspiracy. The men were also accused of having written to Jasper Tudor and to Henry Tudor, as well as to other lords – the first hint of trouble from this quarter for Richard. The names of Jasper and Henry also suggest, as pointed out by Horrox, that Margaret Beaufort might have been involved, probably with the hope that Edward V would restore her son to his inheritance.
The executions of Russe and the others, however, did nothing to silence the growing unrest. Crowland reports that the people of the south and the west began to plot to release Edward IV’s sons from the Tower and that those who had taken refuge in sanctuaries were advising that Edward IV’s daughters be smuggled overseas in case ‘any human fate, inside the Tower, were to befall the male children’. Hearing of this, Richard set up a guard around Westminster, under the supervision of John Nesfield, ‘and the whole neighbourhood took on the appearance of a castle and a fortress’.6
At London’s actual fortress, the public was beginning to see less and less of Edward V and his brother. Mancini reports that the former king’s old attendants were forbidden access to him – a claim confirmed by records which show that they had been paid off on (18 July) – and he and his brother ‘day by day began to be seen more rarely behind the bars and windows [of the Tower], till at length they ceased to appear altogether’. John Argentine, his physician and the last of Edward V’s attendants to see him, reported that the youth believed that death was facing him. Edward V’s forebodings were shared by others, as Mancini noted: ‘I have seen many men burst forth into tears and lamentations when mention was made of him after his removal from men’s sight; and already there was a suspicion that he had been done away with’.7
Having left England soon after the coronation, Mancini was unable to gain more information about the fate of the princes in the Tower, nor does he have any information to give us about the rest of Richard III’s reign. But the suspicion that the boys had been murdered – never refuted by Richard III – took fire. With the princes believed dead, the rebels turned their sights to the little-known Henry Tudor as their future king.8
The rebellion seems to have come about through several interlinking strands, which eventually intertwined. Vergil reports that in London, Margaret Beaufort, having learned of the death of Edward IV’s sons, sent her physician, Lewis of Caerleon, to Elizabeth Woodville in sanctuary to propose a marriage between Henry Tudor and the queen’s oldest daughter. Caerleon – unlike Mistress Shore – could come and go from Elizabeth’s lodgings without suspicion because of his profession. Caerleon’s role in the rebellion can be substantiated through his own astronomical tables, which show that he was a prisoner in the Tower during Richard’s reign.9 Meanwhile, Crowland informs us that at his estate of Brecon in Wales, the Duke of Buckingham, ‘being repentant of what had been done’, took the advice of his prisoner, John Morton, Bishop of Ely and wrote to Henry Tudor, urging that he come to claim the throne.
Buckingham was a most unlikely rebel, for contrary to Shakespeare, Richard had been very much in a giving vein when it came to Buckingham. Having held no position of importance during Edward IV’s reign, he had been created chief justice and chamberlain of North and South Wales. Richard also made Buckingham constable, a hereditary Bohun office, and chamberlain and granted him the coveted Bohun estates denied for so long by Edward IV. Why Buckingham joined the rebellion after receiving so much from Richard remains a mystery. Some have suggested that he aimed at the crown himself (and killed Edward IV’s sons himself as a step toward that ultimate goal), others that he was manipulated by Bishop Morton and/or Margaret Beaufort, still others that he believed that Richard’s reign was doomed and wanted to shield himself from reprisals by joining the rebels. Yet others believe that he was a latent Lancastrian who finally had the chance to show his true colours. The notion that he was appalled by Richard’s killing of the princes has been discounted as of late, but it should not be rejected out of hand (assuming, of course, that Richard did indeed kill them). Buckingham may not have had difficulty condoning the death of grown men, but infanticide may have been an entirely different thing to him. Horror and the fear that he had imperilled his immortal soul by his complicity with Richard could explain his willingness to risk all of his long-coveted gains for an uncertain future with an obscure and untried exile. The Crowland Chronicler’s statement that Buckingham was ‘repentant of what had been done’ may well be the truth.
Though the name often given to the uprising, ‘Buckingham’s Rebellion’, reflects its highest-ranking conspirator, the rebels were drawn mainly from the gentry, many of them men who had flourished under Edward IV and served in his household. As Rosemary Horrox has pointed out, most of them were not embittered outsiders or unreconciled Lancastrians, but members of the Yorkist establishment who had every likelihood of prospering under the new king and every prospect of ruin if their rebellion failed. While their own motives for rebellion were no doubt multiple and complex, it is hard to escape the idea that profound revulsion at the treatment of Edward IV’s sons was their core motivation, especially when it is remembered that Henry Tudor, a mere youth when he had gone into exile years before, was an unknown quantity who had never run his own estates, much less a kingdom. Still, some of the rebels did have much to gain, and nothing to lose, by rising – in particular, the Woodvilles. The Marquis of Dorset came out of hiding, and the Bishop of Salisbury out of sanctuary, to join the rebellion. Even the low-profile Richard Woodville took part.
Through spies, as Crowland tell us, Richard III had known trouble was brewing for some time. As early as 13 August, he had seized the lands of John Welles, Margaret Beaufort’s half-brother, and on 28 August, he ordered a commission headed by Buckingham, not yet a suspect, to enquire into treasons and felonies in London, Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Middlesex, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, and Hertfordshire. The king’s next move came on 23 September, when Richard ordered the seizure of Bishop Lionel Woodville’s temporalities – i.e. his ecclesiastical possessions. He had good reason to be suspicious of the bishop, who is recorded as being at one of Buckingham’s manors, Thornbury, on the day before the king issued his order. While Lionel was Buckingham’s brother-in-law, it is probable that he was not at Thornbury merely for a family visit.10 On 24 September, according to the 1484 Act of Attainder against the rebels, Buckingham wrote to Henry Tudor to ask him to invade England.
By 11 October, if not sooner, Richard had learned, as he wrote to the city of York, that Buckingham had turned traitor. His anger was still raw the next day when, in a postscript to a letter to his chancellor, he described the duke as ‘the most untrue creature living whom with God’s grace we shall not be long till we will be in those parts and subdue his malice’.11
Probably around 18 October, Buckingham and his Woodville duchess, leaving their two daughters at Brecon Castle, travelled with their sons, Edward and Henry, to Weobley in Herefordshire.12 Shortly after they left, members of the Vaughan family (not to be confused with the Vaughan executed alongside Rivers and Richard Grey), who were loyal to the king, seized Brecon Castle, robbed it, and took Buckingham’s daughters and their gentlewomen to the Vaughan house at Tretower. Meanwhile, for about a week, Buckingham remained at Weobley, the home of Sir Walter Devereux, Lord Ferrers. There, he called the men of the country to him, presumably to gain support for his rebellion.
Meanwhile, Richard issued a proclamation against the rebels, in which he offered a reward of £1,000 in money or £100 in land for anyone who captured the duke; 1,000 marks in money or 100 marks in land for whoever captured Dorset or the three rebel bishops (Lionel Woodville, John Morton, and Piers Courtenay, Bishop of Exeter); and 500 marks in money or 40 marks in land for the rebels of lower rank. Peculiarly, the ‘Proclamation for the Reform of Morals’, as it was officially titled, opens with a stern reminder of Richard’s desire that his subjects ‘be reconciled and reduced to the way of Truth and Virtue, with the abiding in good disposition’, then launches into a spirited and alliterative denunciation of the sex life of Dorset, ‘which not fearing God, nor the Peril of His Soul, hath many Maids, Widows, and Wives damnably and without Shame Devoured, Defloured, and Defouled, holding the unshameful and mischievous Woman called Shore’s Wife in Adultery’.13 Since Richard himself was the father of two illegitimate children, who may or may not have been conceived before his marriage and who may or may not have had the same mother, one can be forgiven for thinking the king protested too much.
Back at Weobley, Buckingham, ‘[r]ealising that he was hemmed in and could find no safe way’,14 decided to flee in disguise. First, however, he had a ‘frieze coat’ – a coat of a coarse fabric that would not ordinarily touch a noble skin – made for his 5-year-old heir, Edward Stafford, and delivered the boy to a retainer, Sir Richard Delabere, to be kept until Buckingham sent for him with a token.15 Young Edward lived a colourful existence during the next few weeks. To shield him from discovery by the king’s men, Elizabeth Mores, who later married Delabere and was then a servant in his household, shaved the boy’s forehead and dressed him as a maiden; when travelling about, the boy rode pillion like a proper young lady. As children of traitors were not generally ill-treated, but would usually be allowed to stay with their mothers or be handed over to guardians, it is telling that Buckingham and his retainers were so determined to hide young Edward. If they had learned that Richard had ordered the murder of his nephews, this might explain their fear.
Buckingham, of course, never had a chance to send the token to recover his son. Ralph Bannister, a retainer who had given Buckingham shelter, betrayed the duke, either out of fear or out of greed for the price on Buckingham’s head. Buckingham was taken to Shrewsbury, where, on 31 October, he was handed over to James Tyrell and Christopher Wellesbourne, who took him to Salisbury. There, his pleas for an audience with Richard III were refused, leaving what he meant to say or do had he been admitted to the king’s presence as yet another mystery to ponder. On 2 November, All Souls’ Day, Buckingham was beheaded in Salisbury marketplace.
Buckingham’s defeat, hastened by his failure to gain widespread support from his own retainers in Wales and the torrential rains which had flooded the Severn and prevented him and his men from crossing that river, was emblematic of the fate of the rebellion as a whole, thwarted by Richard III’s able network of spies and his quick reaction. Although a hardy group of rebels had proclaimed a new king, presumably Henry Tudor, at Bodmin on 3 November, the day after Buckingham’s death, Bodmin Castle fell in mid-November.16
Dorset escaped to Brittany, while Lionel Woodville sought sanctuary in Beaulieu Abbey. Probably Richard Woodville took sanctuary as well, as he was pardoned in 1485. Others were less fortunate: Thomas St Leger, the widower of Richard III’s own sister, Anne, Duchess of Exeter, was beheaded, as were two others in the Exeter group of rebels. Six of the Kentish rebels were put to death. As for the would-be king, although Henry Tudor had managed to raise a small force and cross over to England, he became separated from the rest of his ships and decided to await their arrival before venturing onto English soil. Having sent a boatload of men to communicate with the soldiers lining the shore, he rightfully suspected a trap when they effusively assured him that Buckingham was on his way at the head of an army. Henry sailed back to the continent, thereby leaving himself to fight another day.
Meanwhile, with Buckingham dead, a search began for his wife and sons. While young Edward Stafford in his ‘maiden’s raiement’ avoided capture, Katherine and her other son, Henry, were found at Weobley by Christopher Wellesbourne, who, with the brother of John Huddleston, probably Richard Huddleston (married to Queen Anne’s half-sister, an out-of-wedlock child of the Earl of Warwick), took the Duchess of Buckingham to the king in London.17
Katherine’s status after she was brought to Richard III is unclear. Some writers have claimed that she was allowed to join her sister Elizabeth in sanctuary, but there is no evidence for this. On 19 December, however, Richard III issued an order allowing the duchess to convey her children and servants from Wales to ‘these parts’, meaning London, from where the order emanated.18 This suggests that Katherine was living under close supervision. Perhaps she was placed in a house of religion or required to reside with one of Richard’s supporters, as was often the case for noblewomen whose husbands ran afoul of kings.19
Margaret Beaufort’s punishment put Richard in a quandary; her husband had been loyal to him during the revolt, and he could not afford to forfeit his good will by attainting his wife and leaving both of the couple to suffer the consequences. Margaret’s treason, however, could not go unpunished. As a compromise, Margaret was stripped of all her lands, but her husband was allowed to enjoy the revenues during her lifetime. Vergil claims that Stanley was required by the king’s council to take all of Margaret’s servants from her and keep her ‘so strait with himself’ that she was unable to send messages to her son or to her friends.20 As for Elizabeth Woodville, she remained unmolested in sanctuary with her daughters. The 1484 attainders do not name her as a plotter; perhaps Richard III was unaware of her communications with Margaret Beaufort.
Aside from those executed, more than 100 men were attainted in Richard III’s parliament for their role in the rebellion.21 Richard had met the first serious challenge to his reign, and had survived it.
But the genie of Henry Tudor could not be so easily put back in the bottle, especially with a fresh infusion of English refugees, including Bishop Morton and Dorset, joining the band of exiles. On Christmas Day, 1483, the exiles came together at the Cathedral of Rennes, where Henry swore that he would marry Elizabeth of York as soon as he became king.22 He lost no time obtaining the necessary papal dispensation, which was issued on 27 March 1484 for Henry ‘Richemont’ and Elizabeth ‘Plantageneta’.23
The dispensation had not yet been signed, however, when Richard at last persuaded Elizabeth (‘urged by frequent intercessions and dire threats’, Crowland tells us) to allow her five daughters to leave sanctuary. On 1 March 1484, the king swore an oath, in front of a distinguished company of lords, churchmen, and the mayor and aldermen of London, that if the girls left sanctuary, he would see to it that they would be in ‘surety of their lives’ and not be ‘imprisoned within the Tower of London or other prison’. Rather, they would be put in ‘honest places of good name & fame’ and would be married to ‘gentlemen born’; the king would provide dowries for them of 200 marks per year. Elizabeth herself (here called ‘Elizabeth Gray late calling herself Queen of England’) was to receive 700 marks per year, to be paid by John Nesfield, who was put in charge of her.24 The references to the princesses being in surety of their lives, and the promise not to imprison them, says volumes about what was believed to have befallen their brothers, who are nowhere mentioned in the oath.
Why did Elizabeth allow her daughters to leave sanctuary? For Elizabeth’s modern-day detractors, and Richard III’s modern-day defenders, her actions have variously been interpreted as proof of her indifference to her children’s fate or, more commonly, as proof of Richard’s innocence of the death of his nephews. Paul Murray Kendall, for instance, writing from the comfort of his study in mid-twentieth-century America, thunders:
That she came to terms with the man who had bastardized and deposed the Princes, driven her son the Marquess into exile, and executed her other son Grey and her brother Rivers is difficult enough to understand; but that she came to terms knowing also that he had murdered the Princes well-nigh passes belief, or is at least incomprehensible.25
In fact, the queen’s actions are neither beyond belief nor incomprehensible (to cover both of Kendall’s bases). There were several options open for Elizabeth in March 1484. The first, and safest, would have been for her and her daughters to each take the veil. But that would foreclose any other alternatives if the political situation in England later changed, and it would have likely been anathema to Elizabeth’s older daughters, who had grown up expecting to make grand matches, not to immure themselves in convents. Probably, too, it would have been an admission of total defeat for Elizabeth. Indeed, no source suggests that such a course of action was ever considered.
The second option was to remain in sanctuary. This was an option, however, that was growing more unpalatable each day. Westminster was heavily guarded, a situation that must have been extremely irritating to the monks there, who may have also been tiring of providing sustenance for Elizabeth and her brood. Undoubtedly the abbot and his flock were eager to get back to normal and to get their relations with the Crown back on a good footing. Add to that the fact that six females, two of them adolescents, were cooped up together in a small space, with little to keep them occupied, and the situation must have been a bleak one indeed. With the king a healthy man in his early 30s, and the rebellion of 1483 having failed, the women could be facing a stay of decades in sanctuary.
Flight abroad was the third option. But it would have required help for Elizabeth to leave Westminster undetected, and how easy would it have been for a woman and five girls, ranging from age 3 to age 18, to leave the heavily guarded sanctuary undetected in the first place? Nor could such a party have likely boarded a boat or a ship without being noticed.
The fourth option was to accept Richard’s offer of a pension and good marriages for the girls, with guarantees, sworn under oath in front of numerous witnesses, that Richard would not harm the women or imprison them. This option, the one that Elizabeth ultimately chose, was not without risk. Whatever the fate of the princes in the Tower, it was beyond question that Richard had executed Elizabeth’s son Richard Grey and her brother Anthony Woodville, and oaths could be broken. But the chances of the girls coming to harm were slim. Richard might have put down the rebellion of the previous autumn, but his position was still a delicate one. He was in no position to break his oath that he would not maltreat his five nieces. Moreover, with Henry Tudor vowing to marry Elizabeth of York, it behoved Richard to take her off the marriage market by finding her a partner of his own choosing, which could not be accomplished while she and her sisters languished in sanctuary.
In the end, Elizabeth, faced with a stark choice between a bleak future in sanctuary and a chance for her daughters to make good marriages and recover their footing in society, chose to take the option that carried more risks, but promised more gains. One wonders what some of her detractors, faced with the same dilemma, would have done in her place.
Where Elizabeth Woodville and her daughters stayed – or indeed, whether Elizabeth herself left the confines of Westminster at all – is unknown. Audrey Williamson has related a Tyrell family legend, told to her by a member of that family, that Elizabeth and her royal sons – not her daughters – lived at Gipping Hall, the home of James Tyrell, ‘by permission of the uncle’ at some unspecified time.26 This begs the question, however, of why, if Elizabeth and the princes were living at Gipping Hall, did Richard III make no mention of the boys in his 1 March oath? And where were the daughters? And since Nesfield was specifically named by Richard III as the man to be Elizabeth’s attendant, how did Tyrell come into the picture? The legend may be an appealing one, but there seems little of substance to back it up. A purely speculative, but perhaps more likely, residence for Elizabeth and her girls is Hertford Castle, of which Nesfield had been made constable on 31 August 1483. The castle had formed part of the queen’s jointure, so it would have been both familiar and suitable, and having the queen there would have been administratively convenient for Nesfield, as he had been placed in charge of the queen’s annuity.27
By 24 April 1484, Richard had also granted Katherine, Duchess of Buckingham, an annuity of £200 per annum, to be taken out of the revenues of Tonbridge in Kent.28 Possibly Katherine and her four children joined Elizabeth and her brood, but there is no evidence of the duchess’s whereabouts for the rest of Richard III’s reign.
The king, meanwhile, had suffered a tragedy of his own. In April, close to the anniversary of Edward IV’s death, Richard’s only legitimate son died at Middleton Castle, sending the king and queen ‘almost out of their minds for a long time when faced with the sudden grief’.29 Richard and Anne had had only one surviving child together, and their prospects looked bleak for having any more.
The king’s enemies did not do Richard the courtesy of letting him mourn in peace. In July 1483, a Richard Edgecombe was charged with attempting to send money to some of the exiles. Meanwhile, in London, William Collingbourne was conspiring to send a messenger to Henry Tudor to advise him to invade on 18 October. More famously, on 18 July, he pinned his well-known ditty to the door of St Paul’s:
The cat, the rat, and Lovell our dog
Rule all England under a hog
The ‘cat, rat, and dog’ were William Catesby, Richard Ratcliffe, and Francis, Viscount Lovell; the ‘hog’ referred to Richard’s emblem of the white boar. Edgecombe fled to Brittany, but Collingbourne was not so lucky, being arrested in the autumn of 1484. On 29 November, a commission of oyer and terminer (the members of which included ‘Lovell our dog’) was set up to try him. In addition to urging Henry Tudor to invade, Collingbourne was accused of ‘devising certain bills and writing in rhyme, to the end that the same being published might stir the people to a commotion against the king’. Sometime in early December, Collingbourne was convicted at the Guildhall of high treason and was sentenced to a traitor’s death. He was drawn on a hurdle to Tower Hill, hanged at a brand new gallows, and cut down while still alive. While he was being disembowelled, he managed to say either ‘Jesus, Jesus’ or the rather understated ‘Oh, Lord Jesu, yet more trouble’ before dying. The Great Chronicle of London reported that he was ‘greatly mourned of the people for his goodly personage and favor of visage’.30
While England simmered, Henry Tudor and his friends remained dependent on Francis Duke of Brittany, who granted Dorset and his men 400 livres a month and Edward Woodville 100 livres a month.31 In September 1484, Richard saw the opportunity to solve his Henry Tudor problem. Duke Francis had fallen ill, leaving his treasurer, Pierre Landais, free to negotiate with Richard.32 It seems to have been agreed that Henry Tudor would be seized and taken to England, where it is safe to say he would not have had a long life expectancy. John Morton, however, who was staying in Flanders, got wind of the agreement and warned Henry, who fled to France, evading his would-be captors by just hours.
Henry’s flight left the rest of the exiles, about 410 of them, stranded in Vannes. Francis, however, recovered sufficiently to finance their own passage to France. He summoned Edward Woodville, John Cheyne, and Edward Poynings to him and gave them 100 livres for the expenses. Soon the entire band of exiles was in France. Instead of capturing Henry Tudor, Richard had catapulted him into the arms of England’s traditional enemy, and, it would prove in the long run, ensured the downfall of his own dynasty.
Ironically, Edward IV’s old enemy, Louis XI, had died in August 1483, just a few months after the death of his English rival. He too had been succeeded by a minor, the 13-year-old Charles VIII, who unlike Edward V was neither deposed nor imprisoned, but reigned under the regency of his sister, 22-year-old Anne of Beaujeu.33 The French themselves harboured no doubts about the fate of their king’s English counterpart. On 15 January 1484, its chancellor had told the Estates-General, ‘Look [at] what has happened in [England] since the death of King Edward [IV]: how his children, already big and courageous, have been put to death with impunity, and the royal crown transferred to their murderer by the favour of the people’.34
The formidable Anne of Beaujeu, herself facing a challenge to her authority from her cousin the Duke of Orléans, quickly realised the value of the newcomers. Assisting Henry Tudor to take the throne would deprive Orléans, who had associated himself with Pierre Landais in Brittany, of the ally he sought in Richard III. Moreover, while Richard had reached a truce with Scotland that September, hostilities between the French and the English at sea continued. It therefore suited the French very well to assist Henry Tudor, even though all they did for now was to lodge about 400 of the exiles at Sens and grant him 3,000 livres to clothe his followers. Charles VIII issued a letter to Toulon on 3 November announcing that the English were in ‘marvellous and great division’ and describing Henry Tudor, strangely, as the son of Henry VI; this is more likely a simple error than a concerted attempt by Henry and the French to misrepresent his lineage, as has been recently claimed. Henry himself never described himself in this manner, and would have made a laughing stock of himself among his prospective subjects, most of whom would have remembered Henry VI’s reign all too well, if he had tried.35
The autumn of 1484 brought, in William Collingbourne’s words, yet more trouble for Richard III. Since 1474, the Lancastrian stalwart John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, had been imprisoned at Hammes Castle near Calais.36 In 1478, he had leapt into the moat, either to escape or to kill himself – opinions differed. If Oxford had indeed given into a sense of despair and attempted to take his own life, he would soon have enormous cause for gratitude toward whoever had fished him out of the chin-deep water, for in late October or early November 1484, he suddenly found himself a free man.
Richard III, perhaps concerned about the activities of Oxford’s former associates in England, had ordered William Bolton to bring Oxford to England, presumably to move him to the greater security of the Tower or possibly to try and execute him for treason. Instead of handing over his charge, James Blount, the custodian of Hammes, simply walked away from his post, taking his erstwhile prisoner with him. Soon, the pair were greeting a delighted Henry Tudor.
Thus encouraged, Henry began to write letters to his potential subjects in England. One undated letter, in which Henry describes Richard as ‘that homicide and unnatural tyrant’, likely belongs to this period.37 On 6 December, Richard in turn issued a letter to the Mayor of Windsor, and presumably to other officials around the country as well, complaining that ‘rebels and traitors, now confedered with our ancient enemies of France’ were tending writings […] to provoke and stir discord between us and our lords’.38
The next day, 7 December, Richard followed up with a royal proclamation:
Forasmuch as the king our sovereign lord hath certain knowledge that Piers, Bishop of Exeter, Thomas Grey, late Marquis Dorset, Jasper late Earl of Pembroke, John late Earl of Oxford and Sir Edward Woodville with others divers his rebels and traitors, disabled and attainted by the authority of the High Court of Parliament, of whom many be known for open murderers and adulterers and extortioners, contrary to the pleasure of God and against all truth honour and nature hath forsaken their natural country taking them first to be under the obeisance of the Duke of Brittany and to him promised certain things which by him and his council were thought things to be greatly unnatural and abominable for them to grant observe keep and perform. And therefore the same utterly refused they seeing that the said duke and his council would not aid and succor them nor follow their ways privily departed out of his countries into France, there taking them to be under the obeisance of the king’s ancient enemy Charles calling himself king of France and too abuse and blind the commons of this said realm the said rebels and traitors have chosen to be their captain one Henry late calling himself Earl of Richmond which of his ambitious and insatiable covetousness stirred and excited by the confederacy of the king’s said rebels and traitors encroaches upon him the name and title of royal estate of this realm of England, whereunto he hath no manner interest right or colour as every man well knoweth.39
Richard went on to accuse Henry Tudor and his confederates of agreeing to give up the English claim to France and, more generically, of ‘coming to do the most cruel murders slaughters robberies and disherisons that ever were seen in any Christian realm’. He hastened to assure his subjects, however, that ‘our said sovereign lord as a well willed diligent and courageous prince will put his most royal person to all labor and pain necessary’ to subdue the threat.
One Woodville was not around to hear the proclamation: Lionel, Bishop of Salisbury. Since Lionel’s entrance into sanctuary at Beaulieu Abbey the previous autumn, Richard had been attempting to prise him out. On 15 December 1483, he had sent a letter to the abbot demanding that he produce documents supporting his right to offer a sanctuary (although Richard’s own mother-in-law had taken sanctuary there herself following the Earl of Warwick’s death at Barnet in 1471). He followed up this inquiry with a demand on 13 February 1484 that his two chaplains be allowed to bring Lionel into his presence; J.A.F. Thomson has suggested that Richard meant to allow Lionel to answer the charges against him that had been brought in Parliament in connection with the 1483 rebellion. Nonetheless, Lionel remained in sanctuary. By 1 December 1484, however, he was dead, as indicated by a letter where Richard III authorised the election of a successor. His cause of death is unrecorded. A seventeenth-century manuscript stated that he was buried at Beaulieu, while another source claims that a damaged tomb at Salisbury Cathedral is his.40 Five of Jacquetta’s sons had reached adulthood; now only two, Richard and Edward, remained.
At Westminster, Richard III put his worries aside and celebrated Christmas in high style, attracting the censure of the Crowland Chronicler: ‘during this Christmas feast too much attention was paid to singing and dancing and to vain exchanges of clothing between Queen Anne and Lady Elizabeth, eldest daughter of the dead king, who were alike in complexion and figure’.41 But more than mere gown-swapping was going on, according to Crowland: ‘it was said by many that the king was applying his mind in every way to contracting a marriage with Elizabeth either after the death of the queen, or by means of a divorce for which he believed he had sufficient grounds’. A few days after the Christmas festivities, Richard’s queen fell seriously ill. On 16 March 1485, she died.
Was Richard, whose queen fell seriously ill after Christmas, thinking of marrying his niece? Crowland goes on to tell us that although Richard later publicly denied wishing to wed Elizabeth of York, he had had to be dissuaded from the plan by Sir Richard Ratcliffe and William Catesby, who feared that such a match would lead to accusations by the northerners that Richard had caused the death of Queen Anne in order to marry his nubile niece. Crowland adds that Catesby and Ratcliffe also feared that as queen, Elizabeth might use her influence to avenge the death of Earl Rivers and Richard Grey upon those who had advised Richard to carry out the executions. To persuade Richard against such a match, his councillors brought in over a dozen theologians who claimed that the Pope could not issue a dispensation for such a match. The story seems a very specific and detailed one to have been fabricated by Crowland solely to malign Richard.
That there were rumours that Richard had poisoned his queen so that he could marry Elizabeth of York was confirmed by Richard himself. The Mercers’ Company Records contain his denial, made on 30 March:
the king sent for and had before him at St John’s as yesterday the mayor and aldermen whereas he in the great hall there in the presence of many of his lords and of much other people showed his grief and displeasure aforesaid and said it never came in his thought or mind to marry in such manner wise nor willing or glad at the death of his queen but as sorry and in heart as heavy as man might be.42
A further, but very uncertain, piece of evidence exists in the form of a letter that was supposedly written by Elizabeth to John Howard, Duke of Norfolk. The letter, which exists only in paraphrase, was supposedly seen by Sir George Buck, a seventeenth-century apologist for Richard III, in a cabinet belonging to Norfolk’s descendant Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel and Surrey. Buck may well have seen such a letter – as Arundel was living, it would have ill behoved Buck to fabricate its existence – but Buck’s History of King Richard the Third, in which the paraphrased letter appears, has a tangled and nightmarish editorial history, which includes revisions by the author, revisions by other parties, and fire damage. Out of this muddle, Arthur Kincaid reconstructed the paraphrased letter, supplying gaps in the text (indicated by Kincaid’s brackets below) with emendations in later versions of Buck’s work:
First she thanked him for his many courtesies and friendly [offices, an]d then she prayed him as before to be a mediator for her in the cause of [the marriage] to the k[i]ng, who, as she wrote, was her only joy and maker in [this] world, and that she was his in heart and in thoughts, in [body,] and in all. And then she intimated that the better half of Fe[bruary] was past, and that she feared the queen would nev[er die.]43
As one can see (especially when the material in brackets is removed), the paraphrased letter lends itself to multiple interpretations. Is Elizabeth referring to her marriage at all? If so, is she referring to a marriage between herself and the not-yet-widowed king, or to a marriage she hopes the king to arrange for her? If the word ‘die’ is correct, is Elizabeth callously hoping Queen Anne will die to make way for the king to take her as his wife, or is she hoping that the queen will soon be released from her suffering? Do her references to the king being her ‘only joy and maker’ in this world, and to her being his ‘in heart and in thoughts’ reveal a lovesick teenager, or are they merely the florid conventions of medieval letter writing? Assuming the actual letter is close in substance to the paraphrased version as it appears here, all that one can say for certain is that it appears that as of February 1485, Elizabeth was eager for something to happen.
In contrast to the rumours that Richard had designs on his niece, we have some evidence that after Anne’s death, he entered into negotiations for the hand of Joanna, the sister of John II of Portugal. Barrie Williams points out that on 22 March 1485, six days after Anne’s death, Sir Edward Brampton set off on an embassy to Portugal – although as Doreen Court notes in a follow-up article, it is by no means certain that Brampton’s original brief was to propose a marriage between Richard and Joanna, or even that the proposal originated with the English government. In any case, at some point, one side or the other suggested that Richard III marry Joanna and that Elizabeth of York marry Manuel, Duke of Beja, who was John II’s cousin. Joanna, who at 33 was eight months Richard’s senior, had spent much of her adulthood in a convent and appeared to prefer the cloistered life to that of a royal wife. In August, the story goes, having been given an ultimatum by her brother’s government, she entered into prayer and meditation, during which she had a vision which told her that Richard was dead. The next morning, she duly told her brother that if Richard were alive, she would marry him; if he was dead, her brother was not to urge her again to marry. Richard, in fact, had just been killed in battle.44
Richard’s desire to marry his niece and the Portuguese negotiations may not be mutually incompatible. Although marriage to a niece Richard himself had declared illegitimate had its obvious disadvantages, it was not without its appeal. Assuming that Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, were dead, and everyone at this point had been behaving as if they were, placing their eldest sister on the throne as his queen was the one form of amends Richard could make to Edward IV’s disgruntled supporters. If the match were fertile – and Elizabeth’s mother and grandmother had been quite fecund – there was the likelihood that a grandson of Edward IV would sit on the throne. Such a marriage would also put paid to Henry Tudor’s plans to marry Elizabeth of York himself. Certainly Henry, as Vergil reported, was ‘pinched […] by the very stomach’ when the rumour of Richard’s plan to marry his niece made its way abroad.45
If Richard were planning marriage to Elizabeth of York, it would also explain an odd episode that happened around this time: Dorset’s attempted defection from Henry’s cause. According to Vergil, Elizabeth Woodville had advised Dorset, then staying in Paris, ‘to forsake earl Henry, and with all speed convenient to return into England, where he should be sure to be called of the king unto high promotion’. Dorset, ‘partly despairing for that cause of Earl Henry’s success, partly suborned by King Richard’s fair promises’, absconded under cover of darkness to Flanders, to the dismay of his fellow exiles, to whose plans he was privy. They launched a search for him, and Humphrey Cheyney tracked him to Compiègne and persuaded him to return to the fold.46 Promises of pardon and restoration might have been enough to persuade Elizabeth Woodville to urge her only remaining son to return to England, of course, but if she knew that Richard was proposing to marry her eldest daughter, it would have been an even stronger incentive for Elizabeth to send for Dorset.
If Richard had indeed been contemplating marrying his niece, but was talked out of the idea by his advisors, it is likely that it was only at this point that he turned his attention to negotiations for a foreign bride. The warrant authorising Brampton’s 22 March journey to Portugal does not specify the purpose of his mission. It is entirely possible, then, that Brampton went to Portugal initially not to negotiate a marriage but to enter into a treaty, and that the marriage later entered the picture – as it inevitably would have when the Portuguese realised that the king was now an eligible widower. Certainly the Portuguese seem to have been quite eager for the marriage, as they feared that Richard would otherwise make an alliance with Spain.47
With Richard having made his public denial of his plans to marry Elizabeth of York, the girl was sent, for propriety’s sake, to Richard’s castle of Sheriff Hutton, which had decidedly gloomy associations with the imprisonment of her uncle Anthony Woodville. There she had the company of Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of the executed Duke of Clarence, and probably his sister, Margaret, as well. Ten miles from the city of York, Sheriff Hutton was a grand castle, but moving from the royal court to Yorkshire must have been a jar for young Elizabeth.48
In the meantime, on 30 March, Richard III had brought yet another Woodville in from the cold by issuing a pardon to Richard Woodville, who on 12 January had bound himself for 1,000 marks to bear himself well and faithfully’.49 His activities and whereabouts during the rest of Richard III’s reign are unknown, although he would have been in straitened circumstances, as there is no indication that he had any of his lands restored to him.
While Elizabeth of York waited at Sheriff Hutton to see what the future might bring her, the invasion plans of the exiles in France were progressing, leading Richard III to establish himself in June at Nottingham. On 22 June he sent out commissions of array, requiring the commissioners to have knights, squires, and gentlemen ready to meet a call to arms at one hour’s notice. On 23 June, the king issued another proclamation against Henry Tudor, with the now familiar language denouncing his associates as ‘open murderers, adulterers, and extortioners’. This time, however, Dorset was omitted from the named ‘rebels and traitors’, suggesting that Richard still had hopes of his defection. The June proclamation also contains a genealogical discourse impugning the legitimacy of Henry’s grandfather, Owen Tudor, though not, interestingly enough, that of Henry’s own father Edward Tudor, son of Owen Tudor and Katherine of Valois.50
On 1 August 1485, Henry Tudor at last left Harfleur with around 4,000 men, most of them French but some of them Scots in French employ, funded by a grant from Charles VIII of 40,000 livres and loans obtained by Henry himself. Ironically, Philippe de Crèvecoeur, whose piratical fleet Edward Woodville had been fighting back in the spring of 1483, supplied about 1,500 of the men. Among Henry Tudor’s ‘chief men’ was Edward Woodville, singled out by Crowland for praise as ‘a most valiant knight’. Dorset, whose attempted defection had not been forgotten, remained in France as human collateral for Henry’s borrowed funds.51
On 22 August 1485, Richard III’s forces, totalling around 8,000 to 10,000 men, and Henry Tudor’s forces, totalling about 5,000 after picking up new recruits during the march from Henry’s landing point in Wales, faced each other, probably on the plain southwest of Ambion Hill. The forces of Lord Stanley – Margaret Beaufort’s husband – and his brother Sir William stood nearby, committed to neither side.52 While Edward Woodville and his fellow rebels no doubt hoped that God would judge the rightness of their cause by granting them a victory, Edward could not have been a little daunted as he assessed the odds. If Henry Tudor lost the day and he managed to escape, he faced life in permanent exile, perhaps hiring himself out as a mercenary like many of the Frenchmen and Scots who stood beside him. If he fell alive into Richard III’s hands, he could expect a summary execution by beheading after the battle. If Richard were minded to give his subjects an especially strong warning of the costs of rebellion, Edward might even be facing the traitor’s death of hanging, drawing, beheading, and quartering.
Instead, a few hours later, a horse trotted away from the battlefield. It bore the naked and battered body of Richard III.53