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Reign of Edward V


Edward V. Proclaimed - The Two Parties of the Queen and of Gloucester - Struggle in the Council - Gloucester's Plans - The Earl Rivers and his Friends imprisoned - Gloucester secures the King and conducts him to London - Gloucester made Protector - Sudden Seizure and Execution of Lord Hastings - Execution of the Queen's Brother and Son, Earl Rivers and Lord Grey, and of Sir Thomas Vaughan - The Duke of York taken from the Queen and conveyed to the Tower - Penance of Jane Shore - Gloucester pronounces the two young Princes illegitimate - Murder of the King and the Duke of York - Gloucester seizes the Crown.
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By the death of Edward IV. England was destined once more to witness all the inconveniences which attend the minority of a king. "Woe to thee, oh, land, when thy king is a child," says the inspired writer, and no assertion is more true. Edward V. was a boy of only thirteen. His mother and her family had made themselves many enemies and few friends, by their undisguised ambition and cupidity. The Greys and Wydvilles had been lifted above the heads of the greatest members of the aristocracy, enriched with the estates, and clothed with the honours, of ancient houses. They had been posted round the throne as if to keep aloof all other candidates for favour and promotion. Edward, given up to his pleasures, had as little added to the number of his faithful adherents. He had conceded almost every demand from his wife and her family for their aggrandisement, and the throne now stood almost alone, amidst injured, resentful, and envious nobles. Worst of all, the man who should maintain the ascendancy of the house of York, and protect the youthful king through his immature years, was a monster more terrible than all other evils and enemies put together. He was one of those characters who, having the opportunity given them, seize on any worldly advantage within their reach with no more regard to justice, honour, or conscience, than if no such things existed. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was the sole remaining brother of Edward IV., and on him it peculiarly fell, as the most powerful prince in the state, as well as the nearest paternal relative, to act as guardian to the young king. But Richard proved himself that perfidious and "cruel uncle" which the ballad of the "Babes in the Wood," written in that day, and supposed to designate the duke, has made familiar to all memories.

At the time of the death of Edward IV., Richard of Gloucester was in the North, attending to his duties as commander against the army in the Scottish marches. He immediately commenced his proceedings with that consummate and hypocritical art of which he was a first-rate master. He at once put his retinue into deep mourning, and marched to York attended by 600 knights and esquires. There he ordered the obsequies of the departed king to be performed with all solemnity in the cathedral. He then summoned all the nobility and gentry of the country to take the oath of allegiance to his nephew, Edward V., and he led the way by first taking it himself. He wrote to the queen-mother to condole with her on her loss, and to assure her of his zealous support of the rights of his beloved nephew. He expressed his ardent desire for the close friendship of the queen, of Earl Rivers, her brother, and of all her family. He announced his intention of proceeding towards London to attend the coronation, and if Elizabeth had not already known the man, she might have congratulated herself on the enjoyment of so affectionate a brother-in-law, and so brave and faithful a guardian of her son.

But there is every reason to believe that the same messenger who carried these letters of condolence and professed friendship to the queen, carried others of a different tone to a hostile section of her council. The Lords Howard, Hastings, and Stanley, though personal friends of the late king, and Hastings, the chosen confidant and associate of his pleasures, were at heart bitter enemies of the queen's family. It was only the authority of Edward which had maintained peace between them, and now they showed an undisguised hostility to them at the council-board. The Earl Rivers, the queen's brother, and the Marquis of Dorset, her son by her former marriage, occupied the chief seats at that board, and Edward was no stranger to their real sentiments. This knowledge had led him, on perceiving his health failing, to bring these rivals together, and to state to them how much it concerned his son's peace and security that they should forget all past causes of difference, and unite for that loyal purpose. This they promised, but only with the tongue. No sooner was the king dead, than all the old animosity and jealousy showed themselves in aggravated form.

On the part of the queen and her relations there was a too evident desire to monopolise the whole government into their hands, as they had on all occasions monopolised all the honours, offices, and grants possible. The Earl of Dorset was Keeper of the Tower; the Earl of Rivers was in possession of the person of the king at Ludlow Castle, where he was superintending his education. Rivers was a nobleman of knightly person and great accomplishment. He was not only fond of literature; but a liberal patron of literary men; and had he not been unfortunately one of the greedy family of the Wydvilles, might have proved an ornament and blessing to his country. It was he who first introduced Caxton, the first English printer, to King Edward IV. Under the care of Earl Rivers and his half-brother, Lord Grey, the young king was peacefully studying, assisted by the learning of Sir Thomas Vaughan, his chamberlain, who had been used to carry him as a child in procession after the king and queen on public occasions.

Elizabeth now proposed that the young king should be brought up to town in order to his coronation, and that he should be attended by a strong body of soldiery for the safety of his person. At this, Hastings, who, in common with three-fourths of the nobility, was jealous of the design of the queen and her party to make themselves masters of the government during the king's minority, no longer concealed his real feelings. Edward had been kept on the borders of Wales, where the power of the Mortimers and the Yorkists lay. It was believed that the object was to give a preponderance to the royal family through the Welsh and the borderers; and now to march up to London attended by a Welsh army, appeared a direct attempt to control the capital by these means. Hastings, therefore, warmly demanded - "What need of an army? Who were the enemies they had to dread? Was it the king's own uncle, Gloucester? Was it Lord Stanley, or himself? Was this force meant by the Wydvilles to put an end to all liberty in the council and the government, and thus to break the very union the king, on his deathbed, had pledged them to?" Hastings declared hotly, that if the king was brought to London by an army, he would quit the council and the kingdom.

Deterred by this open opposition, Elizabeth yielded, and reduced the proposed guard to 2,000 cavalry. But she did it with deep and too well-founded anxiety. She had had too much opportunity of studying the character of Gloucester to trust him, and the event very soon justified her conviction. Secret messages had, during this interval, been passing between Gloucester and Hastings and the Duke of Buckingham - a weak man, descended from Thomas of Woodstock, the youngest son of Edward III. No doubt he had instructed them to defeat any measures of the Wydville family, which could leave the king in their hands. The moment was accurately calculated; and, accordingly, when the Lords Rivers and Grey, on their way to London with the young king, arrived at Stony Stratford, they found Gloucester had already reached Northampton, only ten miles from them. Gloucester had increased his forces on the way to a formidable body, and he was there joined by the Duke of Buckingham, with 500 horse. The Lords Rivers and Grey, on learning the presence of Gloucester at Northampton, immediately rode over to him, to welcome him in the king's name, and to consult with him on the plan of their united entrance into London. Gloucester received them with all the marks of that friendship which he had written to avow. They were invited to dine and spend the night, the Dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham promising to ride with them in the morning to pay their respects to the king. The evening was spent in great conviviality, and Rivers and Grey retired to their quarters in the town, highly delighted with their reception. This joy was rather damped when they learned from their followers that all the outlets to the town were strictly guarded, on the plea that the Duke of Gloucester was anxious to do his homage to the sovereign before others, who, hearing of his being so near, might hasten from the town for that purpose. Morning appeared, to dissipate their suspicions, for Gloucester and Buckingham set out with them in the best of humours. They rode in pleasant converse till, arriving at the entrance of Stony Stratford, Gloucester suddenly accused Rivers and Grey of having estranged the affections of the king from him. They denied the charge with as much vehemence as astonishment; but they were immediately arrested, and conducted into the rear. Gloucester and Buckingham rode on to the king, where the two dukes humbly on their knees professed their loyalty and attachment. This they proceeded to make manifest by arresting also the king's faithful servants, Sir Thomas Vaughan and Sir Richard Hawse. When the poor boy-king saw himself thus deprived of his nearest relatives and friends on the pretence of their being traitors to him, he was quite aware that he was in dangerous hands. He burst into tears, and demanded that his uncle, his brother, and his devoted tutor should be restored to him. But Gloucester assured him that those men, in whom he reposed such ill-placed affection, were the most arrant traitors; and, falling on his knees, he implored his nephew to dismiss all fear, and to rely on his uncle, who would defend his rights to the utmost. Spite of the poor boy's entreaties, he led him away with him to Northampton, his relatives and friends, Rivers, Grey, Vaughan, and Hawse following in the rear as prisoners. These prisoners of state were sent off by Gloucester, under a strong guard, to his castle of Pontefract, that blood-stained fortress, the very entrance to which, in bondage, was equivalent to a death-warrant.

At midnight, following the very day of these transactions, being the 1st of May, the appalling tidings reached the court that Gloucester, followed by a large army, had seized the king, and sent prisoners the queen's brother and son, no one knew whither. Struck with consternation, and deeply rueing her weakness in giving up her own plans of caution, the queen, hastily seizing her younger son by the hand, and followed by her daughters, rushed from the palace of Westminster to the Sanctuary, which had protected her before; but not against a person so base and deadly in his ruthless ambition as this her brother-in-law of Gloucester. She knew the man, and she dreaded everything. Her eldest son, Dorset, who was Keeper of the Tower, in his turn weakly abandoned that important stronghold, and also fled to the Sanctuary. Rotherham, the Archbishop of York and Chancellor of the realm, hastening thither, found the queen seated on the rushes with which the floors at that time were strewn, an image of abandonment and woe. Her long hair, celebrated for its beauty, freed from those bandages which, in accordance with the strict etiquette of royal widowhood, had confined it, streamed over her person to the ground. All about her prevailed the utmost confusion and running to and fro of servants with packages and household stuff from the palace, necessary for the sojourn in the Sanctuary; but the queen, paralysed, as it were, by the blow, seemed dead to all.

The archbishop endeavoured to cheer her by assuring her that Lord Hastings had sent her a message, bidding her rely upon it that Gloucester was loyal, and was doing all for the best for the king. "Ah! woe worth him!" exclaimed the unhappy woman, "it is he who goeth about to destroy me and my blood." "Madam," said the archbishop, "be of good comfort; I assure you that if they crown any other king than your eldest son, whom they have with them, we will on the morrow crown his brother, whom you have with you here. And here is the Great Seal, which in like wise, as your noble husband gave it to me, so I deliver it to you for the use of your son."

He gave it to her, and so took his leave.

It was now about daybreak, and, on gaining his palace, he opened his window and looked forth on the Thames, when he saw the river crowded with boats, full of Gloucester's servants, keeping watch to prevent any one going to the queen in the Sanctuary. The archbishop, however, struck with terror at this proof that Gloucester was determined to convert the queen's retreat into a real prison, and was in full possession of the government, found means of reaching Elizabeth again, and entreated her to return the seals to him. The queen, who seemed completely prostrated by the appalling circumstances, passively yielded them up, and the archbishop carried them to a meeting of the nobility and gentry. Gloucester, however, was fully informed of what had taken place on the part of Rotherham, and never forgave him.

Meantime, London was thrown into the utmost dismay and confusion. Many of the nobles and citizens flew to arms, and some flocked to the queen at Westminster, and others to Lord Hastings in London. Hastings continued to assure them that there was no cause of alarm; that Gloucester was a true man; and he was most likely the more ready to believe this himself from his own dislike of the queen's family.

On the 4th of May, Gloucester conducted his royal captive into the capital. At Hornsey Park, the lord mayor and corporation, in scarlet, met the royal procession, followed by 400 citizens, all in violet. The Duke of Gloucester, habited, like all his followers, in mourning, rode into the city before the king, with his cap in hand, bowing low to the people, and pointing out the king to their notice, who rode in a mantle of purple velvet. Edward V. was first conducted to Ely Place, to the bishop's palace; but he was soon removed to the Tower, on the motion of the Duke of Buckingham, on pretence that it was the proper place in which to await his coronation. That ceremony Elizabeth and her council had ordered to take place this very day, but the crafty Gloucester prevented that by not arriving in time. He took up his quarters in Crosby Place, Bishopsgate, where one part of the council constantly sat, while another, but lesser portion of it, assembled with Lord Hastings and others in the Tower. The day of the coronation was then fixed for the 22nd of June, leaving a period of nearly seven weeks interposed, in order to perfect the diabolical schemes of Gloucester. The first object of this man had been to impress the queen and her party with his friendly disposition, till he had secured their persons; that being, in a great measure, effected, the next was to persuade the public of his loyalty to his nephew. For this purpose b conducted him with such state into the capital, and so assiduously pointed him out as their king to the people To have openly proclaimed his designs upon the crown would have united all parties against him. He averted that by his calling on all men to swear fealty to his nephew, and by first swearing it himself. Having now procured full possession of the king's person, the next step was to secure that of his younger brother, without which his plans would all be vain.

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Great Seal of Edward V
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