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Reign of Edward V page 2

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To effect this object, Gloucester called a council in the Star Chamber, Westminster, close to the Sanctuary, where Elizabeth was. He there represented that it was necessary that the Duke of York, who was now only eleven, years of age, should be removed from the Wydvilles, who were proved traitors to the realm, and safely kept with his royal brother in the Tower, under the protection of the council. "No one failed to perceive the object of Gloucester, and a very stormy debate ensued between the ecclesiastic and lay peers; the bishops were opposed to any intrusion on the rights of sanctuary, and Gloucester's partisans contended that there could be no sanctuary for children, who were incapable of committing any crime; and that therefore the Duke of Gloucester, who had been appointed protector during the king's minority, could at his pleasure possess himself of his nephew.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, averse to the violation of the privileges of sanctuary, went to the queen, accompanied by a number of the temporal peers, and represented that the protector thought the young king much lacked the society of his brother, being melancholy without a playfellow. We have the scene which took place from the relation of Sir Thomas More. The queen, quite aware that so long as this boy was with her, the young king was safe, for it would be useless to destroy one heir to the crown while another remained, replied, "Troweth the protector - ah! pray God he may prove a protector I - that the king doth lack a playfellow? Can none be found to play with the king but only his brother, which hath no wish to play, because of sickness? - as though peers, so young as they be, could not play without their peers; or children could not play without their kindred, with whom, for the most part, they agree worse than with strangers."

At last, finding all resistance useless - for she well knew that if she did not yield herself, Gloucester would force the child from her - she said, "My lords, I will not be so suspicious as to mistrust your truth." So taking young Richard by the hand, she said, "Lo, here is this gentleman, whom I doubt not would be safely kept by me, if I were permitted; and well do I know there be some such deadly enemies to my blood, that if they wist where any lay in their own bodies, they would cut it out if they could. The desire of a kingdom knoweth no kindred. Brothers have been brothers' bane; and may the nephews be sure of the uncle? Each of these children is safe while they be asunder. Notwithstanding, I here deliver him, and his brother's life with him, into your hands, and of you I shall require him before God and man. Faithful ye be I wot well, and power ye have, if ye list, to keep them safe; but if ye think I fear too much, yet beware ye fear not too little!" Upon this she kissed and blessed the child, and turning, burst into tears, leaving the boy weeping as piteously as herself.

The archbishop and his companions conveyed the child to the Star Chamber, where his uncle received him with fatal fondness, taking him in his arms, and saying, "Now welcome, my lord, with all my very heart!" He then conveyed him to his brother in the Tower.

The victims were secured; the "cruel uncle," like the wolf in the legend of Red Ridinghood, had feigned himself a kind relation till he had got them into his prison, and he yearned to put forth his claws and devour them. But for this it required that the public should be duly prepared. The man who had written fawningly to the queen, proffering such cordial friendship to her and all her family; who had ridden in state before his nephew, recommending him to the public favour, had now played out all that part: he had both the princes and the chief relations of the queen in his dungeons, and he must now shift the scenes, and undo the effect of what he had done for a purpose. His followers, and especially his imbecile tool, Buckingham, now busily spread through town and country reports of the most terrible plots on the part of the queen and her friends to destroy Gloucester, Buckingham, and other great lords, in order that she and her family might have the king, and through him, the whole government in their power. They exhibited quantities of arms, which, they declared the queen's party had secreted in order to destroy Gloucester and the other patriotic lords, as they pleased to represent them. This did not fail to produce its effect on the people without, and it was promptly followed up by a picture of treason in the very council.

Lord Stanley, who was sincerely attached to Edward IV.'s family, had often expressed his suspicions of what was going on at Crosby Hall; but Hastings had replied, that he had a trusty agent there who informed him of all that passed. But Hastings, who had been completely duped by Gloucester, had been unconsciously playing into his hands, till his own turn came. While he merely imagined that he was punishing the assumption of the queen and her relations, he was preparing the bloody acts of one of the most daring dramas of historic crime which was ever acted before the world. Richard, no doubt, imagined Hastings ready to go the whole length with him, and at this crisis became aware that he was not so, but was an honest though misguided man, who would stand staunchly by his young sovereign, and must therefore be removed. The tyrant was now beginning to feel secure of his object, and prepared to seize it at whatever cost of crime and infamy. Accordingly, on the 13th of June, says Sir Thomas More, he came into he council about nine in the morning, "in a very merry humour. After a little talking with them, he said to the Bishop of Ely, 'My lord, you have very good strawberries in your garden in Holborn: I request you et us have a mess of them.' ‘Gladly, my lord,' quoth he; 'would to God I had some better things as ready to our pleasure as that!' and then with all haste, he sent his servant for a mess of strawberries. The protector set he lords fast in communing, and thereupon, praying hem to spare him a little while, departed thence, and, soon after one hour, between ten and eleven, he returned Into the chamber amongst them all, changed, with a wonderful sour, angry countenance, knitting his brows, frowning and fretting, gnawing on his lips, and so sat him down in his place. Soon after he asked, 'What those persons deserved who had compassed and imagined his destruction?' Lord Hastings answered that they deserved death, whoever they might be; and then Richard affirmed that they were that sorceress, his brother's wife (meaning the queen), with others with her; 'and,' said the protector, 'we shall see in what wise that sorceress, and that other witch of her councils, Shore's wife, with their affinity, have by their sorcery and witchcraft wasted my body.' So saying, he plucked up his doublet sleeve to his elbow upon his left arm, where the arm appeared to be withered and small, as it was never other.

"The council perceiving that this was all done merely to find occasion of offence, all kept silence except Hastings, who said, 'Certainly, my lord; if they have so heinously done, they be worthy heinous punishment.'

"'What!' quoth the protector, 'thou servest me, I ween, with ifs and ands! I tell thee they have so done, and that I will make good on thy body, traitor!' And thereupon, as in a great anger, he clapped his fist upon the board a great rap. At this token some one cried 'Treason!' without the chamber. Thereupon a door clapped, and in there rushed men in harness, as many as the chamber might hold.

"Then the protector said to the Lord Hastings, 'I arrest thee, traitor!' 'What, me! my lord?' quoth he. 'Yes, thee, traitor!' quoth the protector. And another let fly at the Lord Stanley, which shrunk at the stroke, and fell under the table, or else his head had been cleft to the teeth, for as shortly as he shrunk, yet run the blood about his ears. Then were they quickly bestowed in divers chambers, except the Lord Chamberlain Hastings, whom the protector bade speed and shrive him apace, 'for, by St. Paul,' quoth he, 'I will not to dinner till I see thy head off.'"

Lord Hastings was hurried out by the armed ruffians of the tyrant, and scarcely allowing him time to confess to the first priest that came to hand, they made use of a log which accidentally lay on the green at the door of the chapel, and beheaded him at once. Lord Stanley, the Archbishop of York, and the Bishop of Ely, were kept close prisoners in the Tower.

On the same day, while this brutal murder was perpetrated by this villain in London, one equally arbitrary, illegal, and unjustifiable was transacted at that royal slaughter-house the Castle of Pontefract. There Sir Richard Ratcliffe, one of the most hardened creatures of the protector, brought out Lord Grey, Sir Richard Vaughan, and Sir Richard Hawse, and beheaded them without any trial whatever. Ratcliffe, two days later, presented a letter from Gloucester to the mayor and citizens of York, informing them that Elizabeth and the Wydvilles had formed a traitorous conspiracy to murder the protector and the Duke of Buckingham, and calling on all the inhabitants of the North to put themselves under the Earl of Northumberland and the Lord Neville, and march to London to prevent their base designs. Eight days later the Earl Rivers was also executed, the previous letter and proclamation being probably thought needful before proceeding to such a length with a man of Rivers's high character and position.

Gloucester had thus destroyed the most powerful and devoted of the adherents of both the queen and the young king. The last crowning villany must be consummated, and the preparings for it were forthwith entered upon. The sanguinary duke had spoken ominous words of the queen and of Jane Shore in the same council from which he sent Hastings suddenly to his death. He accused those ladies and their accomplices of having practised sorcery upon him. It was to sorcery that the enemies of the queen attributed her having induced the king to marry her, and now, strangely enough, these two ladies were united in the charge.

Jane Shore, after being seduced by Edward IV., had, it seems, continued about the court, and probably had ceased, through her many good qualities, to be an object of aversion or resentment to Elizabeth. Sir Thomas More says of her: "Many the king had, but her he loved, whose favour, to say the truth (for sin it were to belie the devil), she never abused to any man's hurt, but to many a man's comfort and relief; and now she begged of many at this day living, that at this day had begged if she had not been."

What were the especial circumstances which turned the vengeance of Gloucester upon Jane Shore we do not know, but probably she had betrayed a kindly interest in the queen and children of her former royal lover. Gloucester singled her out for signal punishment as a sorceress, linking the charge artfully with the queen. He seized on the plate and jewels of Dame Shore, which he appropriated to his own use, delivering over the offender herself to the dealing of the church. Arrayed only in her kirtle, and barefooted, she was compelled to walk through the streets of London, carrying a lighted taper in her hand, and preceded by an officer bearing a cross, the whole population of the capital having, as it seemed, filled the dense thoroughfares, to witness the spectacle.

But this was only the prologue to the tragedy. By this act Gloucester turned the public attention upon the dissolute life of the late king; and, that being done, the blow fell. The united troops of Gloucester and Buckingham, to the amount of 20,000, now held the metropolis in subjection; the terror of the protector's deeds enchained it still more. On the following Sunday, June 22nd, the day which had been fixed for the coronation, instead of that ceremony taking place, a priest was found base enough - tyrants never fail of such tools - to ascend St. Paul's Cross, and preach from this text, from the Book of Wisdom, "Bastard slips shall not strike deep root."

This despicable man was one Dr. Shaw, brother of the Lord Mayor. He drew a broad picture of the licentious life of Edward IV., and asserted that his mode of destroying such ladies as he found unwilling to incur dishonour, was to promise them marriage, and occasionally to go through a mock or real ceremony with them. He declared that Edward had thus, in the commencement of his reign, really contracted a marriage with the Lady Eleanor Butler, the widow of Lord Butler, of Sudeley, and daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury; that he afterwards contracted a private and illegal marriage with Elizabeth Wydville, which, however it might be real and legal in other respects, was altogether invalid and impossible, from the fact that Edward was already married to Lady Butler. Hence he contended that Elizabeth Wydville, though acknowledged by Parliament, was, in reality, nothing more than a concubine; that she and the king had been living in open and scandalous adultery; and that, of consequence, the whole of their children were illegitimate, and the sons incapable of wearing the crown.

But the preacher went farther. Determined to destroy the claims of the young Edward V. to the crown, he boldly asserted not only his illegitimacy, but that of his father, Edward IV. This could only be done at the expense of the honour of the proud Cicely, Duchess of York, the mother of Gloucester, as well as of Edward. But the man who was wading his way to the throne through the blood of his own nephews, and of the best men in the country, was not likely to be stopped by the honour of his mother. The son of Clarence was living, and, in case of the deaths of Edward's sons, had a prior right to Gloucester. That right was at present in abeyance, through Clarence's attainder, but would revive on reversion of the attainder, and the possibility of this must be destroyed.

The preacher, therefore, stoutly maintained that both Edward IV. and Clarence were the children of other men, not of the late Duke of York; that it was notorious, and that their striking likeness to their reputed fathers fully confirmed it. Gloucester, he contended, was alone the son of the Duke of York; and the vile prostitutor of the pulpit exclaimed, "Behold this excellent prince, the express image of his noble father - the genuine descendant of the house of York; bearing no less in the virtues of his mind than in the features of his countenance the character of the gallant Richard!" At this moment Gloucester, by concert, was to have passed, as if accidentally, through the audience to his place, and the preacher exclaimed, "Behold the man entitled to your allegiance! He must deliver you from the dominion of all intruders! - he alone can restore the lost glory and honour of the nation!"

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