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Reign of of Richard III


Coronation of Richard - Murder of the Two Princes - Richard crowned at York - Buckingham revolts against him - Henry of Richmond attempts to land - Failure of Buckingham's Rising - The Insurgents dispersed, and Buckingham beheaded - Richard's Title confirmed by Parliament - Queen Dowager and her Daughters quit the Sanctuary - Death of Richard's Son and Heir - Proposes to marry his Niece, Elizabeth of York - Richmond lands at Milford Haven - His Progress - The Troubles of Richard - The Battle of Bosworth - End of the Wars of the Roses.
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Richard of gloucester, now seated on the throne of his nephew, took every means which the possession of one of the most cunning intellects ever possessed by a scoundrel could suggest, to establish him there. No man knew better than himself that he sat in the royal place, not by any affection for him in the people, but by force and terror alone. There have not been wanting historians who have coolly declared that Richard would have made a good monarch if the people could have thought so; that he was a very brave and a very clever fellow, and had only committed the crimes which were necessary to raise him to the desired throne. Those crimes were only murder of his nearest kindred; betrayal of the most sacred trusts which can be reposed in man - the defence of youth and innocence by the powerful hand and influence of an uncle; the destruction of unhappy orphans of his own blood; the violation of all the established ordinances of the realm; the murder, moreover, of a number of the most eminent of the nobility; perjury; the bribery of assassins; the assassination of his brother and late sovereign's family; the most outrageous slander of his brother's wife; the dishonouring and disinheriting of his brother's children; the overawing of the city, the Parliament, and the realm; the treading down public and private rights by soldiery, and the actual extinction of the Magna Charta, and every freedom of person and speech, purchased by ages of suffering exertion; of the nation's highest and most inestimable privileges, won by the nation's best blood. We can only say that such historians are worthy of such a monarch. The English people, even in that dark and corrupted time, refused to tolerate long such an incubus of iniquity; and soon proceeded to put the eternal stamp of a nation's reprobation on the deeds of that foulest of tyrants.

On the 6th of July, not a fortnight after his acceptance of the crown at Baynard's Castle, Richard was crowned with all splendour. The terror of the blood-stained despot was all-potent, and was evidenced in the fact, that few of the peers or peeresses ventured to absent themselves. With consummate tact, Richard, the Yorkist usurper, appointed the heads of the Lancastrian line to bear the most prominent part in the ceremony, next to royalty itself. Buckingham bore his train, and the Countess of Richmond bore that of his queen. Both these persons were descendants of John of Gaunt, and the countess was the wife of that Lord Stanley who had been wounded at the very council board by Richard's ruffian guards, at the time of the seizure of Hastings. There can be little doubt but that it was the intention of Gloucester to have thus got rid, as by accident, of that respectable and powerful nobleman, who had great influence in the north; but having failed in that, he now made a merit of liberating him and his fellows, the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Ely, from the Tower. On Stanley he conferred the stewardship of the household, and soon after made him Constable of England. Probably, it not only entered the mind of Richard that it would be politic to secure the favour of a nobleman so much esteemed in Cheshire and Lancashire, but that, by ingratiating himself with the Countess of Richmond, the wife of Stanley, and the mother of the young Earl of Richmond, who, during the reign of Edward IV., had been a cause of anxiety, as a probable aspirant to the throne, he might succeed in beguiling Richmond into his hands; and this is the more probable because he was, at the very time, negotiating some private matters with the Duke of Brittany, at whose court Richmond was.

Besides the promotion of Stanley, the Lord Howard was made earl marshal and Duke of Norfolk, his son was created Earl of Surrey, Lord Lovel was made a viscount, and many others of the nobility now received higher rank. The vast wealth which Edward IV. had left, he distributed lavishly amongst those who had done his work, and those whom he sought to win over. The troops who had come from the north, and were seen with wonder and ridicule by the Londoners, from their mean and dirty appearance, and called a rascal rabble, but who were ready at a word to do desperate things, he amply rewarded, and sent home again, as soon as the coronation was over.

This great display over, Richard called no Parliament, but merely assembled the nobility before their returning to their respective counties, and enjoined them to maintain the peace there, and to assist his officers in putting down all offenders and disturbers. But he did not satisfy himself with injunctions. He set out to make a wide circuit through his kingdom, in order to awe all malcontents by his presence. He proceeded by slow journeys to Oxford, Woodstock, Gloucester, and Worcester. At Warwick he was joined by the queen; and as she was the daughter of the late Earl of Warwick, she might be considered as presiding in her ancestral home; and there, therefore, a considerable court was held for the space of a week, the Spanish ambassadors and members of the English nobility coming there. Thence the royal pair advanced by Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham, and Pontefract to York. The inhabitants of that stronghold of Lancastrian feeling had been warned to receive the king "with every mark of joy;" and to conciliate the northern population, Richard sent for the royal wardrobe from London, and once more repeated the coronation in York, as if to intimate that he scarcely felt himself sovereign till he had their sanction and homage.

But after all the crimes perpetrated by Richard, the public had been terrified into silence, not into approval - far less into affection for so detestable a monster. No sooner was the south relieved from his presence than it at once recovered breath and language. As if the oppression of a nightmare were withdrawn, people began to utter their true feelings. Some were for marching in thousands upon the Tower, and forcibly liberating the innocent victims; others suggested that it were wise to enable the daughters of Edward to escape to the Continent, so that Richard should never be freed from the fear of legitimate claimants to the crown. All the foreign potentates had shrunk from entering into alliance with so blood-stained a character, and would be ready to cherish these princesses as a means of annoying or controlling him.

But Richard had thought of all these things long before the public, and had taken such measures to prevent them as would soon make the ears of all England tingle at their discovery. On attempting to communicate with. Elizabeth and her daughters in the sanctuary, they found that asylum invested by a strong body of soldiers under one John Nesfield, and that there was no approaching the royal family. The only alternative was to endeavour to liberate the young princes.

For this purpose private meetings were held in nearly all the counties of the south and west. The nobility and gentry bound themselves by oath to take arms and unite for the restoration of Edward Y. In the midst of these movements, the agitators were agreeably astonished to find themselves in possession of a most unexpected and powerful ally. This was no other than the Duke of Buckingham, the man who had so unscrupulously taken the lead in putting down all who were formidable obstacles to Richard's plans, and in bringing London to declare for him. The circumstances which produced this marvellous change have rather been guessed at than ever satisfactorily known.

Buckingham was descended from Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, sixth son of Edward III. Yet the Earl of Richmond, of an exactly parallel descent from the Earl of Somerset, but with a flaw of illegitimacy in that earl, was now looked to as a likely aspirant, and actually afterwards became Henry VII. Buckingham, therefore, not only stood higher amongst the princes of the Lancastrian blood than Richmond, but he was married to the sister of Queen Elizabeth, and was thus closely connected with the imprisoned prince. Yet he had at once supported the most unscrupulous of the Yorkists, and helped more than any other man to dethrone his near relative. If this were strange, his sudden conversion was stranger. For his signal services to Richard he had received signal rewards. The Earl of Gloucester, Buckingham's ancestor, had married one of the daughters and co-heiresses of Humphrey Bohun, Earl of Hereford. Their property, on the Yorkist family ascending the throne, had been seized by it. Buckingham had probably made it his bargain for what he was to do for Richard, that these estates should be restored to him. They were, accordingly, restored, and beyond that, he was made Constable of England, justiciary of Wales, and many other honours were heaped upon him. Why, then, this sudden revolt? The real causes were most likely those which have ever separated successful villains - distrust of each other, and the desire of the principal to be rid of his too knowing and therefore, dangerous accessory. Buckingham was the confidant in many and terrible state secrets. He knew why Hastings was suddenly hurried to his death, and all the dark work by which the true prince had been thrust down to a dungeon, and the false one set up.

It is remarkable that Morton, the Bishop of Ely, when liberated from the Tower, was not set quite free, like Stanley and the Archbishop of York, but was consigned to the keeping of Buckingham, at his castle of Brecknock, in Wales. Morton was, perhaps, the shrewdest politician living, not excepting Richard himself. What is so likely as that Morton, in his conversations with Buckingham, in the retirement of Brecknock, opened the eyes of the latter to the danger which, menaced him from Richard, who spared nobody whom it was his policy to destroy? He might alarm the conscience of Buckingham, as well as his fears, for the share he had had in enabling him to commit his crimes. He might convince him how hollow and unsubstantial was the power of Richard. The ground was already passing from beneath his feet; the country was every day more and more expressing its abhorrence of his atrocities, and would not long tolerate his yoke. His title rested on nothing but the most impudent and unfounded assertions, most disgraceful even to his own family. To endure the sway of so bloody and ruthless a tyrant was a disgrace to the nation, and which it must and would speedily wipe away. Buckingham was a weak, ambitious man; such views, spread before him with all the art and eloquence of Morton, were almost certain to produce the deepest effect, and the prelate would probably stimulate his ambition by representing that as, like Warwick, he had set up this execrable despot, so, like him, he might pull him down, and win universal applause by rescuing and restoring the young king.

Such has been supposed to be the kind of representations which decided Buckingham. He resolved to reinstate Edward Y.; and circular letters were addressed to all those chiefs who were likely to unite in the enterprise. In Kent, Essex, Sussex, Berkshire, Hants, Wilts, and Devonshire, preparations were made for the purpose; and Buckingham was about to move forward to put himself at their head, when the confederates were thunderstruck with the news that the king and his brother had been already murdered in the Tower.

The account which has been generally followed of this horrid event, is that of Sir Thomas More. According to the learned chancellor, Richard, while making his holiday progress through the country, was plotting the death of the young princes in the Tower. Prom Gloucester he dispatched one of his pages to Sir Robert Brakenbury, the Governor of the Tower, commanding him to get them quietly made away with. Sir Robert refused the office of assassin. Richard, however, from Warwick sent Sir James Tyrrel, with orders to command the Tower for one night. This Tyrrel had been vice-constable under Edward IV., and always employed by him to execute illegal commissions, like Tristan, the tool of Louis XL Tradition holds that the Portcullis Tower was the one in which the young princes were confined, and it is stated that they were under the constant surveillance of four keepers, and waited on by a fellow called Black Will, or Will Slaughter.

The murderer Richard is said to have roused Tyrrel from his bed at midnight, and sent him off; and Brakenbury, though he would not stain his own hands with innocent blood, had to give the keys by the king's command to the man who would. "Then," says Sir Thomas More, "Sir James Tyrrel desired that the princes should be murdered in bed, to the execution whereof he appropriated Miles Forest, one of their keepers, a fellow flesh-brad in murder, and to him he joined one John Dighton, his own horse-keeper, a big, broad, square knave. The young king had certainly a clear apprehension of his fate, for he was heard sighingly to say, 'I would mine uncle would let me have my life, though he taketh my crown.' After which time the prince never tried his points nor anything attended to himself, but with that young babe his brother, lingered in thought and heaviness, till the traitorous deed delivered them from their wretchedness.

"All their other attendants being removed from them, and the harmless children in bed, these men came into their chamber, and suddenly lapping them in the clothes, smothered and stifled them till thoroughly dead. Then laying out their bodies on the bed, they fetched Sir James to see them, who caused the murderers to bury them at the stairfoot, deep in the ground under a heap of stones, Then rode Sir James in great haste to King Richard, and showed him the manner of the murder, who gave him great thanks, but allowed not their bodies in so vile a corner, but would have them buried in consecrated ground. Sir Robert Brakenbury's priest then took them up, and where he buried them was never known, for he died shortly afterwards. But when the news was brought to the unfortunate mother, yet being in sanctuary, that her two sons were murdered, it struck to her heart like the sharp dart of death; she was so suddenly amazed that she swooned and fell to the ground, and there lay in great agony, yet like to a dead corpse."

This dismal news, however, probably did not reach the unhappy queen till some time after the perpetration of the murder, for the tyrant kept the deed close till it suited his purpose to disclose it.

The whole of this circumstantial account has been called in question by some modern historians, on the plea that the history of Richard was written by men after his death, who invented half the crimes and repulsive features of Richard to please the court of Henry VII. But perhaps two more highly credible historians could not be found than Sir Thomas More and the continuator of the Croyland Chronicle, the latter of whom wrote immediately after the death of Richard; and every circumstance known confirms their accounts. We shall see that the younger of these princes was supposed to reappear in the reign of Henry VII. as Perkin Warbeck. But, unfortunately for this story, the bodies of the two murdered children were discovered buried in one coffin or box. This occurred so late as 1674, when workmen were digging down the stairs which led from the king's lodgings to the chapel in the Tower, where, about ten feet deep, they came upon this chest containing the bones of two youths "proportionable to the ages of the two brothers; namely, about thirteen and eleven years."

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Pictures for Reign of of Richard III

Great Seal of Richard III
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