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Reign of of Richard III page 3

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Thus Richard had driven his enemy into a more safe and formidable position, instead of capturing him, and he taxed his subtle genius to thwart this dangerous rival by other means. To prepare for any serious attack from France, he put an end to a miserable state of plunder and reprisal betwixt Scotland and his subjects. He concluded an armistice with James of Scotland; and having, since his son's death, nominated John, Earl of Lincoln, the son of his sister - the Duchess of Suffolk - heir to the crown, he now contracted the sister of the young earl, Anne de la Pole, to the eldest son of the King of Scotland.

But Richard had designs more profound than this. He determined, as he could not marry Elizabeth of York to his son, he would snatch her from Richmond by wedding her himself. True, he had already a wife; but monarchs have frequently shown how soon such an obstacle to a fresh alliance can be removed. Richard now held a magnificent court at Westminster. There was a constant succession of balls, feastings, and gaieties. In the midst of these no one was so conspicuous as Elizabeth of York; and, what very soon excited the attention and the speculations of the court, she always appeared in precisely the same dress as the queen.

The poor queen, Anne of Warwick, who began with hating Richard most cordially, and even disguised herself as a cookmaid to escape him, since the death of her son had never recovered from her melancholy and depression. Probably, knowing the real character of her ruthless Bluebeard, she foresaw what must take place, and was too weary of life to care to retain it. Though she penetrated the designs of the king, these never influenced her in her conduct to Elizabeth, to whom she was kind as became an aunt. And now she fell ill, and Richard is said to have assured Elizabeth that the queen would "die in February," and that she should succeed her.

Most historians have been very severe upon Elizabeth and her mother for their conduct in this matter. They assert that the queen-dowager fell readily into the atrocious plan of marrying her daughter to the murderer of her sons, and thought only of seeing the throne again within the grasp of her family. But Miss Strickland, in her "Lives of the Queens of England," has justly remarked that all these calumnies against Elizabeth Wydville and her daughter rest on the authority of Sir George Bucke, who was the decided apologist of Richard III. It is true that the queen-dowager wrote a letter to her son, the Marquis of Dorset, and to all her partisans, desiring them to withdraw from the Earl of Richmond, and this Henry VII. never forgave; but we must recollect that both Elizabeth Wydville and all her daughters were in the power of the tyrant, and that she had no alternative but to obey his commands or abide his unsparing vengeance. No woman had displayed a more eager desire to secure honour and rank for her family; but it is an insult to human nature to believe her a willing instrument in so revolting a scheme.

Bucke assures us that he saw a letter of Elizabeth of York in the cabinet of the Earl of Arundel, in which Elizabeth not only declares Richard "her joy and maker in this world, and that she was his in heart and thought," but adds that "the latter part of February is now past, and I think the queen will never die." Were this evidence producible, it must stamp Elizabeth as one of the most heartless young women who ever lived, a fit consort for the bloody Richard. But such letter, Miss Strickland remarks, has never been found, and, therefore, we must give Elizabeth the benefit of that fact. On the contrary, Humphrey Brereton, an officer of Lord Stanley's, has recorded in a metrical narrative, which bears all the air of truth, that he was employed by her to convey to Henry of Richmond in France, her firm assurances of attachment to him, accompanied by a betrothal ring, and that it was through her means that Lord Stanley secretly avowed himself Richmond's stanch adherent, as he proved himself at Bosworth.

Anne of Warwick, the last queen of the Plantagenet line, did not die in February, but she did not survive through March. Yet that event did not in any degree contribute to Richard's marriage with Elizabeth. Whether we are to suppose with Sir Thomas More, and others, that Elizabeth herself manifested a steady repugnance to so abhorrent a union, or whether Richard deemed her in greater security there, he sent her under close guard to the castle of Sheriff-Hutton, in Yorkshire, and no sooner did he permit it to be whispered abroad that such a marriage was probable, than the rumour was received with universal horror. No persons were more resolutely opposed to it than Ratcliffe and Catesby, Richard's great confidants in his crimes. They naturally dreaded the idea of Elizabeth, the sister of the murdered princes, and the representative of a family on which they heaped such injuries, becoming queen, and in a position to wreak her vengeance upon them. But they also saw, quite as clearly, the ruin which the king would certainly bring down upon himself by such a measure, in which they must also be inevitably involved.

The instinct of self-preservation in these men led them to remind the king that a marriage with his own niece would be regarded as incestuous, would be reprobated by the clergy, and abhorred by the people; that there was a general persuasion abroad that he had poisoned his wife, and this union would convert that persuasion into absolute conviction; that the men of the northern counties, on whom he chiefly depended, and who adhered to him, more than for any other cause, through their attachment to the late queen, as the daughter of the great Earl of Warwick, would be totally lost, and nothing but ruin could await him.

This strong and undisguised feeling, displayed thus both in public and private, drove Richard from this design. Just before Easter, he called a meeting of the city authorities, in the great hall of St. John's, Clerkenwell, and there declared that he had no such intention as that of marrying his niece, and that the report was and scandalous in a high degree." He also sent a letter to the citizens of York, dated the 11th of April, contradicting such slanderous tales, and commanding them to apprehend and punish all who should be found guilty of propagating them.

But the time was fast drawing near which must decide whether Richard or Henry of Richmond must wear the crown. Richard was informed by his agents on the Continent that Charles of France had permitted the Earl of Richmond to raise an army in that country. They amounted to 3,000 men, consisting of English refugees and Norman adventurers. Richard pretended to be delighted at the news, as confident that now he should speedily annihilate his enemy. He was, however, so impoverished by his lavish gifts and grants to secure the faith of his adherents, that he was unprovided with the means of maintaining an army; neither had he a fleet to intercept that of Henry. He dared not call a Parliament to ask for supplies, for he had expended those granted by the only one he had called. In that Parliament, to cast odium upon the memory of his brother Edward, he had called on his subjects to remember his tyranny in extorting benevolences; yet now he resorted to the very same thing; and the people, in ridicule of his pretended denunciation of benevolences, called them malevolences. By these arbitrary exactions he destroyed the last trace of adhesion to his Government. On all sides he felt coldness - on all sides he saw defection. The brave old Earl of Oxford, John de Vere, who had been a prisoner twelve years in the prison of Ham, in Picardy, was set at liberty by Sir James Blount, the governor of the castle, and they fled together to Henry. Sir John Fortescue, the Porter of Calais, followed the example, and numbers of young English gentlemen, students of the University of Paris, flocked to his standard. The same process was going on in England. Several sheriffs of counties abandoned their charge, and hastened over to France; and numerous parties put off from time to time from the coast. But no nobleman occasioned, however, so much anxiety as Lord Stanley. His connection with Richmond, having married his mother, made Richard always suspicious. He had lavished favours upon him to attach him, and had made him steward of the household to retain him under his eye. Stanley had always appeared sincere in his service, but it was a sincerity that Richard could not comprehend. This nobleman now demanded permission to visit his estates in Cheshire and Lancashire, to raise forces for the king; but Richard so little trusted him that he detained his son, Lord Strange, as a hostage for his fidelity. "We have already seen that Stanley had long secretly pledged himself to Elizabeth of York in her cause, and only waited the proper occasion to go over.

Harassed by the anxieties of his approaching contest - torn by doubts of the fidelity of all about him, Richard is also described by Sir Thomas More as haunted by the terrors of his evil conscience. This has been represented to be probably the account of his enemies. Yet, what so natural? His crimes had been of the blackest. They were shocking to every principle and feeling of human nature. Whoever stood in his way, whether stranger or of his nearest kin, he had murdered without hesitation. To suppose that he felt nothing of this in the prospect of a near day when ho might be sent to his account, is to imagine that God leaves such souls without a witness. We have, therefore, the fullest reliance on the words of Sir Thomas More: - "I have heard," he says, "by credible report, of such as were secret with his chamberers, that he never had quiet in his mind; never thought himself sure. When he went abroad, his eyes whirled about, his body privily fenced, his hand ever on his dagger, his countenance and manner like one always ready to strike again. He took ill rests at night, lay long waking and musing, sore wearied with care and watch; rather slumbered than slept; troubled with fearful dreams; suddenly sometimes started up, leaped out of bed, and run about the chamber; so was his restless heart continually tossed and troubled with the tedious impression and stormy remembrance of this abominable deed" - the murder of his nephews.

If Richard's domestic peace was broken by remorse and fear, his public displays of royalty were equally embittered. He was celebrating the feast of Epiphany, January 6th, crowned, and in his royal robes, when he received the first assurances that Henry would descend on the English coast in spring. But on what part of the coast? That, with all his spies, he could never learn; and as the landing might be attempted anywhere, he was obliged to be on the alert everywhere. He employed abundance of spies; he posted men and horses on all the main roads, at the distance of twenty miles from each other, to bring him the fleetest news of any attempt on the coast, or defection in the interior.

In this state of terrible suspense the usurper lived till June, when there was every appearance, from the aspect of Henry's fleet lying at the mouth of the Seine, of a speedy invasion. He then put out a fierce proclamation, which, by the violence of the language, betrays the perturbation of his mind. In it he calls Henry, "one Henry Tudor, of bastard blood, both by the father's and mother's side," endeavours to arouse the patriotic feeling of the nation by representing that "the ancient enemy of England," France, had agreed to aid in this invasion, on condition that Richmond renounced all claims on that country for ever. He endeavours to alarm all the dignitaries of the Church, and the aristocracy, by declaring that "the said Henry Tudor had given away archbishoprics, bishoprics, and other dignities spiritual, and the duchies, earldoms, baronies, and other inheritances of knights, esquires, and gentlemen; and that he intended to subvert the laws, and do the most cruel murders, slaughters, robberies, and disherisons that were ever seen in any Christian realm." Wherefore, he called upon all and every of his good subjects to come forth and put themselves under the banner of him, their amiable and spotless monarch, their "diligent and courageous prince," for "the protection of themselves, their wives, children, goods, and hereditaments."

Having issued this flaming tirade against his enemies, whom he again styled "murderers, adulterers, and extortioners," he took the field, and stationed himself at Nottingham, as a central position, whence he could turn to whichever side the danger should come from,

On the 1st of August, 1485, Henry of Richmond set sail for Harfleur, with the united fleet of France and Brittany, and an army of 3,000 men, on that memorable expedition which was to terminate the fatal wars of the Hoses, and introduce into England a new dynasty, and a new era of civilisation. On the seventh of that month he landed at Milford Haven. He himself and his uncle, Jaspar Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, went on shore at a place called Dale, while his army was disembarking. The Welsh accosted the old earl with this significant welcome on his setting foot on his native shore, "Welcome! for thou hast taken good care of thy nephew!"

Having refreshed his forces, Henry marched on through Haverfordwest and Pembroke to Cardigan. Everywhere he was received with manifest delight; but his forces did not increase till he reached Cardigan, where Richard Griffith and Richard Thomas, two Welsh gentlemen, joined his standard with their friends. His old friend Sir Walter Herbert, who had been expressly sent by Richard into that quarter with Rice ap Thomas to raise the country in his behalf, though he did not join him, suffered him to pass unmolested. Rice ap Thomas, on receiving a promise of the Government of Wales, went over at once to Henry. When the army reached Newport, Sir Gilbert Talbot, with a decision of character in keeping with the account of him by Brereton, came at the head of the tenantry of his nephew, the Earl of Shrewsbury, 2,000 in number, and there, too, he was followed by Sir John Savage. The invading force now amounted to more than 6,000 men.

Henry crossed the Severn at Shrewsbury. Richard now advanced to Leicester, whence he issued despatches to all his subjects to join him on the instant, accompanied by the most deadly menaces against %all defaulters. The Duke of Norfolk was there with the levies of the eastern counties; the Earl of Northumberland with those from the north; Lord Lovel commanded those from London; and Brakenbury those from Hampshire. Stanley alone held aloof, and sent word, in reply to Richard's summons, that he was ill in bed with the sweating sickness. Richard received this ominous message with the utmost rage; and, as he had vowed that, on the first symptom of disaffection on his part, he would cut off the head of Lord Strange, his son, Strange made an instant attempt at flight. He was brought back, and frankly confessed that he and his uncle, Sir William Stanley, chamberlain of North Wales, had agreed to join the invaders; but protested that his father knew nothing of their intention, but was loyal, and his forces already on the way to the royal camp. Richard compelled him to write to his father, bidding him come up at once, or that his son was a dead man.

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