Richard III - Jacob Abbott

The Childhood Of Richard III.

Young Richard, as was said at the close of the last chapter, was of a very tender age when his father and his brother Edmund were killed at the battle of Wakefield. He was at that time only about eight years old. It is very evident too, from what has been already related of the history of his father and mother, that during the whole period of his childhood and youth he must have passed through very stormy times. It is only a small portion of the life of excitement, conflict, and alarm which was led by his father that there is space to describe in this volume. So unsettled and wandering a life did his father and mother lead, that it is not quite certain in which of the various towns and castles that from time to time they made their residence, he was born. It is supposed, however, that he was born in the Castle of Fotheringay, in the year 1452. His father was killed in 1461, which would make Richard, as has already been said, about eight or nine years old at that time.

There were a great many strange tales related in subsequent years in respect to Richard's' birth. He became such a monster, morally, when he grew to be a man, that the people believed that he was born a monster in person. The story was that he came into the world very ugly in face and distorted in form, and that his hair and his teeth were already grown. These were considered as portents of the ferociousness of temper and character which he was subsequently to manifest, and of the unnatural and cruel crimes which he would live to commit. It is very doubtful, however, whether any of these stories are true. It is most probable that at his birth he looked like any other child.

There were a great many periods of intense excitement and terror in the family history before the great final calamity at Wakefield when Richard's father and his brother Edmund were killed. At these times the sole reliance of the prince in respect to the care of the younger children was upon Lady Cecily, their mother. The older sons went with their father on the various martial expeditions in which he was engaged. They shared with him the hardships and dangers of his conflicts, and the triumph and exultations of his victories. The younger children, however, remained in seclusion with their mother, sometimes in one place and sometimes in another, wherever there was, for the time being, the greatest promise of security.

Indeed, during the early childhood of Richard, the changes and vicissitudes through which the family passed were so sudden and violent in their character as sometimes to surpass the most romantic tales of fiction. At one time, while Lady Cecily was residing at the Castle of Ludlow with Richard and some of the younger children, a party of her husband's enemies, the Lancastrians, appeared suddenly at the gates of the town, and, before Prince Richard's party had time to take any efficient measures for defense, the town and the castle were both taken. The Lancastrians had expected to find Prince Richard himself in the castle, but he was not there. They were exasperated by their disappointment, and in their fury they proceeded to ransack all the rooms, and to destroy every thing that came into their hands. In some of the inner and more private apartments they found Lady Cecily and her children. They immediately seized them all, made them prisoners, and carried them away. By King Henry's orders, they were placed in close custody in another castle in the southern part of England, and all the property, both of the prince and of Lady Cecily, was confiscated. While the mother and the younger children were thus closely shut up and reduced to helpless destitution, the father and the older sons were obliged to fly from the country to save their lives. In less than three months after this time these same exiled and apparently ruined fugitives were marching triumphantly through the country, at the head of victorious troops, carrying all before them. Lady Cecily and her children were set at liberty, and restored to their property and their rights, while King Henry himself, whose captives they had been, was himself made captive, and brought in durance to London, and Queen Margaret and her son were in their turn compelled to fly from the realm to save their lives.

This last change in the condition of public affairs took place only a short time before the great final contest between Prince Richard of York, King Richard's father, and the family of Henry, when the prince lost his life at Wakefield, as described in the last chapter.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


Of course, young Richard, being brought up amid these scenes of wild commotion, and accustomed from childhood to witness the most cruel and remorseless conflicts between branches of the same family, was trained by them to be ambitious, daring, and unscrupulous in respect to the means to be used in circumventing or destroying an enemy. The seed thus sown produced in subsequent years most dreadful fruit, as will be seen more fully in the sequel of his history.

There were a great many hereditary castles belonging to the family of York, many of which had descended from father to son for many generations. Some of these castles were strong fortresses, built in wild and inaccessible retreats, and intended to be used as places of temporary refuge, or as the rallying-points and rendezvous of bodies of armed men. Others were better adapted for the purposes of a private residence, being built with some degree of reference to the comfort of the inmates, and surrounded with gardens and grounds, where the ladies and the children who were left in them could find recreation and amusement adapted to their age and sex.

It was in such a castle as this, near London, that Lady Cecily and her younger children were residing when her husband went to the northward to meet the forces of the queen, as related in the last chapter. Here Lady Cecily lived in great state, for she thought the time was drawing nigh when her husband would be raised to the throne. Indeed, she considered him as already the true and rightful sovereign of the realm, and she believed that the hour would very soon come when his claims would be universally acknowledged, and when she herself would be Queen of England, and her boys royal princes, and, as such, the objects of universal attention and regard. She instilled these ideas continually into the minds of the children, and she exacted the utmost degree of subserviency and submission toward herself and toward them on the part of all around her.

While she was thus situated in her palace near London, awaiting every day the arrival of a messenger from the north announcing the final victory of her husband over all his foes, she was one day thunderstruck, and overwhelmed with grief and despair, by the tidings that her husband had been defeated, and that he himself, and the dear son who had accompanied him, and was just arriving at maturity, had been ignominiously slain. The queen, too, her most bitter foe, now exultant and victorious, was advancing triumphantly toward London.

Not a moment was to be lost. Lady Cecily had with her, at this time, her two youngest sons, George and Richard. She made immediate arrangements for her flight. It happened that the Earl of Warwick, who was at this time the Lord High Admiral, and who, of course, had command of the seas between England and the Continent, was a relative and friend of Lady Cecily's. He was at this time in London. Lady Cecily applied to him to assist her in making her escape. He consented, and, with his aid, she herself, with her two children and a small number of attendants, escaped secretly from London, and made their way to the southern coast. There Lady Cecily put the children and the attendants on board a vessel, by which they were conveyed to the coast of Holland. On landing there, they were received by the prince of the country, who was a friend of Lady Cecily, and to whose care she commended them. The prince received them with great kindness, and sent them to the city of Utrecht, where he established them safely in one of his palaces, and appointed suitable tutors and governors to superintend their education. Here it was expected that they would remain for several years.

Their mother did not go with them to Holland. Her fears in respect to remaining in England were not for herself, but only for her helpless children. For herself, her only impulse was to face and brave the dangers which threatened her, and triumph over them. So she went boldly back to London, to await there whatever might occur.

Besides, her oldest son was still in England, and she could not forsake him. You will recollect that, when his father went north to meet the forces of Queen Margaret, he sent his oldest son, Edward, Earl of Marche, to the western part of England, to obtain re-enforcements. Edward was at Gloucester when the tidings came to him of his father's death. Gloucester is on the western confines of England, near the southeastern borders of Wales. Now, of course, since her husband was dead, all Lady Cecily's ambition, and all her hopes of revenge were concentrated in him. She wished to be at hand to counsel him, and to co-operate with him by all the means in her power. How she succeeded in these plans, and how, by means of them, he soon became King of England, will appear in the next chapter.