Richard III - Jacob Abbott

End Of The Reign Of Edward

King Edward reigned, after this time, for about eight years. During this period, Richard continued to occupy a very high official position, and a very conspicuous place in the public mind. He was generally considered as personally a very bad man, and, whenever any great public crime was committed, in which the government were implicated at all, it was Richard, usually, who was supposed to be chiefly instrumental in the perpetration of it; but, notwithstanding this, his fame, and the general consideration in which he was held, were very high. This was owing, in a considerable degree, to his military renown, and the straightforward energy and decision which characterized all his doings.

He generally co-operated very faithfully in all Edward's plans and schemes, though sometimes, when he thought them calculated to impede rather than promote the interests of the kingdom and the aggrandizement of the family, he made no secret of opposing them. As to Clarence, no one placed any trust or confidence in him whatever. For a time, he and Edward were ostensibly on friendly terms with each other, but there was no cordial goodwill between them. Each watched the other with continual suspicion and distrust.

About the year 1475, Edward formed a grand scheme for the invasion of France, in order to recover from the French king certain possessions which Edward claimed, on the ground of their having formerly belonged to his ancestors. This plan, as, indeed, almost all plans of war and conquest were in those days, was very popular in England, and arrangements were made on an immense scale for fitting out an expedition. The Duke of Burgundy, who, as will be recollected, had married Edward's sister, promised to join the English in this proposed war. When all was ready, the English army set sail, and crossed over to Calais. Edward went with the army as commander-in-chief. He was accompanied by Clarence and Gloucester. Thus far every thing had gone on well, and all Europe was watching with great interest for the result of the expedition; but, very soon after landing, great difficulties arose. The Duke of Burgundy and Edward disagreed, and this disagreement caused great delays. The army advanced slowly toward the French frontier, but for two months nothing effectual was done.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


In the mean time, Louis, the King of France, who was a very shrewd and wily man, concluded that it would be better for him to buy off his enemies than to fight them. So he continually sent messengers and negotiators to Edward's camp with proposals of various sorts, made to gain time, in order to enable him, by means of presents and bribes, to buy up all the prominent leaders and counselors of the expedition. He gave secretly to all the men who he supposed held an influence over Edward's mind, large sums of money. He offered, too, to make a treaty with Edward, by which, under one pretext or another, he was to pay him a great deal of money. One of these proposed payments was that of a large sum for the ransom of Queen Margaret, as mentioned in a preceding chapter. The amount of the ransom money which he proposed was fifty thousand crowns.

Besides these promises to pay money in case the treaty was concluded, Louis made many rich and valuable presents at once. One day, while the negotiations were pending, he sent over to the English camp, as a gift to the king, three hundred cart-loads of wine, the best that could be procured in the kingdom.

At one time, near the beginning of the affair, when a herald was sent to Louis from Edward with a very defiant and insolent message, Louis, instead of resenting the message as an affront, entertained the herald with great politeness, held a long and friendly conversation with him, and finally sent him away with three hundred crowns in his purse, and a promise of a thousand more as soon as a peace should be concluded. He also made him a present of a piece of crimson velvet "thirty ells long." Such a gift as this of the crimson velvet was calculated, perhaps, in those days of military foppery, to please the herald even more than the money.

These things, of course, put Edward and nearly all his followers in excellent humor, and disposed them to listen very favorably to any propositions for settling the quarrel which Louis might be disposed to make. At last, after various and long protracted negotiations, a treaty was agreed upon, and Louis proposed that at the final execution of it he and Edward should have a personal interview.

Edward acceded to this on certain conditions, and the circumstances under which the interview took place, and the arrangements which were adopted on the occasion, make it one of the most curious transactions of the whole reign. It seems that Edward could not place the least trust in Louis's professions of friendship, and did not dare to meet him without requiring beforehand most extraordinary precautions to guard against the possibility of treachery. So it was agreed that the meeting should take place upon a bridge, Louis and his friends to come in upon one side of the bridge, and Edward, with his party, on the other. In order to prevent either party from seizing and carrying off the other, there was a strong barricade of wood built across the bridge in the middle of it, and the arrangement was for the King of France to come up to this barricade on one side, and the King of England on the other, and so shake hands and communicate with each other through the bars of the barricade.

The place where this most extraordinary royal meeting was held was called Picquigny, and the treaty which was made there is known in history as the Treaty of Picquigny. The town is on the River Somme, near the city of Amiens. Amiens was at that time very near the French frontier.

The day appointed for the meeting was the 29th of August, 1475. The barricade was prepared. It was made of strong bars, crossing each other so as to form a grating, such as was used in those days to make the cages of bears, and lions, and other wild beasts. The spaces between the bars were only large enough to allow a man's arm to pass through.

The King of France went first to the grating, advancing, of course, from the French side. He was accompanied by ten or twelve attendants, all men of high rank and station. He was very splendidly dressed for the occasion. The dress was made of cloth of gold, with a large fleur de lis—which was at that time the emblem of the French sovereignty—magnificently worked upon it in precious stones.

When Louis and his party had reached the barricade, Edward, attended likewise by his friends, approached on the other side. When they came to the barricade, the two kings greeted each other with many bows and other salutations, and they also shook hands with each other by reaching through the grating. The King of France addressed Edward in a very polite and courteous manner. "Cousin," said he, "you are right welcome. There is no person living that I have been so ambitious of seeing as you, and God be thanked that our interview now is on so happy an occasion."

After these preliminary salutations and ceremonies had been concluded, a prayer-book, or missal, as it was called, and a crucifix, were brought forward, and held at the grating where both kings could touch them. Each of the kings then put his hands upon them—one hand on the crucifix and the other on the missal—and they both took a solemn oath by these sacred emblems that they would faithfully keep the treaty which they had made.

After thus transacting the business which had brought them together, the two kings conversed with each other in a gay and merry manner for some time. The King of France invited Edward to come to Paris and make him a visit. This, of course, was a joke, for Edward would as soon think of accepting an invitation from a lion to come and visit him in his den, as of putting himself in Louis's power by going to Paris. Both monarchs and all the attendants laughed merrily at this jest. Louis assured Edward that he would have a very pleasant time at Paris in amusing himself with the gay ladies, and in other dissipations. "And then here is the cardinal," he added, turning to the Cardinal of Bourbon, an ecclesiastic of very high rank, but of very loose character, who was among his attendants, "who will grant you a very easy absolution for any sins you may take a fancy to commit while you are there."

Edward and his friends were much amused with this sportive conversation of Louis's, and Edward made many smart replies, especially joking the cardinal, who, he knew, "was a gay man with the ladies, and a boon companion over his wine."

This sort of conversation continued for some time, and at length the kings, after again shaking hands through the grating, departed each his own way, and thus this most extraordinary conference of sovereigns was terminated.

The treaty which was thus made at the bridge of Picquigny contained several very important articles. The principal of them were the following:

1. Louis was to pay fifty thousand crowns as a ransom for Queen Margaret, and Edward was to release her from the Tower and send her to France as soon as he arrived in England.

2. Louis was to pay to Edward in cash, on the spot, seventy-five thousand crowns, and an annuity of fifty thousand crowns.

3. He was to marry his son, the dauphin, to Edward's oldest daughter, Elizabeth, and, in case of her death, then to his next daughter, Mary. These parties were all children at this time, and so the actual marriage was postponed for a time; but it was stipulated solemnly that it should be performed as soon as the prince and princess attained to a proper age. It is important to remember this part of the treaty, as a great and serious difficulty grew out of it when the time for the execution of it arrived.

4. By the last article, the two kings bound themselves to a truce for seven years, during which time hostilities were to be entirely suspended, and free trade between the two countries was to be allowed.

Clarence was with the king at the time of making this treaty, and he joined with the other courtiers in giving it his approval, but Richard would have nothing to do with it. He very much preferred to go on with the war, and was indignant that his brother should allow himself to be bought off, as it were, by presents and payments of money, and induced to consent to what seemed to him an ignominious peace. He did not give any open expression to his discontent, but he refused to be present at the conference on the bridge, and, when Edward and the army, after the peace was concluded, went back to England, he went with them, but in very bad humor.

The people of England were in very bad humor too. You will observe that the inducements which Louis employed in procuring the treaty were gifts and sums of money granted to Edward himself, and to his great courtiers personally for their own private uses. There was nothing in his concessions which tended at all to the aggrandizement or to the benefit of the English realm, or to promote the interest of the people at large. They thought, therefore, that Edward and his counselors had been induced to sacrifice the rights and honor of the crown and the kingdom to their own personal advantage by a system of gross and open bribery, and they were very much displeased.

The next great event which marks the history of the reign of Edward, after the conclusion of this war, was the breaking out anew of the old feud between Edward and Clarence, and the dreadful crisis to which the quarrel finally reached. The renewal of the quarrel began in Edward's dispossessing Clarence of a portion of his property. Edward was very much embarrassed for money after his return from the French expedition. He had incurred great debts in fitting out the expedition, and these debts the Parliament and people of England were very unwilling to pay, on account of their being so much displeased with the peace which had been made. Edward, consequently, notwithstanding the bribes which he had received from Louis, was very much in want of money. At last he caused a law to be passed by Parliament enacting that all the patrimony of the royal family, which had hitherto been divided among the three brothers, should be resumed, and applied to the service of the crown. This made Clarence very angry. True, he was extremely rich, through the property which he had received by his wife from the Warwick estates, but this did not make him any more willing to submit patiently to be robbed by his brother. He expressed his anger very openly, and the ill feeling which the affair occasioned led to a great many scenes of dispute and crimination between the two brothers, until at last Clarence could no longer endure to have any thing to do with Edward, and he went away, with Isabella his wife, to a castle which he possessed near Tewkesbury, and there remained, in angry and sullen seclusion. So great was the animosity that prevailed at this time between the brothers and their respective partisans, that almost every one who took an active part in the quarrel lived in continual anxiety from fear of being poisoned, or of being destroyed by incantations or witchcraft.

Every body believed in witchcraft in these days. There was one peculiar species of necromancy which was held in great dread. It was supposed that certain persons had the power secretly to destroy any one against whom they conceived a feeling of ill will in the following manner: They would first make an effigy of their intended victim out of wax mad other similar materials. This image was made the representation of the person to be destroyed by means of certain sorceries and incantations, and then it was by slow degrees, from day to day, melted away and gradually destroyed. While the image was thus melting, the innocent and unconscious victim of the witchcraft would pine away, and at last, when the image was fairly gone, would die.

Not very long after Clarence left the court and went to Tewkesbury, his wife gave birth to a child. It was the second son. The child was named Richard, and is known in history as Richard of Clarence. Isabella did not recover her health and strength after the birth of her child. She pined away in a slow and lingering manner for two or three months, and then died.

Clarence was convinced that she did not die a natural death. He believed that her life had been destroyed by some process of witchcraft, such as has been described, or by poison, and he openly charged the queen with having instigated the murder by having employed some sorcerer or assassin to accomplish it. After a time he satisfied himself that a certain woman named Ankaret Twynhyo was the person whom the queen had employed to commit this crime, and watching an opportunity when this woman was at her own residence, away from all who could protect her, he sent a body of armed men from among his retainers, who went secretly to the place, and, breaking in suddenly, seized the woman and bore her off to Warwick Castle. There Clarence subjected her to what he called a trial, and she was condemned to death, and executed at once. The charge against her was that she administered poison to the duchess in a cup of ale. So summary were these proceedings, that the poor woman was dead in three hours from the time that she arrived at the castle gates.

These proceedings, of course, greatly exasperated Edward and the queen, and made them hate Clarence more than ever.

Very soon after this, Charles, the Duke of Burgundy, who married Margaret, Edward and Clarence's sister, and who had been Edward's ally in so many of his wars, was killed in battle. He left a daughter named Mary, of whom Margaret was the step-mother; for Mary was the child of the duke by a former marriage. Now, as Charles was possessed of immense estates, Mary, by his death, became a great heiress, and Clarence, now that his wife was dead, conceived the idea of making her his second wife. He immediately commenced negotiations to this end. Margaret favored the plan, but Edward and Elizabeth, the queen, as soon as they heard of it, set themselves at work in the most earnest manner to thwart and circumvent it.

Their motives for opposing this match arose partly from their enmity to Clarence, and partly from designs of their own which they had formed in respect to the marriage of Mary. The queen wished to secure the young heiress for one of her brothers. Edward had another plan, which was to marry Mary to a certain Duke Maximilian. Edward's plan, in the end, was carried out, and Clarence was defeated. When Clarence found at length that the bride, with all the immense wealth and vastly increased importance which his marriage with her was to bring, were lost to him through Edward's interference, and conferred upon his hated rival Maximilian, he was terribly enraged. He expressed his resentment and anger against the king in the most violent terms.

About this time a certain nobleman, one of the king's friends, died. The king accused a priest, who was in Clarence's service, of having killed him by sorcery. The priest was seized and put to the torture to compel him to confess his crime and to reveal his confederates. The priest at length confessed, and named as his accomplice one of Clarence's household named Burdett, a gentleman who lived in very intimate and confidential relations with Clarence himself.

The confession was taken as proof of guilt, and the priest and Burdett were both immediately executed.

Clarence was now perfectly frantic with rage. He could restrain himself no longer. He forced his way into the king's council-chamber, and there uttered to the lords who were assembled the most violent and angry denunciation of the king. He accused him of injustice and cruelty, and upbraided him, and all who counseled and aided him, in the severest terms.

When the king, who was not himself present on this occasion, heard what Clarence had done, he said that such proceedings were subversive of the laws of the realm, and destructive to all good government, and he commanded that Clarence should be arrested and sent to the Tower.

After a short time the king summoned a Parliament, and when the assembly was convened, he brought his brother out from his prison in the Tower, and arraigned him at the bar of the House of Lords on charges of the most extraordinary character, which he himself personally preferred against him. In these charges Clarence was accused of having formed treasonable conspiracies to depose the king, disinherit the king's children, and raise himself to the throne, and with this view of having slandered the king, and endeavored, by bribes and false representations, to entice away his subjects from their allegiance; of having joined himself with the Lancastrian faction so far as to promise to restore them their estates which had been confiscated, provided that they would assist him in usurping the throne; and of having secretly organized an armed force, which was all ready, and waiting only for the proper occasion to strike the blow.

Clarence denied all these charges in the most earnest and solemn manner. The king insisted upon the truth of them, and brought forward many witnesses to prove them. Of course, whether the charges were true or false, there could be no difficulty in finding plenty of witnesses to give the required testimony. The lords listened to the charges and the defense with a sort of solemn awe. Indeed, all England, as it were, stood by, silenced and appalled at the progress of this dreadful fraternal quarrel, and at the prospect of the terrible termination of it, which all could foresee must come.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


Whatever the members of Parliament may have thought of the truth or falsehood of the charges, there was only one way in which it was prudent or even safe for them to vote, and Clarence was condemned to death.

Sentence being passed, the prisoner was remanded to the Tower.

Edward seems, after all, to have shrunk from the open and public execution of the sentence which he had caused to be pronounced against his brother. No public execution took place, but in a short time it was announced that Clarence had died in prison. It was understood that assassins were employed to go privately into the room where he was confined and put him to death; and it is universally believed, though there is no positive proof of the fact, that Richard was the person who made the arrangements for the performance of this deed.

After Clarence was dead, and the excitement and anger of the quarrel had subsided in Edward's mind, he was overwhelmed with remorse and anguish at what he had done. He attempted to drown these painful thoughts by dissipation and vice. He neglected the affairs of his government, and his duties to his wife and family, and spent his time in gay pleasures with the ladies of his court, and in guilty carousings with wicked men. In these pleasures he spent large sums of money, wasting his patrimony and all his resources in extravagance and folly. Among other amusements, he used to form hunting-parties, in which the ladies of his court were accustomed to join, and he used to set up gay silken tents for their accommodation on the hunting-ground. He spent vast sums, too, upon his dress, being very vain of his personal attractions, and of the favor in which he was held by the ladies around him.

The most conspicuous of his various female favorites was the celebrated Jane Shore. She was the wife of a respectable citizen of London. Edward enticed her away from her husband, and induced her to come and live at court with him. The opposite engraving, which is taken from an ancient portrait, gives undoubtedly a correct representation both of her features and of her dress. We shall hear more of this person in the sequel.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


Things went on in this way for about two years, when at length war broke out on the frontiers of Scotland. Edward was too much engrossed with his gallantries and pleasures to march himself to meet the enemy, and so he commissioned Richard to go. Richard was very well pleased that his brother Edward should remain at home, and waste away in effeminacy and vice his character and his influence in the kingdom, while he went forth in command of the army, to acquire, by the vigor and success of his military career, that ascendency that Edward was losing. So he took the command of the army and went forth to the war.

The war was protracted for several years. The King of Scotland had a brother, the Duke of Albany, who was attempting to dethrone him, in order that he might reign in his stead; that is, he was doing exactly that which Edward had charged upon his brother Clarence, and for which he had caused Clarence to be killed; and yet, with strange inconsistency, Edward espoused the cause of this Clarence of Scotland, and laid deep plans for enabling him to depose and supplant his brother.

In the midst of the measures which Richard was taking for the execution of these plans, they, as well as all Edward's other earthly schemes and hopes, were suddenly destroyed by the hand of death. Edward's health had become much impaired by the dissolute life which he had led, and at last he fell seriously sick. While he was sick, an affair occurred which vexed and worried his mind beyond endurance.

The reader will recollect that, at the treaty which Edward made with Louis of France at the barricade on the bridge of Picquigny, a marriage contract was concluded between Louis's oldest son, the Dauphin of France, and Edward's daughter Mary, and it was agreed that, as soon as the children were grown up, and were old enough, they should be married. Louis took a solemn oath upon the prayer-book and crucifix that he would not fail to keep this agreement.

But now some years had passed away, and circumstances had changed so much that Louis did not wish to keep this promise. Edward's great ally, the Duke of Burgundy, was dead. His daughter Mary, who became the Duchess Mary on the death of her father, and who, so greatly to Clarence's disappointment, had married Maximilian, had succeeded to the estates and possessions of her father. These possessions the King of France desired very much to join to his dominions, as they lay contiguous to them, and the fear of Edward, which had prompted him to make the marriage contract with him in the first instance, had now passed away, on account of Edward's having become so much weakened by his vices and his effeminacy. He now, therefore, became desirous of allying his family to that of Burgundy rather than that of England.

The Duchess Mary had three children, all very young. The oldest, Philip, was only about three years old.

Now it happened that just at this time, while the Duchess Mary was out with a small party, hawking, near the city of Bruges, as they were flying the hawks at some herons, the company galloping on over the fields in order to keep up with the birds, the duchess's horse, in taking a leap, burst the girths of the saddle, and the duchess was thrown off against the trunk of a tree. She was immediately taken up and borne into a house, but she was so much injured that she almost immediately died.

Of course, her titles and estates would now descend to her children. The second of the children was a girl. Her name was Margaret. She was about two years old. Louis immediately resolved to give up the match between the dauphin and Edward's daughter Mary, and contract another alliance for him with this little Margaret. He met with considerable difficulty and delay in bringing this about, but he succeeded at last. While the negotiations were pending, Edward, who suspected what was going on, was assured that nothing of the kind was intended, and various false tales and pretenses were advanced by Louis to quiet his mind.

At length, when all was settled, the new plan was openly proclaimed, and great celebrations and parades were held in Paris in honor of the event. Edward was overwhelmed with vexation and rage when he received the tidings. He was, however, completely helpless. He lay tossing restlessly on his sick-bed, cursing, on the one hand, Louis's faithlessness and treachery, and, on the other, his own miserable weakness and pain, which made it so utterly impossible that he should do any thing to resent the affront.

His vexation and rage so disturbed and worried him that they hastened his death. When, he found that his last hour was drawing near, a new source of agitation and anguish was opened in his mind by the remorse which now began to overwhelm him for his vices and crimes. Long-forgotten deeds of injustice, of violence, and of every species of wickedness rose before his mind, and terrified him with awful premonition of the anger of God and of the judgment to come. In his distress, he tried to make reparation for some of the grossest of the wrongs which he had committed, but it was too late.

After lingering a week or two in this condition of distress and suffering, his spirit passed away.