Richard III - Jacob Abbott

Richard's Mother

The mother of King Richard the Third was a beautiful, and, in many respects, a noble-minded woman, though she lived in very rude, turbulent, and trying times. She was born, so to speak, into one of the most widely-extended, the most bitter, and the most fatal of the family quarrels which have darkened the annals of the great in the whole history of mankind, namely, that long-protracted and bitter contest which was waged for so many years between the two great branches of the family of Edward the Third—the houses of York and Lancaster—for the possession of the kingdom of England. This dreadful quarrel lasted for more than a hundred years. It led to wars and commotions, to the sacking and burning of towns, to the ravaging of fruitful countries, and to atrocious deeds of violence of every sort, almost without number. The internal peace of hundreds of thousands of families all over the land was destroyed by it for many generations. Husbands were alienated from wives, and parents from children by it. Murders and assassinations innumerable grew out of it. And what was it all about? you will ask. It arose from the fact that the descendants of a certain king had married and intermarried among each other in such a complicated manner that for several generations nobody could tell which of two different lines of candidates was fairly entitled to the throne. The question was settled at last by a prince who inherited the claim on one side marrying a princess who was the heir on the other. Thus the conflicting interests of the two houses were combined, and the quarrel was ended.

But, while the question was pending, it kept the country in a state of perpetual commotion, with feuds, and quarrels, and combats innumerable, and all the other countless and indescribable horrors of civil war.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


The two branches of the royal family which were engaged in this quarrel were called the houses of York and Lancaster, from the fact that those were the titles of the fathers and heads of the two lines respectively. The Lancaster party were the descendants of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and the York party were the successors and heirs of his brother Edmund, Duke of York. These men were both sons of Edward the Third, the King of England who reigned immediately before Richard the Second. A full account of the family is given in our history of Richard the Second. Of course, they being brothers, their children were cousins, and they ought to have lived together in peace and harmony. And then, besides being related to each other through their fathers, the two branches of the family intermarried together, so as to make the relationships in the following generations so close and so complicated that it was almost impossible to disentangle them. In reading the history of those times, we find dukes or princes fighting each other in the field, or laying plans to assassinate each other, or striving to see which should make the other a captive, and shut him up in a dungeon for the rest of his days; and yet these enemies, so exasperated and implacable, are very near relations—cousins, perhaps, if the relationship is reckoned in one way, and uncle and nephew if it is reckoned in another. During the period of this struggle, all the great personages of the court, and all, or nearly all, the private families of the kingdom, and all the towns and the villages, were divided and distracted by the dreadful feud.

Richard's mother, whose name, before she was married, was Lady Cecily Neville, was born into one side of this quarrel, and then afterward married into the other side of it. This is a specimen of the way in which the contest became complicated in multitudes of cases. Lady Cecily was descended from the Duke of Lancaster, but she married the Duke of York, in the third generation from the time when the quarrel began.

Of course, upon her marriage, Lady Cecily Neville became the Duchess of York. Her husband was a man of great political importance in his day, and, like the other nobles of the land, was employed continually in wars and in expeditions of various kinds, in the course of which he was continually changing his residence from castle to castle all over England, and sometimes making excursions into Ireland, Scotland, and France. His wife accompanied him in many of these wanderings, and she led, of course, so far as external circumstances were concerned, a wild and adventurous life. She was, however, very quiet and domestic in her tastes, though proud and ambitious in her aspirations, and she occupied herself, wherever she was, in regulating her husband's household, teaching and training her children, and in attending with great regularity and faithfulness to her religious duty, as religious duty was understood in those days.

The following is an account, copied from an ancient record, of the manner in which she spent her days at one of the castles where she was residing.

"She useth to arise at seven of the clock, and hath readye her chapleyne to say with her mattins of the daye (that is, morning prayers), and when she is fully readye, she hath a lowe mass in her chamber. After mass she taketh something to recreate nature, and soe goeth to the chapelle, hearinge the divine service and two lowe masses. From thence to dynner, during the tyme of whih she hath a lecture of holy matter (that is, reading from a religious book), either Hilton of Contemplative and Active Life, or some other spiritual and instructive work. After dynner she giveth audyence to all such as hath any matter to shrive unto her, by the space of one hower, and then sleepeth one quarter of an hower, and after she hath slept she contynueth in prayer until the first peale of even songe.

"In the tyme of supper she reciteth the lecture that was had at dynner to those that be in her presence. After supper she disposeth herself to be famyliare with her gentlewomen to the seasoning of honest myrthe, and one hower before her going to bed she taketh a cup of wine, and after that goeth to her pryvie closette, and taketh her leave of God for all nighte, makinge end of her prayers for that daye, and by eighte of the clocke is in bedde."

The going to bed at eight o'clock was in keeping with the other arrangements of the day, for we find by a record of the rules and orders of the duchess's household that the dinner-hour was eleven, and the supper was at four.

This lady, Richard's mother, during her married life, had no less than twelve children. Their names were Anne, Henry, Edward, Edmund, Elizabeth, Margaret, William, John, George, Thomas, Richard, and Ursula. Thus Richard, the subject of this volume, was the eleventh, that is, the last but one. A great many of these, Richard's brothers and sisters, died while they were children. All the boys died thus except four, namely, Edward, Edmund, George, and Richard. Of course, it is only with those four that we have any thing to do in the present narrative.

Several of the other children, however, besides these three, lived for some time. They resided generally with their mother while they were young, but as they grew up they were often separated both from her and from their father—the duke, their father, being often called away from home, in the course of the various wars in which he was engaged, and his wife frequently accompanied him. On such occasions the boys were left at some castle or other, under the care of persons employed to take charge of their education. They used to write letters to their father from time to time, and it is curious that these letters are the earliest examples of letters from children to parents which have been preserved in history. Two of the boys were at one time under the charge of a man named Richard Croft, and the boys thought that he was too strict with them. One of the letters, which has been preserved, was written to complain of this strictness, or, as the boy expressed it, "the odieux rule and demeaning" of their tutor, and also to ask for some "fyne bonnets," which the writer wished to have sent for himself and for his little brother. There is another long letter extant which was written at nearly the same time. This letter was written, or at least signed, by two of the boys, Edward and Edmund, and was addressed to their father on the occasion of some of his victories. But, though signed by the boys' names, I suspect, from the lofty language in which it is expressed, and from the many high-flown expressions of duty which it contains, that it was really written for  the boys by their mother or by one of their teachers. Of this, however, the reader can judge for himself on perusing the letter. In this copy the spelling is modernized so as to make it more intelligible, but the language is transcribed exactly from the original.

"Right high and mighty prince, our most worshipful and greatly redoubted lord and father:

"In as lowly a wise as any sons can or may, we recommend us unto your good lordship and please it to your highness to wit, that we have received your worshipful letters yesterday by your servant William Clinton, bearing date at York, the 29th day of May.

"By the which William, and by the relation of John Milewater, we conceive your worshipful and victorious speed against your enemies, to their great shame, and to us the most comfortable things that we desire to hear. Whereof we thank Almighty God of his gifts, beseeching him heartily to give you that good and cotidian fortune hereafter to know your enemies, and to have the victory over them.

"And if it please your highness to know of our welfare, at the making of this letter we were in good health of body, thanked be God, beseeching your good and gracious fatherhood for our daily blessing.

"And whereas you command us by your said letters to attend specially to our learning in our young age, that should cause us to grow to honor and worship in our old age, please it your highness to wit, that we have attended to our learning since we came hither, and shall hereafter, by the which we trust to God your gracious lordship, and good fatherhood shall be pleased.

"Also we beseech your good lordship that it may please you to send us Harry Lovedeyne, groom of your kitchen, whose service is to us right agreeable; and we will send you John Boyes to wait upon your lordship.

"Right high and mighty prince, our most worshipful and greatly redoubted lord and father, we beseech Almighty God to give you as good life and long as your own princely heart can best desire.

"Written at your Castle of Ludlow, the 3d of June. "Your humble sons,


The subscriptions E. March and E. Rutland stand for Edward, Earl of March, and Edmund, Earl of Rutland; for, though these boys were then only eleven and twelve years of age respectively, they were both earls. One of them, afterward, when he was about seventeen years old, was cruelly killed on the field of battle, where he had been fighting with his father, as we shall see in another chapter. The other, Edward, became King of England. He came immediately before Richard the Third in the line.

The letter which the boys wrote was superscribed as follows :

"To the right high and mighty prince, our most worshipful and greatly redoubted lord and father, the Duke of York, Protector and Defender of England."

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


The castle of Ludlow, where the boys were residing when this letter was written, was a strong fortress built upon a rock in the western part of England, not far from Shrewsbury. The engraving is a correct representation of it, as it appeared at the period when those boys were there, and it gives a very good idea of the sort of place where kings and princes were accustomed to send their families for safety in those stormy times. Soon after the period of which we are speaking, Ludlow Castle was sacked and destroyed. The ruins of it, however, remain to the present day, and they are visited with much interest by great numbers of modern travelers.

Lady Cecily, as we have already seen, was in many respects a noble woman, and a most faithful and devoted wife and mother; she was, however, of a very lofty and ambitious spirit, and extremely proud of her rank and station. Almost all her brothers and sisters—and the family was very large—were peers and peeresses, and when she married Prince Richard Plantagenet, her heart beat high with exultation and joy to think that she was about to become a queen. She believed that Prince Richard was fully entitled to the throne at that time, for reasons which will be fully explained in the next chapter, and that, even if his claims should not be recognized until the death of the king who was then reigning, they certainly would be so recognized then, and she would become an acknowledged queen, as she thought she was already one by right. So she felt greatly exalted in spirit, and moved and acted among all who surrounded her with an air of stately reserve of the most grand and aristocratic character.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


In fact, there has, perhaps, no time and place been known in the history of the world in which the spirit of aristocracy was more lofty and overbearing in its character than in England during the period when the Plantagenet family were in prosperity and power. The nobles formed then, far more strikingly than they do now, an entirely distinct and exalted class, that looked down upon all other ranks and gradations of society as infinitely beneath them. Their only occupation was war, and they regarded all those who were engaged in any employments whatever, that were connected with art or industry, with utter disdain. These last were crowded together in villages and towns which were formed of dark and narrow streets, and rude and comfortless dwellings. The nobles lived in grand castles scattered here and there over the country, with extensive parks and pleasure-grounds around them, where they loved to marshal their followers, and inaugurate marauding expeditions against their rivals or their enemies. They were engaged in constant wars and contentions with each other, each thirsting for more power and more splendor than he at present enjoyed, and treating all beneath him with the utmost haughtiness and disdain. Richard's mother exhibited this aristocratic loftiness of spirit in a very high degree, and it was undoubtedly in a great manner through the influence which she exerted over her children that they were inspired with those sentiments of ambition and love of glory to which the crimes and miseries into which several of them fell in their subsequent career were owing.

To assist her in the early education of her children, Richard's mother appointed one of the ladies of the court their governess. This governess was a personage of very high rank, being descended from the royal line. With the ideas which Lady Cecily entertained of the exalted position of her family, and of the future destiny of her children, none but a lady of high rank would be thought worthy of being intrusted with such a charge. The name of the governess was Lady Mortimer.

The boys, as they grew older, were placed under the charge of a governor. His name was Sir Richard Croft. It is this Sir Richard that they allude to in their letter. He, too, was a person of high rank and of great military distinction. The boys, however, thought him too strict and severe with them; at least so it would seem, from the manner in which they speak of him in the letter.

The governor and the governess appear to have liked each other very well, for after a time Sir Richard offered himself to Lady Mortimer, and they were married.

Besides Ludlow Castle, Prince Richard had several other strongholds, where his wife from time to time resided. Richard, who was one of the youngest of the children, was born at one of these, called Fotheringay Castle; but, before coming to the event of his birth, I must give some account of the history and fortunes of his father.