Richard III - Jacob Abbott

Richard Lord Protector

What sort of protection Richard afforded to the young wards who were committed to his charge will appear by events narrated in this chapter.

It was now June, and the day, the twenty-second, which had been fixed upon for the coronation, was drawing nigh. By the ancient usages of the realm of England, the office of Protector, to which Richard had been appointed, would expire on the coronation of the king. Of course, Richard perceived at once that if he wished to prolong his power he must act promptly.

He began to revolve in his mind the possibility of assuming the crown himself, and displacing the children of his older brothers; for Clarence left children at his decease as well as Edward. Of course, these children of Clarence, as well as those of Edward, would take precedence of him in the line of succession, being descended from an older brother. Richard therefore, in order to establish any claim to the crown for himself, must find some pretext for setting aside both these branches of the family. The pretexts which he found were these.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


In respect to the children of Edward, his plan was to pretend to have discovered proof of Edward’s having been privately married to another lady before his marriage with Elizabeth Woodville. This would, of course, render the marriage with Elizabeth Woodville null, and destroy the rights of the children to any inheritance from their father.

In respect to the children of Clarence, he was to maintain that they were cut off by the attainder which had been passed against their father. A bill of attainder, according to the laws and usages of those times, not only doomed the criminal himself to death, but cut off his children from all rights of inheritance. It was intended to destroy the family as well as the man.

Richard, however, did not at once reveal his plans, but proceeded cautiously to take the proper measures for putting them into execution.

In the first place, there was his mother to be conciliated, the Lady Cecily Neville, known, however, more generally by the title of the Duchess of York. She lived at this time in an old family residence called Baynard's Castle, which stood on the banks of the Thames. As soon as Richard arrived in London he went to see his mother at this place, and afterward he often visited her there. How far he explained his plans to her, and how far she encouraged or disapproved of them, is not known. If she was required to act at all in the case, it must have been very hard for her, in such a question of life and death, to decide between her youngest son alive and the children of her first-born in his grave. Mothers can best judge to which side, in such an alternative, her maternal sympathies would naturally incline her.

As for the immediate members of the Woodville family, they were already pretty well taken care of. The queen herself, with her children, were shut up in the sanctuary. Her brothers, and the other influential men who were most prominent on her side, had been made prisoners, and sent to Pomfret Castle in the north. Here they were held under the custody of men devoted to Richard's interest. But to prevent the possibility of his having any farther trouble with them, Richard resolved to order them to be beheaded. This resolution was soon carried into effect, as we shall presently see.

There remained the party of nobles and courtiers that were likely to be hostile to the permanent continuance of the power of Richard, and inclined to espouse the cause of the young king. The nobles had not yet distinctly taken ground on this question. There were, however, some who were friendly to Richard. Others seemed more inclined to form a party against him. The prominent man among this last-named set was Lord Hastings. There were several others besides, and Richard knew very well who they were. In order to circumvent and defeat any plans which they might be disposed to form, and to keep the power fully in his own hands, he convened his councils of state at different places, sometimes at Westminster, sometimes at the Tower, where the king was kept, and sometimes at his own residence, which was in the heart of London. He transferred the public business more and more to his own residence, assembling the councilors there at all times, late and early, and thus withdrawing them from attendance at the Tower. Very soon Richard's residence in London became the acknowledged head-quarters of influence and power, and all who had petitions to present or favors to obtain gathered there, while the king in the Tower was neglected, and left comparatively alone.

Still the form of holding a council from time to time at the Tower was continued, and, of course, the nobles who assembled there were those most inclined to stand by and defend the cause of the king.

Such was the state of things on the 13th of June, nine days before the time appointed for the coronation. Richard then, having carefully laid his plans, was prepared to take decisive measures to break up the party who were disposed to gather around the king at the Tower and espouse his cause.

On that day, while these nobles were holding a council in the Tower, suddenly, and greatly to their surprise, Richard walked in among them. He assumed a very good-natured and even merry air as he entered and took his seat, and began to talk with those present in a very friendly and familiar tone. This was for the purpose of lulling any suspicions which they might have felt on seeing him appear among them, and prevent them from divining the dreadful intentions with which he had come.

"My lord," said he, turning to a bishop who sat near him, and who was one of those that he was about to arrest, "you have some excellent strawberries in your garden, I understand. I wish you would let me have a plateful of them."

It was about the middle of June, you will recollect, which was the time for strawberries to be ripe.

The bishop was very much pleased to find the great Protector taking such an interest in his strawberries, and he immediately called a servant and sent him away at once to bring some of the fruit.

After having greeted the other nobles at the board in a somewhat similar style to this, with jocose and playful remarks, which had the effect of entirely diverting from their minds every thing like suspicion, he said that he must go away for a short time, but that he would presently return. In the mean time, they might proceed, he said, with their deliberations on the public business.

So he went out. He proceeded at once to make the preparations necessary for the accomplishment of the desperate measures which he had determined to adopt. He stationed armed men at the doors and the passages of the part of the Tower where the council was assembled, and gave them instructions as to what they were to do, and agreed with them in respect to the signals which he was to give.

In about an hour he returned, but his whole air and manner were now totally changed. He came in with a frowning and angry countenance, knitting his brows and setting his teeth, as if something had occurred to put him in a great rage. He advanced to the council table, and there accosting Lord Hastings in a very excited and angry manner, he demanded,

"What punishment do you think men deserve who form plots and schemes for my destruction?"

Lord Hastings was amazed at this sudden appearance of displeasure, and he replied to the Protector that such men, if there were any such, most certainly deserved death, whoever they might be.

"It is that sorceress, my brother's wife," said Richard, "and that other vile sorceress, worse than she, Jane Shore. See!"

This allusion to Jane Shore was somewhat ominous for Hastings, as it was generally understood that since the king's death Lord Hastings had taken Jane Shore under his protection, and had lived in great intimacy with her.

As Richard said this, he pulled up the sleeve of his doublet to the elbow, to let the company look at his arm. This arm had always been weak, and smaller than the other.

"See," said he, "what they are doing to me."

He meant that by the power of necromancy they had made an image of wax as an effigy of him, according to the mode explained in a previous chapter, and were now melting it away by slow degrees in order to destroy his life, and that his arm was beginning to pine and wither away in consequence.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


The lords knew very well that the state in which they saw Richard's arm was its natural condition, and that, consequently, his charge against the queen and Jane Shore was only a pretense, which was to be the prelude and excuse for some violent measures that he was about to take. They scarcely knew what to say. At last Lord Hastings replied,

"Certainly, my lord, if they have committed so heinous an offense as this, they deserve a very heinous punishment."

"If!" repeated the Protector, in a voice of thunder. "And thou servest me, then, it seems, with ifs and ands. I tell thee that they have so done—and I will make what I say good upon thy body, traitor!"

He emphasized and confirmed this threat by bringing down his fist with a furious blow upon the table.

This was one of the signals which he had agreed upon with the people that he had stationed without at the door of the council hall. A voice was immediately heard in the ante-chamber calling out Treason. This was again another signal. It was a call to a band of armed men whom Richard had stationed in a convenient place near by, and who were to rush in at this call. Accordingly, a sudden noise was heard of the rushing of men and the clanking of iron, and before the councilors could recover from their consternation the table was surrounded with soldiery, all "in harness," that is, completely armed, and as fast as the foremost came in and gathered around the table, others pressed in after them, until the room was completely full.

Richard, designating Hastings with a gesture, said suddenly, "I arrest thee, traitor."

"What! me, my lord?" exclaimed Hastings, in terror.

"Yes, thee, traitor."

Two or three of the soldiers immediately seized Hastings and prepared to lead him away. Other soldiers laid hands upon several of the other nobles, such as Richard had designated to them beforehand. These, of course, were the leading and prominent men of the party opposed to Richard's permanent ascendency. Most of these men were taken away and secured as prisoners in various parts of the Tower. As for Hastings, Richard, in a stern and angry manner, advised him to lose no time in saying his prayers, "for, by the Lord," said he, "I will not to dinner to-day till I see thy head off."

Then, after a brief delay, to allow the wretched man a few minutes to say his prayers, Richard nodded to the soldiers to signify to them that they were to proceed to their work. They immediately took their victim out to a green by the side of the Tower, and, laying him down with his neck across a log which they found there, they cut off his head with a broad-axe.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


The same day Richard sent off a dispatch to the north, directed to the men who had in charge the Earl Rivers, and the other friends of the king who had been made prisoners when the king was seized at Stony Stratford, ordering them all to be beheaded. The order was immediately obeyed.

The person who had charge of the execution of this order was a stern and ruffian-like officer named Sir Richard Ratcliffe. This man is quite noted in the history of the times as one of the most unscrupulous of Richard's adherents. He was a merciless man, short and rude in speech, and reckless in action, destitute alike of all pity for man and of all fear of God.

The place where the prisoners had been confined was Pomfret Castle. On receiving the orders from Richard, Ratcliffe led them out to an open place without the castle wall to be beheaded. The executioners brought a log and an axe, and the victims were slaughtered one after another, without any ceremony, and without being allowed to say a word in self-defense.

The whole country was shocked at hearing of these sudden and terrible executions; but the power was in Richard's hands, and there was no one capable of resisting him. The death of the leaders of what would have been the young king's party struck terror into the rest, and Richard now had every thing in his own hands, or, rather, almost  every thing; for the queen and her family, being still in the sanctuary, were beyond his reach. He, however, had nothing to fear from her personally, and there were none of the children that gave him any concern except the Duke of York, the king's younger brother. He, you will recollect, was with his mother at Westminster when the king was seized, and she had taken him with the other children to the Abbey. Richard was now extremely desirous of getting possession of this boy.

The reason why he deemed it so essential to get possession of him was this. The child was, it is true, of little consequence while his brother the king lived; but if the king were put out of the way, then the thoughts and the hearts of all the loyal people of England, Richard knew very well, would be turned toward York as the rightful successor. But if they could both be put out of the way, and if the people of England could be induced to consider Clarence's children as set aside by the attainder of their father, then he himself would come forward as the true and rightful heir to the crown. It is true that it was a part of his plan, as has already been said, to declare the marriage of Elizabeth Woodville with the king null, and thus cut off both these children of Edward from their right of inheritance; but he knew very well that even if a majority of the people of England were to assent to this, there would certainly be a minority that would refuse their assent, and would adhere to the cause of the children, and they, if the children should fall into their hands, might, at some future time, make themselves very formidable to him, and threaten very seriously the permanence of his dominion. It was quite necessary, therefore, he thought, that he should get both children into his own power.

"I must," said he to himself, therefore, "I must, in some way or other, and at all hazards, get possession of little Richard."

It is always the policy of usurpers, and of all ambitious and aspiring men who wish to seize and hold power which does not properly belong to them, to carry the various measures necessary to the attainment of their ends, especially those likely to be unpopular, not by their own personal action, but by the agency of others, whom they put forward to act for them. Richard proceeded in this way in the present instance. He called a grand council of the peers of the realm and great officers of state, and caused the question to be brought up there of removing the young Duke of York from the custody of his mother to that of the Protector, in order that he might be with his brother. The peers who were in Richard's interest advocated this plan; but all the bishops and archbishops, who, of course, as ecclesiastics, had very high ideas of the sacredness and inviolability of a sanctuary, opposed the plan of taking the duke away except by the consent of his mother.

The other side argued in reply to them that a sanctuary was a place where persons could seek refuge to escape punishment in case of a crime, and that where no crime could have been committed, and no charges of crime were made, the principle did not apply. In other words, that the sanctuary was for men and women who had been guilty, or were supposed to have been guilty, of violations of law; but as children could commit no crime for which an asylum was necessary, the privileges of sanctuary did not extend to them.

This view of the subject prevailed. The bishops and archbishops were outvoted, and an order in council was passed authorizing the Lord Protector to possess himself of his nephew, the Duke of York, and for this purpose to take him, if necessary, out of sanctuary by force.

Still, the bishops and archbishops were very unwilling that force should be used, if it could possibly be avoided; and finally the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was the highest prelate in the realm, proposed that a deputation from the council should be sent to the Abbey, and that he should go with them, in order to see the queen, and make the attempt to persuade her to give up her son of her own accord.

After giving notice to the abbot of their intended visit, and making an arrangement with him and with the queen in respect to the time when they could be received, the delegation proceeded in state to the Abbey on the appointed day, and were received by the abbot and by Elizabeth with due ceremony in the Jerusalem chamber, the great audience hall of the Abbey, which has already been described.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, who was at the head of the delegation, explained the case to the queen. They wished her, he said, to allow her son, the Duke of York, to leave the sanctuary, and to join his brother the king at his royal residence in the Tower. He would be perfectly safe there, he said, under the care of his uncle, the Lord Protector.

"The Protector thinks it very necessary that the duke should go," added the archbishop, "to be company for his brother. The king is very melancholy, he says, for want of a play-fellow."

"And so the Protector," replied the queen—"God grant that he may really prove a protector—thinks that the king needs a playfellow! And can no playfellow be found for him except his brother?"

"Besides," she added, "he is not in a mood to play. He is not well. They must find some other playmate for his brother. Just as if princes, while they are so young, could not as well have some one to play with them not of their own rank, or as if a boy must have his brother, and nobody else for his mate, when every body knows that boys are more likely to disagree with their brothers than they are with other children."

The archbishop, in reply, proceeded to argue the case, with the queen, and to represent the necessity, arising from reasons of state, why the young duke should be committed to the charge of his uncle. He explained to her, too, that the Lord Protector had been fully authorized, by a decree of the council, to come and take his nephew from the Abbey, and to employ force, if necessary, to effect the purpose, but that it would be much better, both for the queen herself and the young duke, as well as for all concerned, that the affair should be settled in a peaceable and amicable manner.

The unhappy queen saw at last that there was no alternative but for her to submit to her fate and give up her boy. Slowly and reluctantly she came to this conclusion, and finally gave her consent. Richard was brought in. His mother took him by the hand, and again addressed the archbishop and the delegation, speaking substantially as follows :

"My lord," said she, "and all my lords now present, I will not be so suspicious as to mistrust the promises you make me, or to believe that you are dealing otherwise than fairly and honorably by me. Here is my son. I give him up to your charge. I have no doubt that he would be safe here under my protection, if I could be allowed to keep him with me, although I have enemies that so hate me and all my blood, that I believe, if they thought they had any of it in their own veins, they would open them to let it flow out.

"I give him up, at your demand, to the protection of his brother and his uncle. And yet I know well that the desire of a kingdom knows no kindred. Brothers have been their brothers' bane, and can these nephews be sure of their uncle? The boys would be safe if kept asunder; together—I do not know. Nevertheless, I here deliver my son, and with him his brother's life, into your hands, and of you shall I require them both, before God and man. I know that you are faithful and true in what you intend, and you have power, moreover, to keep the children safe, if you will. If you think that I am over-anxious and fear too much, take care that you yourselves do not fear too little."

Then drawing Richard to her, she kissed him very lovingly, the tears coming to her eyes as she did so.

"Farewell," she said, "farewell, mine own sweet son. God send you good keeping. I must kiss you before you go, for God knows when we shall kiss together again."

She kissed him again and blessed him, and then turned to go away, weeping bitterly.

The child began to weep too, from sympathy with his mother's distress. The archbishop, however, took him by the hand and led him away, followed by the rest of the delegation.

They conveyed the young duke first to the hall of the council, which was very near, and thence to the Lord Protector's residence in the city. Here he was received with every mark of consideration and honor, and a handsome escort was provided to conduct him in state to the Tower, where he joined his brother.

Richard had now every thing under his own control. The delivery of the Duke of York into his hands took place on the sixteenth of June. The time which had been set for the coronation was the twenty-second.