Richard III - Jacob Abbott

Richard And Edward V.

As the tidings of Edward's death spread throughout England, they were received every where with a sentiment of anxiety and suspense, for no one knew what the consequences would be. Edward left two sons. Edward, the oldest of the two, the Prince of Wales, was about thirteen years of age. The youngest, whose name was Richard, was eleven. Of course, Edward was the rightful heir to the crown. Next to him in the line of succession came his brother, and next to them came Richard, Duke of Gloucester, their uncle. But it was universally known that the Duke of Gloucester was a reckless and unscrupulous man, and the question in every one's mind was whether he would recognize the rights of his young nephews at all, or whether he would seize the crown at once for himself.

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was in the northern part of England at this time, at the head of his army. The great power which the possession of this army gave him made people all the more fearful that he might attempt to usurp the throne.

The person who was most anxious in respect to the result was the widowed Queen Elizabeth, the mother of the two princes. She was very much alarmed. The boys themselves were not old enough to realize very fully the danger that they were in, or to render their mother much aid in her attempts to save them. The person on whom she chiefly relied was her brother, the Earl of Rivers. Edward, her oldest son, was under this uncle Rivers's care. The uncle and the nephew were residing together at this time at the castle of Ludlow. Queen Elizabeth was in London with her second son.

Immediately on the death of the king, a council was called to deliberate upon the measures proper to be taken. The council decreed that the Prince of Wales should be proclaimed king, and they fixed upon the 4th of May for the day of his coronation. They also made arrangements for sending orders to the Earl of Rivers to come at once with the young king to London, in order that the coronation might take place.

Queen Elizabeth was present at this council, and she desired that her brother might be ordered to come attended by as large an armed force as he could raise, for the protection of the prince on the way.

Now it happened that there were great dissensions among the officers and nobles of the court at this time. The queen, with the relatives and connections of her family, formed one party, and the other nobles and peers of England another patty, and great was the animosity and hatred that prevailed. The English nobles had never been satisfied with Edward's marriage, and they were very jealous of the influence of the queen's family and relations. This feud had been kept down in some degree while Edward lived, and Edward had made a great final effort to heal it entirely in his last sickness. He called together the leading nobles on each side, that had taken part in this quarrel, and then, by great exertion, went in among them, and urged them to forget their dissensions and become reconciled to each other. The effort for the time seemed to be successful, and both parties agreed to a compromise of the quarrel, and took a solemn oath that they would thenceforth live together in peace. But now, on the death of the king, the dissension broke out afresh. The other nobles were very jealous and suspicious of every measure which Elizabeth proposed, especially if it tended to continue the possession of power and influence in the hands of her family. Accordingly, when she proposed in the council to send for the earl, and to require him to raise a large escort to bring the young Prince Edward to London, they objected to it.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


"Against whom," demanded one of the councilors, "is the young prince to be defended? Who are his enemies? He has none, and the real motive and design of raising this force is not to protect the prince, but only to secure to the Woodville family the means of increasing and perpetuating their own importance and power."

The speaker upbraided the queen, too, with having, by this proposal, and by the attempt to promote the aggrandizement of the Woodville party which was concealed in it, been guilty of violating the oath of reconciliation which had been taken during the last sickness of the late king. So the council refused to authorize the armed escort, and the queen, with tears of disappointment and vexation, gave up the plan. At least she gave it up ostensibly, but she nevertheless contrived to come to some secret understanding with the earl, in consequence of which he set out from the castle with the young prince at the head of quite a large force. Some of the authorities state that he had with him two thousand men.

In the mean time, Richard of Gloucester, as soon as he heard of Edward's death, arranged his affairs at once, and made preparations to set out for London too. He put his army in mourning for the death of the king, and he wrote a most respectful and feeling letter of condolence to the queen. In this letter he made a solemn profession of homage and fealty to her son, the Prince of Wales, whom he acknowledged as rightfully entitled to the crown, and promised to be faithful in his allegiance to him, and to all the duties which he owed him.

Queen Elizabeth's mind was much relieved by this letter. She began to think that she was going to find in Richard an efficient friend to sustain her cause and that of her family against her enemies.

When Richard reached York, he made a solemn entry into that town, attended by six hundred knights all dressed in deep mourning. At the head of this funeral procession he proceeded to the Cathedral, and there caused the obsequies of the king to be celebrated with great pomp, and with very impressive and apparently sincere exhibitions of the grief which he himself personally felt for the loss of his brother.

After a brief delay in York, Richard resumed his march to the southward. He arranged it so as to overtake the party of the prince and the Earl of Rivers on the way.

He arrived at the town of Northampton on the same day that the prince, with the Earl of Rivers and his escort, reached the town of Stony Stratford, which was only a few miles from it. When the earl heard that Gloucester was so near, he took with him another nobleman, named Lord Gray, and a small body of attendants, and rode back to Northampton to pay his respects to Gloucester on the part of the young king; for they considered that Edward became at once, by the death of his father, King of England, under the style and title of Edward the Fifth.

Gloucester received his visitors in a very courteous and friendly manner. He invited them to sup with him, and he made quite an entertainment for them, and for some other friends whom he invited to join them. The party spent the evening together in a very agreeable manner.

They sat so long over their wine that it was too late for the earl and Lord Gray to return that night to Stony Stratford, and Richard accordingly made arrangements for them to remain in Northampton. He assigned quarters to them in the town, and secretly set a guard over them, to prevent their making their escape. The next morning, when they arose, they were astonished to find themselves under guard, and to perceive too, as they did, that all the avenues of the town were occupied with troops. They suspected treachery, but they thought it not prudent to express their suspicions. Richard, when he met them again in the morning, treated them in the same friendly manner as on the evening before, and proposed to accompany them to Stony Stratford, in order that he might there see and pay his respects to the king. This was agreed to, and they all set out together.

In company with Richard was one of his friends and confederates, the Duke of Buckingham. This Duke of Buckingham had been one of the leaders of the party at court that were opposed to the family of the queen. These two, together with the Earl of Rivers and Lord Gray, rode on in a very friendly manner toward Stratford. They went in advance of Richard's troops, which were ordered to follow pretty closely behind. In this manner they went on till they began to draw near to the town.

Richard now at once threw off his disguise. He told the Earl of Rivers and Lord Gray that the influence which they were exerting over the mind of the king was evil, and that he felt it his duty to take the king from their charge.

Then, at a signal given, armed men came up and took the two noblemen in custody. Richard, with the Duke of Buckingham and their attendants, drove on with all speed into the town. It seems that the persons who had been left with Edward had, in some way or other, obtained intelligence of what was going on, for they were just upon the eve of making their escape with him when Richard and his party arrived. The horse was saddled, and the young king was all ready to mount.

Richard, when he came up to the place, assumed the command at once. He made no obeisance to his nephew, nor did he in any other way seem to recognize or acknowledge him as his sovereign. He simply said that he would take care of his safety.

"The persons that have been about you," said he, "have been conspiring against your life, but I will protect you."

He then ordered several of the principal of Edward's attendants to be arrested; the rest he commanded to disperse. What became of the large body of men which the Earl of Rivers is said to have had under his command does not appear. Whether they dispersed in obedience to Richard's commands, or whether they abandoned the earl and came over to Richard's side, is uncertain. At any rate, nobody resisted him. The Earl of Rivers, Lord Gray, and the others were secured, with a view of being sent off prisoners to the northward. Edward himself was to be taken with Richard back to Northampton.

The little king himself scarcely knew what to make of these proceedings. He was frightened; and when he saw that all those personal friends and attendants who had had the charge of him so long, and to whom he was strongly attached, were seized and sent away, and others, strangers to him, put in their place, he could not refrain from tears. King as he was, however, and sovereign ruler over millions of men, he was utterly helpless in his uncle's hands, and obliged to yield himself passively to the disposition which his uncle thought best to make of him.

All the accounts of Edward represent him as a kind-hearted and affectionate boy, of a gentle spirit, and of a fair and prepossessing countenance. The ancient portraits of him which remain confirm these accounts of his personal appearance and of his character.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


After having taken these necessary steps, and thus secured the power in his own hands, Richard vouchsafed an explanation of what he had done to the young king. He told him that Earl Rivers, and Lord Gray, and other persons belonging to their party, "had conspired together to rule the kynge and the realme, to sette variance among the states, and to subdue and destroy the noble blood of the realme," and that he, Richard, had interposed to save Edward from their snares. He told him, moreover, that Lord Dorset, who was Edward's half brother, being the son of the queen by her first husband, and who had for some time held the office of Chancellor of the Tower, had taken out the king's treasure from that castle, and had sent much of it away beyond the sea.

Edward, astonished and bewildered, did not know at first what to reply to his uncle. He said, however, at last, that he never heard of any such designs on the part of his mother's relatives, and he could not believe that the charges were true. But Richard assured him that they were true, and that "his kindred had kepte their dealings from the knowledge of his grace." Satisfied or not, Edward was silenced; and he submitted, since it was hopeless for him to attempt to resist, to be taken back in his uncle's custody to Northampton.