Richard III - Jacob Abbott

Warwick, The King-Maker

Richard's brother, Edward the Fourth, began to reign when Richard was about eight or nine years of age. His reign continued—with a brief interruption, which will be hereafter explained—for twenty years; so that, for a very important period of his life, after he arrived at some degree of maturity, namely, from the time that he was fourteen to the time that he was thirty, Richard was one of his brother's subjects. He was a prince, it is true, and a prince of the very highest rank—the next person but one, in fact, in the line of succession to the crown. His brother George, the Duke of Clarence, of course, being older than he, came before him; but both the young men, though princes, were subjects. They were under their brother Edward's authority, and bound to serve and obey him as their rightful sovereign; next to him, however, they were the highest personages in the realm. George was, from this time, generally called Clarence, and Richard, Gloucester.

The reader may perhaps feel some interest and curiosity in learning what became of Queen Margaret and old King Henry after they were driven out of the country toward the north, at the time of Edward's accession. Their prospects seemed, at the time, to be hopelessly ruined, but their case was destined to furnish another very striking instance of the extraordinary reverses of fortune which marked the history of nearly all the great families during the whole course of this York and Lancaster quarrel. In about ten years from the time when Henry and Margaret were driven away, apparently into hopeless exile, they came back in triumph, and were restored to power, and Edward himself; in his turn, was ignominiously expelled from the kingdom. The narrative of the circumstances through which these events were brought about forms quite a romantic story.

In order, however, that this story may be more clearly understood, I will first enumerate the principal personages that take a part in it, and briefly remind the reader of the position which they respectively occupied, and the relations which they sustained to each other.

First, there is the family of King Henry, consisting of himself and his wife, Queen Margaret, and his little son Edward, who had received the title of Prince of Wales. This boy was about eight years old at the time his father and mother were driven away. We left them, in the last chapter, flying toward the frontiers of Scotland to save their lives, leaving to Edward and his troops the full possession of the kingdom.

Henry and his little son, the Prince of Wales, of course represent the house of Lancaster in the dispute for the succession.

The house of York was represented by Edward, whose title, as king, was Edward the Fourth, and his two brothers, George and Richard, or, as they were now generally called, Clarence and Gloucester. In case Edward should be married and have a son, his son would succeed him, and George and Richard would be excluded; if, however, he should die without issue, then George would become king; and if George should die without issue, and Richard should survive him, then Richard would succeed. Thus, as matters now stood, George and Richard were presumptive heirs to the crown, and it was natural that they should wish that their brother Edward should never be married.

Besides these two brothers, who were the only ones of all his brothers that were now living, Edward had a sister named Margaret. Margaret was four years younger than Edward the king, and about six years older than Richard. She was now about seventeen. A young lady of that age in the family of a king in those days was quite a treasure, as the king was enabled to promote his political schemes sometimes very effectually by bestowing her in marriage upon this great prince or that, as would best further the interests which he had in view in foreign courts.

This young lady, Edward's sister, being of the same name—Margaret—with the queen of old King Henry, was distinguished from her by being called Margaret of York, as she belonged to the York family. The queen was generally known as Margaret of Anjou. Anjou was the place of her nativity.

The next great personage to be named is the Earl of Warwick. He was the man, as you will doubtless recollect, who was in command of the sea between England and the Continent at the time when Lady Cecily wished to send her children, George and Richard, away after their father's death, and who assisted in arranging their flight. He was a man of great power and influence, and of such an age and character that he exerted a vast ascendency over all within his influence. Without him, Edward never would have conquered the Lancaster party, and he knew very well that if Warwick, and all those whom Warwick would carry with him, were to desert him, he should not be able to retain his kingdom. Indeed, Warwick received the surname of King-maker  from the fact that, in repeated instances during this quarrel, he put down one dynasty and raised up the other, just as he pleased. He belonged to a great and powerful family named Neville. As soon as Edward was established on his throne, Warwick, almost as a matter of course, became prime minister. One of his brothers was made chancellor, and a great number of other posts of distinction and honor were distributed among the members of the Neville family. Indeed, although Edward was nominally king, it might have been considered in some degree a question whether it was the house of York or the house of Neville that actually reigned in England.

The Earl of Warwick had two daughters. Their names were Isabella and Anne. These two young ladies the earl reckoned, as Edward did his sister Margaret, among the most important of his political resources. By marrying them to persons of very high position, he could strengthen his alliances and increase his power. There was even a possibility, he thought, of marrying one of them to the King of England, or to a prince who would become king.

Thus we have for the three great parties to the transactions now to be described, first, the representatives of the house of Lancaster, the feeble Henry, the energetic and strong-minded Margaret of Anjou, and their little son, the Prince of Wales; secondly, the representatives of the house of York, King Edward the Fourth, the two young men his brothers, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and his sister Margaret; and, thirdly, between these two parties, as it were, the Earl of Warwick and his two daughters, Isabella and Anne, standing at the head of a vast family influence, which ramified to every part of the kingdom, and was powerful enough to give the ascendency to either side, in favor of which they might declare.

We are now prepared to follow Queen Margaret in her flight toward the north with her husband and her son, at the time when Edward the Fourth overcame her armies and ascended the throne. She pressed on as rapidly as possible, taking the king and the little prince with her, and accompanied and assisted in her flight by a few attendants, till she had crossed the frontier and was safe in Scotland. The Scots espoused her cause, and assisted her to raise fresh troops, with which she made one or two short incursions into England; but she soon found that she could do nothing effectual in this way, and so, after wasting some time in fruitless attempts, she left Scotland with the king and the prince, and went to France.

Here she entered into negotiations with the King of France, and with other princes and potentates on the Continent, with a view of raising men and money for a new invasion of England. At first these powers declined to assist her. They said that their treasuries were exhausted, and that they had no men. At last, however, Margaret promised to the King of France that if he would furnish her with a fleet and an army, by which she could recover the kingdom of her husband, she would cede to him the town of Calais, which, though situated on the coast of France, was at that time an English possession. This was a very tempting offer, for Calais was a fortress of the first class, and a military post either for England or France of a very important character.

The king consented to this proposal. He equipped a fleet and raised an army, and Margaret set sail for England, taking the king and the prince with her. Her plan was to land in the northern part of the island, near the frontiers of Scotland, where she expected to find the country more friendly to the Lancastrian line than the people were toward the south. As soon as she landed she was joined by many of the people, and she succeeded in capturing some castles and small towns. But the Earl of Warwick, who was, as has been already said, the prime minister under Edward, immediately raised an army of twenty thousand men, and marched to the northward to meet her. Margaret's French army was wholly unprepared to encounter such a force as this, so they fled to their ships. All but about five hundred of the men succeeded in reaching the ships. The five hundred were cut to pieces. Margaret herself was detained in making arrangements for the king and the prince. She concluded not to take them to sea again, but to send them secretly into Wales, while she herself went back to France to see if she could not procure re-enforcements. She barely had time, at last, to reach the ships herself, so close at hand were her enemies. As soon as the queen had embarked, the fleet set sail. The queen had saved nearly all the money and all the stores which she had brought with her from France, and she hoped still to preserve them for another attempt. But the fleet had scarcely got off from the shore when a terrible storm arose, and the ships were all driven upon the rocks and dashed to pieces. The money and the stores were all lost; a large portion of the men were drowned; Margaret herself and the captain of the fleet saved themselves, and, as soon as the storm was over, they succeeded in making their escape back to Berwick in an old fishing-boat which they obtained on the shore.

Soon after this, Margaret, with the captain of the fleet and a very small number of faithful followers who still adhered to her, sailed back again to France.

The disturbances, however, which her landing had occasioned, did not cease immediately on her departure. The Lancastrian party all over England were excited and moved to action by the news of her coming, and for two years insurrections were continually taking place, and many battles were fought, and great numbers of people were killed. King Henry was all this time kept in close concealment, sometimes in Wales, and sometimes among the lakes and mountains in Westmoreland. He was conveyed from place to place by his adherents in the most secret manner, the knowledge in respect to his situation being confined to the smallest possible number of persons. This continued for two or three years. At last, however, while the friends of the king were attempting secretly to convey him to a certain castle in Yorkshire, he was seen and recognized by one of his enemies. A plan was immediately formed to make him prisoner. The plan succeeded. The king was surprised by an overwhelming force, which broke into the castle and seized him while he sat at dinner. His captors, and those who were lying in wait to assist them, galloped off at once with their prisoner to London. King Edward shut him up in the Tower, and he remained there, closely confined and strongly guarded, for a long time.

Thus King Henry's life was saved, but of those who espoused his cause, and made attempts to restore him, great numbers were seized and beheaded in the most cruel manner. It was Edward's policy to slay all the leaders. It was said that after a battle he would ride with a company of men over the ground, and kill every wounded or exhausted man of rank that still remained alive, though he would spare the common soldiers. Sometimes, when he got men that were specially obnoxious to him into his hands, he would put them to death in the most cruel and ignominious manner. One distinguished knight, that had been taken prisoner by Warwick, was brought to King Edward, who, at that time, as it happened, was sick, and by Edward's orders was treated most brutally. He was first taken out into a public place, and his spurs were struck off from his feet by a cook. This was one of the greatest indignities that a knight could suffer. Then his coat of arms was torn off from him, and another coat, inside out, was put upon him. Then he was made to walk barefoot to the end of the town, and there was laid down upon his back on a sort of drag, and so drawn to the place of execution, where his head was cut off on a block with a broad-axe.

Such facts as these show what a state of exasperation the two great parties of York and Lancaster were in toward each other throughout the kingdom. It is necessary to understand this, in order fully to appreciate the import and consequences of the very extraordinary transaction which is now to be related.

It seems there was a certain knight named Sir John Gray, a Lancastrian, who had been killed at one of the great battles which had been fought during the war. He had also been attainted, as it was called—that is, sentence had been pronounced against him on a charge of high treason, by which his estates were forfeited, and his wife and children, of course, reduced to poverty. The name of his wife was Elizabeth Woodville. She was the daughter of a noble knight named Sir Richard Woodville. Her mother's name was Jacquetta. On the death and attainder of her husband, being reduced to great poverty and distress, she went home to the house of her father and mother, at a beautiful manor which they possessed at Grafton. She was quite young, and very beautiful.

It happened that by some means or other Edward paid a visit one day to the Lady Jacquetta, at her manor, as he was passing through the country. Whether this visit was accidental, or whether it was contrived by Jacquetta, does not appear. However this may be, the beautiful widow came into the presence of the king, and, throwing herself at his feet, begged and implored him to revoke the attainder of her husband for the sake of her innocent and helpless children. The king was much moved by her beauty and by her distress. From pitying her he soon began to love her. And yet it seemed impossible that he should marry her. Her rank, in the first place, was far below his, and then, what was worse, she belonged to the Lancastrian party, the king's implacable enemies. The king knew very well that all his own partisans would be made furious at the idea of such a match, and that, if they knew that it was in contemplation, they would resist it to the utmost of their power. For a time he did not know what he should do. At length, however, his love for the beautiful widow, as might easily be foreseen, triumphed over all considerations of prudence, and he was secretly married to her. The marriage took place in the morning, in a very private manner, in the month of May, in 1464.

The king kept the marriage secret nearly all summer. He thought it best to break the subject to his lords and nobles gradually, as he had opportunity to communicate it to them one by one. In this way it at length became known, without producing, at any one time, any special sensation, and toward the fall preparations were made for openly acknowledging the union.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


Although the knowledge of the king's marriage produced no sudden outbreak of opposition, it awakened a great deal of secret indignation and rage, and gave occasion to many suppressed mutterings and curses. Of course, every leading family of the realm, that had been on Edward's side in the civil wars, which contained a marriageable daughter, had been forming hopes and laying plans to secure this magnificent match for themselves. Those who had no marriageable daughters of their own joined their nearest relatives and friends in their schemes, or formed plans for some foreign alliance with a princess of France, or Burgundy, or Holland, whichever would best harmonize with the political schemes that they wished to promote. The Earl of Warwick seems to have belonged to the former class. He had two daughters, as has already been stated. It would very naturally be his desire that the king, if he were to take for his wife any English subject at all, should make choice of one of these. Of course, he was more than all the rest irritated and vexed at what the king had done. He communicated his feelings to Clarence, but concealed them from the king. Clarence was, of course, ready to sympathize with the earl. He was ready enough to take offense at any thing connected with the king's marriage on very slight grounds, for it was very much for his interest, as the next heir, that his brother should not be married at all.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


The earl and Clarence, however, thought it best for the time to suppress and conceal their opposition to the marriage; so they joined very readily in the ceremonies connected with the public acknowledgment of the queen. A vast assemblage of nobles, prelates, and other grand dignitaries was convened, and Elizabeth was brought forward before them and formally presented. The Earl of Warwick and Clarence appeared in the foremost rank among her friends on this occasion. They took her by the hand, and, leading her forward, presented her to the assembled multitude of lords and ladies, who welcomed her with long and loud acclamations.

Soon after this a grand council was convened, and a handsome income was settled upon the queen, to enable her properly to maintain the dignity of her station.

Early in the next year preparations were made for a grand coronation of the queen. Foreign princes were invited to attend the ceremony, and many came, accompanied by large bodies of knights and squires, to do honor to the occasion. The coronation took place in May. The queen was conveyed in procession through the streets of London on a sort of open palanquin, borne by horses most magnificently caparisoned. Vast crowds of people assembled along the streets to look at the procession as it passed. The next day the coronation itself took place in Westminster, and it was followed by games, feasts, tournaments, and public rejoicings of every kind, which lasted many days.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


Thus far every thing on the surface, at least, had gone well; but it was not long after the coronation before the troubles which were to be expected from such a match began to develop themselves in great force. The new queen was ambitious, and she was naturally desirous of bringing her friends forward into places of influence and honor. The king was, of course, ready to listen to her recommendations; but then all her friends were Lancastrians. They were willing enough, it is true, to change their politics and to become Yorkists for the sake of the rewards and honors which they could obtain by the change, but the old friends of the king were greatly exasperated to find the important posts, one after another, taken away from them, and given to their hated enemies.

Then, besides the quarrel for the political offices, there were a great many of the cherished matrimonial plans and schemes of the old families interfered with and broken up by the queen's family thus coming into power. It happened that the queen had five unmarried sisters. She began to form plans for securing for them men of the highest rank and position in the realm. This, of course, thwarted the plans and disappointed the hopes of all those families who had been scheming to gain these husbands for their own daughters. To see five great heirs of dukes and barons thus withdrawn from the matrimonial market, and employed to increase the power and prestige of their ancient and implacable foes, filled the souls of the old Yorkist families with indignation. Parties were formed. The queen and her family and friends—the Woodvilles and Grays—with all their adherents, were on one side; the Neville family, with the Earl of Warwick at their head, and most of the old Yorkist noblemen, were on the other; Clarence joined the Earl of Warwick; Richard, on the other hand, or Gloucester, he was now called, adhered to the king.

Things went on pretty much in this way for two years. There was no open quarrel, though there was a vast deal of secret animosity and bickering. The great world at court was divided into two sets, or cliques, that hated each other very cordially, though both, for the present, pretended to support King Edward as the rightful sovereign of the country. The struggle was for the honors and offices under him. The families who still adhered to the old Lancastrian party, and to the rights of Henry and of the little Prince of Wales, withdrew, of course, altogether from the court, and, retiring to their castles, brooded moodily there over their fallen fortunes, and waited in expectation of better times. Henry was imprisoned in the Tower; Margaret and the Prince of Wales were on the Continent. They and their friends were, of course, watching the progress of the quarrel between the party of the Earl of Warwick and that of the king, hoping that it might at last lead to an open rupture, in which case the Lancastrians might hope for Warwick's aid to bring them again into power.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


And now another circumstance occurred which widened this breach very much indeed. It arose from a difference of opinion between King Edward and the Earl of Warwick in respect to the marriage of the king's sister Margaret, known, as has already been said, as Margaret of York. There was upon the Continent a certain Count Charles, the son and heir of the Duke of Burgundy, who demanded her hand. The count's family had been enemies of the house of York, and had done every thing in their power to promote Queen Margaret's plans, so long as there was any hope for her; but when they found that King Edward was firmly established on the throne, they came over to his side, and now the count demanded the hand of the Princess Margaret in marriage; but the stern old Earl of Warwick did not like such friendship as this, so he recommended that the count should be refused, and that Margaret should have for her husband one of the princes of France.

Now King Edward himself preferred Count Charles for the husband of Margaret, and this chiefly because the queen, his wife, preferred him on account of the old friendship which had subsisted between his family and the Lancastrians. Besides this, however, Flanders, the country over which the count was to reign on the death of his father, was at that time so situated that an alliance with it would be of greater advantage to Edward's political plans than an alliance with France. But, notwithstanding this, the earl was so earnest in urging his opinion, that finally Edward yielded, and the earl was dispatched to France to negotiate the marriage with the French prince.

The earl set off on this embassy in great magnificence. He landed in Normandy with a vast train of attendants, and proceeded in almost royal state toward Paris. The King of France, to honor his coming and the occasion, came forth to meet him. The meeting took place at Rouen. The proposals were well received by the French king. The negotiations were continued for eight or ten days, and at last every thing was arranged. For the final closing of the contract, it was necessary that a messenger from the King of France should proceed to London. The king appointed an archbishop and some other dignitaries to perform the service. The earl then returned to England, and was soon followed by the French embassadors, expecting that every thing essential was settled, and that nothing but a few formalities remained.

But, in the mean time, while all this had been going on in France, Count Charles had quietly sent an embassador to England to press his claim to the princess's hand. This messenger managed this business very skillfully, so as not to attract any public attention to what he was doing; and besides, the earl being away, the queen, Elizabeth, could exert all her influence over her husband's mind unimpeded. Edward was finally persuaded to promise Margaret's hand to the count, and the contracts were made; so that, when the earl and the French embassadors arrived, they found, to their astonishment and dismay, that a rival and enemy had stepped in during their absence and secured the prize.

The Earl of Warwick was furious when he learned how he had been deceived. He had been insulted, he said, and disgraced. Edward made no attempt to pacify him; indeed, any attempt that he could have made would probably have been fruitless. The earl withdrew from the court, went off to one of his castles, and shut himself up there in great displeasure.

The quarrel now began to assume a very serious air. Edward suspected that the earl was forming plots and conspiracies against him. He feared that he was secretly designing to take measures for restoring the Lancastrian line to the throne. He was alarmed for his personal safety. He expelled all Warwick's family and friends from the court, and, whenever he went out in public, he took care to be always attended by a strong body-guard, as if he thought there was danger of an attempt upon his life.

At length one of the earl's brothers, the youngest of the family, who was at that time Archbishop of York, interposed to effect a reconciliation. We have not space here to give a full account of the negotiations; but the result was, a sort of temporary peace was made, by which the earl again returned to court, and was restored apparently to his former position. But there was no cordial good-will between him and the king. Edward dreaded the earl's power, and hated the stern severity of his character, while the earl, by the commanding influence which he exerted in the realm, was continually thwarting both Edward and Elizabeth in their plans.

Edward and Elizabeth had now been married some time, but they had no son, and, of course, no heir, for daughters in those days did not inherit the English crown. Of course, Clarence, Edward's second brother, was the next heir. This increased the jealousy which the two brothers felt toward each other, and tended very much to drive Clarence away from Edward, and to increase the intimacy between Clarence and Warwick. At length, in 1468, it was announced that a marriage was in contemplation between Clarence and Isabella, the Earl of Warwick's oldest daughter. Edward and Queen Elizabeth were very much displeased and very much alarmed when they heard of this plan. If carried into effect, it would bind Clarence and the Warwick influence together in indissoluble bonds, and make their power much more formidable than ever before. Every body would say when the marriage was concluded,

"Now, in case Edward should die, which event may happen at any time, the earl's daughter will be queen, and then the earl will have a greater influence than ever in the disposition of offices and honors. It behooves us, therefore, to make friends with him in season, so as to secure his good-will in advance, before he comes into power."

King Edward and his queen, seeing how much this match was likely at once to increase the earl's importance, did every thing in their power to prevent it. But they could not succeed. The earl was determined that Clarence and his daughter should be married. The opposition was, however, so strong at court that the marriage could not be celebrated at London; so the ceremony was performed at Calais, which city was at that time under the earl's special command. The king and queen remained at London, and made no attempt to conceal their vexation and chagrin.