The subject of today's post is the guilt, or lack thereof, of Richard III. Perhaps you are familiar with the story of Richard III from Shakespeare's play or from your world history books. Perhaps you have seen one of the various movies about him. He is generally portrayed as a murderous, hunch-backed fiend who killed his nephews in order to become king. However, in reading a book this week I have discovered that this may be all propaganda brought about to discredit the Yorkist claim to the throne by Henry VII. But back to the beginning and where it all started.
Richard III was the youngest brother of King Edward IV of England. He was known for his loyalty to his brother the king and his great valor in battle. George and Edward had another brother, George, Duke of Clarence, who was executed by Edward's order due to the fact that he raised multiple rebellions against his brother the king, making his own bid for the throne. George and his heirs were disinherited before his death and were not re-instated for some time. Edward IV died unexpectedly in 1483 leaving behind a wife, two sons, and five daughters. The older son and heir to the throne, Edward V was in Wales at the time. The queen, Elizabeth Woodville, fearing an uprising, took her younger son and daughters into Westminster Abbey and took sanctuary there. She ordered her brother, Earl Rivers, who was the boy's guardian, and her son by her first marriage, the Marquise of Dorset, to bring the new boy king back to London. The party was supposed to meet up with Richard III and his men somewhere in the north of England and proceed to London. Richard had been named the Lord Protector of the young prince until he reached manhood. This gave him full rights to the body of the prince, in today's terms he had legal custody of the child.
Rivers and his men did not meet up with Richard's party, who was coming down into England after fighting the Scots, instead forging ahead and leaving a messenger for Richard. Richard promptly caught up to the Prince's party and arrested Rivers and Dorset for not handing over the young king. He proceeded with him into London where he housed him at a bishop's palace while he himself stayed at his mother's family home at Baynard's castle. He began to plan a coronation for the young king and asked that his younger brother Richard, Duke of York be brought out of sanctuary to keep the young king company. The two boys were moved to the Tower of London, still a royal residence at the time, for safekeeping. It was traditional for monarchs to sleep there before their coronation.
The coronation, however, never took place. During a council meeting in June of that year Stillington, a priest in the Plantagenent household told Richard that he could not in good conscience allow Edward V to inherit the throne because he was in fact illegitimate due to the fact that the late King, Edward IV, had been secretly married to a lady named Eleanor Butler, who at this time was in a nunnery or possibly dead, (that is unknown) and therefore his marriage to the queen was bigamous. The next in line to the throne was Richard's other nephew, the Earl of Warwick, his brother George's son. Since the child had been disinherited Richard overlooked him and named himself heir to the throne. Instead of his nephew being crowned he himself was crowned. He quickly sent for a large force of soldiers to hold the city of London because he feared the boy's mother, the dowager queen, would encourage her many relatives at court to stage an uprising in favor of her son, which, in all likelihood she would have. She was hated by many in power for bringing her relatives to court when she became queen and having titles bestowed upon them.
Anyhow, Richard is crowned, his wife and son are brought to court, and Elizabeth Woodville and her daughters come out of sanctuary. The family, by all contemporary accounts seems to be getting along well, at times living in the palace and the princesses attended many palace functions. No mention is made however, of the boys who are still locked in the tower one supposes. Surely if they were missing scandal would have broken out, especially with a mother like Elizabeth Woodville on the loose. There are no contemporary accusations, however, that the boys have disappeared or that Richard has done anything to them. If I was a mother I would not keep quiet about my children having disappeared. I would not come out of sanctuary with my daughters, I would sail quietly away to France in the middle of the night and raise an army on the continent. None of this happened. Everything went along normally. The only rumors at the time seem to have appeared on the continent, where many of Richard's enemies fled upon his accession to the throne. Most notably John Morton, the man who provided the information to Thomas More, who wrote a history of Richard III. It is important to note that More himself, though a great man and a great mind, was a child in 1483, so he is not a contemporary historian and he was writing under a Tudor regime, a regime that usurped the Plantagenent one.
More tomorrow, more evidence, more treachery, more lies?
Sources: Richard III Society