Today a guest post from Annette Carson, author of many excellent books about Richard III and his times including The Maligned King, Richard III: A Small Guide to a Great Debate, Richard Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector & Constable of England and a new translation of Mancini. Annette was also a member of the Looking for Richard Project. Thank you Annette:
The summer of 1483 was a hotbed of activity for those people who had a political interest in the disposal of the throne of England. Richard III had been offered the crown in June and had enjoyed a splendid coronation on 6 July. He had effectively disposed of opposition, and had set off to display himself to his people on a royal progress which proceeded westward from Westminster and then northward to culminate in September with the investiture of his son as Prince of Wales at York. We are fortunate in that his whereabouts at every stage have been traced by Rhoda Edwards in The Itinerary of Richard III (1).
Southern England and Wales in the 15th century.
So we know where Richard was at any given time. More interesting is where his opponents were, and what they were up to. For although they had been defeated, they were not eliminated; and in his absence they were busily finding ways to overthrow his rule.
Those whose activities will be traced in this article fall into four main strands: the Woodville family; the Duke of Buckingham; Henry Tudor; and his mother Margaret Beaufort. All four came to be woven together by the month of September.
First there was the Woodville family, whose power-base had been removed with the deposition of the young Edward V. Edward, the 12-year-old son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, had been brought up among Woodvilles who expected him to be their passport to power on the death of his father in April 1483. Misguidedly, they had attempted to bypass Richard’s protectorship as willed by the late king, but were over-ruled by the King’s Council. Rather than reconcile with the new government, they scattered. Elizabeth, together with several family members including her daughters, fled into sanctuary at Westminster Abbey in May. By mid-June the deposed Edward V, together with his brother Richard of York, Elizabeth’s younger son by Edward IV (known to history as ‘the princes in the Tower’) were lodged in the royal apartments of the Tower of London where they soon became a focus for dissidents who wished to see Edward restored to the throne.
One of Elizabeth’s brothers was to play an important role in subsequent events, although Tudor ‘histories’ ensured that no credit would attach to his name. This was Sir Edward Woodville, who as early as April had set himself up with a force of ships at sea, in a foolhardy move to counteract French privateering in the Channel. At the same time Thomas Grey, Elizabeth’s elder son by her previous marriage, had spent several thousand pounds raising men at arms for the venture. When Richard took charge as Protector and Defender of the Realm, most of the fleet was brought safely back to England. Edward Woodville escaped with two ships and large quantities of treasure, including a haul of £10,250 in gold coin audaciously taken from a carrack lying in Southampton Water(2). Woodville and his fortune fetched up eventually in Brittany with Henry Tudor, of which more below. Meanwhile Thomas Grey absconded, and history tells us nothing more of his expensively equipped soldiery; we may guess that he and his family made good use of them in the events that followed.
The second strand we will follow is the career of Harry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who was Richard’s chief lieutenant in 1483 and a principal architect of the constitutional settlement whereby the representatives of England’s Parliament set aside Edward V and petitioned Richard to assume the throne. Buckingham’s status in life had been transformed by his new association with Richard III. So it is hard to understand why, in view of his new prominence on the royal stage, together with all its material rewards and financial gains, within weeks of Richard’s coronation he would rebel against his generous benefactor.
Third we come to Henry Tudor, Richard’s contemporary who had been raised a supporter of the Lancastrian dynasty, and had thus been on the losing side in England’s civil strife commonly known as the Wars of the Roses. Henry and his uncle Jasper Tudor had fled into exile and by 1483 were enjoying the hospitality and financial support of Francis II, Duke of Brittany. During Edward IV’s glory years of consolidating his throne, Henry had been little more than a minor irritant. But evidently he harboured ambitions that prevented him from reconciling to the rule of York, for although terms had been discussed for his return to England to access certain inheritances if he swore allegiance to Edward, so far Henry had refused to budge (3). Towards the end of Edward’s reign, when he was virtually isolated from his erstwhile European allies, Duke Francis was using Tudor in an attempt to pressurize Edward into complying with his demands for support. As the duke’s grip on reality became more frail, he was persuaded to side with the Tudor camp against England.
Our fourth strand deals with the partnership between Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, and the man who emerged as her politically astute counsellor, John Morton, Bishop of Ely. As our curtain goes up, Morton is under arrest for participating in a plot (led by William Hastings) to assassinate Richard, and has been sent to be held in custody at Buckingham’s seat of Brecon in south-east Wales. Buckingham himself has left London heading for his estates in the west, parting from Richard as the king’s progress leaves Gloucester (on 2 August according to The Itinerary).4 Allowing time for Buckingham to visit others of his estates on the way, he probably reached Brecon about the middle of August.5 Morton was clever enough to suborn him to treason, and secret letters were soon flying between Brecon and Margaret Beaufort, whose great wealth would help to finance their plans.
Meanwhile we must look at events in London that summer, where certain followers of the Woodvilles made a precipitate and ill-fated attempt to remove the sons of Edward IV from the Tower of London which seems to have occurred in July. Its date can only be estimated, but the actual report of the circumstances, by the 16th/17th-century antiquary John Stow, appears to receive independent support in the writings of Thomas Basin, Bishop of Lisieux (6). For reasons explained in my new book, Richard III: The Maligned King, chapter 8, a likely date for the attempt is the third week of July, which ties in with a letter dated 29 July from Richard III to his Chancellor ordering action to be taken against the perpetrators, now apprehended, of just such a foiled plot.
Stow, who apparently took his information from the original indictment, says that the conspirators were in correspondence with the Tudor camp in Brittany. This is confirmation that the Woodville strand has become enmeshed with the Tudors. The reason becomes clear when we recall that Sir Edward Woodville has been cooling his heels in Brittany for the past two months, with two ships at anchor and coffers overflowing with gold, desperately wishing he could find a way to restore Edward V (and the Woodville family) to power.
The ill-conceived plan in July is followed by another in August, which draws three of our four strands into the mix: on 13 August John Welles, Margaret Beaufort’s half-brother, is arrested for plotting rebellion.7 Margaret’s biographers, Michael K. Jones and Malcolm G. Underwood, believe that Margaret was up to her eyes in this intrigue, and probably was involved in the July plot also; Louise Gill and Rosemary Horrox agree (8).
The only possible conclusion is that these were attempts to restore Edward V (still safely residing at the Tower) to sovereignty. At this date there is no indication that any harm has come to the ‘princes’, certainly not on account of Welles’s plot because the latter, after forfeiting his lands, was allowed to go free. The last reference to their whereabouts on any particular date comes from the Crowland chronicler, who informs us that at the time of the Prince of Wales’s investiture in the first week of September they were still being guarded closely in the Tower of London (9).
We must now return to the Woodville strand and consider their options. By refusing to reconcile they were now condemned as reprobate by the King’s Council, as shown by the Chancellor’s draft speech to the 1483 Parliament.10 The only active member of the clan was Sir Edward in Brittany, who by August had evidently recruited the Tudors to support (as he supposed) the restoration of Edward V. The Tudors, however, were small fry in themselves since they were dependent on the whim of their Breton hosts. The real prize for the Woodvilles was Henry’s mother in England, Margaret Beaufort, wealthy in her own right, ambitious for her son, and currently married to a hugely influential husband, Thomas, Lord Stanley.
Margaret had evidently seen a vista of golden opportunities opened up by such a liaison, and was keen to exploit it. Otherwise there was no earthly reason why she and her half-brother John Welles would risk being involved in rebellious plots which served their family’s interests not one whit.
The most golden of all opportunities for Margaret in the summer of 1483 was the potential hand in marriage, for her exiled son, of Elizabeth Woodville’s eldest daughter, since this would transform him at a stroke into a major player on the world stage. Accordingly she sent intermediaries to Elizabeth in sanctuary to commence negotiations. Historians have been quick to assume, in line with the story peddled by Henry Tudor’s later historian Polydore Vergil, that Elizabeth subscribed to the glorious destiny proposed for her daughter of uniting York with Lancaster; and that, because this action was against the interests of the ‘princes’ if alive, Elizabeth must have believed them dead. Such conclusions, however, are over-credulous. You simply have to work out the chronology.
When the marriage was mooted, it had to be at a time in July/August when the Beaufort side of the bargain was required to demonstrate its bona fides by being willing to commit treason in the Woodville cause. Both mothers were in an equivocal position. Margaret Beaufort had long hoped for a royal bride for her son, but knew there was a price to pay. Elizabeth Woodville had no need to hand over her most senior daughter without gaining something of enormous substance in return. Yet with her son deposed, she was powerless until he could be restored. Therefore we may safely assume that Elizabeth’s price for her daughter’s hand was active assistance in his restoration. The person the Beauforts must help to place on the throne was not Henry Tudor, but Edward V.
At this point we must return to our second strand, represented by the Duke of Buckingham in Brecon. From around mid-August his strand is entwined with that of his prisoner Bishop John Morton, who belongs to Lady Margaret Beaufort’s faction. Morton must have spotted some telltale signs of envy or resentment in the duke’s attitude to the newly crowned Richard, for within a short space of time he was able to persuade Buckingham to align himself with the pockets of rebellion already brewing in protest at the deposition of Edward V.
As a seasoned politician, ‘a man of many designs and much boldness, versed in party intrigue since the time of King Henry [VI]’,11 it was not difficult for Morton to link together in Buckingham’s mind a grand coalition of the disaffected. I.e. the disgruntled Tudor and his mother as the ‘last of the Lancasters’; bringing with them Lancastrian money and backing as well as Duke Francis with his men and ships; plus those of no particular faction in England who sought the restoration of Edward V; topped off with evidence that the Woodvilles could count on continued support from beneficiaries of their 20 years of power and patronage.
Polydore Vergil in his Anglica Historia is the best source of information about the Buckingham- Morton-Beaufort-Tudor conspiracy, thanks to his contacts at Henry Tudor’s court. We may be confident that, although massaged to present a spin complimentary to Tudor self-aggrandization, his account came virtually from the horse’s mouth.
Additionally, it appears Bishop Morton was so impressed with his own prowess that he set out the entire entrapment of Buckingham in an anti-Richard tract which survived for at least a century, although it has since disappeared. The existence of this tract was recorded around the turn of the 1500s/1600s by (among others) Sir George Buc(k), Master of the King’s Revels to King James I: he produced a History of King Richard III in which he stated categorically that Morton’s tract had come into the possession of Sir Thomas More. Sure enough, More’s History of King Richard III included a scene recounting the very words that Bishop Morton was supposed to have used to incite Buckingham to treason. The consensus among those who saw the tract seems to be that the duke was persuaded that he, rather than Richard, was more fit to wear the crown.
Vergil filled in the blank spaces by recounting how Morton, once Buckingham had taken the bait, sent messengers speeding between himself and Margaret Beaufort, reporting the good news that the duke was ready to betray his friend Richard (this exchange of messengers can be traced to the middle two weeks of August) (12). Lady Margaret, recognizing the importance of having split Buckingham from the king, was so thrilled that she immediately sent large amounts of cash to Henry Tudor in Brittany. Vergil, of course, was given a different gloss on Buckingham’s motivation to rebel: not that Buckingham sought the crown for himself, but that he postulated a glorious vision of Henry Tudor on the throne of England with a daughter of Edward IV as his queen (13).
Before we can continue with Buckingham’s strand, we first have to cross to Brittany to see who is doing what there. After years spent sitting on his hands as a pensioner of Francis II, Henry Tudor has leapt into action with his new (soon-to-be-forgotten) friend Sir Edward Woodville. Duke Francis, persuaded by the latter’s two stolen vessels and five-figure sums of treasure, as well as by new funding recently arrived from Henry’s mother, agrees to prepare and provision a flotilla of ships which is already being equipped in the first weeks of September (14).
The French Coast in the 15th Century..
Since these preparations precede the September date on which not only the Crowland chronicler but also Polydore Vergil15 claim that the ‘princes’ were still alive in the Tower of London, we have to conclude that Francis II was duped into thinking he was supporting the Woodvilles’ attempts to restore the throne to Edward V.
This was also the rallying-cry of the rebels in England as Buckingham, a pillar of Richard’s establishment as his High Constable of England, offered himself to them as their unlikely leader in overthrowing the rule of his benefactor. At the end of August he had received a commission from a trusting Richard requiring him to investigate reports of uprisings that had broken out in London and the southern counties. Instead of bringing the rebels to justice, Buckingham toured the seats of rebellion in early September presenting his credentials as their brand new captain-in-chief – and, incredibly, they accepted him in that role. As the Crowland chronicler tells us, he now issued his public proclamation against Richard.16 Since we know that the king was still happily ordering monies to be paid over to Buckingham as late as 16 September,17 this proclamation cannot have been issued before about 10-12 September.
Continuing with the Crowland narrative, we now have a sudden change in circumstances. A rumour spreads like wildfire among the rebels that the boy-king they want to restore, along with his brother, has met an unspecified but violent end. Now bereft of a candidate for the throne, they are thrown into confusion. But one thing is certain in the subsequent hiatus: they are not prepared to vote in Harry of Buckingham for that role (18).
There is, of course, no way that the rebels can confirm the fate or even the whereabouts of the boys. A decision must urgently be taken to cover the eventuality that the rumours may be correct, and at this point someone – probably the ever-helpful Morton – steps in to mention that Lady Margaret Beaufort happens to be negotiating a marriage contract between Henry Tudor and the eldest female heir of the ‘princes’. The rebels accordingly make Tudor their champion on the promise of this marriage.
The promise seems to have been offered and accepted without demur, even though it can have been made only by proxy, given that the principals in the matter were unavailable to confirm it. This leaves it open that the rebels may have regarded Tudor as a stopgap candidate, and were not necessarily convinced Edward V was actually dead.
So at this point all our four strands have come together. Buckingham has joined Morton and Margaret Beaufort in a rebellion that now has Henry Tudor catapulted to prominence as leader rather than supporter. Sir Edward Woodville, having sought Tudor backing, now has rather more involvement from Henry and his mother than he bargained for. And Elizabeth Woodville finds her daughter promised away to Henry Tudor without the quid pro quo that lay at the heart of her original deal.
Let us end by considering Elizabeth Woodville, tucked away in sanctuary, with a question-mark over the fate of her sons and the prospect of their claims being swept aside by Tudor. Just how happy was she to have her boys written off in the space of a few days, while the restoration movement was hijacked by this adventurer from Brittany who clearly intended to use her daughter to set himself up in their place?
I have indicated that the marriage discussions began as a deal that would bring in the weight of the Beaufort-Tudor faction in favour of Edward V. The negotiating process would have been a protracted one, with each side jockeying for the best terms: what was the maximum Elizabeth could demand in return for her daughter, and what was the minimum to which Margaret Beaufort would commit while being able to secure a promise of marriage? It is reasonable to suppose that an agreement was close by the time Margaret sent money to Henry at about the end of August.
But then came the devastating news that Elizabeth’s sons were rumoured to be dead. I would argue that a frantic mother would never voluntarily accept any such rumour as true without instituting the most strenuous enquiries and searches. We know that Elizabeth took money and possessions with her into sanctuary, and had the wherewithal to hire agents to carry out her instructions. Even had she been told to her face that the boys were dead, would she not keep hoping it was just a ploy? Short of seeing their bodies for herself, what could possibly serve to convince her?
Yet too many people are still ready to accept the Tudor story that Elizabeth straightaway betrothed her daughter to the very man who posed the greatest threat to her sons while they remained alive. I say ‘straightaway’ because for this story to be true, she must have done so in the space of no more than a few days after the rumour broke.
This timeline is found by reckoning backwards from the latest date by which planning for the rebellion had resumed (so far as records show) after the hiatus caused by the rumour. This must have been by about 20 September, as indicated by the fact that Robert Morton, keeper of the rolls in chancery, was caught plotting, investigated, and replaced in his post by 22 September. On the following day action was taken against Bishop Lionel Woodville who also had become embroiled in the resumption of the rebellion (19).
As mentioned above, Buckingham’s leadership proclamation could not have been issued before about 10-12 September. Therefore the rumour that ousted him from that position must have been spread after this point and before 20 September. That leaves a total of just seven to ten days in which (as is commonly – and erroneously – assumed) Elizabeth Woodville heard the rumour of the death of her sons, investigated and believed it, then abandoned their cause so that Henry Tudor could claim the throne in right of his betrothal to her daughter. This is simply beyond credulity.
Very soon afterwards, on 24 September, Buckingham sent letters to Henry Tudor urging him to invade England.20 By then the rebellion was in full swing, Henry had been accepted as the rebels’ new champion and the initial panic at the rumours was over. For Elizabeth, however, I would argue it had only just begun.
- Rhoda Edwards, The Itinerary of King Richard III, 1483-1485 (London, 1983).
- Rosemary Horrox, Richard III: A Study of Service (Cambridge, 1989), pp.102-3.
- Michael K Jones and Malcolm G.Underwood, The King’s Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby (Cambridge, 1992), pp.60, 61.
- Polydore Vergil, Anglica Historia (J.B. Nichols, 1846), book 25, p.194.
- Bill Hampton, in ‘“Our trusty and wellbeloved servant and squire for our body”, Nicholas Baker alias Spicer’, The Ricardian, 2003, and Louise Gill, in Richard III and Buckingham’s Rebellion (Stroud, 1999, 2000) agree on Buckingham’s probable route to Brecon. He was certainly there on 23 August when an order passed under his personal signet: Gill, p.64.
6. John Stow, The Annales or Generall Chronicle of England (London, 1615), p.460; Thomas Basin, Histoire de Louis XI, ed. C. Samaran, vol 3, Les Classiques de l’histoire de France, vols 26, 29, 30 (Paris, 1972), p.234.
- Horrox, A Study of Service, p.150; Gill, op cit, p.63.
- Jones & Underwood, op cit, p.125; Gill, op cit, pp.63-4; Horrox, A Study of Service, p150.
- The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486, ed. Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (London,1986), p.163.
10. Published in full in Carson, Richard Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England (Horstead, 2015), Appendix X.
- Carson, Domenico Mancini: de occupatione regni Anglie (Horstead, 2021), p. 63.
- Carson, Richard III: The Maligned King (Stroud: 2008 edn p.138; 2013 edn p.162).
- Vergil, Anglica Historia, book 25, pp.194-5.
- Ralph A. Griffiths and Roger S. Thomas, The Making of the Tudor Dynasty (Stroud, 1993), p.102.
- Vergil, Anglica Historia, book 25, p.188.
- Crowland Chronicle, p.163.
- British Library Harleian MS 433, ed. R.E. Horrox and P.W. Hammond (Upminster and London, 1979-83), vol. I, pp.3-4.
- Crowland Chronicle, p.163.
- Horrox, A Study of Service, pp.151-2, citing BL Harleian MS 433 vol. II, pp.23-4; Gill, op cit, p.64.
- Rolls of Parliament, vol. 6, pp.244-9.
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