A Perfect Coup

That King Richard III seized the throne from his young nephew during the intrigue and confusion of the summer of 1483 is well known, as is the short, turbulent time that he was to spend upon the throne. Was Richard’s problem that his coup was, in fact, too good?

In early April 1483 King Edward IV, the first king of the House of York, lay on his deathbed aged 40 after over two decades as king, the second of which had seen more peace than the country had known in a generation. Although his death was coming early and his son was only a boy of 12, the peace that he had secured should have nurtured the Prince until he became a man. But all was not as it seemed.

King Edward IV
King Edward IV

King Edward knew that strife lay ahead for his kingdom and for his son. Grafton’s Chronicle reports that as the king lay near to death he called about him his friends and family. “My Lords, my dear kinsmen and allies,” Edward reportedly began, “in what plight I now lye, you see, and I well feel.” There are other reports too of Edward pleading with those around him to unite for his sons’ sakes and to put aside their petty quarrels. He could see what was coming. “For it sufficeth not that you love them, if each of you hate other.” Lord Hastings, firmest of the king’s friends, was required to take the hand of his enemy Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, the king’s step son, and swear that they would cease their rivalry. “Such a pestilent Serpent is ambition, and desire of vain glory and sovereignty,” Grafton reports that the king continued, “Ambition, which among states where once entered, creepeth so far forth, till with division and variance he turneth all to mischief. First longing to be next to the best: Afterward equal with the best, and at the last chief and above the best.” The sick king pleaded with those about him “from this time forward, all griefes forgotten, each of you love other, which I verily trust you will“, though it seems that he did not trust in this at all. When he could speak no more, Grafton tells how he “laid down on his right side, his face toward them: and none was there present that could refrain from weeping. But the Lords comforting him with as good words as they could … each forgave other and joined their hands together, when (as it after appeared by their deeds) their hearts were far asunder.” Edward was not blind, nor was he naive. This situation required a different solution.

The answer at which Edward IV arrived was that neither of these parties could be trusted with power, for they would, by nature of their hatred of the other, use the position against their enemies. His solution, on his deathbed, was to name his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as Protector. It is often forgotten that this is the situation into which Richard was imported from his estates far in the north. There was hatred and bitter rivalry in London before he was summoned. That is why he was summoned. To believe that he created an atmosphere of edgy, nervous partisan politics is to ignore the fact that such an atmosphere already existed in London. Edward’s personality and intense likeability had been the glue that had held the parties together and without him, he knew that it could swiftly descend into conflict. For this, he must bear the blame. He had not prepared sufficiently for a world without him. In relying solely on his personality and not a less personal form of solid governance he denied his son safe stability. Perhaps less of an issue had it happened a few years later, he must have known that his death while he son was 12 was a recipe for certain disaster. No more could be done, and on the 9th April 1483, the tallest king in English history, King Edward IV, passed away.

King Edward V
King Edward V

To my mind, this prevailing situation in London must colour our view of Richard’s role and his actions (which is different from excusing him of the worst crimes of which he is accused if he were guilty). Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset and half brother to the new king was supposedly bragging to the Council that his family held such power that they would rule without Richard. There must have been fear in the opposition camp that this was true because Lord Hastings wrote to Richard that he should come to London with all haste to stop the Queen’s family.

The new King Edward V was already in the care of his mother’s family, who had been a part of his household at Ludlow, led by his uncle Anthony, Earl Rivers. It is entirely possible, perhaps one might even  concede reasonable, that Richard might fear that the Woodville family would indeed try to use their hold over the king to secure the authority that his brother had not wanted for them. They were generally disliked and mistrusted for their use of Queen Elizabeth’s position to secure some of the best positions at court and to corner the marriage market. They would have real reason to fear the loss of this position and if Richard believed the rumours of their posturing then securing the person of the king from them was the natural response. It matters less whether a Woodville plot against Richard was real or not than whether Richard had cause to genuinely believe it real. When Rivers overshot their agreed meeting place and took the king to a Woodville manor at Stony Stratford, that can only have served to add to Richard’s suspicion that some kind of plot may be very real.

What of Lord Hastings’ position in all of this? That he wrote to Richard pleading him to hurry to London suggests that he felt his own position weak. This would, to anyone’s eyes, make him dangerous. Even before his arrival in London, Richard must surely have been every bit as wary of Hastings and his motivations as he was of those of the Woodvilles. The execution of Lord Hastings is often viewed as the one undeniable blot on Richard’s character and reputation amid the fog of rumour. I am about to try and deny it, I’m afraid.

William, Lord Hastings was a close personal friend of King Edward IV, devoted to the cause of York. They shared good times and bad, food, drink and women, the last three to excess. Edward and Hastings famously both had Jane Shore as their mistress, as did the Marquis of Dorset, Edward’s step-son and Hastings’ rival. It is frequently asserted that Hastings was removed by Richard because of his fierce and unswerving devotion to his friend’s son, Edward V. It is claimed that Richard concocted a story of treason as an excuse to remove Hastings, who was a hurdle between him and the throne that he coveted. As with the Woodville plot, the question is less whether it was real and more whether Richard might have genuinely believed it to be.

Henry Tudor’s historian Virgil offers an interesting insight into this question. During the reign of Henry VII he wrote;

But the lord Hastings who bore privy hatred to the marquis and others of the queen’s side, who for that cause had exhorted Richard to take upon him the government of the prince, when he saw all in uproar and that matters fell out otherwise than he had wenyd [wanted], repenting therefore that which he had done, called together unto Paul’s church such friends as he knew to be right careful for the life, dignity, and estate of prince Edward, and conferred with them what best was to be done. Here divers of them who were most offended with this late fact of Richard duke of Gloucester, adjudged it mete with all speed to procure the liberty of prince Edward, whom they accounted as utterly oppressed and wronged by force and violence, that so the fire, which was kindling, might be put out before it should spread further abroad.

Was it Richard’s plan to seize the throne that caused such a desperate meeting? No. The matter that “fell out otherwise than he had wenyd” was the news that Richard had taken possession of the person of the king at Stony Stratford. This was precisely what Hastings had written to Richard to achieve, yet Virgil claims that on hearing of it, Hastings reaction was to call a meeting of powerful men to discuss what they might do against Richard on his arrival in London. Whilst Virgil may not be the most reliable source of unbiased information on Richard, he appears here to be offering substance to the notion that Hastings was plotting against Richard. Perhaps not against his life, but plotting nevertheless. Virgil concludes the matter of this meeting at St Paul’s by saying that “All the residue thought that there was no need to use war or weapon at all, as men who little suspected that the matter would have any horrible and cruel end.”

So, if Virgil is to be believed, most at the gathering did not share Hastings’ fear of Richard. The episode, if true, is perhaps reported to demonstrate Hastings precognition that Richard would turn to evil on arrival in London. What it in fact shows is that Hastings was measuring opposition against the Protector before he even arrived in London. If Hastings wished to preserve his own position, he may well have known that Richard, pious, priggish, upright Lord of the North, would not approve of Hastings lifestyle and may not wish that kind of influence upon his young nephew. Perhaps Lord Hastings had his own agenda that has been overlooked.

So it was that at a Council meeting in the Tower of London 13th June 1483 the deed was done. More recounts how Richard “came about nine o’clock to them, and having saluted all the lords very courteously, excused himself for coming to them so late, saying merrily, that he had played the sluggard this morning“. He jovially asked John Morton, the Bishop of Ely, for some of his “very good strawberries” for them to enjoy during the meeting.

A little after this, the protector obliging them to go on in their councils, requested them to dispense with his absence awhile, and so departed. In the space of little more than an hour he returned again, but with such an angry countenance, knitting his brows, frowning and biting his lips, that the whole council were amazed at the sudden change. Being sat down, he said nothing for a good while, but at length spoke with great concern, and asked them this question : “What punishment do they deserve who had plotted his death, who was so near in blood to the king, and by office the protector of the king’s person and realm?” This question he had raised out of Catesby’s account of the Lord Hastings’s words and discourse, which he so represented to him, as if he had wished and contrived his death.”

Here, More, the supposed root of Richard’s criminal reputation, which he no doubt acquired tales of from John Morton himself, claims that William Catesby informed Richard that Hastings plotted against him. Catesby was a lawyer who had been in the service of Lord Hastings and who Richard had allegedly sent to sound out Hastings about Richard’s intention to seize the throne. It is reported that Catesby may never have actually raised the matter with Lord Hastings, but did report to Richard that Hastings would not join him. In fact, More is claiming here that Catesby in fact told Richard Hastings was plotting against him. So the question arises again: is it unreasonable to believe that Richard earnestly believed in a plot against him? If Hastings’ own man was informing him of one, it does not seem unreasonable.

Furthermore, Grafton reports that the night before this Council meeting, “Lord Stanley sent to him [Hastings] a trusty and secret messenger at midnight in all the haste, requiring him to rise and ride away with him“. It would seem that Stanley had endured such a nightmare about a crazed boar chasing him that he was convinced Richard, whose emblem was the boar, was out to get them. To this messenger, Hastings teased “leaneth my Lord thy master unto such trifles, and hath such faith in dreams, which either his own fear fantasiseth, or do rise in the night’s rest, by reason of the day’s thought. Tell him it is plain witchcraft to believe in such dreams, which if they were tokens of things to come, why thinketh he not that we might as likely make them true by our going, if we were caught and brought back, (as friends fail flyers) for then had the Boar a cause likely to raise us with his tusks, as folks that tied for some falsehood“.

Thomas, Lord Stanley
Thomas, Lord Stanley

Hastings advised against leaving lest they appeared guilty of some crime. If report of this reached Richard, what was he to make of these two discussing fleeing from London to their estates? Hastings had a large affinity in the East Midlands and Stanley could command an immense host from the North West. Could reports of this really be ignored, especially if they accompanied news of Hastings’ meeting at St Paul’s before Richard arrived.

Richard cursed Hastings as a traitor and had him dragged outside for execution, telling him “by Saint Paul, I will not dine till I see thy head off” (Grafton). Fabyan’s Chronicle reports that “there without judgement, or long time of confession or repentance, upon an end of a long and great timber log, which there lay with other for the repairing of the said Tower, caused his head to be smitten off“. Curiously, not allowing “long time” of confession implies that confession and last rites were in fact allowed, as it is often asserted they were not. As to the matter of “without judgement” there is an issue here too. Richard had, for many years, been Lord Constable of England, making him president of the Court of Chivalry and the Court of Honour. It is my understanding that the Constable was entitled to try matters without trial by peers based upon evidence that he had seen. I stand to be corrected if this is not true, but if it is, then Richard did not act illegally or outside of his jurisdiction by pronouncing judgement and sentence upon Hastings if he had evidence of a plot.

Execution of Lord Hastings
Execution of Lord Hastings

After the execution, Richard summoned the aldermen of London and, Grafton states, “Then the Lord Protector showed them, that the Lord Hastings and other of his conspiracy had contrived to have suddenly destroyed him and the Duke of Buckingham there the same day in council, and what they intended farther was yet not well known, of which their treason he had never knowledge before ten of the clock the same forenoon“. As with the evidence Richard presented to Parliament of his brother’s pre-contract and his nephews’ illegitimacy, many will claim that he invented the tale, but it is just as likely that he did not. London did not rise in opposition, perhaps because Richard showed them compelling evidence of the plots, the same evidence that he had been made aware of that morning, including, no doubt, Stanley’s call to Hastings to flee; evidence now lost to us.

In short order, the story of the illegitimacy of the Princes was circulated and Richard was asked to assume the throne. Having gone on at great length already, I will save the discussion of that matter for another time, but Richard was king.  Earl Rivers, his nephew Richard Grey and Thomas Vaughn were executed at Pontefract. When Richard had arrived in London, Lord Hastings had supposedly congratulated him on securing the kingdom (for Edward V) without spilling so much as a thimbleful of blood. I can’t help wondering whether this very achievement ended up costing Richard his throne.

If he arrived in London in May 1483 to find a nest of vipers, a fraught atmosphere of plotting, intrigue and uncertainty, what should he have done? In short measure, Richard had dealt with it. He cut the heads from the two opposing factions; Lord Hastings and Earl Rivers. It is often assumed that he did so as part of a grand scheme to seize the throne, but what if he truly believed the plots were real and acted swiftly to prevent them progressing? This would explain why he continued to prepare for his nephew’s coronation, issuing edicts in the name of Edward V, minting coin for the new king and swearing his fealty repeatedly until the tale of their illegitimacy was given light. Perhaps it is hard to see the reversal of this man’s previous good character because it did not happen.

Thomas More also reports that during the Council meeting at which Hastings was arrested Richard bared his arm to show it withering, claiming witchcraft was being used against him. Since we now know that Richard did not have a withered arm , it is hard to know how much of these sources can really be believed, but it is intriguing that these are Tudor writers, trying to condemn Richard III, who in fact appear to give substance to the suggestion that he was surrounded by plotting.

That King Edward IV foresaw such turbulence from his deathbed is testament to the fragility of the peace that he had won and his realisation that without him it would not be likely to be maintained long. He would not apportion power to Woodville or Hastings, but turned to Richard, who he must have trusted to do what was required to resolve the tension. Would Edward IV have objected if he knew that the price of securing his son’s succession was the death of his best friend and his brother in law? I do not know. If any of the above has convinced you, then Richard was the right man for the job and Edward was only undone by his own previous wilful indiscretions.

The reason that I ask whether the coup was too perfect is that it was achieved with the death of four men; Hastings, Rivers, Grey and Vaughn. Edward IV took the throne after years of bitter fighting and battles that decimated the nobility and gentry. Perhaps if Richard had killed more people, crushed more potential opposition and allowed attrition to work for him, he would have better secured his throne. That he did not, and that he tried to make peace with the likes of Thomas Stanley, at least suggests that he was a more genuine character during the summer of 1483 than he is given credit for.

Matthew Lewis is the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

Matt’s has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.

27 thoughts on “A Perfect Coup

  1. You offer a fascinating new approach to this very well covered set of events Matthew.

    I have long held the belief that Richard was of a predominately good character who may have acted too rashly for his own good at times and would dearly love to find your interpretation to be proved correct. It still remains the case though that ultimately his actions in 1483, whatever their motive, didn’t lead to peace and stability but yet more conflict, and resulting in his own demise.

    Surely then we must still judge Richard’s actions in May/June’83 against the final outcome of events. His initial coup may have run relatively smoothly in the short term but not for long. It is hard for me to say these things as i regard myself completely as a Richardian but i also have to be honest. He was perhaps his own worst enemy. If he had simply sent the aforementioned gang of four to the tower for later judgement in court by their peers instead of immediately removing their heads he may have gained longer term support, even if as Constable he may have had the legal right to act against them straight away. Such a court case would have also given opportunity for wider knowledge of their supposed plots and thus given Richard greater credence/credibility when he then moved to take the crown.

    That’s not to say i don’t think he had the right to remove Edward V and his brother from the succession i simply mean his earlier rash actions made it look more of a unlawful usurption than it actually was. I believe he was the best person to take the crown for the good of the country and that he did have legal right on his side but his initial actions made him look less worthy to those that eventually opposed him (Morton and Stanley) rather than more.

    Remember Edward IV’s deathbed wish for his councilors to unite and not war with each other? I rather suspect that was never going to occur no matter what approach Richard took but dispatching heads off rival faction leaders only served to make people wary of Richard as well when he could have enhanced his standing more by an open trial.

    I still therefore believe the death of Hastings et al was his only questionably action which (along with the subsequent loss of his only heir) was to prove fatal in the final actions of those that traitorously moved against him in 1485.

    1. Thank you for your comment Sean. The main problem with judging Richard by the eventual outcome is that he lacked the benefit of hindsight and could only do what he thought best in the mess that confronted him.

      I was hoping to demonstrate that things weren’t necessarily as clear cut as they are often presented. I’m not sure that there was a ‘right’ answer available to Richard. Keeping his head down was as risky as sticking his neck out.

  2. Richard was left with a fine mess by his brother.His unexpected death threw him into a crucible of warring factions, none of whom could be trusted not tear the others apart.including anyone else who get in the way.
    Edward iv had been the ” glue ” as you rightly point out. On top of all this deadly intrigue was the very real possibility that Richard would be brought to the gallows on some trumped up charge.The closer Richard looked into this mess the more he realised the imminent threat to himself and that the way forward would mean death to someone
    .Don’t forget that his own son was still alive at this time, I’m sure he was protecting his family and affinity too.It was kill or be killed.Well, he never did hang around for that kind of decision.

    What intrigues me about all this ,is how and when did Bishop Stillington come into the picture?
    He seems to have suddenly popped up at the right place and right time !Who was behind this ? Certainly not Stillington surely ? He strikes me as a man terrified for this own survival.Someone shoved him forward with precision timing,who ? Why ? Why did Richard grab his testimony so trustingly? It certainly was most convenient ?Did Richard know all along? Did he brother confess to him about a previous marriage years back and Richard sworn to secrecy.His loyalty binding him.
    There is something very odd about the sudden revelation of Edward V ‘s illegitimacy.Why did Richards loyalty to Edward V suddenly fail ? Was he too much a Woodeville not to threaten Richard ?It does seem to be overlooked by many writers.I would love to know more about Stillington and his conjuring trick.

    I think Richard was living in a nigthmare during this time, I cant see how he planned it all along by guile and wickedness.Like I said, it was kill or be killed.that was the bottom line.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I avoided the illegitimacy issue in this post simply because it was already long!

      Stillington is a hard character to grasp. I have said before that perhaps his revelation was not so mysteriously timed since it most likely required Edward IV’s death for the news to break. He could hardly have brought the charge against the king and Queen without immense risk to himself.

      Stillington was closely associated with George, Duke of Clarence and spent time in the Tower when George was arrested and executed. Was George threatening to break the story using Stillington and his evidence? Did Stillington evade death by swearing to keep his secret? If so, Edward’s death provided the first opportunity for the news to become public. It is possible Stillington’s conscience would not let him allow a child he knew to be Illegitimate to take the throne.

      I don’t think anything at that time was cut and dried and it is hard to place ourselves into that position, without the benefit of hindsight.

    2. Simply brilliant! I think that was the best article I ever read on Richard III and the political Background (and I´ve done a great deal of reading). Inclusive the course material I was lucky to study.

  3. Good article Matt – very interesting to read.

    I have always worried about that dramatic reversal of character that Richard suffered when he moved down from the North. It always seemed very strange to me that someone who had been unfailingly loyal to his brother throughout many difficult periods during his reign, would suddenly act contrary to what people knew of him, unless he was a closet schizophrenic!

    My understanding is that one of the reasons he spent so much of his time in the North was not just that it was his power base, but because of the attitudes and intrigues present in London. By all accounts he was a just and well respected leader – fulfilling a valuable role for his brother – and possibly very happy there with his wife and child, surrounded by his loyal retainers. He seemed ideally suited to the ruling of men.

    However, the situation he inherited in London must have been anathema to him and also dangerous. It seems to me that he faced a situation where he could not win whichever action he decided on. And as you say Matt, hindsight is a wonderful thing. He was always going to cross someone, upset one faction or the other and make as many enemies as he did friends. Top this with the fact that his character was completely different to Edwards – that must have made those that did not know him well uneasy – and perhaps also some that did know him well.

    In my mind I wondered if the reason he treated Hastings the way he did was because he felt so betrayed by a man who had been so close to his beloved brother, had in fact told him of his brothers death and alerted him to the troubles that lie ahead. Whatever proof Catesby gave him must have been devastating to a man who put so much store in loyalty.

    If only he had not been so generous with others – for instance Stanley. He almost seemed to give his harshest judgement on those he trusted. Those men he knew may not be so allied to him, escaped that – as if that is how he expected them to behave. He did not expect them to be loyal – therefore when they weren’t – the betrayal was less.

    So – it may be a naive opinion but I believe Richard acted as a man of his times dealing with a plethora of difficult circumstances. But at the end of the day, royal he may have been, but he was a man. Did he make mistakes in judgement? Probably. Does that make him an evil tyrant? Not necessarily.

    1. Thanks Cheryl. I agree that the complexity of what Richard walked into is underestimated. He is often accused of creating the uncertainty and partisan politics when in fact that is what he found and tried to resolve. Successful or not, he must have surely tried to do his best.

  4. John Ashdown-Hill thinks that Richard started to think of taking the Crown on the 10th or 11th of June. Sunday, June 8th, is the date he thinks Stillington provided his evidence of the precontract with Eleanor Butler to the Council. Comeyns mentions this, but Simon Stallworth, who recorded events that day, does not mention it. He does mention that Dorset was in big trouble because of goods he delivered to Elizabeth Woodville. Plans were still on for the coronation of Edward V. On June 10th, Richard writes a letter to York, asking for help (fighting men) as the Queen dowager and her afinity were trying to destroy him, Buckingham, and the blood royal of the realm. There was a cesation of Privy Seal writs under Edwards name by the 10th of June. On the 12th, Richard calls a meeting for the 13th, Friday. Now we come to that critical hour, when Richard leaves council for an hour and Morton collects his strawberries.
    I find it hard to believe that no one knew about Edwards marriage to Eleanor Butler. I think that Edward made a habit of this type of marriages and that Eleanor and Elizabeth were not the only females he married. According to common law, the promise in exchange for sexual favors was sufficient to cement a contract of marriage. And here’s a fact no one comments on: the Catesby family and the Talbots (Eleanor’s family) were neighbors, and were related by marriage. Perhaps Eleanor asked for advice from Catesby (a lawyer), and her cousin, Joan Barre, who’s second husband was Sir William Catesby, the Cat’s father. Catesby had to have known about Edward’s contract with Eleanor. One can bet she was advised to shut up and not rock the boat in 1464. I find it telling that the brass engraving on Catesby’s fathers tomb reads: “Lancastrian to the last”.
    Note that Mancini left England in July and notes that the boys, Edward and Richard, were seen playing in the royal apartments of the Tower after the second week in July. I discount much of Polydore Virgil because he was a paid by Henry VII to write history. (rewrite history?)

    Thomas B Costain’s book, The Last Plantagenets States that Hastings was tried and convicted 5 days after June 13th. He does not give any footnotes, or cite any sources for this. My copy is from 1962.

    Imagine the court at the time of Edward’s death, cabals everywhere, spies everywhere, and remember Richard had only visited London twice in the past 10 years. He acted no more ruthlessly then Edward did, and certainly should have downed a few more heads (the Stanleys). Richard did not know who was true friend and who was foe. he was defending his rights and his family by his actions vis a vis Anthony Woodville, Dorset, Vaughn and Haute. Compare the court at that time to a large corporation today, with many relatives of the president in high places, and a rumor goes around that the company is for sale…cliques form, alliances are formed, lies are told, promises made and broken, letters go out that say “business as usual”, but we know better, don’t we? Very little work gets done, resumes go out, gossip is rife and contradictory. A stranger comes in to try to make things right and proper, with no knowledge of the gossip, cabals formed , or any truth among employees. That is what Richard had to deal with.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I agree with your analogy. I liken it to a family business too and agree with your assessment.

      I wasn’t aware of the Talbot / Catesby relationship but it adds a very interesting dimension to the revelations in 1483 as Catesby moved into Richard’s circle. I’ll have to look into that further.

  5. Hi, I have just about to publish a book about Richard called the man behind the myth. I have just been reading your blog, I could not help but think that there was many plots and schemes going on in Edwards Court. When Richard became the protector he had the young kings uncle Anthony Woodville, Richard Grey and Thomas Vaughan sent up to Yorkshire as prisoners. It was only when Hastings was beheaded that those prisoners were shortly to follow the executors block. I don’t think Richard was able to execute those prisoners if Edward V was still alive. Edward V had a close relationship with those men.

    1. Hi. Thank you for reading my blog. Good luck with the book too. Rivers, Grey and Vaughn were executed towards the end of June but there. Were reports, including by Mancini, that the boys were seen towards the end if July, a month later. The murder of the princes is at odds with Richard’s previous character and did not serve his ends at all as it still left heirs of his brother alive.

      1. Every time I read about Richard I get the feeling that he was a bright, good, trusting person who had ADHD. I keep wondering how things would have gone if he had
        been on methylphenidate.

      2. A lot of the accounts written by Mancini seem to be tampered with and are vague and don’t make much sense. The Tudor propaganda machine would be responsible for that.

  6. I agree with Cheryl Lock’s opinion when she says Richard was too generous with the wrong people. Stanley and John Morton should have suffered the same fate as Hastings. Richard was too trusting and true to his motto…I believe that his biggest mistake was trusting Buckingham. I strongly believe that Buckingham was behind the “disappearance” of the princes in the tower.

  7. Really terrific post, I hope you will continue to investigate the events of this really crucial time period, as I believe, in it lies the greatest hope of rehabilitating Richard’s reputation. It lays the groundwork for what may or may not have happened to the princes.
    I have often wondered what Richard’s thoughts might have been between the time he received the news of his brother’s death and the moment the decision was made to leave for London. Did he even for a second believe he might continue his life in the North undisturbed if he kept his distance and retired, basically? I have always felt that the Woodvilles would have had him executed at first, and any, opportunity… regardless of the Loyaulte he owed his brother, he had to keep his own and Yorkist family safe. There had been, what, 20 yrs. of chaos with those Woodvilles influencing his brother? None of them could be relied on to rule without complete self-interest, and before that, decades of upstarts and poor governance and weak-willed monarchs (and ambitious queens), and horrific bloodshed…The excellent general that Richard was, the decision must have been made quickly and cleanly, but I have no doubt that he knew instantly that the decision would exact a ferocious personal toll. That critics still assume he took the throne for some sudden and perverse vanity is so at odds with the nature of the man’s character, it’s nothing short of laughable…

  8. This is an excellent discussion you’ve got going Matt.

    There are some rather compelling points that have been raised that enable greater potential sense to be made of the Hastings’ and Woodville executions. As stated they are the only factual actions i have taken issue with regarding Richard and to have even these contextualised would allow him yet greater sympathy for me.

    I rather suspect that the question of illegitimacy dogged Edward IV throughout his life and thus played a big part of his deathbed attempt to ensure his nobles all swore oaths of friendship and work towards a quick coronation of Edward V. It was probably not only his strong personality that provided the glue to his reign but numerous victories on the battlefield signifying his ‘right by arms’ which combined to suppress these well known(?) questions of illegitimacy. Once he was gone it was open season for those in the know. What still puzzles me though is the news that Catesby may have delivered appertaining to Hastings. Perhaps Catesby had been away until 13th and it was his arrival back at 10.00 that gave Richard reason to leave the council briefly in a good mood and then return with such anger and determination but why? Are we saying Catesby brought news not only of Edwards’ illegitimacy, thus backing up Stillington, but also of Hastings’ knowing this and keeping it a secret? Do we know of any specific issues between Hastings and Catesby to make sense of why Caseby would do this? Knowledge of this would be the final piece of the jigsaw for me to understanding Richards actions re the beheading’s.

    1. Thanks Sean. Glad you’re enjoying it. I’m finding it very interesting. morgana62 raises a fascinating point about Catesby’s relationship to the Talbots which I’m going to have to dig deeper into. It would connect Catesby with a family disgruntled by Edward IV’s actions; maybe it was a family story he heard or perhaps he even gave them legal advice on the matter. Perhaps, if the link can be established, Catesby sought out Stillington and nudged him towards Richard with his news. Catesby was skilled enough to make the evidence and the case compelling.

      It would also add a further dimension to the issue of Catesby’s will in which he repents his many sins. Definitely something to look at more closely!

  9. An interesting discussion to be sure though I’m not really convinced by your arguments about Hastings. I think it is possible to judge Richard not by the final outcome but by the sequences of events he perpetrated.
    Just to take one point, even if one assumes that you are right about why he executed Hastings, there is no justification for the haste and manner of the execution which itself suggests panic. Richard shows a tendency to panic when the pressure is on.
    On another more general point, I don’t see the circumstances at Edward’s death as quite as serious as has been described. It is not unusual for a young king to be surrounded by older. powerful men – it would be more unusual for him not to be. Usually any struggles that take place are for control of the young king – as in the case of Edward VI later on. What is unusual here is that the young king is not seen by Richard as the way to exercise control. This means that he must find another way to control things – i.e by taking the throne himself. Once that decision is made, Hastings has to go. It’s bizarre, because had Richard wanted to he could ruled through the young king backed by a combination of powerful men including Hastings and the Stanleys.
    By abandoning Edward V he guaranteed opposition by all of the Woodvilles as well as other Yorkists loyal to EV. This narrowed his possible base of support and the loss of Buckingham effectively finished him.
    Thank you for starting the discussion.

    1. Hi. Glad you’re enjoying the debate – I certainly am. It is almost impossible to arrive at a definitive answer to any of this based on the evidence that has survived, so it tends to polarise those who support Richard and those who oppose him.
      Hastings is frequently portrayed as the jovial, loveable, innocent uncle figure but he was also a warrior and politician with decades of experience. The patronage he enjoyed flowed directly from a man who had just died and in writing to Richard to betrays his fear of losing all of that to a Woodville regime. I find it very hard to believe that he didn’t have his own agenda aimed at retaining his position and power. He may well have been as wary of Richard as of the Woodvilles and this care could have appeared to be plotting.
      I think matters were that serious when Edward IV died. His son was 12 and he knew well enough that Richard II had come to the throne aged 9 and lost it and Henry VI’s accession as a baby was catastrophic for the country and his line. It is not unreasonable to think Edward spied similar trouble for his young son. He would be surrounded by older men, but older men at odds with each other. Without Edward IV to keep a lid on the squabbling it could have undone his son.
      I think Richard acts decisively and ruthlessly rather than panics. It has been suggested that he was an intractable character and i think he saw things in black and white – you were for him or against him and if you were against him you were not to be tolerated. This was possibly not the most politic way to proceed, but the mire of London politics was not Richard’s scene. He had consciously shunned it for years.
      I don’t doubt that Richard sought out Buckingham because he saw in him a man also removed from that atmosphere and marked in him a kindred spirit. To some extent he was clearly deceived in that but the fact that he made some bad choices in an impossible situation does not make him the villain he is portrayed as. Narrowing his support definitely worked against him and when he tried to broaden it again he had alienated those he sought to draw back in too much to build bridges. They saw more opportunity elsewhere and no doubt viewed Henry Tudor as someone they could work with better than Richard.
      I’m enjoying this discussion and welcome the debate on a man too often lost in myth.

  10. Hastings was a letch and a rake and certainly a womaniser, he was far from a saint. The Woodville’s and Hastings hated each other and that is well documented. Although Hastings was a Yorkist and backed Edward IV, when Edward had died he did not want the Woodville’s to rule the country. I hope you will read my book Richard, the man behind the myth, by Andrea Willers. You can get it on kindle from amazon.

I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

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