I’ve spent a lot of time the past few days thinking about my post on Monday about Richard III and the whole concept of otherwise excellent people committing real atrocities that seem to be completely out of character.
Then I wondered if a bit of an overview might be useful, again, for people who might be interested in the period and how everything fits together.
Ricardians, please note: I’m approaching this subject with as little bias, one way or the other, as i can manage so please don’t be offended at anything that may seem like a slur on Richard’s character The position of King of England in the 15th century was not open to wimps, as I shall explain.
Bit of background – the princes, Edward, 12, and Richard, 9, had been left in the care of their uncle, Richard the Duke of Gloucester when their father died suddenly. Richard moved them both to the Tower of London, then a royal palace, where they could be kept safe. The following year a rumor circulated that they had been murdered and, inexplicably, Richard did not allow them out to be seen, which would have scotched the rumour.
Why might a kind and loving uncle order, or have accepted, the murder of his two nephews?
A bit more background. Sixty-one years before, in 1421, Henry V of Lancaster, another strong and healthy king who had taken over large tranches of France, died suddenly leaving a child to inherit the throne. Henry VI was only nine months old. His mother, Catherine de Valois, very quickly shacked up with pretty young Owen Tudor, an ambitious Welshman on the up, and Henry came into the care of various keepers, most of whom were as ambitious as Owen. As if being very young wasn’t bad enough it soon became clear that Henry had inherited some type of mental affliction from his maternal grandfather, King Charles VI of France, who believed himself to be made from glass. So with the English King young, inexperienced, sick and emotionally vulnerable, France painted for war. It was imperative that England have a strong king to lead her armies. Lines were drawn, challenges were issued and so the Cousins’ War [now known as the War of the Roses] began.
Civil War is always hideous but the two sides were led by two strong families – York and Lancaster – that were closely related by marriage. Nothing beats a family feud for ugliness.
There were battles at St Albans, Northampton, Wakefield, St Albans again, and the Battle of Towton [the bloodiest battle ever on English soil] which left York in control and the Earl of March on the throne as Edward IV. More battles followed, at Barnet and Tewkesbury. Henry VI was captured and shut up in the Tower of London where, in 1471, he was murdered. York had won and Lancaster’s direct line to the throne had been broken.
There was peace, but it was still an uncomfortably edgy one with a good deal of lawlessness and sniping. The country needed a strong, adult, experienced King. The death of Edward IV, leaving a child to succeed him, threatened to throw the country back into civil war. That Richard of Gloucester, Lord Protector, was respected wasn’t enough. We now know he was a small, delicate looking man who must have been in constant pain from his spinal deformity. In a society who prized physical strength and military prowess above all else, he can’t have seemed an adequate substitute for his magnificent brother.
Whoever killed the princes must have had a lot to lose if they stayed alive. Richard was already King and had had the children illegitimised. He didn’t NEED to kill them to keep the throne. The Yorkist cause was in the ascendancy. Lancaster on the other hand …
Come back on Monday for the Lancastrian view of the situation.