Richard III: The Making of a Legend
The Struggle for the Crown
Now is the winter of our disFirst Made glorious summer by this sun of York.
Richard III I.i. The controversy surrounding Richard III has centered on several events, namely the deaths of Edward of Lancaster, Henry VI, George of Clarence, and the princes in the Tower. Somewhat less controversial, but still the source of much disagreement, were the deaths of Richard's wife, Anne Neville, Anthony Woodville, and Lord Hastings. Many of the facts concerning these deaths are clouded in uncertainty and for this reason speculation about Richard's role in them has flourished. Before turning to an examination and comparison of the various views expounded by writers of history and fiction, a brief review of the known facts concerning the life and career of Richard III might prove useful.
Richard was born on October 2, 1452, at Fotheringhay Castle. He was the twelfth of thirteen children born to Richard, Duke of York, and his wife, Cicely Neville, and the youngest of the seven who survived infancy. In this family of large, fair, healthy children the dark, undersized, sickly Richard must have seemed like a changeling. During the seven years he lived at Fotheringhay Richard had the company only of his brother George, who was three years his senior, and his sister Margaret, who was six years older than he. Edward and Edmund, the two oldest boys, lived at Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches, while Anne and Elizabeth, the older girls, were being trained in other noble households according to the custom of the day. The children saw their parents only rarely.
Richard grew up in unstable and dangerous period in English history. The old feudal system of loyalty based on land tenure was crumbling and a new power, based on the system of "livery and maintenance," was taking its place. In return for the "good-lordship" of a powerful magnate, a retainer promised his services in peace and war. Thus, the lord had armed men when he needed them and the retainer received protection against his enemies, wages in some cases, and, all too frequently, immunity from punishment by law. It was common practice during the fifteenth century for powerful lords to threaten or bribe juries to find in their favor. It was the sworn duty of the monarch to see that justice was done, but during the reign of Henry VI this oath had little meaning. Henry had frequent periods of madness and the court was dominated by his beautiful and high-spirited wife, Margaret of Anjou. She protected her partisans and persecuted those whom she believed to be against her. She treated Richard's father, the Duke of York, as her chief enemy and so turned him into one.
During the spring and summer of 1459 it was apparent that the queen intended an all-out war against the Yorkists. The Duke of York, fearing that Fotheringhay was no longer safe, moved Margaret, George, and Richard to Ludlow, a large, strongly fortified castle belonging to his family. It was there that Richard met his two oldest brothers for the first time. Edward, Earl of March was seventeen and Edmund, Earl of Rutland, was sixteen.
Followers of York gathered that summer at Ludlow in preparation for the attack they felt certain would come. In October they learned that the king's army was at Coventry and was marching toward Ludlow. The Yorkists sent Henry a petition assuring him of their loyalty. He responded by promising pardon to all who would desert the Yorkist cause.
The duke's armies camped on Ludford Meadows and prepared for battle. On the night of October 12 the best and most experienced of the Yorkist troops, the Calais garrison led by Andrew Trollope, deserted to the king, taking with them the Yorkist battle plans. The duke and his sons, Edward and Edmund, and the Earl of Salisbury and his son, the Earl of Warwick, fled to safety. The duchess and her two younger boys remained behind and threw themselves on the king's mercy. They reckoned without Queen Margaret's fury. After the royal army had looted the castle and pillaged the town of Ludlow as if it were enemy territory, the duchess and her sons were taken to Coventry. York, Warwick, and Salisbury were attainted by parliament and their estates declared forfeit.
Meanwhile, the Duke of York and Edmund had sailed for Ireland where the Irish and Anglo-Irish rallied to their support. Indeed, the Irish were so loyal that they executed any man brave, or foolish, enough to bring a royal writ for York's arrest. Warwick, Salisbury, and Edward had escaped to Calais which, fortunately for them, had remained true to its captain, Warwick. Edward, concerned for the safety of his two younger brothers, wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury to ask him to look after them. As a result, the boys were taken into the Archbishop's household where they remained from early 1460 until September of that year, when they rejoined their mother.
On June 26, 1460, Warwick, Edward, and Salisbury landed with two thousand troops at Sandwich and went directly to London. They were welcomed by the city magistrates who lent them one thousand pounds, whereupon they marched north to meet the king's army, which was encamped south of Northampton. The treachery of some of the king's soldiers enabled the Yorkists to capture the king, who was then conducted to London in state. Following the establishment of a new government under firm Yorkist control, the Duchess of York, accompanied by George and Richard, arrived in London but the duchess soon left to join her husband who had landed in Chester. George and Richard, however, remained in London and not a day went by without a visit from Edward. It is quite likely that this loving attention from his older brother during this unsettled period in his life can explain Richard's lifelong devotion and loyalty to Edward.
On October 10, the Duke of York returned to London. He went directly to Westminster where the lords were assembled, placed his hand on the throne, and announced that he had come to claim it by hereditary right. All of the peers, including Warwick and Edward, were shocked and dismayed by this action.They wanted York to reform the government, not to seize the crown. Finally, after much legal debate, King Henry agreed that if he were permitted to keep the crown for life, the Duke of York would be his heir and would be named Protector. This action disinherited Queen Margaret's son, something she would not countenance.
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