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Richard III: The Making of a Legend
Following his marriage Richard extended his protection to other members of the Neville family. His mother-in-law, stripped of her lands by her husband's attainder, came out of sanctuary at Beaulieu Abbey and went to live in a home which Richard provided for her. He helped to secure the release of George Neville who had been imprisoned for conspiracy and provided an annuity for Warwick's sister, the Countess of Oxford, despite the fact that her husband was actively working to overthrow the Yorkist king.
In answer to the king's summons, Richard returned to London in the spring of 1475. Edward had decided to invade France, reconquer the territories lost by Henry VI and make good the English claim to the French throne. The money for the venture was raised by benevolence, the army by indentures. The Dukes of Clarence and Gloucester were each ordered to bring into the field one hundred and twenty men-at-arms and one thousand archers. So eager were the men of Yorkshire to wear Richard's badge of the White Boar that he was able to enlist at least three hundred more men than he had contracted for.
The invasion was a fiasco. Edward's allies deserted him and he was forced to accept the French king's offer of peace. This decision, although favored by most of the English councillors who had been handsomely bribed by Louis, was bitterly opposed by the Duke of Gloucester. He saw the Treaty of Pequigny, under which Edward was to receive a large French annuity for life, as a humiliating defeat for England. Richard was the only member of the royal party to refuse the French king's bribe, which increased his popularity in England but earned him the undying enmity of France.
Upon his return to England, Richard retired once more to Yorkshire. Early in 1477 Edward summoned him to London to discuss the crisis which had arisen with the death of Duke Charles of Burgundy. Clarence, a recent widower, suggested that he be permitted to marry Charles's heir, Mary, in order to protect the English interest in Burgundy. Edward, however, did not intend to see his shallow, ambitious brother become the ruler of the richest duchy in Europe, and so he refused to allow the marriage. Clarence reacted to this snub with almost insane fury. He arrested and executed two of his late wife's servants on false charges, armed his retainers, and publicly accused the king of trying to destroy him. For years Edward had endured with remarkable restraint Clarence's ambition, disloyalty, and even his treason, but this time his unstable brother had gone a step too far. In order to bolster his own claim to the throne, Clarence had spread the story that Edward was the off spring of an adulterous union between the Duchess of York and an unknown archer. If this were not enough, he cast doubt as well on the validity of Edward's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville.
Richard, who had returned to Yorkshire early in the year, hastened back to London when he learned that Clarence had been arrested, charged with treason, and sent to the Tower. He pleaded with Edward to spare Clarence's life, but the Woodvilles, pressing from the other side, persuaded the king not to yield.
On January 16, 1478, parliament met to try Clarence on the charge of high treason. Edward was the sole accuser and only Clarence spoke in his own defense. On February 7 the High Steward passed the death sentence but Edward vacillated until, on February 18, the Speaker of the Commons petitioned the Lords to carry out the sentence. That same day Clarence was executed, by drowning, according to the story current at the time, in a butt of his favorite malmsey wine. Richard did not profit from his brother's death. He merely regained the office of Great Chamberlain which he had given up to Clarence fifteen years earlier, and Richard's son Edward was given the title and dignity of Earl of Salisbury.
Throughout these turbulent years Richard had spent most of his time in the north, traditionally the unruliest part of the kingdom, and he had succeeded in making himself popular by his wise and firm rule. He returned there immediately after Clarence's execution and in the next four years he visited London only twice--once in 1480 to see his sister Margaret who had come from Burgundy to visit her family, and again in 1481 to advise the king about the war with Scotland. At Middleham he led the life typical of a rich and powerful country lord. He delegated much of the judicial work connected with his two most important national offices, Constable and Admiral of England, to experienced judges, but he held many lesser offices as well. None kept him busier than the position of Warden of the West Marches, which included supervisory authority over the East and Middle Marches under the Wardenship of the Earl of Northumberland. Despite the truce with the Scots, there were frequent armed attacks from across the border and Richard spent much of his time seeing to it that the frontier fortresses were garrisoned, provisioned, and repaired. He established a standard of excellence for the Warden of the Marches which his successors found difficult to maintain.
The Council for the Marches, the Warden's advisory body, acted also as a court of appeal for poor tenants who were otherwise at the mercy of powerful lords. Any man, from the lowliest peasant to the greatest lord, could ask and receive justice from the Warden and his Council. In order to maintain a harmonious relationship with Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, whose family had previously been lords of the North, Richard used him as an assistant in judicial cases and in the affairs of the City of York, as well as appointing him second-in-command in the wars against the Scots. Percy, however, was no more satisfied with second best than Clarence had been, and he never became a devoted adherent of the Duke of Gloucester.
Richard was never too busy to attend to problems brought to his attention by the citizens of York, and his concern for their welfare earned him their wholehearted devotion. He was asked to settle important questions, such as disputed elections, as well as lesser problems such as ordering the removal of the fishgarths which impeded transportation and reduced the number of fish the poor were able to catch. Richard's interest in and support of the city was deeply appreciated by the citizens who remained his faithful and outspoken adherents well into the Tudor period.
In 1482, after years of unproductive and halfhearted attempts to settle the Scottish problem, the king decided on war as the final solution. Edward's health, which had deteriorated after years of dissipation and riotous living, prevented him from taking an active role in the fighting, and Richard was given complete charge of the campaign. He regained Berwick-on-Tweed which had been ceded to Scotland years before by Margaret of Anjou, and he captured Edinburgh without the loss of a single man. The Scots thereupon sued for peace, and Richard returned in triumph to London in January 1483 for the opening of parliament. He was wildly acclaimed for the success of the campaign.
The parliament showed its gratitude to Richard in a tangible way by granting him what was, in effect, a practically autonomous palatinate in Cumberland County and the Scots Marches. The grants included the permanent Wardenship of the West Marches and many lands, manors, and perquisites.
The change which Richard found in his brother during this visit left him profoundly disturbed. Edward had grown fat and lazy and he seemed to live only for pleasure. Richard, whose outlook on life was puritanical compared to Edward's, no doubt blamed the influence of the loose-living Woodvilles and Lord Hastings for his brother's decline. He had no way of knowing when he left London to return home in February 1483 that he would never see his brother again.
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