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Richard III: The Making of a Legend
The new king, the twelve-year-old Edward, had been living for many years at Ludlow Castle on the Welsh Marches under the care of his maternal uncle Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers. There he ruled through a council whose titular head was the Bishop of Worcester but which was dominated by the Woodvilles and their adherents.
As soon as Richard learned of his brother's death, he wrote to Rivers to inquire when, and by what route, the young king would be brought to London, in order that they might meet and enter the city together. Richard waited in vain for official notification from London of his brother's death and his own appointment as Protector. Nevertheless, he wrote to the queen to express his condolences and to pledge his loyalty to the new king. Alarmed by a second letter from Hastings, which informed him that, contrary to custom, the Woodvilles were taking over the government and had with difficulty been persuaded to confine the king's escort to two thousand armed men, Richard wrote to the council. He reminded the members that according to law, custom, and his brother's will, he was Protector of the Realm and cautioned that no action could be taken in council contrary to any of these. The law to which Richard referred would today be called "recognized precedent" since no laws of the time governed either the succession or the formation of a regency. This council itself was, strictly speaking, no longer a legal body since the king's council, made up of advisors appointed by him, died with the king, just as parliament did. This did not, however, prevent the queen from attempting to use the council to seize power for herself and her family.
Shortly after Richard had written to the queen and the council, he received a letter from the Duke of Buckingham who was then in residence at his castle at Brecon in South Wales. Buckingham offered the Protector his support and the service of one thousand armed men. Richard accepted the offer of support, but asked the duke to bring only three hundred men, the same number he, himself, planned to bring. Before starting on his journey south, Richard personally administered to all his retainers and the magistrates of the City of York, an oath of allegiance to the new king. On April 20 he set out with his party. It was arranged that he and Buckingham would meet Rivers and the king at Northampton on April 29.
The news which Richard received en route was not reassuring. Hastings reported from London that the queen's faction, ignoring Richard's appointment as Protector, had gone ahead with plans for an immediate coronation. Once the king was crowned a Protector would, of course, be unnecessary, and the Woodvilles could rule through the child king.
The Woodvilles were taking a desperate gamble in order to hold on to power. They were hated by the old nobility and the commons for their greed and arrogance and, unless they were able to retain their hold over the new king, they could not hope to survive. To do this they must, at all costs, prevent the Protectorship under Richard of Gloucester.
The Woodvilles' maneuvers to maintain their position had begun as soon it became apparent that Edward IV was dying. They were strongly entrenched in the council, for it included among its members the Marquis of Dorset, the queen's elder son by her first marriage, and three of her brothers -- Lionel, Bishop of Salisbury, Sir Edward Woodville, and Anthony, Earl Rivers. In addition, members of the upper clergy whom Edward had protected against a rising tide of anti-clericalism which had swept the country, could be counted on for support. Moreover, Dorset, as Constable of the Tower, controlled both the treasure and the armaments of the kingdom, and Rivers controlled the young king.
The queen's first move in the power struggle was taken while Richard was en route to Northampton. She called the council together and secured approval for a proposal that a fleet be put together under the command of Sir Edward Woodville, ostensibly for the purpose of fighting off French privateers who were harrying English shipping. Without waiting for permission from the council, Dorset gave his uncle, Sir Edward, part of the royal treasure and divided the rest between himself and his mother. He and the queen then appointed a commission, made up of members of the family and their adherents, to collect the tax which had been levied by the last parliament. All of these actions were illegal, but Dorset finally overreached himself when he proposed that the coronation be held on May 4. Had the Woodvilles succeeded in their attempt to have the coronation over and done with before the Protector reached London they would have been firmly entrenched in power, for the king, the Tower, the treasure, the fleet, and the council -- in short, the whole apparatus of the government -- would have been securely in their hands.
The queen's next move encountered some resistance from the council, for many of the members were becoming thoroughly alarmed by the actions of the Woodvilles. When the council attempted to define the powers of the Protector, the queen's faction claimed that the title carried with it no more than first place on the council and even that position was to last only until the coronation. Some members, however, reminded the queen that the council itself had no power at all to decide the matter. It was at this point that Richard's letter reached the council and it served to gain him the support of all except those committed to the Woodvilles. Dorset openly asserted that if Richard gained ascendency over the king, neither the Woodvilles nor their friends would be safe. As a result, the council voted to deprive the Protector of any power. Dorset thereupon wrote confidently to Earl Rivers instructing him to be sure that he and the king reached London by May 1.
When Richard arrived at Northampton on April 29, the king had already passed through the town and was lodged at Stony Stratford, fourteen miles further along the road to London. Rivers assured Richard that the move had been necessary because Northampton had insufficient accommodations for the party. Rivers, however, planned to stay the night in Northampton and, when later that same day Buckingham arrived, the three noblemen spent a seemingly friendly evening together. The hour was late when Rivers retired to his inn and, when he had gone, Richard and Buckingham discussed their plans.
The following morning Rivers awoke to find his inn surrounded by armed men wearing Gloucester's badge of the White Boar. Guards had been posted along the road to Stony Stratford to intercept any messages he might try to send, and before Richard and Buckingham departed they placed Rivers under arrest. When the two dukes reached Stony Stratford the king and his escort were mounted and ready to leave. At the king's side were an old retainer, Sir Thomas Vaughn, and Lord Richard Grey, the queen's younger son by her first marriage. Richard ordered the arrest of Grey and Vaughn and excused his action to the angry and astonished young king, explaining that these two, and others of the queen-mother's faction, had hastened his father's death by encouraging him in his excesses, thus ruining his health. He also charged that they had plotted to circumvent Edward IV's will by depriving Richard, first of the Protectorship, and ultimately of his life. Thereupon, Richard dismissed the king's escort and conducted his nephew back to Northampton. All of the king's Woodville attendants were replaced by men loyal to the Protector, following which Richard sent an explanation of his actions to the Lords and the magistrates of London. Woodville adherents also raced to London with the news of what had happened to their well-laid plans.
When Dorset learned of the events at Northampton, he tried desperately but unsuccessfully, to rally the support of the Lords to raise a force to take the young king away from the Protector. When this attempt failed, he, his mother, her brother Lionel, Bishop of Salisbury, her five young daughters, and her son Richard, Duke of York, went hastily to the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey. They took with them not only their share of the treasure but much of the
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