Walpole’s Historic Doubts
The three preceding accusations are evidently uncertain and improbable. What follows is more obscure; and it is on the ensuing transactions that I venture to pronounce, that we have little or no authority on which to form positive conclusions. I speak more particularly of the deaths of Edward the Fifth and his brother. It will, I think, appear very problematic whether they were murdered or not: and even if they were murdered, it is impossible to believe the account as fabricated and divulged by Henry the Seventh, on whose testimony the murder must rest at last; for they, who speak most positively, revert to the story which he was pleased to publish eleven years after their supposed deaths, and which is so absurd, so incoherent, and so repugnant to dates and other facts, that as it is no longer necessary to pay court to his majesty, it is no longer necessary not to treat his assertions as an impudent fiction. I come directly to the point, because the intervening articles of the executions of Rivers, Grey, Vaughan and Hastings will naturally find their place in that disquisition.
And here it will be important to examine those historians on whose relation the story first depends. Previous to this I must ascertain one or two dates, for they are stubborn evidence and cannot be rejected: they exist every where, and cannot be proscribed even from a Court Calendar.
- Edward the Fourth died April 9th 1483.
- Edward, his eldest son, was then thirteen years of age.
- Richard, duke of York, his second son, was about nine.
We have but two contemporary historians, the author of the Chronicle of Croyland, and John Fabian. The first, who wrote in his convent, and only mentioned incidentally affairs of state, is very barren and concise: he appears indeed not to have been ill informed, and sometimes even in a situation of personally knowing the transactions of the times; for in one place we are told in a marginal note, that the doctor of the canon law, and one of the king’s councellors, who was sent to Calais, was the author of the Continuation. Whenever therefore his assertions are positive, and not merely flying reports, he ought to be admitted as fair evidence, since we have no better. And yet a monk who busies himself in recording the insignificant events of his own order or monastery, and who was at most occasionally made use of, was not likely to know the most important and most mysterious secrets of state; I mean, as he was not employed in those iniquitous transactions — if he had been, we should learn or might expect still less truth from him.
John Fabian was a merchant, and had been sheriff of London, and died in 1512: he consequently lived on the spot at that very interesting period. Yet no sheriff was ever less qualified to write a history of England. His narrative is dry, uncircumstantial, and unimportant: he mentions the deaths of princes and revolutions of government, with the same phlegm and brevity as he would speak of the appointment of churchwardens. I say this not from any partiality, or to decry the simple man as crossing my opinion; for Fabian’s testimony is far from being hard against Richard, even though he wrote under Henry the Seventh, who would have suffered no apology for his rival, and whose reign was employed not only in extirpating the house of York, but in forging the most atrocious calumnies to blacken their memories, and invalidate their just claims.
But the great source from whence all later historians have taken their materials for the reign of Richard the Third, is Sir Thomas More. Grafton, the next in order, has copied him verbatim: so does Hollingshed — and we are told by the former in a marginal note, that Sir Thomas was under-sheriff of London when he composed his work. It is in truth a composition, and a very beautiful one. He was then in the vigour of his fancy, and fresh from the study of the Greek and Roman historians, whose manner he has imitated in divers imaginary orations. They serve to lengthen an unknown history of little more than two months into a pretty sizeable volume; but are no more to be received as genuine, than the facts they are adduced to countenance. An under-sheriff of London, aged but twenty-eight, and recently marked with the displeasure of the crown, was not likely to be furnished with materials from any high authority, and could not receive them from the best authority, I mean the adverse party, who were proscribed, and all their chiefs banished or put to death. Let us again recur to dates. (3) Sir Thomas More was born in 1480: he was appointed under-sheriff in 1508, and three years before had offended Henry the Seventh in the tender point of opposing a subsidy. Buck, the apologist of Richard the Third, ascribes the authorities of Sir Thomas to the information of archbishop Morton; and it is true that he had been brought up under that prelate; but Morton died in 1500, when Sir Thomas was but twenty years old, and when he had scarce thought of writing history. What materials he had gathered from his master were probably nothing more than a general narrative of the preceding times in a discourse at dinner or in a winter’s evening, if so raw a youth can be supposed to have been admitted to familiarity with a prelate of that rank and prime minister. But granting that such pregnant parts as More’s had leaped the barrier of dignity, and insinuated himself into the archbishop’s favour; could he have drawn from a more corrupted force? Morton had not only violated his allegiance to Richard; but had been the chief engine to dethrone him, and to plant a bastard scyon in the throne. Of all men living there could not be more suspicious testimony than the prelate’s, except the king’s: and had the archbishop selected More for the historian of those dark scenes, who had so much interest to blacken Richard, as the man who had risen to be prime minister to his rival? Take it therefore either way; that the archbishop did or did not pitch on a young man of twenty to write that history, his authority was as suspicious as could be.
It may be said, on the other hand, that Sir Thomas, who had smarted for his boldness (for his father, a judge of the king’s bench, had been imprisoned and fined for his son’s offence) had had little inducement to flatter the Lancastrian cause. It is very true; nor am I inclined to impute adulation to one of the honestest statesmen and brightest names in our annals. He who scorned to save his life by bending to the will of the son, was not likely to canvas the favour of the father, by prostituting his pen to the humour of the court. I take the truth to be, that Sir Thomas wrote his reign of Edward the Fifth as he wrote his Utopia; to amuse his leisure and exercise his fancy. He took up a paltry canvas and embroidered it with a flowing design as his imagination suggested the colours. I should deal more severely with his respected memory on any other hypothesis. He has been guilty of such palpable and material falsehoods, as, while they destroy his credit as an historian, would reproach his veracity as a man, if we could impute them to premeditated perversion of truth, and not to youthful levity and inaccuracy. Standing as they do, the sole groundwork of that reign’s history, I am authorized to pronounce the work, invention and romance.
Polidore Virgil, a foreigner, and author of a light Latin history, was here during the reigns of Henry the Seventh and Eighth. I may quote him now-and-then, and the Chronicle of Croyland; but neither furnish us with much light.
There was another foreign writer in that age of far greater authority, whose negligent simplicity and veracity are unquestionable; who had great opportunities of knowing our story, and whose testimony is corroborated by our records: I mean Philip de Comines. He and Buck agree with one another, and with the rolls of parliament; Sir Thomas More with none of them.
Buck, so long exploded as a lover of paradoxes, and as an advocate for a monster, gains new credit the deeper this dark scene is fathomed. Undoubtedly Buck has gone too far; nor are his style or method to be admired. With every intention of vindicating Richard, he does but authenticate his crimes, by searching in other story for parallel instances of what he calls policy. No doubt politicians will acquit Richard, if concession of his crimes be pleaded in defence of them. Policy will justify his taking off opponents. Policy will maintain him in removing those who would have barred his obtaining the crown, whether he thought he had a right to it, or was determined to obtain it. Morality, especially in the latter case, cannot take his part. I shall speak more to this immediately. Rapin conceived doubts; but instead of pursuing them, wandered after judgments; and they will lead a man where-ever he has a mind to be led. Carte, with more manly shrewdness, has sifted may parts of Richard’s story, and guessed happily. My part has less penetration; but the parliamentary history, the comparison of dates, and the authentic monument lately come to light, and from which I shall give extracts, have convinced me that, if Buck is too favourable, all our other historians are blind guides, and have not made out a twentieth part of their assertions.
The story of Edward the Fifth is thus related by Sir Thomas More, and copied from him by all our historians.
When the king his father died, the prince kept his court at Ludlow, under the tuition of his maternal uncle Anthony earl Rivers. Richard duke of Gloucester was in the north, returning from his successful expedition against the Scots. The queen wrote instantly to her brother to bring up the young king to London, with a train of two thousand horse: a fact allowed by historians, and which, whether a prudent caution or not, was the first overt-act of the new reign; and likely to strike, as it did strike, the duke of Gloucester and the ancient nobility with a jealousy, that the queen intended to exclude them from the administration, and to govern in concert with her own family. It is not improper to observe that no precedent authorized her to assume such power. Joan, princess dowager of Wales, and widow of the Black Prince, had no share in the government during the minority of her son Richard the Second. Catherine of Valois, widow of Henry the Fifth, was alike excluded from the regency, though her son was but a year old. And if Isabella governed on the deposition of Edward the Second, it was by an usurped power, by the same power that had contributed to dethrone her husband; a power sanctified by no title, and confirmed by no act of parliament.(4) The first step to a female regency (5) enacted, though it never took place, was many years afterwards, in the reign of Henry the Eighth.
Edward, on his death-bed, had patched up a reconciliation between his wife’s kindred and the great lords of the court; particularly between the marquis of Dorset, the queen’s son, and the lord chamberlain Hastings. Yet whether the disgusted lords had only seemed to yield, to satisfy the dying king, or whether the steps taken by the queen gave them new cause of umbrage, it appeared that the duke of Buckingham was the first to communicate his suspicions to Gloucester, and to dedicate himself to his service. Lord Hastings was scarce less forward to join in like measures: and all three, it is pretended, were so alert, that they contrived to have it insinuated to the queen, that it would give much offence if the young king should be brought to London with so great a force as she had ordered; on which suggestions she wrote to Lord Rivers to countermand her first directions.
It is difficult not to suspect, that our historians have imagined more plotting in this transaction than could easily be compassed in so short a period, and in an age when no communication could be carried on but by special messengers, in bad roads, and with no relays of post-horses.
Edward the Fourth died April 9th, and his son made his entrance into London (6) May 4th. It is not probable, that the queen communicated her directions for bringing up her son with an armed force to the lords of the council, and her newly reconciled enemies. But she might be betrayed. Still it required some time for Buckingham to send his servant Percival (though Sir Thomas vaunts his expedition) to York, where the duke of Gloucester then lay;(7) for Percival’s return (it must be observed too that the duke of Buckingham was in Wales, consequently did not learn the queen’s orders on the spot, but either received the account from London, or learnt it from Ludlow); for the two dukes to send instructions to their confederates in London; for the impression to be made on the queen, and for her dispatching her counter-orders; for Percival to post back and meet Gloucester at Nottingham, and for returning thence and bringing his master Buckingham to meet Richard at Northampton, at the very time of the king’s arrival there. All this might happen, undoubtedly; and yet who will believe, that such mysterious and rapid negotiations came to the knowledge of Sir Thomas More twenty five years afterwards, when, as it will appear, he knew nothing of very material and public facts that happened at the same period?
But whether the circumstances are true, or whether artfully imagined, it is certain that the king, with a small force, arrived at Northampton and thence proceeded to Stony Stratford. Earl Rivers remained at Northampton, where he was cajoled by the two dukes till the time of rest, when the gates of the inn were suddenly locked, and the earl made prisoner. Early in the morning the two dukes hastened to Stony Stratford, where, in the king’s presence, they picked a quarrel with his other half-brother, the lord Richard Grey, accusing him, the marquis of Dorset, and their uncle Rivers, of ambitious and hostile designs, to which ends the marquis had entered the Tower, taken treasure thence, and sent a force to sea.
“These things,”says Sir Thomas, “the dukes knew were done for good and necessary purposes, and by appointment of the council; but somewhat they must say.” As Sir Thomas has not been pleased to specify those purposes, and as in those times at least privy councellors were exceedingly complaisant to the ruling powers, he must allow us to doubt whether the purposes of the queen’s relations were quite so innocent as he would make us believe; and whether the princes of the blood and the ancient nobility had not some reason to be jealous that the queen was usurping more power than the laws had given her. The catastrophe of her whole family so truly deserves commiseration, that we are apt to shut our eyes to all her weakness and ill-judged policy; and yet at every step we find how much she contributed to draw ruin on their heads and on her own, by the confession even of her apologists. The duke of Gloucester was the first prince of the blood, the constitution pointed him out as regent; no will, no disposition of the late king was even alleged to bar his pretension; he had served the state with bravery, success, and fidelity; and the queen herself, who had been insulted by Clarence, had had no cause to complain of Gloucester. Yet all her conduct intimated designs of governing by force in the name of her son.(8) If these facts are impartially stated, and grounded on the confession of those who enveigh most bitterly against Richard’s memory, let us allow that at least thus far he acted as most princes would have done in his situation, in a lawless barbarous age; and rather instigated by others, than from any before-conceived ambition and system. If the jouneys of Percival are true, Buckingham was the devil that tempted Richard; and if Richard still wanted instigation, then it must follow, that he had not murdered Henry the Sixth, his son, and Clarence to pave his own way to the crown. If this fine story of Buckingham and Percival is not true, what becomes of Sir Thomas More’s credit, on which the whole fabric leans?
Lord Richard, Sir Thomas Vaughan, and Sir Richard Hawte, were arrested, and with lord Rivers sent prisoner to Pomfret, while the dukes conducted the king by easy stages to London.
The queen, hearing what had happened, took sanctuary at Westminster, with her other son the duke of York, and the princesses her daughters. Rotheram, archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor, repaired to her with the great seal, and endeavored to comfort her dismay with a friendly message he had received from Hastings, who was with the confederate lords on the road. “A woe worth him!” quoth the queen, “for it is he that goeth about to destroy me and my blood!” Not a word is said of her suspecting the duke of Gloucester. The archbishop seems to have been the first who entertained any suspicion; and yet, if all that our historian says of him is true, Rotheram was far from being a shrewd man: witness the indiscreet answer which he is said to have made on this occasion. “Madam,” quoth he, “be of good comfort, and assure you, if they crown any other king than your son whom they now have, we shall on the morrow crown his brother, whom you have here with you.” Did the silly prelate think that it would be much consolation to a mother, whose eldest son might be murthered, that her younger son would be crowned in prison ! or was she to be satisfied with seeing one son entitled to the crown, and the other enjoying it nominally? He then delivered the seal to the queen, and as lightly sent for it back immediately after.
The dukes continued their march, declaring they were bringing the king to his coronation. Hastings, who seems to have preceded them, endeavoured to pacify the apprehensions which had been raised in the people, acquainting them that the arrested lords had been imprisoned for plotting against the dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham. As both those princes were of royal blood (9), this accusation was not ill founded, it having evidently been the intention, as I have shewn, to bar them from any share in the administration, to which, by the custom of the realm, they were entitled. So much depends on this foundation, that I shall be excused from enforcing it. The queen’s party were the aggressors; and though that alone would not justify all the following excesses, yet we must not judge of those times by the present. Neither the crown nor the great men were restrained by sober established forms and proceedings as they are at present; and from the death of Edward the Third, force alone had dictated. Henry the Fourth had stepped into the throne contrary to all justice. A title so defective had opened a door to attempts as violent; and the various innovations introduced in the latter years of Henry the Sixth had annihilated all ideas of order. Richard, duke of York had been declared successor to the crown during the life of Henry and his son prince Edward, and, as appears by the Parliamentary History, though not noticed by our careless historians, was even appointed prince of Wales. The duke of Clarence had received much such another declaration in his favour during the short restoration of Henry. What temptations were these precedents to an affronted prince! We shall see soon what encouragement they gave him to examine closely into his nephew’s pretensions; and how imprudent it was in the queen to provoke Gloucester, when her very existence as queen was liable to strong objections. Nor ought the subsequent executions of Lord Rivers, Lord Richard Grey, and of Lord Hastings himself, to be considered in so very strong a light, as they would appear in, if acted in modern times. During the wars of York and Lancaster, no forms of trial had been observed. Not only peers taken in battle had been put to death without process; but whoever, though not in arms, was made prisoner by the victorious party, underwent the same fate; as was the case of Tiptoft, earl of Worcester, who had fled and was taken in disguise. Trials had never been used with any degree of strictness, as at present, and though Richard was pursued and killed as an usurper, the Solomon that succeeded him, was not a jot less a tyrant. Henry the Eighth was still less of a temper to give greater latitude to the laws. In fact, little ceremony or judicial proceeding was observed on trials, till the reign of Elizabeth, who, though decried of late for her despotism, in order to give some shadow of countenance to the tyranny of the Stuarts, was the first of our princes, under whom any gravity or equity was allowed in cases of treason. To judge impartially, therefore, we ought to recall the temper and manners of the times we read of. It is shocking to eat our enemies; but it is not so shocking in an Iroquois, as it would be in the king of Prussia. And this is all I contend for, that the crimes of Richard, which he really committed, at least which we have reason to believe he committed, were more the crimes of the age than of the man; and except these executions of Rivers, Grey, and Hastings, I defy any body to prove on other of those charged to his account from any good authority.
It is alleged that the partizens of Gloucester strictly guarded the sanctuary, to prevent further resort thither; but Sir Thomas confesses too, that “divers lords, knights, and gentlemen, either for favour of the queen, or for fear of themselves, assembled companies, and went flocking together in harness.” Let us strip this paragraph of its historic buskins and it is plain that “the queen’s party took up arms.”(10) This is no indifferent circumstance. She had plotted to keep possession of the king, and to govern in his name by force, but she had been outwitted, and her family had been imprisoned for the attempt. Conscious that she was discovered, perhaps reasonably alarmed at Gloucester’s designs, she had secured herself and her younger children in sanctuary. Necessity rather than law justified her proceedings, – but what excuse can be made for her faction having recourse to arms? Who was authorized, by the tenour of former reigns, to guard the king’s person, till parliament should declare a regency, but his uncle and the princes of the blood? Endeavoring to establish the queen’s authority by force was rebellion against the laws. I state this minutely, because the fact has never been attended to; and later historians pass it over, as if Richard had hurried on the deposition of his nephews without any colour of decency, and without the least provocation to any of his proceedings. Hastings is even said to have warned the citizens that matters were likely “to come to a field” (to a battle) from the opposition of the adverse party, though as yet no symptom had appeared of designs against the king, whom the two dukes were bringing to his coronation. Nay, it is not probable that Gloucester had as yet meditated more than securing the regency; for had he had designs on the crown, would he have weakened his own claim by assuming the protectorate, which he could not accept but by acknowledging the title of his nephew? This in truth seems to me to have been the case. The ambition of the queen and her family alarmed the princes and the nobility: Gloucester, Buckingham, Hastings, and many more had checked those attempts. The next step was to secure the regency: but none of these acts could be done without grievous provocation to the queen. As soon as her son should come of age, she might regain her power and the means of revenge. Self-security prompted the princes and lords to guard against this reverse, and what was equally dangerous to the queen, the depression of her fortune called forth and revived all the hatred of her enemies. Her marriage had given universal offense to the nobility, and been the source of all the late disturbances and bloodshed. The great earl of Warwick, provoked at the contempt shewn to him by king Edward while negotiating a match for him in France, had abandoned him for Henry the Sixth, whom he had again set upon the throne. These calamities were still fresh in every mind, and no doubt contributed to raise Gloucester to the throne, which he could not have attained without almost general concurrence: yet if we are to believe historians, he, Buckingham, the mayor of London, and one Dr. Shaw, operated this revolution by a sermon and a speech to the people, though the people would not even give a huzza to the proposal. The change of government in the Rehearsal is not effected more easily by the physician and gentleman usher,
Do you take this, and I’ll seize t’other chair.
@@@ In what manner Richard assumed or was invested with the protectorate does not appear. Sir Thomas More, speaking of him by that title says, “the protector which always you must take for the duke of Gloucester,” Fabian after mentioning the solemn (11) arrival of the king in London adds, “Than provisyon was made for the kinge’s coronation; in which pastime (interval) the duke being admitted for lord protector.” As the parliament was not sitting, this dignity was no doubt conferred on him by the assent of the lords and privy council; and as we hear of no opposition none was probably made. He was the only person to whom that rank was due; his right could not and does not seem to have been questioned. The Chronicle of Croyland corroborates my opinion, saying, “Acceptique dictus Ricardus dux Glocestriae illum solennum magistratum, qui duci Humfrido Glocestriae, stante minore aetate regis Henrici, ut regni protector appellaretur, olim contingebat. Ea igitur auctoritate usus est, de consensu & beneplacito ²omnium dominorum±,” p.556.
Thus far therefore it must be allowed that Richard had acted no illegal part, nor discovered more ambition than became him. He had defeated the queen’s innovations, and secured her accomplices. To draw our attention from such regular steps, Sir Thomas More has exhausted all his eloquence and imagination to work up a piteous scene, in which the queen is made to incite our compassion in the highest degree, and is furnished by that able pen with strains of pathetic oratory, which no part of her conduct affords us reason to believe she possessed. This scene is occasioned by the demand of delivering up her second son. Cardinal Bourchier, archbishop of Canterbury, is the instrument employed by the protector to effect this purpose. The fact is confirmed by Fabian in his rude and brief manner, and by the Chronicle of Croyland, and therefore cannot be disputed. But though the latter author affirms, that force was used to oblige the cardinal to take that step, he by no way agrees with Sir Thomas More in the repugnance of the queen to comply, nor in that idle discussion on the privileges of sanctuaries, on which Sir Thomas has wasted so many words. On the contrary, the chronicle declares, that the queen “Verbis gratanter annuens, dimisit puerum.” The king, who had been lodged in the palace of the bishop of London, was now removed with his brother to the Tower.
This last circumstance has not a little contributed to raise horror in vulgar minds, who of late years have been accustomed to see no persons of rank lodged in the Tower but state criminals. But in that age the case was widely different. It not only appears by a map engraven so late as the reign of queen Elizabeth, that the Tower was a royal palace, in which were ranges of buildings called the king’s and queen’s apartments, now demolished; but it is a known fact, that they did often lodge there, especially previous to their coronations. The queen of Henry the Seventh lay in there: queen Elizabeth went thither after her triumphant entry into the city; and many other instances might be produced, but for brevity I omit them, to come to one of the principal transactions of this dark period: I mean Richard’s assumption of the crown. Sir Thomas More’s account of this extraordinary event is totally improbable, and positively false in the ground-work of that revolution. He tells us, that Richard meditating usurpation, divided the lords into two separate councils, assembling the king’s or queen’s party at Baynard’s castle, but holding his own private junto at Crosby Place. From the latter he began spreading murmurs, whispers, and reports against the legality of the late king’s marriage. – Thus far we may credit him – but what man of common sense can believe, that Richard went so far as publicly to asperse the honor of his own mother? That mother, Cecily duchess dowager of York, a princess of a spotless character, was then living: so were two of her daughters, the duchesses of Suffolk and Burgundy, Richard’s own sisters: one of them, the duchess of Suffolk walked at his ensuing coronation, and her son the earl of Lincoln was by Richard himself, after the death of his own son, declared heir apparent to the crown. Is it, can it be credible, that Richard actuated a venal (12) preacher to declare to the people from the pulpit at Paul’s cross, that his mother had been an adulteress, and that her two eldest sons, (13) Edward the Fourth and the duke of Clarence (14) were spurious; and that the good lady had not given a legitimate child to her husband, but the protector, and I suppose the duchess of Suffolk, though no mention is said to be made of her in the sermon? For as the duchess of Suffolk was older than Richard, and consequently would have been involved in the charge of bastardy, could he have declared her son his heir, he who set aside his brother Edward’s children for their illegitimacy? Ladies of the least disputable gallantry generally suffer their husbands to beget his heir; and if doubts arise on the legitimacy of their issue, the younger branches seem most liable to suspicion – but a tale so gross could not have passed even on the mob – no proof, no presumption of the fact was pretended. Were the (15) duchess and her daughters silent on so scandalous an insinuation? Agrippina would scarce have heard it with patience. Moriar modo imperet! said that empress, in her wild wish of crowning her son: but had he, unprovoked, aspersed her honour in the open forum, would the mother have submitted to so unnatural an insult? In Richard’s case the imputation was beyond measure atrocious and absurd. What! taint the fame of his mother to pave the way to the crown! Who had heard of her guilt? And if guilty, how came she to stop the career of her intrigues? But Richard had better pretensions, and had no occasion to start doubts even on his own legitimacy, which was too much connected with that of his brothers to be tossed and bandied about before the multitude. Clarence had been solemnly attainted by act of parliament, and his children were out of the question. The doubts on the validity of Edward’s marriage were better grounds for Richard’s proceedings than aspersion of his mother’s honour. On that invalidity he claimed the crown, and obtained it; and with such universal concurrence, that the nation was undoubtedly on his side – but as he could not deprive his nephews, on that foundation, without bastardizing their sisters too, no wonder the historians, who wrote under the Lancastrian domination, have used all their art and industry to misrepresent the fact. If the marriage of Edward the Fourth with the widow Grey was bigamy, and consequently null, what became of the title of Elizabeth of York, wife of Henry the Seventh? What became of it? Why a bastard branch of Lancaster matched with a bastard branch of York, were obtruded on the nation as the right heirs of the crown; and, as far as two negatives can make an affirmative, they were so.
Buck, whose integrity will more and more appear, affirms that, before Edward had espoused the lady Grey, he had been contracted to the lady Eleanor Butler, and married to her by the bishop of Bath. Sir Thomas More, on the contrary (and here it is that I am unwillingly obliged to charge that great man with wilful falsehood) pretends that the duchess of York, his mother, endeavoring to dissuade him from so disproportionate an alliance, urged him with a pre-contract to one Elizabeth Lucy, who however, being pressed, confessed herself his concubine; but denied any marriage. Dr. Shaw too, the preacher, we are told by the same authority, pleaded from the pulpit the king’s former marriage with Elizabeth Lucy; and the duke of Buckingham is said to have harangued the people to the same effect. But now let us see how the case really stood: Elizabeth Lucy was the daughter of one Wyat of Southampton, a mean gentleman, says Buck, and the wife of one Lucy, as mean as Wyat. The mistress of Edward she notoriously was; but what if, in Richard’s pursuit of the crown, no question at all was made of this Elizabeth Lucy? We have the best and most undoubted authorities to assure us, that Edward’s pre-contract or marriage, urged to invalidate his match with the lady Grey, was with the lady Eleanor Talbot, widow of the lord Butler of Sudeley, and sister of the earl of Shrewsbury, one of the greatest peers in the kingdom; her mother was the lady Katherine Stafford, daughter of Humphrey duke of Buckingham, prince of the blood: an alliance in that age never reckoned unsuitable. Hear the evidence. Honest Philip de Comines says (16), “that the bishop of Bath informed Richard, that he had married Edward to an English lady; & dit cet evesque qu’il les avoit espouses, & que n’y avoit que luy & ceux deux.” This is not positive, and yet the description marks out the lady Butler and not Elizabeth Lucy. But the Chronicle of Croyland is more express. “Color autem introitus & captae possessionis hujusmodi is erat. Ostendebatur per modum supplicationis in quodam rotulo pergameni quod filii regis Edwardi erant bastardi, supponendo illum precontraxisse cum quadam domina Ailenora Boteler, antequam reginam Elizabeth duxisset uxorem; atque insuper, quod sanguis alterius fratris sui, Georgii ducis Clarentiae, fuisset attinctus; ita quod hodie nullus certus & incorruptus sanguis linealis ex parte Richardi ducis Eboraci poterat inveniri, nisi in persona dicti Richardi ducis Glocesteriae. Quo circa supplicabatur ei in fine ejusdem rotuli, ex parte dominorum & communitatis regni, ut jus suum in se assumeret.” Is this full? Is this evidence? Here we see the origin of the tale relating to the duchess of York; nullus certus & incorruptus sanguis: from these mistaken or perverted words flowed the report of Richard’s aspersing his mother’s honour. But as if truth was doomed to emerge, though stifled for near three hundred years, the roll of parliament is at length come to light (with other wonderful discoveries) and sets forth, “that though the three estates which petitioned Richard to assume the crown were not assembled in form of parliament;” yet it rehearses the supplication (recorded by the chronicle above) and declares, “that king Edward was and stood married and troth plight to one dame Eleanor Butler, daughter to the earl of Shrewsbury, with whom the said king Edward had made a pre-contract of matrimony, long before he made his pretended marriage with Elizabeth Grey.” Could Sir Thomas More be ignorant of this fact? Or, if ignorant, where is his competence as an historian? And how egregiously absurd is his romance of Richard’s assuming the crown in consequence of Dr. Shaw’s sermon and Buckingham’s harangue to neither of which he pretends the people assented! Dr. Shaw no doubt tapped the matter to the people; for Fabian asserts that he durst never shew his face afterwards; and as Henry the Seventh succeeded so soon, and as the slanders against Richard increases, that might happen; but it is evident that the nobility were disposed to call the validity of the queen’s marriage in question, and that Richard was solemnly invited by the three estates to accept the regal dignity; and that is farther confirmed by the Chronicle of Croyland, which says, that Richard, having brought together a great force from the north, from Wales, and from other parts, did on the twenty-sixth of June claim the crown, ” seque eodem die apud magnam aulam West monasterij in cathedram marmoream ibi intruit;” but the supplication afore-mentioned had first been presented to him. This will no doubt be called violence and a force laid on the three estates; and yet that appears by no means to have been the case; for Sir Thomas More, partial as he was against Richard, says, “that to be sure of all enemies, he sent for five thousand men out of the north against his coronation, which came up evill apparelled and worse harnessed, in rusty harnesse, neither defensable nor scoured to the sale, which mustered in Finsbury field, to the great disdain of all lookers on.” These rusty companions, despised by the citizens, were not likely to intimidate a warlike nobility; and had force been used to extort their assent, Sir Thomas would have been the first to have told us so. But he suppressed an election that appears to have been voluntary, and invented a scene, in which, by his own account, Richard met with nothing but backwardness and silence that amounted to a refusal. The probability therefore remains, that the nobility met Richard’s claim at least half-way, from their hatred and jealousy of the queen’s family, and many of them from the conviction of Edward’s pre-contract. Many might concur from provocation at the attempts that had been made to disturb the due course of law, and some from apprehension of a minority. This last will appear highly probable from three striking circumstances that I shall mention hereafter. The great regularity with which the coronation was prepared and conducted, and the extraordinary concourse of the nobility at it, have not the air of an unwelcome revolution, accomplished by mere violence. On the contrary, it bore great resemblance to a much later event, which, being the last of the kind, we term The Revolution. The three estates of nobility, clergy, and people, which called Richard to the Crown, and whose act was confirmed by the subsequent parliament, trod the same steps as the convention did which elected the prince of Orange; both setting aside an illegal pretender, the legitimacy of whose birth was called in question. And though the partizans of the Stuarts may exult at my comparing king William to Richard the Third, it will be no matter of triumph, since it appears that Richard’s cause was as good as king William’s; and that in both instances it was a free election. The art used by Sir Thomas More (when he could not deny a pre-contract) in endeavoring to shift that objection on Elizabeth Lucy, a married woman, contrary to the specific words of the act of parliament, betrays the badness of the Lancastrian cause, which would make us doubt or wonder at the consent of the nobility in giving way to the act for bastardizing the children of Edward the Fourth. But reinstate the claim of lady Butler, which probably was well known, and conceive the interest that her great relations must have made to set aside the queen’s marriage, nothing appears more natural than Richard’s succession. His usurpation vanishes, and in a few pages more, I shall show that his consequential cruelty vanishes too, or at most is very problematic: but first I must revert to some intervening circumstances.
In this whole story nothing is less known to us than the grounds on which lord Hastings was put to death. He had lived in open enmity with the queen and her family, and had been but newly reconciled to her son the marquis of Dorset; yet Sir Thomas owns that lord Hastings was one of the first to abet Richard’s proceedings against her, and concurred in all the protector’s measures. We are amazed therefore to find this lord the first sacrifice under the new government. Sir Thomas More supposes (and he could only suppose; for whatever archbishop Morton might tell him of the plots of Henry of Richmond, Morton was certainly not entrusted with the secrets of Richard) Sir Thomas, I say, supposes, that Hastings either withstood the deposition of Edward the Fifth, or was accused of such a design by Catesby, who was deeply in his confidence; and he owns that the protectorundoubtedly loved him well, and loth he was to have him lost. What then is the presumption? Is it not, that Hastings really was plotting to defeat the new settlement contrary to the intention of the three estates? And who can tell whether the suddenness of the execution was not the effect of necessity? The gates of the Tower were shut during that rapid scene; the protector and his adherents appeared in the first rusty armour that was at hand: but this circumstance is alleged against them, as an incident contrived to gain belief, as if they were in danger of their lives. The argument is gratis dictum; and as Richard loved Hastings and had used his ministry, the probability lies on the other side: and it is more reasonable to believe that Richard acted in self-defense, than that he exercised a wanton, unnecessary, and disgusting cruelty. The collateral circumstances introduced by More do but weaken (17) his account, and take from its probability. I do not mean the silly recapitulation of silly omens which forewarned Hastings of his fate, and as omens generally do, to no manner of purpose; but I speak of the idle accusations put in the mouth of Richard, such as his baring his withered arm, and imputing it to sorcery, and to his blending the queen and Jane Shore in the same plot. Cruel or not, Richard was no fool; and therefore it is highly improbable that he should lay the withering of his arm on recent witchcraft, if it is true, as Sir Thomas More pretends, that it had never been otherwise – but of the blemishes and deformity of his person., I shall have occasion to speak hereafter. For the other accusation of a league between Elizabeth and Jane Shore, Sir Thomas More ridicules it himself, and treats it as highly unlikely. But being unlikely, was it not more natural for him to think, that it never was urged by Richard? And though Sir Thomas again draws aside our attention by the penance of Jane, which she certainly underwent, it is no kind of proof that the protector accused the queen of having plotted (18) with mistress Shore. What relates to that unhappy fair one I shall examine at the end of this work.
The very day on which Hastings was executed, were beheaded earl Rivers, lords Richard Grey, Vaughan, and Haute. These executions are indubitable; were consonant to the manners and violence of the age; and perhaps justifiable by that wicked code, state necessity. I have never pretended to deny them, because I find them fully authenticated. I have in another (19) place done justice to the virtues and excellent qualities of earl Rivers: let therefore my impartiality be believed, when I reject other facts, for which I can discover no good authority. I can have no interest in Richard’s guilt or innocence; but as Henry the Seventh was so much interested to interpret him as guilty, I cannot help imputing to the greater usurper, and to the worse tyrant of the two, all that appears to me to have been calumny and misrepresentation.
All obstacles thus removed, and Richard being solemnly instated in the throne by the concurrent voice of the three estates, “He openly,” says Sir Thomas More, “took on him to be king the (20) ninth day of June, and the morrow after was proclaimed, riding to Westminster with great state; and calling the judges before him, straitly commanded them to execute the laws without favour or delay, with many good exhortations, of the which he followed not one.” This is an invidious and false accusation. Richard, in his regal capacity, was an excellent king, and for the short time of his reign enacted many wise and wholesome laws. I doubt even whether one of the best proofs of his usurpation was not the goodness of his government, according to a common remark, that princes of doubtful titles make the best masters, as it is more necessary for them to conciliate the favour of the people: the natural corollary from which observation need not be drawn. Certain it is that in many parts of the kingdom, not poisoned by faction, he was much beloved; and even after his death the northern counties gave open testimony of their affection to his memory.
On the Sixth of July Richard was crowned, and soon after set out on a progress to York, on his way visiting Gloucester, the seat of his former duchy. And now it is that I must call up the attention of the reader, the capital and bloody scene of Richard’s life being dated from this progress. The narrative teems with improbabilities and notorious falsehoods, and is flatly contradicted by so many unquestionable facts, that if we have no other reason to believe the murder of Edward the Fifth and his brother, than the account transmitted to us, we shall very much doubt whether they ever were murdered at all. I will state the account, examine it, and produce evidence to refute it, and then the reader will form his own judgement on the matter of fact.
Richard before he left London, had taken no measures to accomplish the assassination; but on the road, “his mind misgave him (21), that while his nephews lived, he should not possess the crown with security. Upon this reflection he dispatched one Richard Greene to Sir Robert Brakenbury, lieutenant of the Tower, with a letter and credence also, that the same Sir Robert in any wise should put the two children to death. This John Greene did his errand to Brakenbury, kneeling before our Lady in the Tower, who plainly answered that he never would put them to death, to dye therefore.” Greene returned with this answer to the king who was then at Warwick, wherewith he took such displeasure and thought, that the same night he said unto a secret page of his, “Ah! whom shall a man trust? They that I have brought up myself, they that I thought would have most surely served me, even those faile me and at my commandment will do nothing for me.” “Sir,” quoth the page, “there lieth one in the palet chamber without, that I dare say will doe your grace pleasure; the thing were right hard that he would refuse;” meaning this by James Tirrel, whom, says Sir Thomas a few pages afterwards, as men say, he there made a knight. “The man,” continues More, “had an high heart, and fore longed upwards, not rising yet so fast as he had hoped, being hindered and kept under by Sir Rihard Ratcliffe and Sir William Catesby, who by secret drifts kept him out of all secret trust.” To be short, Tirrel voluntarily accepted the commission, received warrant to authorize Brakenbury to deliver to him the keys of the Tower for one night; and having selected two other villains called Miles Forest and John Dighton, the two latter smothered the innocent princes in their beds, and then called Tirrell to be witness to the execution.
It is difficult to crowd more improbabilities and lies together than are comprehended in this short narrative. Who can believe if Richard meditated the murder, that he took no care to sift Brakenbury before he left London? Who can believe that he would trust so atrocious a commission to a letter? And who can imagine, that on(22) Brakenbury’s non-compliance Richard would have ordered him to cede the government of the Tower to Tirrel for one night only, the purpose of which had been so plainly pointed out by the preceding message? And yet Sir Thomas More himself is forced to confess at the outset of this very narration, “that the deaths and final fortunes of the two young princes have nevertheless so far come in question, that some remaining long in doubt, whether they were in his days destroyed (23) or no.” Very memorable words, and sufficient to balance More’s own testimony with the most sanguine believers. He adds, “these doubts not only arose from the uncertainty men were in, whether Perkin Warbeck was the true duke of York, but for that also all things were so covertly demeaned, that there was nothing so plain and openly proved, but that yet men had it ever inwardly suspect.” Sir Thomas goes on to affirm, “that he does not relate the story after every way that he heard it by such men and such meanes, as he thought it hard but it should be true.” This affirmation rests on the credibility of certain reporters, we do not know whom, but who we shall find were no credible reporters at all: for to proceed to the confutation. James Tirrel, a man in no secret trust with the king, and kept down by Catesby and Ratcliffe, is recommended as a proper person by a nameless page. In the first place Richard was crowned at York (after this transaction) September 8th. Edward the Fourth had not been dead four months, and Richard in possession of any power not above two months, and those very bustling and active: Tirrel must have been impatient indeed, if the page had had time to observe his discontent at the superior confidence of Ratcliffe and Catesby. It happens unluckily too, that the great part of the time Ratcliffe was absent, Sir Thomas More himself telling us that Sir Richard Ratcliffe had the custody of the prisoners at Pontefract, and presided at their execution there. But a much more unlucky circumstance is, that James Tirrel, said to be knighted for this horrid service, was not only a knight before, but a great or very considerable officer of the crown; and in that situation had walked at Richard’s preceding coronation. Should I be told that Sir Thomas More did not mean to confine the ill offices done to Tirrel by Ratcliffe and Catesby solely to the time of Richard’s protectorate and regal power, but being all three attached to him when duke of Gloucester, the other two might have lessened Tirrel’s credit with the duke even in the preceding reign; then I answer, that Richard’s appointing him master of the horse on his accession had removed those disgusts, and left the page no room to represent him as ready through ambition and despondency to lend his ministry to assassination. Nor indeed was the master of the horse likely to be sent to supersede the constable of the Tower for one night only. That very act was sufficient to point out what Richard desired to, and did, it seems, transact so covertly.
That Sir James Tirrel was and did walk as master of the horse at Richard’s coronation cannot be contested. A most curious, invaluable, and authentic monument has lately been discovered, the coronation-roll of Richard the Third. Two several deliveries of parcels of stuff are there expressly entered, as made to “Sir James Tirrel, knyght, maister of the hors of our sayd soverayn lorde the kynge.” What now becomes of Sir Thomas More’s informers, and of their narrative, which he thought hard but must be true?
I will go a step further, and consider the evidence of this murder, as produced by Henry the Seventh some years afterwards, when, instead of lamenting it, it was necessary for his majesty to hope it had been true; at least to hope the people would think so. On the appearance of Perkin Warbeck, who gave himself out for the second of the brothers, who was believed so by most people, and at least feared by the king to be so, he bestirred himself to prove that both princes had been murdered by his predecessor. There had been but three actors, besides Richard who had commanded the execution, and was dead. There were Sir James Tirrel, Dighton, and Forrest; and there were all the persons whose depositions Henry pretended to produce; at least two of them, for Forrest it seems had rotted piece-meal away; a kind of death unknown at present to the college. But there were some others, of whom no notice was taken; as the nameless page, Greene, one Black Will or Will Slaughter who guarded the princes, the friar who buried them, and Sir Robert Brackenbury, who could not be quite ignorant of what had happened: the latter was killed at Bosworth, and the friar was dead too. But why was no inquiry made after Greene and the page? Still this silence was not so impudent as the pretended confession of Dighton and Sir James Tirrel. The former certainly did avow the fact, and was suffered to go unpunished wherever he pleased – undoubtedly that he might spread the tale. And observe these remarkable words of lord Bacon, “John Dighton, who it seemeth spake best for the king, was forewith set at liberty.” In truth, every step of this pretended discovery, as it stands in lord Bacon, warns us to give no heed to it. Dighton and Tirrel agreed both in a tale, as the king gave out. Their confession therefore was not publickly made, as Sir James Tirrel too was suffered to live; (24) but was shut up in the Tower, and put to death afterwards for we know not what treason; what can we believe, but that Dighton was some low mercenary wretch hired to assume the guilt of a crime he had not committed, and that Sir James Tirrel never did, never would confess what he had not done; and was therefore put out of the way on a fictitious imputation? It must be observed too, that no inquiry was made into the murder on the accession of Henry the Seventh, the natural time for it, when the passions of men were heated, and when the duke of Norfolk, lord Lovel, Catesby, Ratcliffe, and the real abettors or accomplices of Richard, were attainted and executed. No mention of such a murder was (25) made in the very act of Parliament that attainted Richard himself, and which would have been the most heinous aggravation of his crimes. And no prosecution of the supposed assassins was even thought of until eleven years afterwards, on the appearance of Perkin Warbeck. Tirrel is not named in the act of attainder to which I have had recourse; and such omissions cannot but induce us to surmise that Henry had never been certain of the deaths of the princes, nor ever interested himself to prove that both were dead, till he had great reason to believe that one of them was alive. Let me add, that if the confessions of Dighton and Tirrel were true, Sir Thomas More had no occasion to recur to the information of his unknown credible informers. If those confessions were not true, his informers were not creditable.
Special thanks to Society member Janet Trimbath for keyboarding this electronic edition.