Richard’s assumption of the throne

The ‘Crimes’ of Richard III: the assumption of the throne
In the series on the ‘crimes’ Richard’s assumption of the throne has not yet been dealt with. Whether or nor it is regarded as a crime depends on how the grounds on which he claimed the throne are viewed. These grounds were mainly that his nephews were illegitimate. First we will describe the complicated events leading up to Richard’s assumption of the throne.

Edward IV died unexpectedly on 9 April 1483. His son and heir, Edward Prince of Wales was in Ludlow, on the marches of Wales, where he nominally governed the Principality with his council under the guidance of Bishop John Alcock, President of the council and the Prince’s teacher and Earl Rivers, his uncle and Governor. The news was received in Ludlow on 14 April, taking 5 days to travel the 130 or so miles. The news probably reached Richard of Gloucester in Middleham at about the same time. Subesequent events are well known, with Richard’s party travelling down from York and meeting the royal party at Northampton and Stony Stratford on 29/30 April. Despite the arrest there of Rivers, Sir Richard Grey (the new king’s half brother) and his chamberlain Thomas Vaughan, the work of the government went on in the name of Edward V until the first official signs of something wrong. These came with the ceasing of privy seal writs in the name of Edward V on 8 June and the postponing on 16 June of his coronation from 22 June until 9 November.

On Sunday 22 June sermons were preached in London alleging that Edward IV was not a true king and so nor could his sons be. Mancini alleges that the preachers said that Edward IV was illegitimate, but other, later sources, such as theGreat Chronicle and Polydore Vergil and including Thomas More say that it was alleged that as well as Edward IV his sons were illegitimate too, on the grounds (More says) of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Lucy before he married the Queen. The legitimate king was therefore Richard of Gloucester. There is some doubt as to what grounds were alleged for replacing Edward V, various preachers may have given different versions in their sermons, but there is no doubt that the official grounds were that Edward IV was precontracted to marry someone else before he married Elizabeth Woodville.

The woman he was said to be precontracted to was not Elizabeth Lucy however, as More probably knew very well. Lucy was well known as one of Edward’s mistresses and probably mother of Arthur Viscount Lisle. The woman was in fact Eleanor Butler, daughter of John Talbot, first Earl of Shrewsbury and widow of Sir Thomas Butler, son of Ralph Butler, first (and last) Lord Sudeley. Thomas was dead by 1464; Eleanor by 1468. Her name was certainly known to the Crowland Chronicler and it is given in a petition presented to Richard on 26 June requesting him to take the throne and subsequently incorporated in Titulus Regius, the Act of Parliament setting out his title. Titulus Regius also says that the son of Clarence was barred from the throne by his father’s attainder. It is thus certain that the events of April-June 1483 ended with Richard of Gloucester claiming the throne chiefly on the grounds of the illegitimacy of his nephews due to their father being precontracted at the time of his marriage to Elizabeth Woodvile and linked to this, that the marriage was a secret one. The marriage was undoubtedly secret but we have no way of proving the pre-contract story beyond doubt. The question then remains as to whether or not the pre-contract was still a bar after the death of Eleanor Butler and the long term marriage of Edward and his wife. It has been held not to be a bar.