Death of Edward IV
In 1483 the Yorkist dynasty had appeared to be in a very strong position. Edward had 2
sons and a daughter so the succession appeared secure. Warwick was long dead as was
Edward’s untrustworthy brother the Duke of Clarence. The North was firmly under the
control of his other brother Richard of Gloucester, along with the Percy Earl of
However Edward’s sudden death left the new king Edward V as a minor. Richard was
appointed Protector by his brother, but the court was dominated by the Woodvilles, and
indeed the new king was with them at Ludlow at the time of his father’s death. However
enemies if the Woodvilles, such as Lord Hastings and the Duke of Buckingham, allied
The Capture of Edward
The coronation was set for May 4 – so Edward V needed to be brought to Westminster.
The Marquis of Dorset, the Queen’s eldest son by her first marriage, controlled the Tower
of London, which was both royal palace and royal armoury, and this would allow the
Woodvilles to maintain control over the King once he had arrived from Ludlow.
Therefore Richard and Buckingham marched north and met the King and his party at
Stony Stratford on 29 April. The Queen’s brother, Earl Rivers, was arrested and the
Queen herself reacted to the news by taking her remaining children into sanctuary at
Westminster Abbey. On May 4 Richard and Buckingham entered London with cartloads
of weapons which they claimed were to be used by the Woodvilles to take control of the
king. A new coronation date of June 22 was now set. However the Woodvilles still
controlled the fleet through the admiral, Sir Edward Woodville, another of the Queen’s
brothers. However Richard issued a free pardon to all sailors who would desert and all
but two ships deserted.
Richard takes control.
At a council meeting on June 13 three councillors, Lord Hastings, John Morton, Bishop
of Ely, and the archbishop of York were all arrested. Hastings was taken outside and
beheaded on the spot for treason. Richard was displaying his ruthlessness. Nothing would
be allowed to stand in his way. It is possible that Hastings had opposed either Richard’s
plan to take the throne or his proposal to use force to break sanctuary. On June 13
Westminster Abbey was surrounded by troops and, after an appeal by the Archbishop of
Canterbury, the Queen handed over Richard of York to Richard and his men.
Subsequently a sermon was preached at St Paul’s inviting Richard to take over a King on
the grounds that Edwards was not the rightful King as his father and mother had not been
legally married. Four days later Richard announced his decision to take up the offer. He
bought the support of the Howards by making Lord Howard the Duke of Norfolk while
the Earl of Northumberland was made commander of the army (Earl Marshal??).
Enemies such as Earl Rivers were executed. Rivers was replaced as Lord Chamberlain by
Viscount Lovell. Dorset was replaced as Constable of the Tower by Sir Robert
Richard’s actions against the Woodvilles were seen by many as unfair – and so they
changed from being hated to being regarded as innocent victims. To make matters worse
for Richard some of them, such as Dorset and the Bishop of Salisbury were free and so
could organise opposition to his rule. They were joined by a number of former courtiers
of Edward IV, such as Sir Thomas St. Leger, Giles Daubeney and William Stonor.
Furthermore Lancastrians such as Edward Courtenay were also willing to join in since
the only alternative to Richard was the Lancastrian claimant Henry Tudor.
Revolt was basically the work of the Woodvilles and former supporters of Edward IV,
such as St. Leger, who had been replaced in the government by northerners. They
conspired with Henry Tudor to overthrow Richard III. Revolt had support over much of
Southern England but not enough – so that Buckingham was handed over to Richard and
King’s brother in law Thomas St. Leger was executed as well. Richard had won because
he had kept the loyalty of the major families – the Howards along with the northern Percy
and Stanley families. Only Buckingham deserted Richard and joined the rebels.
Richard held a parliament and attainted over 100 rebel leaders, taking their land and
using it to reward his own supporters. This compares with just 140 attainders in the whole
of Edward IV’s reign. Many of the rebels fled to Brittany to join Henry Tudor - Sir Giles
Daubeney, Marquis of Dorset and Edward Courtenay.
Henry Tudor had been given a loan of 10,000 crowns by Duke Francis of Brittany.
According to Polydore Vergil – writing 20 years later and working for Henry VII, Henry
had landed at Poole in Dorset but had seen Richard’s army and abandoned invasion.
However this cannot be true as Vergil gives date as 10 Oct 1484. If simply an error for
1483 it still cannot be correct, as Richard’s army nowhere near Poole at the time.
Back in Brittany, at Rennes on Christmas Day,1483, Henry pledged to marry Elizabeth of
York, so uniting the Yorkist and Lancastrian families. This was important as it meant that
apart from the northern families everyone was now united against Richard.
Richard attempts to capture Henry
The Buckingham revolt had failed but it had underlined how potentially dangerous Henry
Tudor was. Therefore Richard needed to capture Henry. The situation in Brittany offered
Richard the opportunity to achieve this. Duke Francis was old and his heir was his young
daughter Anne. The King of France, wanted to marry Anne – and this would mean the
end of an independent Brittany, since the French King would use his position to
incorporate Brittany into France. However Louis XI had died in 1483 and the new king,
Charles VIII was just 13 and so less of a threat than a strong, experienced king. This
allowed Francis to support Henry’s attempt to seize the throne in Buckingham’s
rebellion. But by 1484 a regency had been firmly established in France and so once more
Brittany felt under pressure and in need of a strong ally. England was the obvious
solution and in June 1484 Richard agreed to give Brittany 1000 English archers.
According to Polydore Vergil, John Morton, who had fled to Burgundy, now sent a
message to Henry that he was likely to be handed over to the English king. Unknown if
this was true – Henry would surely have been able to work out the danger of the situation
for himself. So Henry fled to France with John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the leading
Lancastrian noble (most of Henry’s supporters were Yorkist). This meant there was now
a real possibility of a French attack on Calias. So Richard appointed his own illegitimate
son, John of Gloucester, as the new Captain of Calais. As John was a minor this meant
that Richard himself was in personal control of the garrison. Sir James Tyrell, a long term
aly, was put in charge of Guines Castle. However since Tyrell was also in charge of
South Wales it meant that Richard had weakened his control of South Wales at what
would prove a vital time.
Richard’s position was further weakened in 1484 by the deaths of both his wife Anne and
his legitimate son Edward. However he finally succeeded in making a deal with Elizabeth
Woodville so that she left sanctuary. He may have hoped that this would mean the
Yorkists would now abandon their opposition to him. However it merely led to the
rumour that he had murdered his wife so that he could marry his niece, Elizabeth of York.
Not true but it shows how people viewed Richard.
The new invasion
Fears of a further invasion by Henry Tudor were growing. In December Richard issued a
commission of Array, in effect putting the peasantry on military standby. He also ordered
a census of nobles to establish how many troops could be gathered at a half day’s notice.
In 1485 Sir George Neville (brother in law??) was put in charge of the channel fleet while
Viscount Lovell was put in charge of the defence of the south coast. A further
Commission of Array was issued in June. Henry needed support from the nobility and he
received encouragement from the Stanleys as well as the Earl of Shrewsbury.