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Richard III by  Jacob Abbott

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PROCLAIMED KING

[258]

R
ICHARD, having thus obtained control of every thing essential to the success of his plans, began to prepare for action. His chief friend and confederate, the one on whom he relied most for the execution of the several measures which he proposed to take, was a powerful nobleman named the Duke of Buckingham. I shall proceed in this chapter to describe the successive steps of the course which Richard and the Duke of Buckingham pursued in raising Richard to the throne, as recorded by the different historians of those days, and as generally believed since, though, in fact, there have been great disputes in respect to these occurrences, and it is now quite difficult to ascertain with certainty what the precise truth of the case really is. This, however, is, after all, of no great practical importance, for, in respect to remote transactions of this nature, the thing which is most necessary for the purposes of general education is to understand what the story is, in detail, which has been generally received among [259] mankind, and to which the allusions of orators and poets, and the discussions of statesmen and moralists in subsequent ages refer, for it is with this story alone that for all the purposes of general reading we have any thing to do.

Richard was residing at this time chiefly at Baynard's Castle with his mother. The young king and his brother, the Duke of York, were in the Tower. They were not nominally prisoners, but yet Richard kept close watch and ward over them, and took most effectual precautions to prevent their making their escape. The queen, Elizabeth Woodville, with her daughters, was in the sanctuary. Richard's wife, with the young child, was still at Middleham Castle.

It is a very curious circumstance, showing how sometimes records of the most trivial and insignificant things come down to us from ancient times in a clear and certain form, while all that is really important to know is involved in doubt and obscurity—that the household expense-book of Anne at Middleham is still extant, showing all the little items of expense incurred for Richard's son, while all is dispute and uncertainty in respect to the great political [260] schemes and measures of his father. In this book there is a charge of 22s. 9d. for a piece of green cloth, and another of 1s. 8d. for making it into gowns for "my lord prince." There is also a charge of 5s, for a feather for him, and 13s. 1d. paid to a shoemaker, named Dirick, for a pair of shoes. This expense-book was continued after Anne left Middleham Castle to go to London, as will be presently related. There are several charges on the journey for offerings and gifts made by the child at churches on the way. Two men were paid 6s. 8d. for running on foot by the side of his carriage. These men's names were Medcalf and Pacock. There is also a charge of 2d, for mending a whip!

But to return to our narrative. The time for the coronation of Edward the Fifth was drawing near, but Richard intended to prevent the performance of this ceremony, and to take the crown for himself instead. The first thing was to put in circulation the story that his two nephews were not the legitimate children of his brother, Edward the Fourth, and to prepare the way for this, he wished first, by every means, to cast odium on Edward's character. This was easily done, for Edward's character was bad enough to merit any degree of odium which his brother might wish it to bear.

[261] Accordingly, Richard employed his friends and partisans in talking as much as possible in all quarters about the dissoluteness and the vices of the late king. False stories would probably have been invented, if it had not been that there were enough that were true. These stories were all revived and put in circulation, and every thing was made to appear as unfavorable for Edward as possible. Richard himself, on the other hand, feigned a very strict and scrupulous regard for virtue and morality, and deemed it his duty, he said, to do all in his power to atone for and wipe away the reproach which his brother's loose and wicked life had left upon the court and the kingdom. Among other things, the cause of public morals demanded, he said, that an example should be made of Jane Shore, who had been the associate and partner of the king in his immoralities.

Jane Shore, it will be recollected, was the wife of a rich citizen of London, whom Edward had enticed away from her husband and brought to court. She was naturally a very amiable and kind-hearted woman, and all accounts concur in saying that she exercised the power that she acquired over the mind of the king in a very humane and praiseworthy manner. She was always ready to interpose, when the king [262] contemplated any act of harshness or severity, to avert his anger and save his intended victim, and, in general, she did a great deal to soften the brutality of his character, and to protect the innocent and helpless from the wrongs which he would otherwise have often done them. These amiable and gentle traits of character do not, indeed, atone at all for the grievous sin which she committed in abandoning her husband and living voluntarily with the king, but they did much toward modifying the feeling of scorn and contempt with which she would have otherwise been regarded by the people of England.

Richard caused Jane to be arrested and sent to prison. He also seized all her plate and jewels, and confiscated them. She had a very rich and valuable collection of these things. Richard then caused an ecclesiastical court to be organized, and sent her before it to be tried. The court, undoubtedly in accordance with instructions that Richard himself gave them, sentenced her, by way of penance for her sins, to walk in midday through the streets of London, from one end of the city to the other, almost entirely [263] undressed. The intention of this severe exposure was to designate her to those who should assemble to witness the punishment as a wanton, and thus to put her to shame, and draw upon her the scorn and derision of the populace. They found some old and obsolete law which authorized such a punishment. The sentence was carried into effect on a Sunday. The unhappy criminal was conducted through the principal streets of the city, wearing a night-dress, and carrying a lighted taper in her hand, between rows of spectators that assembled by thousands along the way to witness the scene. But, instead of being disposed to receive her with taunts and reproaches, the populace were moved to compassion by her saddened look and her extreme beauty. Their hearts were softened by the remembrance of the many stories they had heard of the kindness of her heart, and the amiableness and gentleness of her demeanor, in the time of her prosperity and power. They thought it hard, too, that the law should be enforced so rigidly against her alone, while so many multitudes in all ranks of society, high as well as low, were allowed to go unpunished.

Still, Richard's object in this exhibition was accomplished. The transaction had the effect [264] of calling the attention of the public universally and strongly to the fact that Edward the Fourth had been a loose and dissolute man, and prepared people's minds for the charge which was about to be brought against him.

This charge was that he had been secretly married to another lady before his union with Elizabeth Woodville, and that consequently by this latter marriage he was guilty of bigamy. Of course, if this were true, the second marriage would be null and void, and the children springing from it would have no rights as heirs.

Whether there was any truth in this story or not can not now ever be certainly known. All that is certain is that Richard circulated the report, and he found several witnesses to testify to the truth of it. The maiden name of the lady to whom they said the king had been married was Elinor Talbot. She had married in early life a certain Lord Boteler, whose widow she was at the time that Edward was alleged to have married her. The marriage was performed in a very private manner by a certain bishop, nobody being present besides the parties except the bishop himself, and he was strictly charged by the king to keep the affair a profound secret. This he promised to do. Notwithstanding his promise, however, the bish- [265] op some time subsequently, after the king had been married to Elizabeth Woodville, revealed the secret of the previous marriage to Gloucester, at which the king, when he heard of it, was extremely angry. He accused the bishop of having betrayed the trust which he had reposed in him, and, dismissing him at once from office, shut him up in prison.

Richard having, as he said, kept these facts secret during his brother's lifetime, out of regard for the peace of the family, now felt it his duty to make them known, in order to prevent the wrong which would be done by allowing the crown to descend to a son who, not being born in lawful wedlock, could have no rights as heir.

After disseminating this story among the influential persons connected with the court, and through all the circles of high life, during the week, it was arranged that on the following Sunday the facts should be made known publicly to the people.

There was a large open space near St. Paul's Cathedral, in the very heart of London, where it was the custom to hold public assemblies of all kinds, both religious and political. There was a pulpit built on one side of this space, from which sermons were preached, orations, [266] and harangues pronounced, and proclamations made. Oaths were administered here too, in cases where it was required to administer oaths to large numbers of people.

From this pulpit, on the next Sunday after the penance of Jane Shore, a certain Dr. Shaw, who was a brother of the Lord-mayor of London, preached a sermon to a large concourse of citizens, in which he openly attempted to set aside the claims of the two boys, and to prove that Richard was the true heir to the crown.

He took for his text a passage from the Wisdom of Solomon, "The multiplying brood of the ungodly shall not thrive." In this discourse he explained to his audience that Edward, when he was married to Elizabeth Woodville, was already the husband of Elinor Boteler, and consequently that the second marriage was illegal and void, and the children of it entirely destitute of all claims to the crown. He also, it is said, advanced the idea that neither Edward nor Clarence were the children of their reputed father, the old Duke of York, but that Richard was the oldest legitimate son of the marriage, in proof of which he offered the fact that Richard strongly resembled the duke in person, while neither Edward nor Clarence had borne any resemblance to him at all.

[267] It was arranged, moreover—so it was said—that, when the preacher came to the passage where he was to speak of the resemblance which Richard bore to his father, the great Duke of York, Richard himself was to enter the assembly as if by accident, and thus give the preacher the opportunity to illustrate and confirm what he had said by directing his audience to observe for themselves the resemblance which he had pointed out, and also to excite them to a burst of enthusiasm in Richard's favor by the eloquent appeal which the incident of Richard's entrance was to awaken. But this intended piece of stage effect, if it was really planned, failed in the execution. Richard did not come in at the right time, and when he did come in, either the preacher managed the case badly, or else the people were very little disposed to espouse Richard's cause; for when the orator, at the close of his appeal, expected applause and acclamations, the people uttered no response, but looked at each other in silence, and remained wholly unmoved.

In the course of the following two or three days, other attempts were made to excite the populace to some demonstration in Richard's favor, but they did not succeed. The Duke of Buckingham met a large concourse of London- [268] ers at the Guildhall, which is in the centre of the business portion of the city. He was supported by a number of nobles, knights, and distinguished citizens, and he made a long and able speech to the assembly, in which he argued strenuously in favor of calling Richard to the throne. He denounced the character of the former king, and enlarged at length on the dissipated and vicious life which he had led. He also related to the people the story of Edward's having been the husband of Lady Elinor Boteler at the time when his marriage with Queen Elizabeth took place, which fact, as Buckingham showed, made the marriage with Elizabeth void, and cut off the children from the inheritance. The children of Clarence had been cut off, too, by the attainder, and so Richard was the only remaining heir.

The duke concluded his harangue by asking the assembly if, under those circumstances, they would not call upon Richard to ascend the throne. A few of the poorer sort, very likely some that had been previously hired to do it, threw up their caps into the air in response to this appeal, and cried out, "Long live King Richard!" But the major part, comprising all the more respectable portion of the assembly, looked grave and were silent. Some who were [269] pressed to give their opinion said they must take time to consider.

Thus these appeals to the people failed, so far as the object of them was to call forth a popular demonstration in Richard's favor. But in one respect they accomplished the object in view: they had the effect of making it known throughout London and the vicinity that a revolution was impending, and thus preparing men's minds to acquiesce in the change more readily than they might perhaps have done if it had come upon them suddenly and with a shock.

On the following day after the address at the Guildhall, a grand assembly of all the lords, bishops, councilors, and officers of state was convened in Westminster. It was substantially a Parliament, though not a Parliament in form. The reason why it was not called as a Parliament in form was because Richard, having doubts, as he said, about the right of Edward to the throne, could not conscientiously advise that any public act should be performed in his name, and a Parliament could only be legally convened by summons from a king. Accordingly, this assembly was only an informal meeting of the peers of England and other great dignitaries of Church and State with a view of consulting [270] together to determine what should be done. Of course, it was all fully arranged and settled beforehand, among those who were in Richard's confidence, what the result of these deliberations was to be. The Duke of Buckingham, Richard's principal friend and supporter, managed the business at the meeting. The assembly consisted, of course, chiefly of the party of Richard's friends. The principal leaders of the parties opposed to him had been beheaded or shut up in prison; of the rest, some had fled, some had concealed themselves, and of the few who dared to show themselves at the meeting, there were none who had the courage, or perhaps I ought rather to say the imprudence and folly, to oppose any thing which Buckingham should undertake to do.

The result of the deliberations of this council was the drawing up of a petition to be presented to Richard, declaring him the true and rightful heir to the crown, and praying him to assume at once the sovereign power.

A delegation was appointed to wait upon Richard and present the petition to him. Buckingham was at the head of this delegation. The petition was written out in due form upon a roll of parchment. It declared that, inasmuch as it was clearly established that King Edward the [271] Fourth was already the husband of "Dame Alionora Boteler," by a previous marriage, at the time of his pretended marriage with Elizabeth Woodville, and that consequently his children by Elizabeth Woodville, not bring born in lawful wedlock, could have no rights of inheritance whatever from their father, and especially could by no means derive from him any title to the crown; and inasmuch as the children of Clarence had been cut off from the succession by the bill of attainder which had been passed against their father; and inasmuch as Richard came next in order to these in the line of succession, therefore he was now the true and rightful heir. This his right moreover by birth was now confirmed by the decision of the estates of the realm assembled for the purpose; wherefore the petition, in conclusion, invited and urged him at once to assume the crown which was thus his by a double title—the right of birth and the election of the three estates of the realm.

Of course, although the petition was addressed to Richard as if the object of it was to produce an effect upon his mind, it was really all planned and arranged by Richard himself, and by Buckingham in conjunction with him; and the representations and arguments which it [272] contained were designed solely for effect on the mind of the public, when the details of the transaction should be promulgated throughout the land.

The petition being ready, Buckingham, in behalf of the delegation, demanded an audience of the Lord Protector that they might lay, it before him. Richard accordingly made an appointment to receive them at his mother's residence at Baynard's Castle.

At the appointed time the delegation appeared, and were received in great state by Richard in the audience hall. The Duke of Buckingham presented the petition, and Richard read it. He seemed surprised, and he pretended to be at a loss what to reply. Presently he began to say that he could not think of assuming the crown. He said he had no ambition to reign, but only desired to preserve the kingdom for his nephew the king until he should become of sufficient age, and then to put him peaceably in possession of it. But the Duke of Buckingham replied that this could never be. The people of England, he said, would never consent to be ruled by a prince of illegitimate birth.

"And if you, my lord," added the duke, "refuse to accept the crown, they know where to find another who will gladly accept it."


[Illustration]

BAYNARDS CASTLE.

[275] In the end, Richard allowed himself to be persuaded that there was no alternative but for him to accept the crown, and he reluctantly consented that, on the morrow, he would proceed in state to Westminster, and publicly assume the title and the prerogatives of king.

Accordingly, the next day, a grand procession was formed, and Richard was conducted with great pomp to Westminster Hall. Here he took his place on the throne, with the leading lords of his future court, and the bishops and archbishops around him. The rest of the hall was crowded with a vast concourse of people that had assembled to witness the ceremony.

First the king took the customary royal oath, which was administered by the archbishop. He then summoned the great judges before him, and made an address to them, exhorting them to administer the laws find execute judgment between man and man in a just and impartial manner, inasmuch as to secure that end, he said, would be the first and greatest object of his reign.

After this Richard addressed the concourse of people in the hall, who, in some sense, represented the public, and pronounced a pardon for all offenses which had been committed against himself, and ordered a proclamation to be made [276] of a general amnesty throughout the land. These announcements were received by the people with loud acclamations, and the ceremony was concluded by shouts of "Long live King Richard!" from all the assembly.

We obtain a good idea of this scene by the following engraving, which is copied exactly from a picture contained in a manuscript volume of the time.


[Illustration]

THE KING ON HIS THRONE.

The royal dignity having thus been assumed by the new king at the usual centre and seat [277] of the royal power, the procession was again formed, and Richard was conducted to Westminster Abbey for the purpose of doing the homage customary on such occasions at one of the shrines in the church. The procession of the king was met at the door of the church by a procession of monks chanting a solemn anthem as they came.

After the religious ceremonies were completed, Richard, at the head of a grand cavalcade of knights, noblemen, and citizens, proceeded into the city to the Church of St. Paul. The streets were lined with spectators, who saluted the king with cheers and acclamations as he passed. At the Church of St. Paul more ceremonies were performed and more proclamations were made. The popular joy, more or less sincere, was expressed by the sounding of trumpets, the waving of banners, and loud acclamations of "Long live King Richard!" At length, when the services in the city were concluded, the king returned to Westminster, and took up his abode at the royal palace; and while he was returning, heralds were sent to all the great centres of concourse and intelligence in and around London to proclaim him king.

This proclamation of Richard as king took place on the twenty-sixth of June. King Ed- [278] ward the Fourth died just about three months before. During this three months Edward the Fifth is, in theory, considered as having been the King of England, though, during the whole period, the poor child, instead of exercising any kingly rights or prerogatives, was a helpless prisoner in the hands of others, who, while they professed to be his protectors, were really his determined and relentless foes.


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