Richard, Duke of Gloucester later Richard III was born in 1452 and was the twelfth child of Richard, Duke of York, and Cecily Neville. As a young child he was exiled to Burgundy due to the shifting balance of power in the War of the Roses .He was created third Duke of Gloucester and lord high admiral at the coronation of his brother, Edward IV. At the age of nine he was apprenticeship in the household of a great noble in order to learn all the knightly accomplishments, his cousin the Earl of Warwick In 1461 Richard went to the earl’s great castle of Middleham in Wensleydale to begin his training. This was a quite typical way of obtaining training all the way through Medieval society right down to the apprentises of craftsmen and tradesmen.
It was there that he met Robert Percy and Francis Lovell who were also being schooled in Warwick’s household. These two youngsters became Richard’s closest friends and remained, to the end of their lives, his staunchest supporters. The boys all lived together and received instruction in Latin, law, mathematics, music, religion, and the code of chivalric behavior and etiquette. Each day they practiced riding, hunting, and the use of arms. In the evening they were taught to sing, dance, and play musical instruments. Richard worked diligently on all of his lessons, but his greatest effort was directed toward developing skill in the use of weapons.
During the next few years the king heaped honors and lands on his two brothers. At the age of twelve Richard was appointed Commissioner of Array for nine counties and charged with levying troops to clear Northumberland of Lancastrians. George, although he was three years older than Richard, was not considered sufficiently mature for this responsibility, a fact which infuriated him. This, and other incidents of this period which indicated Edward’s favoritism to Richard, may have marked the beginning of the hostility which George later displayed toward both his brothers.
In September 1464, Edward announced his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, a Lancastrian widow and the mother of two young sons. The marriage, which had been performed in great secrecy months before, was to have serious and far-reaching consequences. Warwick had been negotiating a French marriage for the king and felt publicly humiliated by the king’s action. This caused a breach between the two strong-minded men. Warwick, who had helped his cousin Edward seize the throne, assumed he would be the power behind it. Edward, however, intended to rule in fact as well as name.
The strained relations between the king and kingmaker probably accounted for Edward’s order, in the spring of 1465, that Richard be removed from Middleham. Richard spent the next five years at Westminster in a court dominated by the relatives of the queen. The members of the Woodville clan were numerous, aggressive, and greedy, and it was not long before they had secured for themselves the greatest offices and the richest marriages in the kingdom. The queen’s sister Katherine was married to the Duke of Buckingham who was a dozen or more years her junior, while her twenty-year-old brother John captured the heart and hand of the eighty-year-old Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. It is not surprising that the queen and her family earned the enmity of the old nobility.
The resentment of Warwick, the head of the powerful Neville family, took a positive and dangerous form. He attempted to win the king’s two brothers over to his side. Although Richard was no doubt flattered by the attentions showered on him, he recognized Warwick’s treasonable intent and remained loyal to the King. Warwick had more success with George. In 1469, against the express command of the king, George of Clarence married Warwick’s daughter, Isobel Neville, in a hurried and secret ceremony at Calais. When they returned to England, Warwick gathered an army, captured the king, and executed several of the royal adherents, including the queen’s father, her brother John, and the earls of Pembroke and Devon.
Where was Richard during this period? Apparently the Nevilles considered him of such little ability and importance that he was not detained with his brother. When the king learned, however, that Richard and Lord Hastings had managed to raise armies to come to his rescue, he secretly summoned his Council to join him at Pontefract where he was being held prisoner. When the Council and the loyal armies appeared, Edward coolly informed his captors that these men had come to accompany him to London and he intended to go with them.
This rescue caused the king to appreciate more fully the loyalty and ability of yis youngest brother. On his return to London, Edward rewarded Richard by appointing him Constable of England for life. This was an extremely powerful position and carried with it great responsibility. The Constable, as President of the Court of Chivalry and Courts Martial, could determine and punish acts of treason.
Richard was also appointed Chief Justice of North Wales for life, and it was in this position that he undertook his first independent military command. He quickly suppressed a Welsh rebellion and recaptured the castles of Cardigan and Carmathen. Early in 1470 Richard became Chief Justice of South Wales, which meant he was the virtual ruler of Wales. He thus displaced Warwick who had taken these offices for himself at the time he held the king captive.
Despite a show of reconciliation between Warwick and the king, the Nevilles continued to instigate rebellion. When papers captured from rebels after a skirmish proved that Warwick planned to place Clarence on the throne, Edward took immediate action. Warwick and Clarence were proclaimed traitors and John Neville, the only member of his family who had remained loyal to the king, was deprived of the earldom of Northumberland. The title of Earl of Northumberland was restored to Henry Percy, a Lancastrian sympathizer. This was a rash action on Edward’s part, and one for which Richard would pay dearly.
Richard, who had been in Wales when the rebellion started, set out with an army to aid his brother. Warwick and Clarence, realizing full well that they would not win against the combined armies of Richard of Gloucester and the king, gathered together their wives, Warwick’s younger daughter Anne, and several hundred adherents, and fled to the protection of Louis XI of France.
King Edward, who knew his brother George and cousin Warwick well, realized that they would not give up the fight so easily and he began preparations for the defense of his kingdom. He sent Richard to the Midlands to raise levies and maintain order. At the same time the king deprived the Nevilles of the Wardenship of the West Marches and conferred the office on Richard, who he felt confident could ensure the loyalty of Yorkshire.
Meanwhile, Warwick had not been idle. Through the mediation of his patron, Louis of France, the “Universal Spider,” Warwick had become reconciled with Margaret of Anjou. In return for Warwick’s promise to restore Henry VI to the throne, Margaret had consented to the marriage of her son Edward to Warwick’s daughter, Anne Neville. The marriage was not to be solemnized, however, until Warwick had fulfilled his part of the agreement. Clarence, who had gained nothing by this agreement, was offered a consolation prize. He was to inherit the throne if Anne and Edward produced no heirs.
On September 13, 1470, Warwick landed in England where he was joined by his brother, the Marquis of Montagu, formerly the Earl of Northumberland. When Edward learned of Montagu’s defection, he and some of his followers. including Richard, Hastings, and Rivers fled to Burgundy. They took with them only the clothes on their backs and thus, for the second time in his life, Richard found himself dependent on the charity of the Duke of Burgundy. Charles the Bold, the son of Philip the Good, was the husband of Edward and Richard’s sister, Margaret. Charles, a descendant of John of Gaunt, was at heart a Lancastrian. Political necessity, however, had turned him into a Yorkist. He was at war with Louis XI and he knew that a Lancastrian king of England would not lift a hand to help him. He must, therefore, give Edward the aid he needed to regain his throne.
Although Warwick had made good his promise to restore Henry to the throne, Margaret remained in France with her son and Anne Neville, until she could be sure that England was once more safely Lancastrian. Yorkist hopes had been kept alive, on the other hand, by the birth of a son to Elizabeth Woodville, who was then in sanctuary at Westminster.
In March 1471 Edward returned to England. He met with no resistance as he marched toward London, possibly because he declared that he had come only to reclaim his dukedom. As he neared the city, however, he dropped this pretense and many loyal Yorkists joined his ranks. Even George of Clarence, either out of pique at Warwick or a belated sense of family loyalty, came over to his brother’s side with the army he had raised to fight him. London welcomed Edward and supplied his army. A few days later the king marched out of London to meet the kingmaker in battle. With the Yorkist army rode the erstwhile king, Henry VI.
On Easter Sunday, April 14, 1471, at the Battle of Barnet, Warwick’s army was annihilated and he and his brother Montagu were slain. The nineteen-year-old Richard of Gloucester commanded the right wing of his brother’s victorious army. Three weeks later the royal forces, with Richard in command of the left wing, crushed the Lancastrians once and for all. On May 4, at Tewkesbury, Margaret’s army was totally destroyed and her son Edward lay among the dead.
On May 21 the king entered London in a triumphal procession led by his brother Richard. Accompanying the royal train were Edward’s prisoner, Margaret of Anjou, and Clarence’s ward, Anne Neville. That evening, according to the official version, Henry VI died in the Tower of “pure displeasure and melancholy.” There is no doubt that his death was a judicial murder ordered by the king. The destruction of the legitimate Lancastrian line enabled Edward IV to enjoy comparative peace for the rest of his reign.
In the months after Tewkesbury the grateful king heaped yet more honors upon his youngest brother. Richard, restored to his positions as Constable and Admiral of England, was also given Warwick’s former office of Great Chamberlain and was made Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster beyond Trent. Because Richard had great affection for the north country and the king needed a man of proven military ability to deal with the constant troubles on the Scottish border, Richard fell heir to all of the estates and power in that region that had formerly belonged to Warwick. Included in the gift were the castles of Middleham and Sheriff Hutton. The Duke of Gloucester thus became the greatest magnate in the north, with authority over the Earl of Northumberland.
Before leaving for the north to wage a campaign against the Scots, Richard secured the king’s permission to marry Anne Neville. There had been a deep affection between the two young people since their childhood days at Middleham and since Anne’s betrothed, Edward of Lancaster, was now dead, she was free to marry Richard. Upon the successful completion of the Scottish campaign he returned to London to claim his bride. Anne was in the custody of her brother-in-law Clarence who had no intention of sharing the Warwick inheritance with Richard. He therefore refused to give up his charge, despite a warning from the king not to interfere between the lovers. He claimed, when pressed, that Anne had disappeared and that he neither knew nor cared where she had gone. After weeks of diligent search Gloucester finally discovered Anne working as a kitchenmaid in the home of a retainer of the Duke of Clarence. Richard took her at once to the sanctuary of St. Martin le Grande where she would be safe from Clarence and from Richard too, if she so desired.
For several months the king’s two brothers engaged in a bitter dispute over the questions of the Warwick inheritance and Anne’s guardianship. Richard was quite willing to accept Anne even without her inheritance and so the matter was finally settled. Richard was to keep Middleham and certain other of Warwick’s Yorkshire estates and Clarence was to get the rest of the vast inheritance.
As soon as the property settlement had been reached, Anne Neville came out of sanctuary. Without waiting for the papal dispensation usual in marriages within this degree of consanguinity (Richard’s mother and Warwick’s father were brother and sister, thus Richard and Warwick were first cousins and Richard and Anne were first cousins, once removed), Anne and Richard were married in the spring of 1472, and they returned immediately to their childhood home of Middleham. There, in 1473, Anne was delivered of their only child, Edward.
Following his marriage Richard extended his protection to other members of the Neville family. His mother-in-law, stripped of her lands by her husband’s attainder, came out of sanctuary at Beaulieu Abbey and went to live in a home which Richard provided for her. He helped to secure the release of George Neville who had been imprisoned for conspiracy and provided an annuity for Warwick’s sister, the Countess of Oxford, despite the fact that her husband was actively working to overthrow the Yorkist king.
In answer to the king’s summons, Richard returned to London in the spring of 1475. Edward had decided to invade France, reconquer the territories lost by Henry VI and make good the English claim to the French throne. The money for the venture was raised by benevolence, the army by indentures. The Dukes of Clarence and Gloucester were each ordered to bring into the field one hundred and twenty men-at-arms and one thousand archers. So eager were the men of Yorkshire to wear Richard’s badge of the White Boar that he was able to enlist at least three hundred more men than he had contracted for.
The invasion was a fiasco. Edward’s allies deserted him and he was forced to accept the French king’s offer of peace. This decision, although favored by most of the English councillors who had been handsomely bribed by Louis, was bitterly opposed by the Duke of Gloucester. He saw the Treaty of PÃ©quigny, under which Edward was to receive a large French annuity for life, as a humiliating defeat for England. Richard was the only member of the royal party to refuse the French king’s bribe, which increased his popularity in England but earned him the undying enmity of France.
Upon his return to England, Richard retired once more to Yorkshire. Early in 1477 Edward summoned him to London to discuss the crisis which had arisen with the death of Duke Charles of Burgundy. Clarence, a recent widower, suggested that he be permitted to marry Charles’s heir, Mary, in order to protect the English interest in Burgundy. Edward, however, did not intend to see his shallow, ambitious brother become the ruler of the richest duchy in Europe, and so he refused to allow the marriage. Clarence reacted to this snub with almost insane fury. He arrested and executed two of his late wife’s servants on false charges, armed his retainers, and publicly accused the king of trying to destroy him. For years Edward had endured with remarkable restraint Clarence’s ambition, disloyalty, and even his treason, but this time his unstable brother had gone a step too far. In order to bolster his own claim to the throne, Clarence had spread the story that Edward was the off spring of an adulterous union between the Duchess of York and an unknown archer. If this were not enough, he cast doubt as well on the validity of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville.
Richard, who had returned to Yorkshire early in the year, hastened back to London when he learned that Clarence had been arrested, charged with treason, and sent to the Tower. He pleaded with Edward to spare Clarence’s life, but the Woodvilles, pressing from the other side, persuaded the king not to yield.
On January 16, 1478, parliament met to try Clarence on the charge of high treason. Edward was the sole accuser and only Clarence spoke in his own defense. On February 7 the High Steward passed the death sentence but Edward vacillated until, on February 18, the Speaker of the Commons petitioned the Lords to carry out the sentence. That same day Clarence was executed, by drowning, according to the story current at the time, in a butt of his favorite malmsey wine. Richard did not profit from his brother’s death. He merely regained the office of Great Chamberlain which he had given up to Clarence fifteen years earlier, and Richard’s son Edward was given the title and dignity of Earl of Salisbury.
Throughout these turbulent years Richard had spent most of his time in the north, traditionally the unruliest part of the kingdom, and he had succeeded in making himself popular by his wise and firm rule. He returned there immediately after Clarence’s execution and in the next four years he visited London only twice–once in 1480 to see his sister Margaret who had come from Burgundy to visit her family, and again in 1481 to advise the king about the war with Scotland. At Middleham he led the life typical of a rich and powerful country lord. He delegated much of the judicial work connected with his two most important national offices, Constable and Admiral of England, to experienced judges, but he held many lesser offices as well. None kept him busier than the position of Warden of the West Marches, which included supervisory authority over the East and Middle Marches under the Wardenship of the Earl of Northumberland. Despite the truce with the Scots, there were frequent armed attacks from across the border and Richard spent much of his time seeing to it that the frontier fortresses were garrisoned, provisioned, and repaired. He established a standard of excellence for the Warden of the Marches which his successors found difficult to maintain.
The Council for the Marches, the Warden’s advisory body, acted also as a court of appeal for poor tenants who were otherwise at the mercy of powerful lords. Any man, from the lowliest peasant to the greatest lord, could ask and receive justice from the Warden and his Council. In order to maintain a harmonious relationship with Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, whose family had previously been lords of the North, Richard used him as an assistant in judicial cases and in the affairs of the City of York, as well as appointing him second-in-command in the wars against the Scots. Percy, however, was no more satisfied with second best than Clarence had been, and he never became a devoted adherent of the Duke of Gloucester.
Richard was never too busy to attend to problems brought to his attention by the citizens of York, and his concern for their welfare earned him their wholehearted devotion. He was asked to settle important questions, such as disputed elections, as well as lesser problems such as ordering the removal of the fishgarths which impeded transportation and reduced the number of fish the poor were able to catch. Richard’s interest in and support of the city was deeply appreciated by the citizens who remained his faithful and outspoken adherents well into the Tudor period.
In 1482, after years of unproductive and halfhearted attempts to settle the Scottish problem, the king decided on war as the final solution. Edward’s health, which had deteriorated after years of dissipation and riotous living, prevented him from taking an active role in the fighting, and Richard was given complete charge of the campaign. He regained Berwick-on-Tweed which had been ceded to Scotland years before by Margaret of Anjou, and he captured Edinburgh without the loss of a single man. The Scots thereupon sued for peace, and Richard returned in triumph to London in January 1483 for the opening of parliament. He was wildly acclaimed for the success of the campaign.
The parliament showed its gratitude to Richard in a tangible way by granting him what was, in effect, a practically autonomous palatinate in Cumberland County and the Scots Marches. The grants included the permanent Wardenship of the West Marches and many lands, manors, and perquisites.
The change which Richard found in his brother during this visit left him profoundly disturbed. Edward had grown fat and lazy and he seemed to live only for pleasure. Richard, whose outlook on life was puritanical compared to Edward’s, no doubt blamed the influence of the loose-living Woodvilles and Lord Hastings for his brother’s decline. He had no way of knowing when he left London to return home in February 1483 that he would never see his brother again.
Richard’s reign gained an importance out of proportion to its length. He was the last of the Plantagenet dynasty, which had ruled England since 1154; he was the last English king to die on the battlefield; his death in 1485 is generally accepted between the medieval and modern ages in England; and he is credited with the responsibility for several murders: Henry VI , Henry’s son Edward, his brother Clarence, and his nephews Edward and Richard.
Richard’s power was immense, and upon the death of Edward IV , he positioned himself to seize the throne from the young Edward V . He feared a continuance of internal feuding should Edward V, under the influence of his mother’s Woodville relatives, remain on the throne (most of this feared conflict would have undoubtedly come from Richard).
The old nobility, also fearful of a strengthened Woodville clan, assembled and declared the succession of Edward V as illegal, due to weak evidence suggesting that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was bigamous, thereby rendering his sons illegitimate and ineligible as heirs to the crown. Edward V and his younger brother, Richard of York, were imprisoned in the Tower of London, never to again emerge alive. Richard of Gloucester was crowned Richard III on July 6, 1483.
Four months into his reign he crushed a rebellion led by his former assistant Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who sought the installation of Henry Tudor , a diluted Lancaster, to the throne. The rebellion was crushed, but Tudor gathered troops and attacked Richard’s forces on August 22, 1485, at the battle of Bosworth Field. The last major battle of the Wars of the Roses, Bosworth Field became the death place of Richard III.
Historians have been noticeably unkind to Richard, based on purely circumstantial evidence; Shakespeare portrays him as a complete monster in his play, Richard III. One thing is for certain, however: Richard’s defeat and the cessation of the Wars of the Roses allowed the stability England required to heal, consolidate, and push into the modern era.
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "Richard III" https://englishhistory.net/middle-ages/richard-iii/, January 13, 2022