When Edward IV died unexpectedly at the age of forty in 1483, two uncles played a dominant part in the events which followed.
The new king, Edward’s twelve year old son, also called Edward, was at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire at the time of his father’s death, under the supervision of his uncle, Anthony, Earl Rivers. Anthony was the brother of Edward IV’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville. After making hurried preparations to travel, he set off for London with the young king, Edward V. At the time, this would have been a journey of several days.
The king’s other uncle, Richard of Gloucester, had been named as Lord Protector by Edward IV, which indicated Edward’s trust in Richard to rule the kingdom during the minority of the young king. When Edward died, Richard was at Middleham Castle in Yorkshire. He received information from the Duke of Buckingham that the Woodville family intended to take control of the young king, and of the kingdom.
Richard set off south from Yorkshire, intending to meet the royal retinue in the midlands. On April 29th, he met with Buckingham at Northampton, but Anthony Woodville informed them that the king’s party had moved on about twelve miles further south to a small town called Stony Stratford. His excuse was that there were not enough lodging places for both parties in Northampton.
Anthony Woodville and his nephew Richard Grey (the queen’s son by her first marriage) were both executed at Pontefract Castle on 25 June 1483.
So, having despatched the young king’s ‘other’ uncle, how did Richard III then become king himself, and earn the epithet of ‘wicked uncle’?
Reams have been written about Richard III’s path to the throne. There are those who believe he was consumed with ambition to be king; equally others are adamant that it was forced on him by circumstances. Certainly, after his arrival in London with Edward V, nothing seemed amiss. Plans were made for the young king’s coronation, but at the end of June, it emerged that Edward IV had already been contracted in marriage to Eleanor Butler before he married Elizabeth Woodville. This made his Woodville marriage invalid, and any children of that marriage illegitimate. Thus, it seemed, Edward V could not succeed to the throne, and Richard was next in line.
|By J.E.Millais, 1829-96|
Did he therefore announce this immediately after Tyrell’s confession? Was Tyrell executed on a charge of regicide? The answer to both is no. Tyrell was executed, but on a much lesser charge of supporting another Yorkist claim to the throne, and it was several years before Henry made public Tyrell’s alleged confession.
John Morton and Thomas More, and later Shakespeare (who based his play on Thomas More’s ‘History of Richard III’) perpetuated the myth of the ‘wicked uncle’.
Did Richard III have his nephews murdered? The question still remains, and is still argued about by both sides.
For more information, the website http://home.cogeco.ca/~richardiii/tyrell.html has a good summary about James Tyrell and the Princes, and I would also recommend ‘The Daughter of Time’ by Josephine Tey. I don’t agree with her on some of her conclusions, as I think she has over-simplified some things, but it’s certainly a very readable introduction to the mystery of the Princes.