Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Uncles - good or wicked?

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.

Suspecting that the Woodvilles intended to make an early start the next morning to get to London first, Richard acted quickly. Very early the next morning, Anthony Woodville’s lodgings in Northampton were surrounded, and he was arrested. Richard and Buckingham headed straight for Stony Stratford and took the boy kindg into protective custody, so forestalling the attempted coup by the Woodvilles. A small cottage in Stony Stratford, which was once the Rose and Crown Inn, has a plaque commemorating this event.
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
And what of the ‘Princes in the Tower’? In a previous post, I mentioned James Tyrell who is supposed to have confessed (when being tortured) to murdering the princes on Richard’s orders. Of course, Henry VII had every reason to squash any rumours that the princes were still alive. He’d already had to cope with two ‘pretenders’ posing as Edward V or his younger brother, so what better than to announce they had been murdered by their uncle? This also fulfilled another Tudor need. Henry had basically usurped the throne with no strong ‘royal blood’ claim to it, therefore it suited his agenda to paint his predecessor as black as possible, and reassure his subjects that he had saved the kingdom from this monster who had killed his own nephews.

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 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.


  1. Richard had no reason to have his nephews murdered, the same cannot be said of Henry Tudor!

  2. Paula, I am "caught up" at last! I went back to the place where I last read and worked my way forward which has taken quite a while. And I have enjoyed each post immensely. I especially enjoyed the Northumbrian castles post. And I have seen many of the others also. I only wish I'd studied more English history before I visited instead of afterward.

  3. So glad you have enjoyed my posts, Linda, and thank you for taking the time to read them all. I got interested in history as a child, long before I'd seen most of these places, but it was realy good to visit so many different places that played a part in our rich tapestry of history here!

  4. Hi Paula. Good way to learn history

  5. I love the story of Richard, and have been fascinated by the digging up of his remains. Very interesting history!

  6. Thanks, Sassy!

    Jen, I've been intrigued by Richard ever since I read Tey's novel in the 1950s!

  7. Good post. Even if Richard III couldn't be nominated for sainthood, I doubt he went so far as to imprison and/or murder his nephews. But the question lingers because it was so long ago and Geraldo Rivera was banned from the scene.

  8. Jan, I agree (unlike some members of the RIII Society) that Richard was by no means a saint, but he was a man of his time. Putting his nephews in the Tower of London wasn't imprisonment as the Tower was still a royal residence at the time, also there is no substantial evidence to indicate he murdered them (apart from the sainted More's account which is suspect as it came from the arch-Lancastrian John Morton, who just happened to be a good friend of Henry Tudor and his mother Margaret Beaufort.

  9. Such a different time and place.

  10. I cannot, under any circumstances see how Rivers could be seen to be plotting against Gloucester. Why allow himself to be persuaded to stay at Northampton and spend the night drinking with Richard & Buckingham. He would have to be either very naive or very stupid. No, IMO Rivers was a scapegoat for his detested family and Richard, already terribly paranoid listened to Buckingham (another very ambitious man) pouring poison into his ears and inflaming his (Richard's) paranoia. Who stayed up plotting and planning after Antony had retired to bed? No, Richard was definately no saint and the fate of the princes may be in doubt....but the deaths of Rivers, Grey, Vaughan, Haute and Hastings were by his orders and without trial.

  11. That's interesting, Jessie! I can agree that Rivers was probably a scapegoat (for the hated Woodvilles), and also that Richard wasn't a saint at all. However, I still think the Woodvilles were rushing Edward V to London to get control of him before Richard arrived.
    The drinking session in Northampton can be seen in two different ways - Rivers acting all chummy to allay Richard and Buckingham's suspicions? Or Richard and Buckingham getting Rivers drunk so they could arrest him the next morning?
    It's all open to different interpretations, as of course is the fate of the princes.
    That's why I find the whole thing so fascinating!

  12. A lot of what Shakespeare wrote about Richard III was once thought to be Tudor propoganda, including Richard's deformaties, until his skeleton was found, which proved otherwise. How many other things, once thought propoganda were actually true? We may be doing Shakespeare a disservice. There were probably no winners during the time of the Wars of the Roses, it was every man or woman for themselves. Richard III was not blameless, neither were the Stanleys, both had an overwhelming desire to hold onto power, at any cost.

  13. That sign is libelous! Richard "captured" the young king, who "was later murdered"? No historical proof at all! It reminds me of the plaque in Westminster Abbey at the tomb of the children who were believed to be the princes. I couldn't read it as I don't know Latin, but I picked out the word "perfidious" in relation to Richard. Interesting.

  14. LOL, Elaine - there speaks the true Ricardian! As Richard had been named Lord Protector by Edward IV, it was his 'right' to protect the princes (and the kingdom) from the Woodville clan! As for the plaque in the Abbey, it should be rewritten, starting with the words 'These MAY OR MAY NOT be the bones of the princes' since it has never been proven (and the present Queen will not allow the bones to be analysed using today's methods - including DNA of course!)