Richard III - Jacob Abbott

The Downfall Of Lancaster

It was in the month of October, 1470, that old King Henry and his family were restored to the throne. Clarence, as we have seen, being allied to Warwick by being married to his daughter, was induced to go over with him to the Lancastrian side; but Gloucester—that is, Richard—remained true to his own line, and followed the fortunes of his brother, in adverse as well as in prosperous times, with unchanging fidelity. He was now with Edward in the dominions of the Duke of Burgundy, who, you will recollect, married Margaret, Edward's sister, and who was now very naturally inclined to espouse Edward's cause.

The Duke of Burgundy did not, however, dare to espouse Edward's cause too openly, for fear of the King of France, who took the side of Henry and Queen Margaret. He, however, did all in his power secretly to befriend him. Edward and Richard began immediately to form schemes for going back to England and recovering possession of the kingdom. The Duke of Burgundy issued a public proclamation, in which it was forbidden that any of his subjects should join Edward, or that any expedition to promote his designs should be fitted out in any part of his dominions. This proclamation was for the sake of the King of France. At the same time that he issued these orders publicly, he secretly sent Edward a large sum of money, furnished him with a fleet of fifteen or twenty ships, and assisted him in collecting a force of twelve hundred men.

While he was making these arrangements and preparations on the Continent, Edward and his friends had also opened a secret communication with Clarence in England. It would, of course, very much weaken the cause of Edward and Richard to have Clarence against them; so Margaret, the wife of the Duke of Burgundy, interested herself in endeavoring to win him back again to their side. She had herself great influence over him, and she was assisted in her efforts by their mother, the Lady Cecily, who was still living in the neighborhood of London, and who was greatly grieved at Clarence's having turned against his brothers. The tie which bound Clarence to the Earl of Warwick was, of course, derived chiefly from his being married to Warwick's daughter. Warwick, however, did not trust wholly to this. As soon as he had restored Henry to the throne, he contrived a cunning plan which he thought would tend to bind Clarence still more strongly to himself, and to alienate him completely from Edward. This plan was to induce the Parliament to confiscate all Edward's estates and confer them upon Clarence.

"Now," said Warwick to himself, when this measure had been accomplished, "Clarence will be sure to oppose Edward's return to England, for he knows very well that if he should return and be restored to the throne, he would, of course, take all these estates back again."

But, while Edward was forming his plans on the Continent for a fresh invasion of England, Margaret sent messengers to Clarence, and their persuasions, united to those of his mother, induced Clarence to change his mind. He was governed by no principle whatever in what he did, but only looked to see what would most speedily and most fully gratify his ambition and increase his wealth. So, when they argued that it would be much better for him to be on the side of his brothers, and assist in restoring his own branch of the family to the throne, than to continue his unnatural connection with Warwick and the house of Lancaster, he allowed himself to be easily persuaded, and he promised that though, for the present, he should remain ostensibly a friend of Warwick, still, if Edward and Richard would raise an expedition and come to England, he would forsake Warwick and the Lancasters, and join them.

Accordingly, in the spring, when the fleet and the forces were ready, Edward and Richard set sail from the Low Country to cross the Channel. It was early in March. They intended to proceed to the north of England and land there. They had a very stormy passage, and in the end the fleet was dispersed, and Edward and Richard with great difficulty succeeded in reaching the land. The two brothers were in different ships, and they landed in different places, a few miles apart from each other. Their situation was now extremely critical, for all England was in the power of Warwick and the Lancastrians, and Edward and Richard were almost entirely without men.

They, however, after a time, got together a small force, consisting chiefly of the troops who had come with them, and who had succeeded at last in making their way to the land. At the head of this force they advanced into the country toward the city of York. Edward gave out every where that he had not come with any view of attempting to regain possession of the throne, but only to recover his own private and family estates, which had been unjustly confiscated, he said, and conferred upon his brother. He acquiesced entirely, he said, in the restoration of Henry to the throne, and acknowledged him as king, and solemnly declared that he would not do any thing to disturb the peace of the country.

All this was treacherous and false; but Edward and Richard thought that they were not yet strong enough to announce openly their real designs, and, in the mean time, the uttering of any false declarations which they might deem it good policy to make was to be considered as a stratagem justified by usage, as one of the legitimate resources of war.

So they went on, nobody opposing them. They reached, at length, the city of York. Here Edward met the mayor and aldermen of the city, and renewed his declaration, which he confirmed by a solemn oath, that he never would lay any claim to the throne of England, or do any thing to disturb King Henry in his possession of it. He cried out, in a loud voice, in the hearing of the people, "Long live King Henry, and Prince Edward his son!" He wore an ostrich feather, too, in his armor, which was the badge of Prince Edward. The people of York were satisfied with these protestations, and allowed him to proceed.

His force was continually increasing as he advanced, and at length, on crossing the River Trent, he came to a part of the country where almost the whole population had been on the side of York during all the previous wars. He began now to throw off his disguise, and to avow more openly that his object was again to obtain possession of the throne for the house of York. His troops now began to exhibit the white rose, which for many generations had been the badge of the house of York, as the red rose had been that of Lancaster. In a word, the country was every where aroused and excited by the idea that another revolution was impending, and all those whose ruling principle it was to be always with the party that was uppermost began to make preparations for coming over to Edward's side.

In the mean time, however, Warwick, alarmed, had come from the northward to London to meet the invaders at the head of a strong force. Clarence was in command of one great division of this force, and Warwick himself of the other. The two bodies of troops marched at some little distance from each other. Edward shaped his course so as to approach that commanded by Clarence. Warwick did all he could to prevent this, being, apparently, somewhat suspicious that Clarence was not fully to be relied on. But Edward succeeded, by dint of skillful manúuvring, in accomplishing his object, and thus he and Clarence came into the neighborhood of each other. The respective encampments were only three miles apart. It seems, however, that there were still some closing negotiations to be made before Clarence was fully prepared to take the momentous step that was now before him. Richard was the agent of these negotiations. He went back and forth between the two camps, conveying the proposals and counter-proposals from one party to the other, and doing all in his power to remove obstacles from the way, and to bring his brothers to an agreement. At last every thing was arranged. Clarence ordered his men to display the white rose upon their armor, and then, with trumpets sounding and banners flying, he marched forth to meet Edward, and to submit himself to his command.

When the column which he led arrived near to Edward's camp, it halted, and Clarence himself, with a small body of attendants, advanced to meet his brother; Edward, at the same time, leaving his encampment, in company with Richard and several noblemen, came forward too. Thus Edward and Clarence met, as the old chronicle expresses it, "betwixt both hosts, where was right kind and loving language betwixt them two. And then, in like wise, spoke together the two Dukes of Clarence and Gloucester, and afterward the other noblemen that were there with them; whereof all the people that were there that loved them were right glad and joyous, and thanked God highly for that joyous meeting, unity and concord, hoping that thereby should grow unto them prosperous fortune in all that they should after that have to do."

Warwick was, of course, in a dreadful rage when he learned that Clarence had betrayed him and gone over to the enemy. He could do nothing, however, to repair the mischief, and he was altogether too weak to resist the two armies now combined against him; so he drew back, leaving the way clear, and Edward, at the head now of an overwhelming force, and accompanied by both his brothers, advanced directly to London.

He was received at the capital with great favor. Whoever was uppermost for the time being was always received with favor in England in those days, both in the capital and throughout the country at large. It was said, however, that the interest in Edward's fortunes, and in the succession of his branch of the family to the throne, was greatly increased at this time by the birth of his son, which had taken place in the sanctuary, as related in the last chapter, soon after Queen Elizabeth sought refuge there, at the time of Edward's expulsion from the kingdom. Of course, the first thing which Edward did after making his public entry into London was to proceed to the sanctuary to rejoin his wife, and deliver her from her duress, and also to see his new-born son.

Queen Margaret was out of the kingdom at this time, being on a visit to the Continent. She had her son, the Prince of Wales, with her; but Henry, the king, was in London. He, of course, fell into Edward's hands, and was immediately sent back a prisoner to the Tower.

Edward remained only a day or two in London, and then set off again, at the head of all his troops, to meet Warwick. He brought out King Henry from the Tower, and took him with the army as a prisoner.

Warwick had now strengthened himself so far that he was prepared for battle. The two armies approached each other not many miles from London. Before commencing hostilities, Clarence wished for an opportunity to attempt a reconciliation; he, of course, felt a strong desire to make peace, if possible, for his situation, in case of battle, would be painful in the extreme—his brothers on one side, and his father-in-law on the other, and he himself compelled to fight against the cause which he had abandoned and betrayed. So he sent a messenger to the earl, offering to act as mediator between him and his brother, in hopes of finding some mode of arranging the quarrel; but the earl, instead of accepting the mediation, sent back only invectives and defiance.

"Go tell your master," he said to the messenger, that Warwick is not the man to follow the example of faithlessness and treason which the false, perjured Clarence has set him. Unlike him, I stand true to my oath, and this quarrel can only be settled by the sword."

Of course, nothing now remained but to fight the battle, and a most desperate and bloody battle it was. It was fought upon a plain at a place called Barnet. It lasted from four in the morning till ten.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


Richard came forward in the fight in a very conspicuous and prominent manner. He was now about eighteen years of age, and this was the first serious battle in which he had been actually engaged. He evinced a great deal of heroism, and won great praise by the ardor in which he rushed into the thickest of the fight, and by the manner in which he conducted himself there. The squires who attended him were both killed, but Richard himself remained unhurt.

In the end, Edward was victorious. The quarrel was thus decided by the sword, as Warwick had said, and decided, so far as the earl was concerned, terribly and irrevocably, for he himself was unhorsed upon the field, and slain. Many thousands of soldiers fell on each side, and great numbers of the leading nobles. The bodies were buried in one common trench, which was dug for the purpose on the plain, and a chapel was afterward erected over them, to mark and consecrate the spot.

It is said in respect to King Henry, who had been taken from the Tower and made to accompany the army to the field, that Edward placed him in the midst of the fight at Barnet, in the hope that he might in this way be slain, either by accident or design. This plan, however, if it were formed, did not succeed, for Henry escaped unharmed, and, after the battle, was taken back to London, and again conveyed through the gloomy streets of the lower city to his solitary prison in the Tower. The streets were filled, after he had passed, with groups of men of all ranks and stations, discussing the strange and mournful vicissitudes in the life of this hapless monarch, now for the second time cut off from all his friends, and immured hopelessly in a dismal dungeon.

On the very day of the battle of Barnet, Queen Margaret, who had hastened her return to England on hearing of Edward's invasion, landed at Plymouth, in the southwestern part of England. The young Prince of Wales, her son, was with her. When she heard the terrible tidings of the loss of the battle of Barnet and the death of Warwick, she was struck with consternation, and immediately fled to an abbey in the neighborhood of the place where she had landed, and took sanctuary there. She soon, however, recovered from this panic, and came forth again. She put herself, with her son, at the head of the French troops which she had brought with her, and collected also as many more as she could induce to join her, and then, marching slowly toward the northward, finally took a strong position on the River Severn, near the town of Tewkesbury. Tewkesbury is in the western part of England, near the frontiers of Wales.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


Edward, having received intelligence of her movements, collected his forces also, and, accompanied by Clarence and Gloucester, went forth to meet her. The two armies met about three weeks after the battle of Barnet, in which Warwick was killed. All the flower of the English nobility were there, on one side or on the other.

Queen Margaret's son, the Prince of Wales, was now about eighteen years of age, and his mother placed him in command—nominally at the head of the army. Edward, on his side, assigned the same position to Richard, who was almost precisely of the same age with the Prince of Wales. Thus the great and terrible battle which ensued was fought, as it were, by two boys, cousins to each other, and neither of them out of their teens.

The operations were, however, really directed by older and more experienced men. The chief counselor on Margaret's side was the Duke of Somerset. Edward's army attempted, by means of certain evolutions, to entice the queen's army out of their camp. Somerset wished to go, and he commanded the men to follow. Some followed, but others remained behind. Among those that remained behind was a body of men under the command of a certain Lord Wenlock. Somerset was angry because they did not follow him, and he suspected, moreover, that Lord Wenlock was intending to betray the queen and go over to the other side; so he turned back in a rage, and, coming up to Lord Wenlock, struck him a dreadful blow upon his helmet with his battle-axe, and killed him on the spot.

In the midst of the confusion which this affair produced, Richard, at the head of his brother's troops, came forcing his way into the entrenchments, bearing down all before him. The queen's army was thrown into confusion, and put to flight. Thousands upon thousands were killed. As many as could save themselves from being slaughtered upon the spot fled into the country toward the north, pursued by detached parties of their enemies.

The young Prince of Wales was taken prisoner. The queen fled, and for a time it was not known what had become of her. She fled to the church in Tewkesbury, and took refuge there.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


As for the Prince of Wales, the account of his fate which was given at the time, and has generally been believed since, is this: As soon as the battle was over, he was brought, disarmed and helpless, into King Edward's tent, and there Edward, Clarence, Gloucester, and others gathered around to triumph over him, and taunt him with his downfall. Edward came up to him, and, after gazing upon him a moment in a fierce and defiant manner, demanded of him, in a furious tone, "What brought him to England?"

"My father's crown and my own inheritance," replied the prince.

Edward uttered some exclamation of anger, and then struck the prince upon the mouth with his gauntlet.

At this signal, Gloucester, and the others who were standing by, fell upon the poor helpless boy, and killed him on the spot. The prince cried to Clarence, who was his brother-in-law, to save him, but in vain; Clarence did not interfere.

Some of the modern defenders of Richard's character attempt to show that there is no sufficient evidence that this story is true, and they maintain that the prince was slain upon the field, after the battle, and that Richard was innocent of his death. The evidence, however, seems strongly against this last supposition.

Soon after the battle, it was found that the queen, with her attendants, as has already been stated, had taken refuge in a church at Tewkesbury, and in other sacred structures near.

Edward proceeded directly to the church, with the intention of hunting out his enemies wherever he could find them. He broke into the sacred precincts, sword in hand, attended by a number of reckless and desperate followers, and would have slain those that had taken refuge there, on the spot, had not the abbot himself come forward and interposed to protect them. He came dressed in his sacerdotal robes, and bearing the sacred emblems in his hands. These emblems he held up before the infuriated Edward as a token of the sanctity of the place. By these means the king's hand was stayed, and, before allowing him to go away, the abbot exacted from him a promise that he would molest the refugees no more.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


This promise was, however, not made to be kept. Two days afterward Edward appointed a court-martial, and sent Richard, with an armed force, to the church, to take all the men that had sought refuge there, and bring them out for trial. The trial was conducted with very little ceremony, and the men were all beheaded on the green, in Tewkesbury, that very day.

Queen Margaret and the ladies who attended her were not with them. They had sought refuge in another place. They were, however, found after a few days, and were all brought-prisoners to Edward's camp at Coventry; for, after the battle, Edward had begun to move on with his army across the country.

The king's first idea was to send Margaret immediately to London and put her in the Tower; but, before he did this, a change in his plans took place, which led him to decide to go to London himself. So he took Queen Margaret with him, a captive in his train. On the arrival of the party in London, the queen was conveyed at once to the Tower.

Here she remained a close prisoner for five long and weary years, and was then ransomed by the King of France and taken to the Continent. She lived after this in comparative obscurity for about ten years, and then died.

As for her husband, his earthly troubles were brought to an end much sooner. The cause of the change of plan above referred to, which led Edward to go directly to London soon after the battle of Tewkesbury, was the news that a relative of Warwick, whom that nobleman, during his life-time, had put in command in the southeastern part of England, had raised an insurrection there, with a view of marching to London, rescuing Henry from the Tower, and putting him upon the throne. This movement was soon put down, and Edward returned from the expedition triumphant to London. He and his brothers spent the night after their arrival in the Tower. The next morning King Henry was found dead in his bed.

The universal belief was then, and has been since, that he was put to death by Edward's orders, and it has been the general opinion that Richard was the murderer.

The body of the king was put upon a bier that same day, and conveyed to St. Paul's Church in London, and there exhibited to the public for a long time, with guards and torch-bearers surrounding it. An immense concourse of people came to view his remains. The object of this exposition of the body of the king was to make sure the fact of his death in the public mind, and prevent the possibility of the circulation of rumors, subsequently, by the partisans of his house, that he was still alive; for such rumors would greatly have increased the danger of any insurrectionary plans which might be formed against Edward's authority.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


In due time the body was interred at Windsor, and a sculptured monument, adorned with various arms and emblems, was erected over the tomb.

The remaining leaders on the Lancaster side were disposed of in a very effectual manner, to prevent the possibility of their again acquiring power. Some were banished. Others were shut up in various castles as hopeless prisoners. The country was thus wholly subdued, and Edward was once more established firmly on his throne.