Richard III - Jacob Abbott

Domestic Troubles

While Richard was making his triumphal tour through the north of England, apparently receiving a confirmation of his right to the crown by the voice of the whole population of the country, the leaders of the Lancaster party were secretly beginning, in London, to form their schemes for liberating the young princes from the Tower, and restoring Edward to the kingdom.

Queen Elizabeth, who still remained, with the Princess Elizabeth, her oldest daughter, and some of her other children, in the sanctuary at Westminster, was the centre of this movement. She communicated privately with the nobles who were disposed to espouse her cause. The nobles had secret meetings among themselves to form their plans. At these meetings they drank to the health of the king in the Tower, and of his brother, the little Duke of York, and pledged themselves to do every thing in their power to restore the king to his throne. They little knew that the unhappy princes were at that very time lying together in a corner of the court-yard of the prison in an ignoble grave.

At length the conspirators' plans were matured, and the insurrection broke out. Richard immediately prepared to leave York, at the head of a strong force, to go toward London. At the same time, he allowed the tidings to be spread abroad that the two princes were dead. This news greatly disconcerted the conspirators and deranged their plans; and when the dreadful intelligence was communicated to the queen in the sanctuary, she was stunned, and almost killed by it, as by a blow. "She swooned away, and fell to the ground, where she lay in great agony, like a corpse;" and when at length she was restored to consciousness again, she broke forth in shrieks and cries of anguish so loud, that they resounded through the whole Abbey, and were most pitiful to hear. She beat her breast and tore her hair, calling all the time to her children by their names, and bitterly reproaching herself for her madness in giving up the youngest into his enemies' hands. After exhausting herself with these cries and lamentations, she sank into a state of calm despair, and, kneeling down upon the floor, she began, with dreadful earnestness and solemnity, to call upon Almighty God, imploring him to avenge the death of her children, and invoking the bitterest curses upon the head of their ruthless murderer.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


It was but a short time after this that Richard's child died at Middleham Castle, as stated in the last chapter. Many persons believed that this calamity was a judgment of heaven, brought upon the king in answer to the bereaved mother's imprecations.

It is said that when Queen Elizabeth had recovered a little from the first shock of her grief, she demanded to be taken to her children's grave. So they conducted her to the Tower, and showed her the place in the corner of the court-yard where they had first been buried.

One of the principal leaders of the conspiracy which had been formed against Richard was the Duke of Buckingham—the same that had taken so active a part in bringing Richard to the throne. What induced him to change sides so suddenly is not certainly known. It is supposed that he was dissatisfied with the rewards which Richard bestowed upon him. At any rate, he now turned against the king, and became the leader of the conspirators that were plotting against him.

When the conspirators heard of the death of the princes, they were at first at a loss to know what to do. They looked about among the branches of the York and Lancaster families for some one to make their candidate for the crown. At last they decided upon a certain Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond. This Henry, or Richmond, as he was generally called, was descended indirectly from the Lancaster line. The proposal of the conspirators, however, was that he should marry the Princess Elizabeth, Queen Elizabeth Woodville's daughter, who has already been mentioned among those who fled with their mother to the sanctuary. Now that both the sons of Elizabeth were dead, this daughter was, of course, King Edward's next heir, and by her marriage with Richmond the claims of the houses of York and Lancaster would be, in a measure, combined.

When this plan was proposed to Queen Elizabeth, she acceded to it at once, and promised that she would give her daughter in marriage to Richmond, and acknowledge him as king, provided he would first conquer and depose King Richard, the common enemy.

The plan was accordingly all arranged. Richmond was in France at this time, having fled there some time previous, after a battle, in which his party had been defeated. They wrote to him, explaining the plan. He immediately fell in with it. He raised a small force—all that he could procure at that time—and set sail, with a few ships, from the port of St. Malo, intending to land on the coast of Devonshire, which is in the southwestern part of England.

In the mean time, the several leaders of the rebellion had gone to different parts of the kingdom, in order to raise troops, and form centres of action against Richard. Buckingham went into Wales. His plan was to march down, with all the forces that he could raise there, to the coast of Devonshire, to meet Richmond on his landing.

This Richard resolved to prevent. He raised an army, and marched to intercept Buckingham. He first, however, issued a proclamation in which he denounced the leaders of the rebellion as criminals and outlaws, and set a price upon their heads.

Buckingham did not succeed in reaching the coast in time to join Richmond. He was stopped by the River Severn, which you will see, by looking on a map of England, came directly in his way. He tried to get across the river, but the people destroyed the bridges and the boats, and he could not get over. He marched up to where the stream was small, in hopes of finding a fording place, but the waters were so swollen with the fall rains that he failed in this attempt as well as the others. The result was, that Richard came up while Buckingham was entangled among the intricacies of the ground produced by the inundations. Buckingham's soldiers, seeing that they were likely to be surrounded, abandoned him and fled. At last Buckingham fled too, and hid himself; but one of his servants came and told Richard where he was. Richard ordered him to be seized. Buckingham sent an imploring message to Richard, begging that Richard would see him, and, before condemning him, hear what he had to say; but Richard, in the place of any reply, gave orders to the soldiers to take the prisoner at once out into the public square of the town, and cut off his head. The order was immediately obeyed.

When Richmond reached the coast of Devonshire, and found that Buckingham was not there to meet him, he was afraid to land with the small force that he had under his command, and so he sailed back to France.

Thus the first attempt made to organize a forcible resistance to Richard's power totally failed.

The unhappy queen, when she heard these tidings, was once more overwhelmed with grief. Her situation in the sanctuary was becoming every day more and more painful. She had long since exhausted all her own means, and she imagined that the monks began to think that she was availing herself of their hospitality too long. Her friends without would gladly have supplied her wants, but this Richard would not permit. He set a guard around the sanctuary, and would not allow any one to come or go. He would starve her out, he said, if he could not compel her to surrender herself in any other way.

It was, however, not the queen herself, but her daughter Elizabeth, who was now the heir of whatever claims to the throne were possessed by the family, that Richard was most anxious to secure. If he could once get Elizabeth into his power, he thought, he could easily devise some plan to prevent her marriage with Henry of Richmond, and so defeat the plans of his enemies in the most effectual manner. He would have liked still better to have secured Henry himself; but Henry was in Brittany, on the other side of the Channel, beyond his reach.

He, however, formed a secret plan to get possession of Henry. He offered privately a large reward to the Duke of Brittany if he would seize Henry and deliver him into his, Richard's hands. This the duke engaged to do. But Henry gained intelligence of the plot before it was executed, and made his escape from Brittany into France. He was received kindly at Paris by the French king. The king even promised to aid him in deposing Richard, and making himself King of England instead. This alarmed Richard more than ever.

In the mean time, the summer passed away and the autumn came on. In November Richard convened Parliament, and caused very severe laws to be passed against those who had been engaged in the rebellion. Many were executed under these laws, some were banished, and others shut up in prison. Richard attempted, by these and similar measures, to break down the spirit of his enemies, and prevent the possibility of their forming any new organizations against him. Still, notwithstanding all that he could do, he felt very ill at ease so long as Henry and Elizabeth were at liberty.

At last, in the course of the winter, he conceived the idea of trying what pretended kindness could do in enticing the queen and her family out of sanctuary. So he sent a messenger to her, to make fair and friendly proposals to her in case she would give up her place of refuge and place herself under his protection. He said that he felt no animosity or ill will against her, but that, if she and her daughters would trust to him, he would receive them at court, provide for them fully in a manner suited to their rank, and treat them in all respects with the highest consideration. She herself should be recognized as the queen dowager of England, and her daughters as princesses of the royal family; and he would take proper measures to arrange marriages for the young ladies, such as should comport with the exalted station which they were entitled to hold.

The queen was at last persuaded to yield to these solicitations. She left the sanctuary, and gave herself and her daughters up to Richard's control. Many persons have censured her very strongly for doing this; but her friends and defenders allege that there was nothing else that she could do. She might have remained in the Abbey herself to starve if she had been alone, but she could not see her children perish of destitution and distress when a word from her could restore them to the world, and raise them at once to a condition of the highest prosperity and honor. So she yielded. She left the Abbey, and was established by Richard in one of his palaces, and her daughters were received at court, and treated, especially the eldest, with the utmost consideration.

But, notwithstanding this outward change in her condition, the real situation of the queen herself, after leaving the Abbey, was extremely forlorn. The apartments which Richard assigned to her were very retired and obscure. He required her, moreover, to dismiss all her own attendants, and he appointed servants and agents of his own to wait upon and guard her. The queen soon found that she was under a very strict surveillance, and not much less a prisoner, in fact, than she was before.

While in this situation, she wrote to her son Dorset, at Paris, commanding him to put an end to the proposed marriage of her daughter Elizabeth to Henry of Richmond, "as she had given up," she said, "the plan of that alliance, and had formed other designs for the princess." Henry and his friends and partisans in Paris were indignant at receiving this letter, and the queen has been by many persons much blamed for having thus broken the engagement which she had so solemnly made. Others say that this letter to Paris was not her free act, but that it was extorted from her by Richard, who had her now completely in his power, and could, of course, easily find means to procure from her any writing that he might desire.

Whether the queen acted freely or not in this case can not certainly be known. At all events, Henry, and those who were acting with him at Paris, determined to regard the letter as written under constraint, and to go on with the maturing of their plans just as if it had never been written.

Richard's plan was, so it was said, to marry the Princess Elizabeth to his own son; for the death of his child, though it has been already once or twice alluded to, had not yet taken place. Richard's son was very young, being at that time about eleven years old; but the princess might be affianced to him, and the marriage consummated when he grew up. Elizabeth herself seems to have fallen in with this proposed arrangement very readily. The prospect that Henry of Richmond would ever succeed in making himself king, and claiming her for his bride, was very remote and uncertain, while Richard was already in full possession of power; and she, by taking his side, and becoming the affianced wife of his son, became at once the first lady in the kingdom, next to Queen Anne, with an apparently certain prospect of becoming queen herself in due time.

But all these fine plans were abruptly brought to an end by the death of the young prince, which occurred about this time, at Middleham Castle, as has been stated before. The death of the poor boy took place in a very sudden and mysterious manner. Some persons supposed that he died by a judgment from heaven, in answer to the awful curses which Queen Elizabeth Woodville imprecated upon the head of the murderer of her children; others thought he was destroyed by poison.

Not very long after the death of the prince, his mother fell very seriously sick. She was broken-hearted at the death of her son, and pining away, she fell into a slow decline. Her sufferings were greatly aggravated by Richard's harsh and cruel treatment of her. He was continually uttering expressions of impatience against her on account of her sickness and uselessness, and making fretful complaints of her various disagreeable qualities. Some of these sayings were reported to Anne, and also a rumor came to her ears one day, while she was at her toilet, that Richard was intending to put her to death. She was dreadfully alarmed at hearing this, and she immediately ran, half dressed as she was, and with her hair disheveled, into the presence of her husband, and, with piteous sobs and bitter tears, asked him what she had done to deserve death. Richard tried to quiet and calm her, assuring her that she had no cause to fear.

She, however, continued to decline; and not long afterward her distress and anguish of mind were greatly increased by hearing that Richard was impatient for her death, in order that he might himself marry the Princess Elizabeth, to whom every one said he was now, since the death of his son, devoting himself personally with great attention. In this state of suffering the poor queen lingered on through the months of the winter, very evidently, though slowly, approaching her end. The universal belief was that Richard had formed the plan of making the Princess Elizabeth his wife, and that the decline and subsequent death of Anne were owing to a slow poison which he caused to be administered to her. There is no proof that this charge was true, but the general belief in the truth of it shows what was the estimate placed, in those times, on Richard's character.

It is very certain, however, that he contemplated this new marriage, and that the princess herself acceded to the proposed plan, and was very deeply interested in the accomplishment of it. It is said that while the queen still lived she wrote to one of her friends—a certain noble duke of high standing and influence—in which she implored him to aid in forwarding her marriage with the king, whom she called "her master and her joy in this world—the master of her heart and thoughts." In this letter, too, she expressed her impatience at the queen's being so long in dying. "Only think," said she, "the better part of February is past, and the queen is still alive. Will she never  die?"

But the patience of the princess was not destined to be taxed much longer. The queen sank rapidly after this, and in March she died.

The heart of Elizabeth was now filled with exultation and delight. The great obstacle to her marriage with her uncle was now removed, and the way was open before her to become a queen. It is true that the relationship which existed between her and Richard, that of uncle and niece, was such as to make the marriage utterly illegal. But Richard had a plan of obtaining a dispensation from the Pope, which he had no doubt that he could easily do, and a dispensation from the Pope, according to the ideas of those times, would legalize any thing. So Richard cautiously proposed his plan to some of his confidential counselors.

His counselors told him that the execution of such a plan would be dangerous in the highest degree. The people of England, they said, had for some time been led to think that the king had that design in contemplation, and that the idea had awakened a great deal of indignation throughout the country. The land was full of rumors and murmurings, they said, and those of a very threatening character. The marriage would be considered incestuous both by the clergy and the people, and would be looked upon with abhorrence. Besides, they said, there were a great many dark suspicions in the minds of the people that Richard had been himself the cause of the death of his former wife Anne, in order to open the way for this marriage, and now, if the marriage were really to take place, all these suspicions would be confirmed. They could judge somewhat, they added, by the depth of the excitement which had been produced by the bare suspicion that such things were contemplated, how great would be the violence of the outbreak of public indignation if the design were carried into effect. Richard would be in the utmost danger of losing his kingdom.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


So Richard determined at once to abandon the plan. He caused it to be announced in the most public manner that he had never contemplated such a marriage, and that all the rumors attributing such a design to him were malicious and false. He also sent orders abroad throughout the kingdom requiring that all persons who had circulated such rumors should be arrested and sent to London to be punished

Elizabeth's hopes were, of course, suddenly blasted, and the splendid castle which her imagination had built fell to the ground. It was only a temporary disappointment, however, for she became Queen of England in the end, after all.