Richard III - Jacob Abbott

The Downfall Of York

Edward's apprehension and anxiety in respect to the danger that Warwick might be concocting schemes to restore the Lancastrian line to the throne were greatly increased by the sudden breaking out of insurrections in the northern part of the island, while Warwick and Clarence were absent in Calais, on the occasion of Clarence's marriage to Isabella. The insurgents did not demand the restoration of the Lancastrian line, but only the removal of the queen's family and relations from the council. The king raised an army force, and marched to the northward to meet the rebels. But his army was disaffected, and he could do nothing. They fled before the advancing army of insurgents, and Edward went with them to Nottingham Castle, where he shut himself up, and wrote urgently to Warwick and Clarence to come to his aid.

Warwick made no haste to obey this command. After some delay, however, he left Calais in command of one of his lieutenants and repaired to Nottingham, where he soon released the king from his dangerous situation. He quelled the rebellion too, but not until the insurgents had seized the father and one of the brothers of the queen, and cut off their heads.

In the mean time, the Lancastrians themselves, thinking that this was a favorable time for them, began to put themselves in motion. Warwick was the only person who was capable of meeting them and putting them down. This he did, taking the king with him in his train, in a condition more like that of a prisoner than a sovereign. At length, however, the rebellions were suppressed, and all parties returned to London.

There now took place what purported to be a grand reconciliation. Treaties were drawn up and signed between Warwick and Clarence on one side, and the king on the other, by which both parties bound themselves to forgive and forget all that had passed, and thenceforth to be good friends; but, notwithstanding all the solemn signings and sealings with which these covenants were secured, the actual condition of the parties in respect to each other remained entirely unchanged, and neither of the three felt a whit more confidence in the others after the execution of these treaties than before.

At last the secret distrust which they felt toward each other broke out openly. Warwick's brother, the Archbishop of York, made an entertainment at one of his manors for a party of guests, in which were included the king, the Duke of Clarence, and the Earl of Warwick. It was about three months after the treaties were signed that this entertainment was made, and the feast was intended to celebrate and cement the good understanding which it was now agreed was henceforth to prevail. The king arrived at the manor, and, while he was in his room making his toilet for the supper, which was all ready to be served, an attendant came to him and whispered in his ear,

"Your majesty is in danger. There is a band of armed men in ambush near the house."

The king was greatly alarmed at hearing this. He immediately stole out of the house, mounted his horse, and, with two or three followers, rode away as fast as he could ride. He continued his journey all night, and in the morning arrived at Windsor Castle.

Then followed new negotiations between Warwick and the king, with mutual reproaches, criminations, and recriminations without number. Edward insisted that treachery was intended at the house to which he had been invited, and that he had barely escaped, by his sudden flight, from falling into the snare. But Warwick and his friends denied this entirely, and attributed the flight of the king to a wholly unreasonable alarm, caused by his jealous and suspicious temper. At last Edward suffered himself to be reassured, and then came new treaties and a new reconciliation.

This peace was made in the fall of 1469, and in the spring of 1470 a new insurrection broke out. The king believed that Warwick himself, and Clarence, were really at the bottom of these disturbances, but still he was forced to send them with bodies of troops to subdue the rebels; he, however, immediately raised a large army for himself, and proceeded to the seat of war. He reached the spot before Warwick and Clarence arrived there. He gave battle to the insurgents, and defeated them. He took a great many prisoners, and beheaded them. He found, or pretended to find, proof that Warwick and Clarence, instead of intending to fight the insurgents, had made their arrangements for joining them on the following day, and that he had been just in time to defeat their treachery. Whether he really found evidence of these intentions on the part of Warwick and Clarence or not, or whether he was flushed by the excitement of victory, and resolved to seize the occasion to cut loose at once and forever from the entanglement in which he had been bound, is somewhat uncertain. At all events, he now declared open war against Warwick and Clarence, and set off immediately on his march to meet them, at the head of a force much superior to theirs.

Warwick and Clarence marched and countermarched, and made many manúuvres to escape a battle, and during all this time their strength was rapidly diminishing. As long as they were nominally on the king's side, however really hostile to him, they had plenty of followers; but, now that they were in open war against him, their forces began to melt away. In this emergency, Warwick suddenly changed all his plans. He disbanded his army, and then taking all his family with him, including Clarence and Isabella, and accompanied by an inconsiderable number of faithful friends, he marched at the head of a small force which he retained as an escort to the seaport of Dartmouth, and then embarked for Calais.

The vessels employed to transport the party formed quite a little fleet, so numerous were the servants and attendants that accompanied the fugitives. They embarked without delay on reaching the coast, as they were in haste to make the passage and arrive at Calais, for Isabella, Clarence's wife, was about to become a mother, and at Calais they thought that they should all be, as it were, at home.

It will be remembered that the Earl of Warwick was the governor of Calais, and that when he left it he had appointed a lieutenant to take command of it during his absence. Before his ship arrived off the port this lieutenant had received dispatches from Edward, which had been hurried to him by a special messenger, informing him that Warwick was in rebellion against his sovereign, and forbidding the lieutenant to allow him or his party to enter the town.

Accordingly, when Warwick's fleet arrived off the port, they found the guns of the batteries pointed at them, and sentinels on the piers warning them not to attempt to land.

Warwick was thunderstruck. To be thus refused admission to his own fortress by his own lieutenant was something amazing, as well as outrageous. The earl was at first completely bewildered; but, on demanding an explanation, the lieutenant sent him word that the refusal to land was owing to the people of the town. They, he said, having learned that he and the king had come to open war insisted that the fortress should be reserved for their sovereign. Warwick then explained the situation that his daughter was in; but the lieutenant was firm. The determination of the people was so strong, he said, that he could not control it. Finally, the child was born on board the ship, as it lay at anchor off the port, and all the aid or comfort which the party could get from the shore consisted of two flagons of wine, which the lieutenant, with great hesitation and reluctance, allowed to be sent on board. The child was a son. His birth was an event of great importance, for he was, of course, as Clarence's son, a prince in the direct line of succession to the English crown.

At length, finding that he could not land at Calais, Warwick sailed away with his fleet along the coast of France till he reached the French port of Harfleur. Here his ships were admitted, and the whole party were allowed to land.

Then followed various intrigues, manúuvres, and arrangements, which we have not time here fully to unravel; but the end of all was, that in a few weeks after the Earl of Warwick's landing in France, he repaired to a castle where Margaret of Anjou and her son, the Prince of Wales, were residing, and there, in the course of a short time, he made arrangements to espouse her cause, and assist in restoring her husband to the English throne, on condition that her son, the Prince of Wales, should marry his second daughter Anne. It is said that Queen Margaret for a long time refused to consent to this arrangement. She was extremely unwilling that her son, the heir to the English crown, should take for a wife the daughter of the hated enemy to whom the downfall of her family, and all the terrible calamities which had befallen them, had been mainly owing. She was, however, at length induced to yield. Her ambition gained the victory over her hate, and she consented to the alliance on a solemn oath being taken by Warwick that thenceforth he would be on her side, and do all in his power to restore her family to the throne.

This arrangement was accordingly carried into effect, and thus the earl had one of his daughters married to the next heir to the English crown in the line of York, and the other to the next heir in the line of Lancaster. He had now only to choose to which dynasty he would secure the throne. Of course, the oath which he had taken, like other political oaths taken in those days, was only to be kept so long as he should deem it for his interest to keep it.

He could not at once openly declare in favor of King Henry, for fear of alienating Clarence from him. But Clarence was soon drawn away. King Edward, when he heard of the marriage of Warwick's daughter with the Prince of Wales, immediately formed a plan for sending a messenger to negotiate with Clarence. He could not do this openly, for he knew very well that Warwick would not allow any avowed messenger from Edward to land; so he sent a lady. The lady was a particular friend of Isabella, Clarence's wife. She traveled privately by the way of Calais. On the way she said nothing about the object of her journey, but gave out simply that she was going to join her mistress, the Princess Isabella. On her arrival she managed the affair with great discretion. She easily obtained private interviews with Clarence, and represented to him that Warwick, now that his daughter was married to the heir on the Lancastrian side, would undoubtedly lay all his plans forthwith for putting that family on the throne, and that thus Clarence would lose all.

"And therefore," said she, "how much better it will be for you to leave him and return to your brother Edward, who is ready to forgive and forget all the past, and receive you again as his friend."

Clarence was convinced by these representations, and soon afterward, watching his opportunity, he made his way to England, and there espoused his brother's cause, and was received again into his service.

In the mean time, tidings were continually coming to King Edward from his friends on the Continent, warning him of Warwick's plans, and bidding him to be upon his guard. But Edward had no fear. He said he wished that Warwick would come.

"All I ask of my friends on the other side of the Channel," said he, "is that, when he does come, they will not let him get away again before I catch him—as he did before."

Edward's great friend across the Channel was his brother-in-law, the Duke of Burgundy, the same who, when Count Charles, had married the Princess Margaret of York, as related in a former chapter. The Duke of Burgundy prepared and equipped a fleet, and had it all in readiness to intercept the earl in case he should attempt to sail for England.

In the mean time, Queen Margaret and the earl went on with their preparations. The King of France furnished them with men, arms, and money. When every thing was ready, the earl sent word to the north of England, to some of his friends and partisans there, to make a sort of false insurrection, in order to entice away Edward and his army from the capital. This plan succeeded. Edward heard of the rising, and, collecting all the troops which were at hand, he marched to the northward to put it down. Just at this time a sudden storm arose and dispersed the Duke of Burgundy's fleet. The earl then immediately put to sea, taking with him Margaret of Anjou and her son, the Prince of Wales, with his wife, the Earl of Warwick's daughter. The Prince of Wales was now about eighteen years old. The father, King Henry, Margaret's husband, was not joined with the party. He was all this time, as you will recollect, a prisoner in the Tower, where Warwick himself had shut him up when he deposed him in order to place Edward upon the throne.

All Europe looked on with astonishment at these proceedings, and watched the result with intense interest. Here was a man who, having, by a desperate and bloody war, deposed a king, and shut him up in prison, and compelled his queen and the prince his son, the heir, to fly from the country to save their lives, had now sought the exiles in their banishment, had married his own daughter to the prince, and was setting forth on an expedition for the purpose of liberating the father again, and restoring him to the throne.

The earl's fleet crossed the Channel safely, and landed on the coast of Devonshire, in the southwestern part of the island. The landing of the expedition was the signal for great numbers of the nobles and high families throughout the realm to prepare for changing sides; for it was the fact, throughout the whole course of these wars between the houses of York and Lancaster, that a large proportion of the nobility and gentry, and great numbers of other adventurers, who lived in various ways on the public, stood always ready at once to change sides whenever there was a prospect that another side was coming into power. Then there were, in such a case as this, great numbers who were secretly in favor of the Lancaster line, but who were prevented from manifesting their preference while the house of York was in full possession of power. All these persons were aroused and excited by the landing of Warwick. King Edward found that his calls upon his friends to rally to his standard were not promptly obeyed. His friends were beginning to feel some doubt whether it would be best to continue his friends. A certain preacher in London had the courage to pray in public for the "king in the Tower," and the manner in which this allusion was received by the populace, and the excitement which it produced, showed how ready the city of London was to espouse Henry's cause.

These, and other such indications, alarmed Edward very much. He turned to the southward again when he learned that Warwick had landed. Richard, who had, during all this period, adhered faithfully to Edward's cause, was with him, in command of a division of the army. As Warwick himself was rapidly advancing toward the north at this time, the two armies soon began to approach each other. As the time of trial drew nigh, Edward found that his friends and supporters were rapidly abandoning him. At length, one day, while he was at dinner, a messenger came in and told him that one of the leading officers of the army, with the whole division under his command, were waving their caps and cheering for "King Harry." He saw at once that all was lost, and he immediately prepared to fly.

He was not far from the eastern coast at this time, and there was a small vessel there under his orders, which had been employed in bringing provisions from the Thames to supply his army. There were also two Dutch vessels there. The king took possession of these vessels, with Richard, and the few other followers that went with him, and put at once to sea. Nobody knew where they were going.

Very soon after they had put to sea they were attacked by pirates. They escaped only by running their vessel on shore on the coast of Finland. Here the king found himself in a state of almost absolute destitution, so that he had to pawn his clothing to satisfy the most urgent demands. At length, after meeting with various strange adventures, he found his way to the Hague, where he was, for the time, in comparative safety.

As soon as Warwick ascertained that Edward had fled, he turned toward London, with nothing now to impede his progress. He entered London in triumph. Clarence joined him, and entered London in his train; for Clarence, though he had gone to England with the intention of making common cause with his brother, had not been able yet to decide positively whether it would, on the whole, be for his interest to do so, and had, accordingly, kept himself in some degree uncommitted, and now he turned at once again to Warwick's side.

The queen—Elizabeth Woodville—with her mother Jacquetta, were residing at the Tower at this time, where they had King Henry in their keeping; for the Tower was an extended group of buildings, in which palace and prison were combined in one. As soon as the queen learned that Edward was defeated, and that Warwick and Clarence were coming in triumph to London, she took her mother and three of her daughters—Elizabeth, Mary, and Cecily—who were with her at that time, and also a lady attendant, and hurried down the Tower stairs to a barge which was always in waiting there. She embarked on board the barge, and ordered the men to row her up to Westminster.

Westminster is at the upper end of London, as the Tower is at the lower. On arriving at Westminster, the whole party fled for refuge to a sanctuary there. This sanctuary was a portion of the sacred precincts of a church, from which a refugee could not be taken, according to the ideas of those times, without committing the dreadful crime of sacrilege. A part of the building remained standing for three hundred years after this time, as represented in the opposite engraving. It was a gloomy old edifice, and it must have been a cheerless residence for princesses and a queen.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


In this sanctuary, the queen, away from her husband, and deprived of almost every comfort, gave birth to her first son. Some persons living near took compassion upon her forlorn and desolate condition, and rendered her such aid as was absolutely necessary, out of charity. The abbot of the monastery connected with the church sent in various conveniences, and a good woman named Mother Cobb, who lived near by, came in and acted as nurse for the mother and the child.

The child was baptized in the sanctuary a few days after he was born. He was named Edward, after his father. Of course, the birth of this son of King Edward cut off Clarence and his son from the succession on the York side. This little Edward was now the heir, and, about thirteen years after this, as we shall see in the sequel, he became King of England.

As soon as the Earl of Warwick reached London, he proceeded at once to the Tower to release old King Henry from his confinement. He found the poor king in a wretched plight. His apartment was gloomy and comfortless, his clothing was ragged, and his person squalid and dirty. The earl brought him forth from his prison, and, after causing his personal wants to be properly attended to, clothed him once more in royal robes, and conveyed him in state through London to the palace in Westminster, and established him there nominally as King of England, though Warwick was to all intents and purposes the real king. A Parliament was called, and all necessary laws were passed to sanction and confirm the dynasty. Queen Margaret, who, however, had not yet arrived from the Continent, was restored to her former rank, and the young Prince of Wales, now about eighteen years old, was the object of universal interest throughout the kingdom, as now the unquestioned and only heir to the crown.