Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kings and Stony Stratford - 6 King Richard III

The period known as the Wars of the Roses furnishes the most interesting stories about the exploits of kings and their association with Stony Stratford. Richard III was probably one of history's most notorious kings and his seizure of his nephews at Stony Stratford on 1483 is a key moment in English history.

The origin of this civil war is found in the usurpation of the throne in 1399 by Henry of Lancaster. He deposed his nephew Richard II and reigned as Henry IV. He was succeeded by his son Henry V but he died in 1422 leaving an infant son Henry VI who left the throne exposed to competing dynastic claims. The hapless Henry VI was never strong enough to unify the country and the leading claimants to the throne came from Richard of York, descended through his mother from Edward III's second son and through his father by Edward III's fourth son, Edmund of York. The Yorkists maintained that their descent through the second son had precedence over the Lancastrian descent from the third son. The Yorkist cause eventually prevailed and Richard's eldest son Edward was crowned in 1461 after a decisive battle against the Lancastrians.

Edward IV did not have a particulrly stable reign either. He was deposed in October 1470 and regained the throne six months later. He probably had Henry VI quietly murdered and also had his brother George executed in 1478 for plotting against him. It has to be said that his youngest brother Richard was always loyal to his eldest brother.

Upon Edward IV's death in 1483 at the relatively early age of 41 Richard acted swiftly and ruthlessly. Upon the news of Edward IV's death on April 9th 1483, the twelve year old Edward was at ludlow and Richard was at Middleham in Yorkshire. Messages were exchanged between Richard and Earl Rivers, the young king's Woodville uncle and at Richard's suggestion they agreed to meet at Northampton. Rivers and Richard met in Northampton on April 26th although by this time young Edward and his brother had moved on to Stony Stratford. The following day Richard arrested Earl Rivers and other members of his retinue and despatched them to Potefract Castle. He then went to Stony Stratford and picked up the two boys and accompanied them to London where he placed them in the tower "for their own safety". Richard then methodically proceeded against the Woodville camp by launching an undoubtedly false accusation that they were plotting against the crown. The Woodville clan by the way had enough enemies for Richard to find sympathetic ears. Richard was appointed Protector of the crown and over the next two months continued with his campaign to discredit the Woodvilles and advance his own claims to the crown. He was crowned on July 6th 1483 at Westminster Abbey.

Richard organized a judicial deposition of Edward V. Parliament voted for his deposition on the grounds that he was the illegitimate son of Edward IV - the secret marriage of Edward and Elizabeth was declared non-existent. Edward V and his younger brother Richard were held in the tower and were murdered either on June 22nd or June 26th 1483.

Richard III lost his life and his throne at the battle of Bosworth in 1485. He was replaced by Henry Tudor who claim to the throne was more tenuous than any of the other claimants. He was in fact descended from one of John of Gaunt's bastard sons by Katherine Swynford. However as Henry VII he secured the state and his own dynasty which prevailed throughout the 16th century.

Richard III was portrayed as a monster by black Tudor propaganda. He was said to be deformed - a hunchback, although there is no contemporary evidence that even hints at this. However it suited Henry Tudor, by no means secure in his own claim to the throne to blacken the name and reputation of the man he had replaced. Further fuel was added to this fanciful fire by Shakespeare's chilling portrayal of Richard III.

Partly because the Tudor propaganda was so extreme various modern historians have tried to rehabilitate Richard III. Although he almost certainly eliminated his two young nephews his behaviour may have been no worse than many other Plantagenet and Tudor kings. This does not excuse it, of course.

Richard's reign was short because discontent centred around Henry Tudor and because Richard precipitously engaged with the small Tudor force at Bosworth. Had Richard waited for reinforcements from the north our history may well have been different.

It is claimed that the two princes stayed at the Rose and Crown. there is no written evidence for this - only hearsay. The name of the inn itself may be a clue which we should take into account.

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