Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Princes in the Tower

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The Princes in the Tower and the Re-interment of Richard lll.

                We live in a violent age, right?  Considering we are surrounded by scheming, unscrupulous politicians manipulating the due course of the law to suit their own ends, Presidents and world leaders ‘removing’ perceived opponents, terrorist thugs massacring the innocent, drug dealers blowing away non-payers, and simple thugs with a grudge against the world, I suppose we do.  But is this the most violent age in history?  I doubt it. 

Starting with the murder of Abel by his brother, Cain, the history of mankind has been violent since the beginning.  Lately, the fashion has been to hearken back to mediaeval times as a more innocent, gentler era.  This is hardly the case, colourful though that era was, when one considers the stir made over the recent re-internment on March 26th, 2015, of Richard lll, King of England, previously Richard, Duke of Gloucester, brother of King Edward lV, and the subsequent debates as to his guilt or innocence.

For half a millennium there has been controversy among historians over the question was Richard guilty of his nephews’ murders or not?  In her fascinating and meticulously researched book, The Princes in the Tower, Alison Weir reconstructs the tragic chain of events which led to the murder of the Princes.

She calls upon contemporary chroniclers, the anonymous and cautious ‘Croyland’, the Italians Vergil and Mancini, and the scrupulously honest Sir Thomas More, among others, to back her findings.  Weir states that her aim is to settle the controversy, not add to it.  She is quite convinced that Richard was guilty and that, if his wasn’t the hand to carry out the deed, his were the orders that had the young Princes murdered.  Step by step she recounts the horror story in her clear, vivid prose.

In 1471 Edward lV acceded the throne of England on the murder of his mentally feeble brother, King Henry Vl.  Historians have no doubt that Edward’s was the mind behind his brother’s murder, although the actual deed is now attributed by most to his brother, Richard of Gloucester, with whom Edward had quite recently become reconciled.   Richard was ambitious as well as unscrupulous, and Edward was probably always suspicious of him. 
Edward lV reigned, a fairly well liked king, until his untimely death after a fishing expedition in April, 1483.    This gave Richard the opportunity he awaited; he speedily engineered a coup, had his henchmen remove the faithful guardians of the young King Edward V, had himself proclaimed Lord Protector, and named official guardian of the twelve year-old boy.  As clever, personable, and well educated as he was, Edward was still a child and this must have been traumatic and terrifying for him.  His uncle, whom he no longer trusted, ordered he be taken to live in the Tower of London, supposedly for his protection and to ready him for his coronation.  At that time the Tower was one of the Royal Palaces so Queen Elizabeth, though she hated and feared her brother-in-law, saw no reason to fear young Edward was in any danger there.  How wrong could she be?  Once there, young Edward, a gentle boy who had been raised with a good education, well-versed in Parliament and the law, archery, and riding, and who had been dearly loved by his parents, was now a prisoner.  He never left the Tower.  

No fool, it was soon apparent to Queen Elizabeth that Gloucester was intent on eliminating her family, the Wydvilles.   She now feared for her own life, so she gathered what possessions she could and with her three daughters and her younger son, Richard, Duke of York, took refuge in the Sanctuary at Westminster Abbey.   So why on earth she should ever have allowed little Richard, the heir should Edward meet an untimely demise, to join his brother in the Tower ‘to be there for the coronation’ boggles the mind, and must forever be unfathomable to we modern day mothers who hover, perhaps over-protectively, over our offspring.   She must have been pretty na├»ve, methinks!  

It’s strange, I suppose, that more than five hundred years later a certain faction should still feel passionately about and be convinced Richard was unjustly suspected of the murder of two beautiful young boys, his brother Edward’s sons.   In 1924 the Richard lll Society was formed.  Thus, when Richard’s remains were discovered under a parking lot two years ago, the Society pushed for a royal re-internment.  The parking lot had been built on the site of the long-gone church, where Richard’s body was given a Christian burial.  It’s amusing to note Richard’s remains had lain under a space marked ‘R’ for reserved spaces!

On March 26th, 2015, the Society got the re-interment, and Richard’s remains were taken on a seven hour long procession around Leicestershire.  At Bosworth, where Richard met his death in battle on August 22nd, 1485, there was a 21-gun salute.  No coward Richard; all eyewitness accounts state he acquitted himself bravely on the battlefield against Henry Tudor. 

Bosworth Field was a vicious, bloody battle, near the end of which Richard realized most of those he had trusted to fight for him had deserted, and he was left with a small, struggling, and desperately tired band.  He gathered this band around him and led the charge toward Henry.  He cut down Henry’s standard bearer, and bore down on Henry, intent on the kill. Before he could reach his adversary, however,  Lord Thomas Stanley, who had until then stood off to the side until he saw which way the battle was going, rallied his forces to Henry’s defence  and Richard was mown down.  

After the gun salute, the coffin was borne on a gun carriage to Leicester Cathedral, where it lay on public view for the next three days before being interred in the cathedral vaults.  Queen Elizabeth ll’s cousin, also Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was present at the ceremony, as was Sophie, Countess of Wessex who represented the Queen.

A wealth of history, a tangled web of lies, deceit, treason – and a treasure trove for writers of historical fiction for children.

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