Part Three: Richard III & the Nevilles

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You can catch up on the first two posts on Richard III here and here. Today, we’re going to pick up where we left off in 1461, with Richard and his brother, George, newly returned to England from the Burgundian court in time to see their brother, now Edward IV, crowned king.

I wrote in my introduction to this series that Richard’s life and reign took place during a uniquely complex period in England’s history and as evidence of that I would point to the fact that I’m on “Part Three” and Richard is only eight years old. It’s a lot.

So, the coronation. At the time that he was crowned Edward was 19 years old, but had an impressive reputation for military prowess, was 6′ 4″ tall, and reportedly quite handsome. He was basically a god to his court, and almost certainly to his younger brothers. He was also unmarried, and so his heir was the 11-year-old George. The day after Edward was crowned, George was made Duke of Clarence.

Richard would be similarly elevated, but not until November as Edward prepared to open his first session of Parliament. Richard was made Duke of Gloucester and almost immediately his public life began. Less than two weeks later his name appeared on a commission of array for Cumberland to help raise an army to defend against Scotland. A day later, he was appointed Admiral of England, Ireland, and Aquitaine. And on August 12, 1462, he was bequeathed Gloucester Castle and its surrounding town, as well as the constableship of Corfe Castle in Dorset, the manor of Kingston Lacy, and estates that once belonged to Edmund and Jasper Tudor, King Henry’s half-brothers.

On that note, a word on the Tudors. I mentioned at the end of Part One that Henry VI elevated his two Tudor half-brothers to the peerage in 1452. The elder, Edmund, became Earl of Richmond, and the younger, Jasper, became Earl of Pembroke. Edmund was married in 1455 to the Beaufort heiress, Lady Margaret, but he died a year later and never met his posthumous son, Henry, born in January 1457. Margaret swiftly remarried into the Stafford family, while Jasper devoted himself to the Lancastrian cause. He spent the subsequent years splitting his time between stirring up trouble for Edward in Wales and sharing exile with Queen Marguerite.

But back to Richard – immediately after his and George’s return to England, they re-joined their mother, Cecily, and their sister, Margaret, at Baynard’s Castle, but George’s new position as heir to the throne meant he needed more formal training. He and Richard eventually transitioned into the care of a few noblemen under Edward’s direction. One such man appears to have been Thomas, Lord Stanley, who, Matthew Lewis notes in his biography of Richard, received an annuity for service to the king and his brothers in September 1462. It’s safe to say that during this period of time, both George and Richard were regularly in Edward’s company.

There was a resurgence of the Lancastrian threat in 1464 that saw the Battles of Hedgeley Moor and Hexham. The result was that an 11-year-old Richard was granted a commission of array that May in Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, and Shropshire. Matthew Lewis writes:

“Although no army was required in the end, the commission may offer a suggestion of the region in which Edward was planning to install his brother as a regional magnate when he came of age. The Marcher region along the border with Wales was an area of great significance for the House of York.”

And somewhere in this space – likely in 1464 or 1465 – Richard was placed in the household of his cousin, the Earl of Warwick. It not only marked a new phase in Richard’s association with his mother’s side of the family, but also the first time in which he and George were truly separated. From then on out, the two boys were on different tracks – George as heir and the more senior brother, and Richard as another, more junior, spare. But Warwick’s household wasn’t a shabby spot in which to be. He was essentially the moniker by which he became known – the “Kingmaker” – and his contribution to the Yorkist cause through the 1450s was significant . Not only an able military commander, he was beloved in London, and famous through Christendom for his exploits. In short, he was a powerful and glamorous figure.

Physically, the move took Richard from London to the city of York where he most likely ended up living at Middleham Castle. Thus began Richard’s long association with northern England. With Richard being around 12 – 13 when he was placed in Warwick’s care, this move also coincided with the onset of Richard’s scoliosis. His skeleton – discovered in 2012 – revealed that he had a particularly severe case of it, meaning that he would have lived with a certain amount of pain, as well pressure on his lungs that made breathing difficult. It was also a condition that would have been relatively easy to disguise under clothing, and so likely only a select few knew.

We can only guess at the psychological impact this had on Richard, but he was still extremely young and separated from the last vestiges of familiarity while undergoing these changes. We can assume he was scared, and as Matthew Lewis notes, it’s likely that he realized he would never be a physical match for his brother, Edward. Did this sew seeds of resentment? Did it galvanize him to double-down on his physical training? Both? The second question has a clearer answer, because Richard became an extremely capable soldier and commander – on that, even his critics agree with his fans.

Around this same time, Richard made friends with another boy in Warwick’s household: his ward, Francis Lovell. The friendship they struck would last Richard’s lifetime, and as we’ll see, Lovell’s loyalty extended beyond Richard’s death.

The other seismic change during this period had little to do with Richard directly, but would have a huge impact on his life. In September 1464 Edward announced to his Council that he was already married to a woman named Elizabeth Grey (née Woodville), a Lancastrian widow with two young sons.

Warwick had spent the summer of 1464 in France negotiating with King Louis XI (Charles VII died in 1461) for Edward’s marriage to Louis’s sister-in-law, Bona of Savoy. Thus, when Edward delivered his news that September, Warwick was as blindsided as everyone else, though arguably had better reason to be angry given that he had wasted his time and, given his relationship with Edward, had legitimate ground for believing he should have been confided in. That’s all fair, but whatever his feelings were, he was on hand with George to escort Elizabeth during her presentation at court. There’s no record that Richard was, indicating that he had already moved north.

What we do know is that a year later, in September 1465, Richard attended the Nevilles’ celebration for Warwick’s brother becoming the Archbishop of York. A celebration, mind you, that lasted weeks and cost Warwick a good chunk of money. Richard was treated as an honored guest and sat beside his elder sister, Elizabeth. Like Edward and Edmund in his youth, Richard’s elders sisters, Anne and Elizabeth, would have been distant figures, if not outright strangers. In the late 1450s Elizabeth married John de la Pole, son of the executed Duke of Suffolk, and when Edward came to the throne, he restored the ducal title to his sister and brother-in-law. The de la Poles would later play a larger role in Richard’s life, so this moment of sibling exposure is worth noting.

But even if Richard’s life was saturated with the Nevilles as Edward started his own family, Edward hadn’t forgotten about his youngest brother. In 1466, Richard was invested as a companion of the Order of the Garter. Shortly after the birth of Edward and Elizabeth’s eldest child, Elizabeth, he was appointed to a commission of oyer and terminer with Warwick and Warwick’s other brother, the Earl of Northumberland, to operate in the city of York.

The following year, Richard was included in England’s negotiations with France for a new peace treaty. Not at the negotiation itself, mind you, but as one of Edward’s tools of leverage as an unmarried prince. England and France had a difficult relationship during the 1460s following so closely on the heels of England’s reverse conquest during the earlier part of the century, and France’s success in pushing them out during the 1440s and 1450s. Now, France protected Queen Marguerite (first cousin of King Louis) and her son, Prince Edward, but hadn’t favored her so far as to equip her with the money and soldiers she would need to take back her husband’s throne.

Warwick was staunchly in favor of peace with France, but the other option on the table for England was an alliance with Burgundy, to France’s detriment. Like France, Burgundy also housed exiled Lancastrians, but on June 15, 1467, Duke Philip died and was succeeded by his 33-year-old son, Charles.

Leaks from the back and forth between England and France reveal that Edward was considering marriage between Richard and Louis’s two-year-old daughter, Jeanne, but one communication referred to George as already married – distinctly untrue. In fact, not only was George described as already married, but his bride was identified as Warwick’s elder daughter, Isabel. At some point in the 1460s, Warwick approached Edward about marriage between George and Isabel, but Edward, who had already removed his own bargaining power as a bachelor prince, was loath to lose George, too.

It’s possible that Warwick considered a double marriage between George and Isabel, and then Richard and his younger daughter, Anne, born in 1456, but if he did, the real focus was still on George and Isabel. Either way, the fact that George was described as already married indicates that Warwick used less than transparent methods to retain him as an option for his daughter.

In the midst of this, the new Duke Charles approached Edward about marrying his sister, Margaret.

The core issue was the that Edward and Warwick were diverging on foreign policy, but even more, Warwick was losing his influence over the king. Diplomatic relations with France broke down by September 1467, and right around then Richard was removed from Warwick’s household.

Richard was now 15 years old – too young to be fully independent, but certainly old enough by Medieval standards to begin to carve out a role for himself. By this time George was 18 and based at Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire. Richard had no such base, but in February 1468 he was appointed to a commission with George and Warwick based in Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, and Herefordshire. Notably, they were also joined by Queen Elizabeth’s father and brother, as well as Edward’s close friend, Lord William Hastings.

Later in August he was appointed to another commission of oyer and terminer in Devon and Gloucestershire, as well as granted manors in Cornwall. In October, he was given additional manors in Somerset and Wiltshire, Dorset, Devon, and Gloucestershire, many of which once belonged to Lancastrian nobles and were seized when power changed hands in 1461. Edward’s plan with these grants indicates he had a strategy for where to deploy his brothers. As Matthew Lewis writes:

“If George was being provided with a power base in the northern Marcher area around Staffordshire and east in a line across the Midlands, and if Richard could be set up to control the southwest, then Edward would be surrounded and shielded by his brothers. George might even balance Warwick’s influence in the Midlands and restrict him to his northern territories, where he was farther away.”

Possibly clipping – or containing – Warwick’s reach was of increasing importance to Edward when he chose an alliance with Burgundy over France. Margaret married Duke Charles in July 1468, and her position as Duchess of Burgundy would be of continued importance to Richard later on.

Then came 1469. Richard was with Edward at the shrine of Walsingham that June when news came of a rebellion up north led by man known as Robin of Redesdale, and for the first time, Richard was given a chance to prove himself in the thick of a fight. Edward started to move his army north to defend himself, but stopped when reports reached him that the revolt had swelled with 20,000 men. He paused in Nottingham, at which point he and Richard learned of the participation of George, Warwick, and the Archbishop of York in the rebellion, and swiftly summoned them to join him.

What he didn’t know was that the three men had left England for Calais and, once there, George married Warwick’s daughter, Isabel, defying Edward’s wishes. Notably, Cecily herself had seen the three men off at Sandwich, indicating that she at least knew about the planned marriage, if not the rebellion itself. Her presence there can be read a few different ways. Arguably it was an endorsement of the marriage, perhaps on the grounds that Isabel was her niece and she wanted to see her son strengthen ties to her blood family. Richard’s biographer, Desmond Seward, sees it as her having tried to dissuade George from his actions.

After the marriage was complete, Warwick issued a manifesto listing out the same complaints that Robin of Redesdale’s followers espoused and comparing Edward to Henry VI (as well as Edward II and Richard II) – all deposed kings.

Two weeks later they were back in England after the rebel forces ambushed Edward’s reinforcements. Warwick’s men apprehended Queen Elizabeth’s father and brother on the Welsh border and had both executed following a sham trial. Edward decided not to fight Warwick directly and instead sent those with him in Nottingham away. He allowed the Archbishop of York to take custody of him, and was moved to Warwick Castle and then Middleham as an effective prisoner while Warwick ruled in his name.

It didn’t last long. Lancastrians sought to take advantage of the chaos, and in September Warwick was forced to give up the ruse and let Edward go. By October, Edward was back in London and restored to power.

We don’t know exactly where Richard was during these months, save that he was one of the men sent away from Nottingham in the summer. He likely hid out in one of his many manors waiting for word from Edward, or a shift in the situation. He was by Edward’s side in the capital when he returned, and would likely have been privy to the King’s reaction to the dust settling on their brother and cousins’ betrayal. And now, thanks to George having been married, Richard was the last remaining eligible bachelor prince for York.

We’ll pick up there next time.

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