Part Four: Richard III, Warwick’s Rebellion & the Battle of Tewkesbury


Picking up where we left off: George, Duke of Clarence and the Earl of Warwick’s rebellion in the summer of 1469 enhanced Richard’s position at Edward IV’s court. Around the same time that he joined Edward for his triumphant return to London, Isabella of Castile wrote a letter to her brother, King Henry IV, listing out four possible suitors, including, “the brother of the King of England.”

The match came to nothing (as we well know, Isabella married Ferdinand of Aragon, forging a union that would define 15th century western Europe), but it’s indicative of Richard’s status at the time. It’s possible that Isabella didn’t consider Richard a lofty enough match; it’s equally possible that Edward had little interest in sending Richard abroad when he needed him at home. Certainly, Edward was prepared to sweeten the deal for staying in England. Queen Elizabeth’s father, Earl Rivers, recently executed by Warwick after a sham trial, had held the office of High Constable of England, and Edward now bequeathed it to his brother.

Over the next few months, Richard was made Chief Steward of the Queen’s lands, Chief Steward and Surveyor of the Principality of Wales and Earldom of March, Chief Justice of North Wales, and Chief Justice and Chamberlain of South Wales. He was also present when Edward received an oath of allegiance from Henry Percy, son of the old, Lancastrian Earl of Northumberland who died at the Battle of Towton in 1461. The Percies had held the earldom for centuries, but when Edward ascended the throne, it was handed to Warwick’s brother, John Neville. At this point, Edward didn’t strip Neville of the estate, but it was a warning shot across the bow.

In December, George and Warwick (and their wives) sheepishly returned to London to make amends. It’s possible that Warwick’s younger daughter, Anne, was in their entourage, too. Not only did they have to face Edward, but they also had to face Queen Elizabeth, whose father and brother had effectively been murdered in the rebellion. It’s from this series of events that Queen Elizabeth’s perceived antipathy for Warwick and George stems, and certainly it’s reasonable that she resented both men for the loss of her family members, but it’s worth underlining that there’s nothing actually recorded that indicates this.

Further insinuations about the relationship between Elizabeth and Warwick stem from the latter’s presumed resentment that the Woodville family was rewarded with trappings he believed the Nevilles deserved more. That’s entirely possible, but it also bears repeating that the Nevilles were richly rewarded throughout the 1460s, and the real change in Warwick’s status was a loss of influence. The Woodvilles, arguably, were a symptom of the disease, not the disease itself, as evidenced by Edward turning his back on Warwick’s foreign policy in the months leading up to his marriage announcement. Had George remained loyal, it’s possible that we would have instead seen Edward increasingly positioning both brothers as Warwick’s equals, if not superiors, by nature of their birth, and Warwick would have seen himself receding regardless of Edward’s wife.

But however awkward that Christmas apology tour was, Richard wasn’t there for it. Instead he headed for Wales. He is believed to have stopped at Ludlow Castle on his way, and in his train was William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. Herbert was roughly Richard’s age and his father had been killed during Warwick’s rebellion earlier that year. His presence at Richard’s side is significant, though, because his father had held the wardship of Henry Tudor, son of the deceased Earl of Richmond and Lady Margaret Beaufort. As such, Herbert and Henry spent a good deal of time together in their youths, while Herbert was also married to one of Queen Elizabeth’s younger sisters, Mary Woodville. A further link between them was that Richard’s position as Chief Justice and Chamberlain of South Wales was only for Herbert’s minority.

In March 1470, Richard learned of the Battle of Losecoat Field, the culmination of a Linconshire uprising headed by Sir Robert Welles. Edward won the battle, but the rebel army shouted for “Warwick” and “Clarence” on the field, while Welles himself named both men as his partners in rebellion during subsequent questioning. But Richard was absent from this latest betrayal, and was instead at Hornby Castle in Lancashire purposefully provoking Thomas, Lord Stanley over an inheritance dispute. He did so with Edward’s protection (if not direction), but it’s worth pointing out two things: 1) This may well have been the birth of a grudge between Richard and the Stanley family and 2) at the time, Stanley was married to Warwick’s sister.

Back at court, Edward formally declared Warwick and George traitors with a bounty on their heads, while both men fled for France. The King then prepared to defend himself from invasion by deploying Richard through the country to raise men, removing him as Constable (likely due to his other responsibilities), and replacing Warwick’s brother, John Neville, as Earl of Northumberland with Henry Percy. This last move can be seen a few different ways – a strike against the Neville family, or a strategic necessity since the Percies were valuable in the north. In support of the latter theory is the fact that Edward named John Neville the Marquess of Montagu in compensation, and betrothed Neville’s son to his eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth.

But the fact remained Neville had lost out on a wealthy estate, and he may well have viewed the move as punishment for his hesitancy in 1469. Though he hadn’t been linked to Warwick’s latest rebellion, the loss of Northumberland pushed him into his brother’s waiting arms.

As such, when Warwick and George returned to England in August, Edward was duly betrayed by John Neville (and his sizable army) and forced to flee into exile by mid-September. Edward’s eventual landing spot was the Burgundian court of his sister and brother-in-law, and he would remain there for the next several months. Traditionally, Richard has been placed with his brother in Burgundy. Evidence for that comes from Philip de Commines, a Burgundian chronicler, who wrote that Richard and Edward arrived together. However, per Matthew Lewis, records kept at King’s Lynn Hall, from where Edward departed, name only Anthony Woodville (Queen Elizabeth’s brother) and William, Lord Hastings as the King’s companions. There’s no mention of Richard.

Lewis lays out the possibility that Richard instead traveled to the Marches and Wales to allay concerns before following his brother into exile later in the autumn. It would explain why Richard’s name was omitted when Edward departed in September, and it would have been made possible by the amount of time Richard spent in the region. Lewis also notes that the action mirrored that taken by John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, however that man was captured and executed by Warwick’s regime. It was risky of Worcester not to have followed Edward into exile, but his decision to stay makes slightly more sense if it was made in coordination with Richard.

Regardless, by the end of 1470, Richard joined his brother and the other Yorkist lords in Burgundian-held lands. Their presence proved awkward for their brother-in-law, Duke Charles, and that was thanks in large part to how Warwick and George spent their own exile that summer. King Louis XI welcomed Warwick and his entourage, but he also facilitated an unholy alliance between him and the exiled Queen Marguerite. Thus, if George’s participation had started with the goal of placing himself on the throne, it ended with him being ousted on Warwick’s promise to restore King Henry VI and his son, Prince Edward. To cement the arrangement, Prince Edward was betrothed – and then married – to Warwick’s younger daughter, Anne. George was effectively left out in the cold.

For Duke Charles this meant aiding Edward amounted to provoking France. The autumn unfolded with him offering nominal funds to keep Edward and his party, but Louis jumped at the chance open up hostilities between France and Burgundy, and quickly pushed Charles into full support of his brother-in-law. Charles and Edward met in January 1471, while Richard traveled to Lille in February to see their sister, Margaret. By March, armed with money and men, Richard and Edward were on their way home.

Since August, Warwick had effectively restored Henry VI and re-established a Lancastrian government, but it was uneasy situation given that who was left of the Lancastrian party mistrusted him. That included Queen Marguerite, who delayed her and her son’s arrival as long as possible. As such, she didn’t land in England until after Warwick and Edward had faced off at the Battle of Barnet. She was then faced with the decision of whether to stay or go, and – fatally for her house – decided to stay.

In the meantime, the abandoned George was back in England and forced to at least answer to the women in his family. Cecily Neville, and her two daughters – Anne and Elizabeth – all worked to convince him to switch his allegiance back to his brother. From Burgundy, Margaret is also believed to have communicated with the wayward Duke. It worked. As Edward and co. moved through England gathering support, they met George face-to-face on April 3rd and the three brothers were reunited.

Matthew Lewis argues that Richard would have been instrumental to these negotiations:

“The women of the family had fulfilled their role as peacemakers to perfection, but they could not offer George anything that he could hold onto or rely on. Edward would surely have said anything to prevent George’s significant force joining up with Warwick and instead to add them to his own ranks. What was there to prevent Edward having him seized as soon as they left the field at Banbury together? Richard was the one able to close the deal […] It was Richard who was able to stand before George and assure him that Edward would honor his word and that all would work out well for George if he submitted to their older brother. In turn, George seems to have trusted in the assurances Richard gave.”

Warwick was no match for all three Yorkist princes. When the two sides finally clashed at the Battle of Barnet on April 14, 1471, Warwick was killed in the fight, as was John Neville.

But the fight wasn’t over now that Queen Marguerite and Prince Edward were in England, and now is where we get into the first real waves of Richard’s so-called “Black Legend.” Richard was reportedly wounded during Barnet, but not enough that it slowed him down. He spent the next weeks on the road with his brother as they prepared for what would prove the final show-down, and the two sides finally met at Tewkesbury on May 4th.

The battle, during which Richard commanded the vanguard, ended in a Yorkist victory, but only just. Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (son of the Duke of Somerset who was killed at the War’s start in 1455) survived, but sought refuge in Tewkesbury Abbey. Edward followed him, breaking the laws of sanctuary, however he stood down when he was rebuked by a priest, and promised to offer those inside pardon. Somerset and his co-horts then left the Abbey only to be rounded up, tried, and executed. It was a sign of Edward’s brutality, sure, but these events also occurred under Richard’s oversight as the re-instated Constable of England.

Matthew Lewis describes it as such:

“This moment represented Richard’s first real exercise in the ultimate powers of the Constable, though it must have been at the King’s direction […] Edward would soon pay for the Abbey to be redecorated by way of an apology, though it was, and remains today, filled to bursting with Yorkist symbols, including Edward’s sun in splendour badge.”

Desmond Seward says:

“The doomed men, who had no doubt kept their weapons, resisted desperately and there was so much bloodshed that the church was afterwards reconsecrated. They were brought before Richard, his capacity as Constable of England. Brusquely he condemned them to death. Immediately after he had pronounced sentence they were taken to a block set up in Tewkesbury marketplace and beheaded without further ceremony.”

A bit of a difference 😉

But if we’re going to quibble about a crime then that would fall on Edward IV, who breached sanctuary and then went back on his promise of a pardon. Richard meted out the punishment, yes, but on the orders of his brother. Given what was at stake, I don’t see either’s behavior as abnormal for the period.

Regardless, this incident paled in comparison to another death: that of Prince Edward. What we know as fact is that Prince Edward died on the Tewkesbury battlefield. That’s about it. It wasn’t until the Tudor era that Richard – alongside his brothers – would be named as the killer. This was later dramatized by Shakespeare who depicts each Yorkist prince stabbing the Lancastrian with their dagger.

Contemporary sources don’t offer anything particularly noteworthy about his death, save one source who claims Edward was captured trying to escape and begged for George’s help. That doesn’t mean George was present, but rather that Edward attempted to appeal to the fact that George was his brother-in-law (both men were married to the Neville sisters).

The Crowland Chronicle, written after Richard’s death, notes:

“There were slain on the Queen’s side, either on the field or after the battle, by the avenging hands of certain persons, Prince Edward, the only living son of King Henry, the Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Devon, and all and every the other lords above-mentioned.”

The issue comes down to whether or not you choose to believe the Tudor-era accounts of the death. Ricardians note that 1) the passage of time makes the sources less reliable and 2) the Tudors only strengthened their case for sitting on the throne by smearing Richard’s name. Richard’s critics, however, argue that the tradition of oral storytelling to preserve history was common, and not always unreliable. And arguably, calling out Richard’s crimes wouldn’t have been kosher until after his death.

Personally, I’m of the belief that Richard didn’t kill Prince Edward. It’s an understandable dramatization for someone like Shakespeare, but I think for the purposes of history it becomes tantalizing only because Richard later married Prince Edward’s widow and, of course, the mythology around the Princes in the Tower.

There’s a third death in which Richard is implicated in 1471, but I’m going to save that for a separate post. We’ll dig into that tomorrow!

One thought on “Part Four: Richard III, Warwick’s Rebellion & the Battle of Tewkesbury

  1. Roxana

    By 1469 Isabella was official heiress to her brother the possibly aptly named Enrique the Impotent. The situation was complicated by the existence of a daughter(?) of Enrique whose paternity was doubted because of her father’s performance issues, which BTW he himself admitted, and her mother’s less than chaste reputation. Isabella’s position was this precarious and she may have been serious about wanting a husband to bolster it. On the other hand she may have already had her eye on Ferdinand of Aragon and unifying Spain, a match Enrique opposed, and been deflecting his concern by naming other possibilities.

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