Sad Stories of the Death of Kings

The Duke of York’s claim to the throne did not die with him, though, and was passed on to his oldest son and second child, Edward. In a succession of battles, with the support of Warwick (who became known as “the Kingmaker”), Edward defeated the Lancastrians and was crowned king in London a few weeks after his father’s death, becoming Edward IV.

It was not peaceful, however, as a power struggle ensued with Warwick, who believed that he could still wield power and rule England through Edward. He tried to persuade Edward to enter a marital alliance with a European power, but instead the king secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, the window of a Lancastrian sympathizer. This move outraged Warwick and with the aid of Edward’s brother George, Duke of Clarence, led an army against Edward.

Edward was captured, but was soon released after the threat of a counter-rebellion. He sought reconciliation with Warwick and Clarence, but it was only a few months later when they rebelled again. Warwick made an alliance with Margaret, agreeing to restore Henry VI to the throne in return for French support of the invasion. After the Lancastrian defeat that had resulted in Edward’s coronation, Margaret had retreated to France with Henry IV (who had been retrieved by the Lancastrians after the Yorkists fled at the Second Battle of St. Albans, leaving him behind, in 1461) and their son Edward, who had been knighted as Prince of Wales. The invasion was a success for Lancaster as Henry was placed back on the throne.

Edward was forced to flee and took refuge in Burgudy, accompanied by his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester (who would later become Richard III). His sister Margaret of York had married Charles, Duke of Burgudy; she was his third wife and his second cousin, as both were descended from John of Gaunt. Charles was unwilling to help Edward, until France declared war on Burgundy and he decided to give Edward his aid, who raised an army to win back his kingdom.

History repeated itself when Edward claimed he only wanted to get his dukedom back, in order to enter the city of York (its gates would not open otherwise), as Henry Bolingbroke had done before deposing Richard II and ascended the throne as Henry IV. He soon gained support and his brother Clarence reunited with him, deciding that he was better off with his brother as king than Henry VI. Unopposed entering London, Edward took Henry VI prisoner. The last of the Lancastrian resistance, including Henry VI’s son Edward, was eliminated during the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471; Warwick was killed as well. An alternate version of the Prince’s death is told in Henry VI Part 3, in which he survives the battle and is taken prisoner. Brought before Edward IV, the king strikes the prince across the face with his gauntleted hand after the prince is defiant and the king’s men kill him.

Henry soon also died, whether of grief from the death of his only son or, as widely suspected, murdered by Edward’s order so that the House of Lancaster opposition would be eliminated. If we are to assume the latter, it is widely believed that he was killed while in prayer and it was shortly after his death that he was considered saint with miracles attributed to him or performed in his name.

Richard III

With both Warwick and Prince Edward dead, Richard, Duke of Gloucester married Anne Neville, who had been previously betrothed to him but had been married to the prince by Warwick, following his Lancastrian alliance. Following the final defeat of Lancaster, King Edward was able to reign in relative peace but it was to be short-lived as he took ill and died in 1483. He was survived by his wife Elizabeth, his children – including his two sons Edward and Richard, and his brother Richard. Before he died, he named his brother as Lord Protector.

Edward was temporarily succeeded by his namesake as Edward V, although he was never crowned and his brief reign (only eighty-six days) was influenced by his uncle and Lord Protector Richard. Richard declared his brother Edward’s children as illegitimate on the grounds of rumours that Edward had been pre-contracted to marry Lady Eleanor Talbot, which invalidated his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. However, there is no concrete evidence of this pre-contract and it is speculated that Richard might have named Lady Talbot as she was known to have been one of Edward’s many lovers. Clarence had also made claims that Edward was illegitimate before his imprisonment and execution in 1473.

Regardless, by declaring Edward’s children as such, Richard positioned himself to ascend the throne as Richard III and the child Edward was taken to the Tower of London, where he would be joined by his brother Prince Richard; the two of them would become known as the Princes in the Tower. They would never be seen again and are widely believed to have been murdered.

According to Shakepeare, it is Richard who murders his nephews, although there are other suspects including Henry VII and his mother, Margaret Beaufort. Henry Tudor had a weaker claim to the throne, his lineage tracing back to John Beaufort, who was a bastard before being legitimized by John of Gaunt’s marriage to Katherine Swynford, his mistress. Margaret Beaufort was a staunch supporter of her son, despite being married to Lord Stanley, a Yorkist, she campaigned for her son to be king instead of Richard; the Princes’ disappearance would eliminate any future threats to the throne or power struggles. Richard would have held these concerns as well, although also with the caveat that the Princes could be used as motivation for rebellion. Whatever the case, the mystery has never been solved.

Despite Shakespeare and Tudor historians’ best attempts to paint an evil portrait of Richard, examining the facts reveals that during his brief reign, he imposed policies that would benefit commoners, especially what would become known as the Court of Requests, in which people, who could not afford legal representation, could have their grievances heard. He also ordered the written Laws and Statutes to be translated from French into English, so that anyone could read them.

Differing and opposing opinions about Richard as king culminated in the conspiracy and rebellion of 1483, led by his former ally the Duke of Buckingham. With rumours that the Princes were dead, Buckingham turned to putting Henry in the throne. Henry had gained support from the Woodvilles, Edward IV’s in-laws, and promised that he would marry the Princes’ older sister, and Richard’s niece, Elizabeth of York. By his marriage to Elizabeth, it would strengthen his hold on the crown while also weakening others’ claims. Tudor history and propaganda suggests that Richard had been having an affair with his niece, although there is no conclusive evidence for this and most historians now dismiss this.

In 1484, Richard’s only child and heir Edward – born in 1473 – died suddenly, shortly after being made Prince of Wales. The following year, five months before the Battle of Bosworth Field, his wife Anne Neville died of tuberculosis; on the day of her death, an eclipse occurred and some interpreted this as an omen. Rumours later circulated that Richard had poisoned her in order to marry his niece Elizabeth but there is no evidence for this. Widowed and without an heir, Richard was negotiating with John II of Portugal to marry his sister Joanna in the hopes of a double alliance with Elizabeth marrying her cousin Manuel I, when he rode into battle against Henry in what would be known as the Battle of Bosworth Field.

Bosworth was a defining moment in history, as it ended the Plantagenet reign with the death of Richard III and the beginning of the Tudor era, with the succession of Henry VII and his marriage to Elizabeth of York, uniting the Red Rose of Lancaster and the White Rose of York; ending the Wars of the Roses. Richard was killed in battle and afterwards, his circlet was found and Henry was crowned king. Shamefully, his body, stripped naked, was tied to a horse and carried away from the battlefield, then put on mocking display in a Leicester church. For centuries, it was unknown where his body had been buried and it was seemingly lost in history until 2012, when an archaeological excavation was done and his skeleton was discovered in a parking lot. The skeleton was confirmed as his in February 2013. Currently there is a legal battle to reinter Richard’s bones in either Leicester or York.

3 thoughts on “Sad Stories of the Death of Kings

  1. Pingback: Muse of Fire | trend & chic

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