Excerpts from The Medelai Gazette

Richard Duke of York and Richard Duke of Gloucester: Like Father Like Son? by Russell Butcher (November 2004 Issue)

People love to look for examples of history repeating itself.  Medieval History lends itself easily to the idea, particularly the fifteenth century, if we count Richard II, there were six changes of dynasty.  Up until the supposed usurpation of Richard III, each deposition could be seen as the repetition of history, the grappling of two dynasties who would periodically overthrow one another.  To put this entirely down to history repeating itself is to ignore the political climates that brought these dynastic revolutions.  But it is not wrong to draw some comparisons both between events and people.  Indeed, people at the time did so.  One of the great beliefs of the fifteenth century was in the ‘wheel of fortune’ where the fortunes of a man or a country moved in a cyclical fashion, as of history repeating itself.  Monarchs such as Edward IV and Henry VII consciously compared themselves to hero-kings of the mythical past.

In the spirit of the fifteenth century then, we can compare the political careers of father and son, in spite of the decades separating them.  Richard, duke of York (1411-1460) and his son Richard, duke of Gloucester (1452-1485) were both powerful political figures in their age.1  Both men were deprived of their fathers early in life, both, at young ages, held positions of great responsibility, both were faced with factionalism, both used propaganda, both laid a sudden claim to the throne, and of course, both died on the battlefield!

Before comparing the two men, it would be useful to review their individual careers within their own environments.  They do not mirror one another precisely, though some of the politics they lived through were similar.  Let us start with Richard, duke of York.

Richard was born in 1411 to the earl of Cambridge, an essentially landless noble.  Cambridge was executed for his part in the Southampton plot in 1415, when Richard was only four years old. Richard’s uncle, Edmund, duke of York, was appointed his guardian, but was killed at Agincourt not long afterwards, leaving Richard his dukedom. Through his mother, Anne Mortimer, Richard inherited the earldom of March, and by his adulthood he was one of the greatest landholders in England.  When the duke of Bedford, regent of Henry VI’s lands in France, died in 1435, York had recently come of age.  The king’s closest legitimate relation, he was ideally placed to take over from Bedford.  Bedford had left many experienced men, such as Sir John Fastolf and Sir William Oldhall, who could offer Richard good advice through the benefit of their experience.  Throughout most of the 1440s, Richard did as well as could be expected as Lieutenant of France, not winning much for England but not losing much either.  But in 1447, after years of hard work, and trying to wrest sufficient financial support from Henry VI’s government, Richard was recalled to England, replaced in France by Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset.   Used to exercising autonomous power, the government relegated York to the lieutenancy of Ireland; a post that needed filling, but which had far less prestige for York.  To be removed from France was akin to a vote of no confidence in his abilities there.  What was worse, the duke of Somerset had lost all of Normandy by 1450, including Rouen, a town for which Richard was responsible.

English losses in Normandy led to unrest in southern England, and the commons of Kent rose under Jack Cade, who had adopted the name of John Mortimer.2  This was the family name of the earls of March, from whom York was descended.  Combined with rebel demands that York have a more prominent role in government, and with gossip that said Richard would make a better king than Henry, the government may have suspected he was linked to Cade’s rebellion.  York wrote to Henry complaining of these rumours, denying any involvement with rebel activity.  He returned to England after Cade’s rebellion, probably to defend himself against the accusations linking him to it, and was received in a hostile way.  He sent several bills to Henry, first establishing himself as a loyal subject, then forcefully offering his assistance to help return peace and justice to the realm.3  Somerset returned from France at about this time, ready to grapple with York for the prominent position in Henry’s government.  York had the public advantage; he had not lost France, and he would do his utmost to punish those who had.  He appealed to public opinion, and the ‘common weal’ (what was good for the people).4 He shaped his behaviour to win favour with the masses and the Commons in parliament, who fervently agreed with Cade and York that strong reforms were needed.  It was in the parliament of 1450 that York and Beaufort first established the hatred and began forming the factions, which would lead to unrest throughout the 1450s.

What If It Weren't That At All by Jack Sweeney  (July 2005 Issue)

Every great mystery story keeps the identity of the murderer secret until the last page, hinting throughout that it could be any one of the usual suspects, giving obscure clues that point to the guilt of almost everyone on stage. History is much the same, for there are mysteries aplenty in this genre. Our mystery, of course, is the fate of Edward V. If he were murdered, the identity of the murderer is still not known after five hundred-odd years despite hints that point to several bystanders. Most, if not all historians assume that Edward V was murdered for reasons of ‘State‘, that either Richard III or Henry VII murdered him so that he could never overthrow their regimes.

A good definition of ‘State’ murder was given to Henry VII by his court astrologer, William Parron, as they contemplated the murder of Perkin Warbeck and Edward, earl of Warwick:

“It is expedient that one man should die for the people and the whole nation perish not, for an insurrection cannot occur in any state without the death of a greater part of their people and the destruction of many great families and their property”.

‘State’ murder wouldn‘t be prosecuted in court, no one would be incarcerated, because power rests with the murderer. ‘Personal‘ murderers do risk trial, and a cry of ‘his father murdered my father’ may bring a lighter sentence, but it is not a persuasive defense. ‘State’ and ‘personal’ murder easily overlap; Richard, duke of York, murdered Lord Hastings on his own authority. Henry Tudor decided on his own that he was king the day before Bosworth and that anyone who fought against him from then on was a traitor subject to the death penalty. Henry VIII was adept at calling his personal murders necessary matters of ‘State’.

Murder in battle is considered a ‘State‘ murder, but it has also been a cover for personal murder. Lord Clifford had little ‘State’ authority to corner Edmund Plantagenet and murder him as Edmund pleaded for mercy, but no one questioned his right to do so. Nor did anyone question Edward IV when he murdered Edward of Lancaster.

“State’ murder is blithely excused; it was imperative simply for the good of the country, at least in someone’s mind. Kings and usurpers both extol ‘State’ murder, although they disagree on whom to sacrifice. Victims of murder for reason of ’State’ might include kings Richard II and Henry VI, so why not Edward V? Since we know it has happened all too frequently, why not accept that this is what happened to Edward V, that the ‘State‘ willed his death?

But what if it weren’t that at all?

Proof of Murder

Before we delve into who the murderer was, we need to establish that there was a murder. To prove murder it is necessary to start with a dead body. A ‘missing person’ is simply too vague; the person may not want to be found, or may have died from natural causes without being identified. Missing just does not prove murder and a prosecution without a body or at least an eye witness to the death is most unlikely. All that is known in our case is that Edward V was not seen after a while. No body was ever produced. No one claimed to have seen the body or a murder. Is it overly naïve to think that important people simply vanish for their own or innocent reasons? Can anyone say what happened to Viscount Francis Lovel, Richard III’s chamberlain? He, too, was declared dead only to surface and lead a revolt two years later and then …. poof, where did he go? We therefore start out with a major problem; we simply do not know for certain if Edward V died or was murdered during the reigns of either Richard III or Henry VII.

Back to The Richard III Foundation