"These supposed crimes" (I.2)
Four major accusations (the murders of Edward of
Lancaster, Henry VI, Clarence and Queen Anne) discussed and illustrated.
Text by John Saunders.
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THE MURDER OF EDWARD OF LANCASTER
'...'twas I that stabb'd young Edward...' (Richard
III Act I Scene 2)
The earliest 'crime' that can be attributed to Richard III is the
murder of Edward, the last Lancastrian Prince of Wales, on the field
of Tewkesbury on May 4, 1471.
The first direct reference to Richard's involvement came with Polydore
Vergil, who wrote in his Anglica
Historia that Edward was 'crewelly murderyd' by Clarence,
Hastings and Gloucester.
It is in the Chronicles
of Raphael Holinshed that Richard of Gloucester is cited as the
principal culprit who strikes the first blow against Edward. First
published in 1577, it soon became a standard history of England.
Shakespeare probably made extensive use of Holinshed as source material
for his plays. He developed the crime for dramatic purposes into
one of the series of pre-meditated murders that paved the Shakespearean
Richard's way to the throne.
All contemporary sources are unanimous in making no reference to
Richard as the murderer of Edward of Lancaster. The
Arrivall of Edward IV, the official Yorkist account
of the events of 1470/71, stated that '...Edward, called Prince,
was taken, fleinge to the town wards, and slayne in the fielde.'
Chronicle, more Lancastrian in sympathy, slightly elaborates
'And there was slayed in the fielde Prynce Edward, which cryde for
socure to his brother-in-law the Duke of Clarence.'
Professor Charles Ross wrote that 'No shred of blame can fall on
Richard...' and few serious historians today would speculate that
Richard was responsible for this murder.
Illustration: Murder of Edward of Lancaster,' J.
E. Doyle; Plaque marking burial place, Tewkesbury Abbey.
THE MURDER OF HENRY VI
'...for I did kill King Henry...' (Richard III
Act I Scene 2)
Henry VI died in the Tower of London probably on May 21st, 1471,
the day that Edward IV returned in triumph to his capital after
his victory at the battle of Tewkesbury. Polydore
Vergil wrote that 'Henry the sixt... was put to death in
the tour of London. The contynuall report is, that Richard Duke
of Gloucester killyd him with a sword... but who so ever were the
killer of that holy man...' Not yet a firm conviction of Richard.
More wrote that Richard '...slew with his own hands King
Henry the Sixth, being prisoner in the Tower, as men constantly
It was Shakespeare who threw away any doubts about Richard's involvement.
For the litany of crimes to be complete Shakespeare's Richard had
to have sole responsibility for Henry's murder, a task that he performs
with apparent zeal.
of Edward IV stated that Henry died of 'pure displeasure
and melancholy.' It may well be that Henry did suffer a fatal stroke
or fit after learning of the death of his only son and the eclipse
of his cause at Tewkesbury. However it is probably too much of a
coincidence that his death should have taken place so soon after
Edward IV returned to London. Warkworth's
Chronicle stated that Henry 'was put to dethe...beynge
thenne at the Toure the Duke of Gloucester...and many other.'
The fact that Richard is said to have been in the Tower is not
as sinister as it may appear. Whilst it is likely that Henry VI
was put to death, the responsibility would lie with Edward IV, who
would have viewed the murder as a political necessity. Only another
monarch would order a regicide. As Constable it would have been
Richard's responsibility to deliver the official warrant to the
Tower, which was a centre of government and a royal residence. Richard's
attendance does not therefore imply complicity with the murder.
It is now accepted that if Henry VI was murdered in the Tower he
died on the orders of Edward IV. Charles Ross wrote that the accusation
that Richard was personally responsible for the murders of Edward
of Lancaster and Henry VI was 'quite unrelated to the mundane facts
of historical evidence.'
Illustrations: Shakespeare's Richard kills Henry
VI, engraving by Byam Shaw; Plaque in Wakefield Tower of London.
THE MURDER OF GEORGE DUKE OF CLARENCE
'...Clarence hath not another day to live...'
(Richard III Act I Scene 2)
That Richard, Duke of Gloucester, drowned his brother George in
a butt of malmsey wine is one of the most popular myths in English
More first hints that Richard might have been involved with
Clarence's death: 'Some wise men also ween that his drift covertly
conveyed, lacked not in helping forth his brother of Clarence to
his death.' Whilst More did at least concede that this was only
a rumour, the seed was sown and soon incorporated into the growing
legend of Richard III, culminating in Shakespeare's Richard and
the butt of malmsey in the Tower.
There is no contemporary evidence to suggest that Richard was actively
involved with the death of Clarence. The Crowland
Chronicle stated '...the execution, whatever form it
took, was carried out secretly in the Tower of London.' Clarence
had been in dispute with Edward IV for some time prior to 1478 over
a variety of matters. He had shown an interest in marrying the Burgundian
heiress, Mary, following the death of her father Charles the Rash
in 1477. Edward thwarted this and relations between the brothers
became tense. Once Clarence began to take the king's justice into
his own hands he was challenging Edward's authority as King. With
the precedent of Clarence's behaviour during 1470/71 Edward had
no option but to take action. This was the background to Clarence's
execution for treason. It is not possible to say if there is any
truth in the story that Clarence had discovered details of the pre-contract,
although there is circumstantial evidence that does give rise to
such speculation. Whilst it is true that the Woodvilles would not
have been too distressed by Clarence's execution the evidence does
not suggest that it was they alone who actively brought about his
Dominic Mancini reported that Richard 'was so overcome with grief
for his brother... that he was overheard to say he would one day
avenge his brother's death.' However the Woodvilles made few material
gains from the death and attainder of Clarence, and there is little
evidence to suggest that Richard openly fell out with them. Indeed
in some areas of his responsibility Richard must have cooperated
with members of the family or their supporters.
Few would now doubt that George Duke of Clarence was judicially
executed by Edward IV for treason. Jeremy Potter writes 'There is
no evidence...to connect Richard with the death of his brother Clarence,
who was later executed on King Edward's orders after a public slanging
Illustrations: 17th century portrait, George, Duke
of Clarence, Brocket Hall: 'Bones' of George and Isabel, Clarence
Vault, Tewkesbury Abbey.
ANNE NEVILLE -- MARRIAGE AND POISONING
'...I'll have her but I will not keep her long'
(Richard III Act I Scene 2)
Shakespeare has Richard wooing the recently widowed Anne Neville
over the corpse of her father-in-law, Henry VI, Richard being responsible
for both calamities -- Anne's widowhood and Henry's death. Amazingly
under such circumstances he wins Anne and marries her. Of course
the marriage does not last. Richard tires of Anne and has her poisoned.
He then proceeds to bolster his claim to the throne by attempting
to marry his niece Elizabeth of York.
John Rous accused Richard of poisoning Anne Neville, and for good
measure locking up Anne's mother, the Dowager Countess of Warwick,
for the duration of his life.
Vergil openly suggested that Richard rid himself of Anne.
He has Richard causing 'a rumour...to be spread abrode of the quene
his wyfes death..' A short while later Anne 'whether she wer dispatchyd
with sorrowfulness, or poyson, dyed...'
Richard would have known Anne Neville from the days during the
1460s when he was under tutelage to her father the Earl of Warwick.
It does not follow however that Richard and Anne were 'childhood
sweethearts' and married for love. There is no way that we can determine
the nature of their personal relationship. In the fifteenth century
marriages were first and foremost business arrangements. Richard
had much to gain in material terms from marriage to Anne. With her
sister Isabel married to George Duke of Clarence, she was co-heiress
of one of the country's greatest landowners. When Richard sought
to make Anne Neville his wife a bitter row developed between the
brothers. The Crowland
Chronicle reported that 'so much disputation arose between
the brothers and so many keen arguments were put forward on either
side with the greatest acuteness in the presence of the king...even
those learned in the law marveled at the profusion of the arguments
which the princes produced for their own cases.' Whilst the acquisition
of land, wealth and power was a factor in Richard's determination
to marry Anne, it is reasonable to speculate that their marriage
was successful. There is no hint of scandal or mistresses. Richard's
acknowledged bastards were both born before his marriage. A brief
glimpse of Anne and Richard together is given by the Crowland Chronicler
when he reported on the death of Edward of Middleham 'You might
have seen the father and mother, after hearing the news...almost
out of their minds when faced with the sudden grief.'
Of the accusations that Richard poisoned Anne there is no contemporary
evidence. Rumours were certainly spread by Richard's enemies after
Anne died, along with the allegation that Richard intended to marry
his niece Elizabeth, which Richard publicly denied. There is no
reason to suppose that his contemporaries took the accusation of
poisoning seriously. It seems most likely that Anne was suffering
from some debilitating disease, possibly tuberculosis, as the Crowland
Chronicle remarks that doctors advised Richard to avoid
Little credence is now given to the story that Richard poisoned
Anne Neville and that the marriage was a wretched one from Anne's
point of view. Paul Murray Kendall wrote 'It appears that Richard's
marriage was happy, that he gave Anne Neville his heart as well
as his name.' The evidence would seem to support this although the
danger of over-romanticising the relationship should be avoided.
Illustrations: 'Richard of Gloucester and the Lady
Anne,' Edwin Austin Abbey, Yale University Art Gallery; Richard's
victims according to Shakespeare, illustration in Smithsonian Magazine
Related link: The "Back
to Basics" study guide section offers further reading
on these issues.
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