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A Review of Michael Hicks’ Book “Edward V: A Prince in the Tower”

The Challenge of Writing the Biography of a 12-Year Old

In the preface, Hicks informs the reader that the idea for a biography of Edward V was suggested by his publisher, who wanted him to “fill in the histories of English monarchs.”  The cover of the hardcopy edition that I have features a previously unknown illustration of Edward in his Garter robes, from “The Black Book/Garter Register” at Windsor.

In explaining the raison d’etre for the book, Hicks says that Edward’s biography has generally been treated in biographies of his father Edward IV or uncle Richard III.  He quotes N. Orme, who says, “The childhood and education of Edward V necessarily make up the whole of his biography.”  Nonetheless, Hicks suggests that leaving Edward V’s biography to that of his father or uncle allows “something to be lost in the process” because Edward is then perceived as he was from the perspective of others and not from his own.  Hicks determines to stay true to his subject.  As a result, the reader is impressed to discover that Edward is at the center of this book, and the adults around him secondary.

Hicks states that it is difficult to find information pertaining to any individual during the 15th century that would provide “us with the scope for psychological or even psychiatric investigation.”  About Edward, he says, “Edward V has left much more behind him than other boys of his time,” but then he says that the problem is that what is known “falls into two parts:  What should have been rather than what actually was and what was done in his name, to which he may have contributed, rather than what he himself did.”  He says that Edward was a person “around whom the future was planned.  It was because of what he was, as well as who he was, that some founded their hopes upon him and others feared and destroyed him.”  Hick concludes his introduction by saying that much of Edward V’s biography was determined by what occurred before his birth.  “That legacy resurrected itself 12 years later to destroy him.”

Edward V as Child Victim

In talking about his reasons for writing a biography of Edward V, Hicks draws a comparison to writing a biography of Perkin Warbeck.  “Confident trickster Warbeck may have been, yet his pretense…brought him international attention and…threatened the fledgling Tudor regime…It was not what he was that mattered…but what he was thought to be.  Where Perkin was a curiosity and symbol, Edward V was the real thing.”  He follows through to Edward’s legend after his death, to the stories of the “two little Princes in the Tower” and “The Babes in the Woods” and onward to the present, when “he (Edward V) stands unnamed alongside Anne Frank… and an endless stream of child victims whose atrocities have yet to stand the test of time.”  Hicks refers to Edward as one of history’s greatest victims, and states that contemporaries compared his and his brother’s murder to the greatest crimes of all time, such as King Herod’s murder of the Holy Innocents and Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus.

Once a King, Always a King

Hicks speaks of the difficulties of being a King.  He calls monarchy “hard work.”  He talks about the King as he “who was responsible for law, order, and justice – for keeping the peace.  Crimes against his subjects were regarded as offenses against himself.”  There is a mystique surrounding a King.  Therefore, Hicks writes, “Kings were always given a second chance until ‘in 1483,’ when, as Professor (Anthony) Pollard says…’deposition was used as a weapon of the first resort.’  Edward V was to be the victim.”  But, “once a king, always a king.”  Hicks states that Edward’s rule might have ended on June 25, 1483, but his kingship did not.  Hicks disposes of the Ricardian argument that the deposed Edward V and his brother were not threats to Richard III because they had been disqualified by the taint of illegitimacy.  He says that this argument presumes that people universally accepted that the Princes were illegitimate, that illegitimacy was indeed a fatal obstruction to the throne, and lastly, that it was possible for kings to stop being kings.  As proof of the fallacy of this argument, he offers Buckingham’s Rebellion, which initially intended to restore Edward V to the throne.  Since Edward and his brother were the greatest threat to Richard’s government, they had to be disposed of.  Hicks states that Edward V was not a “harmless child, but a symbol of extraordinary power…a ballistic missile – that, as long as he lived, could…be used to strike at and destroy King Richard III.”  Hicks calls Edward V “a growing threat” who would “progress rapidly from the 12-year old child to a 16-year old adolescent, mature enough in contemporary parlance to rule as well as reign, to an 18-, 21-, or 25-year old adult able first to function politically and militarily and then to command, direct and rule.  So, too,…his 10-year old brother Richard.”  Hicks discounts all suggestions that Edward V and his brother were alive after Richard III’s death, and suggests that the assassinations were carried out sometime before the end of July, and definitely before the end of August 1483.

A Promising Boy

Early in his biography, Hicks indicates how difficult it is to find information about any 15th century figure that would provide “us with the scope for psychological or even psychiatric investigation,” and when it comes to Edward V, he says, “We have to be grateful indeed for those few glimpses of the real lad that contemporaries have transmitted to us.”  Hicks describes Edward as a “very good-looking boy” whose happy father had described him as “whole and furnished in nature” when celebrating his birth after his victorious return to England in 1471.  Hicks mentions Edward’s “literary education (which) was highly developed by late medieval standards…The Prince had read widely by age 12,” and mentions Dominic Mancini as the source.  Hicks, like me, wonders what Mancini left unsaid, because he failed to indicate whether Mancini was praising Edward by Italian or English standards and says we have no inventory of the Prince’s books.  In describing Edward’s upbringing at Ludlow, Hicks describes Edward IV’s exacting rules regarding the conduct that Edward was suppose to demonstrate.  Edward IV wanted to raise a disciplined, virtuous Prince.  Looking over Edward’s later years at Ludlow, Hicks deduces that the Prince upon at least one occasion pushed the boundaries of his position and had to be reined in.  Hicks writes, “It was presumably because he (Edward) had been giving orders and had been tempted – like any lively youth – that it was ordained that none of his orders should be obeyed unless ratified by his governor, the president of his council, or his elder half-brother.”  If he misbehaved, he was to be warned.  If he received three warnings, the King himself would be informed.  As Hicks writes, “Preparation for rule involved subjection to adults, masters, and conventions.”  So speaking of Edward at his ascension, Hicks writes, “Evidently lively, perhaps even assertive and resistant to authority, and certainly pious, he was developing satisfactorily.  Not only had he acquired the necessary dignity, the social and polite graces required of a king, but the scholarly attainments…beyond his years.”  Hicks adds that Mancini, from whom we’ve learned more about Edward, might have met Edward and certainly talked about him to those who had known him and “who felt obliged to testify to his promise.”

Ascended and Deposed

Upon his father’s death, young Edward automatically became Edward V.  Hicks said that “this was what he had been born for and for which all his life to date had been self-conscious preparation.”  By the time one has read Hicks’ quote regarding Edward’s preparation, one understands the extent to which he had been nurtured for this position by his adoring father and family.  Hicks repeats the quotes which are here under “A Promising Boy,” and adds that “nothing has been passed down against his (Edward’s) character.”  Even his uncle Richard, looking for justification for his usurpation, never suggested that there was any fault in Edward’s character.  Instead, “his father’s licentiousness…fatally undermine the fortunes of his son.  Someone was needed to exploit the legacy, and was found in Gloucester….”  Hicks describes Edward V’s last days in the Tower following his deposition, quoting Molinet, that Edward “was very melancholic, recognizing the malice of his uncle.”  Using Molinet’s own comparison to contrast the two Princes, Hicks writes that “He (Edward) was old enough to understand, whereas his brother Richard, only ten, was not; he only wanted to play.”  Dr. Argentine, Edward’s physician and the last of his attendants to be dismissed, reported that “the young King, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission of his sins by daily penance, because he believed that death was facing him.”  “How could he not?” Hicks replies.  “Edward V was no prophet, but he knew his history…If he was to die, at least his soul could be saved.  Across half a millennium the pathos for the terror of this helpless boy awaiting violent death still screams to us.”

Edward V as a Symbol

In his preface, Hicks writes that “His (Edward V’s) short life was shaped less by who he was than by what he represented.  He was a symbol – a whole series of symbols…This book considers each of these symbols in turn.  What he was, however, was determined not merely by what was happening at the time, but what had proceeded it.”  Hicks describes his troubled past as Edward’s legacy.  Since Hicks is writing this biography from the perspective of Edward V, he must take issue with the matters that affected his life.  Therefore, he blames Edward IV’s actions during his first reign (1461-1470) for providing a weapon for his enemies to use against his son after his death.  Hicks states that Edward was seen differently by those whose hopes were in him and those who wanted to destroy him.  Edward V’s birth in the Sanctuary of Westminster while his father was deposed and in exile and both of his parents were living on charity – one in the Low Countries and the other in the church – could not help but cheer the hearts of his father’s friends.  After a previous succession of daughters, the birth of a son was hailed as a good omen.  He had been long-awaited, and symbolized something special to his parents.  How could he not?  Born at the very nadir of his parents’ fortunes, for them, he was a symbol of God’s blessing, an assurance that all would be well.  No wonder that his father called him his “dearest first-begotten son,” and referred to him as his “precious son and (God’s) gift and our most desired treasure.”  He was the symbol of Yorkist continuity when he was proclaimed Prince of Wales at ceremonies at the end of June and beginning of July 1471.  All the lords, including his uncles George of Clarence and Richard of Gloucester, took an oath recognizing him as the heir of Edward IV.  When Louis de Gruthyese, the governor of Holland to whom Edward had owed so much during his exile, visited England in September 1472, he was introduced to the infant Prince as the symbol of his father’s permanence.  Hicks remarks that little Edward, at one-and-a-half, was already dressed in robes of estate.  When Edward was three, Edward IV sent him to Ludlow along the Welsh marches to serve as a symbol of the King’s presence and authority and to establish an administrative center under the King’s government.

Innocence Exploited and Shattered

Hicks does a very good job of impressing me with the image of the little Prince studying and following the regimen laid down for his upbringing, while the politics of government were going on in his name.  Hicks really brings home the acknowledgement that Prince Edward’s influence and establishment in the West undermined that of the Herberts, so that William Herbert would support Richard of Gloucester’s bid for the throne.  So Herbert was piqued about more than just having to give Prince Edward the earldom of Pembroke in return for that of Huntingdon.  Further, Hicks gives more evidence that Edward IV and Elizabeth wished to build up little Richard of York in the Midlands as heir to the Mowbray inheritance, so that John Howard and his son Thomas, who were relatives of the Mowbrays, would also support Richard’s bid.  These children were not responsible for these actions, but they would suffer for them.  Hicks would say, they suffered for what they stood for and not for who they were or what they did.  Aren’t all children symbolic of their parents’ hopes, dreams, anxieties, fears, past baggage, and past mistakes?  Young Edward and little Richard were above this, although they were tangled up in it.  Their youth made them innocent, but it didn’t save them.  Instead, it destroyed them because it made them vulnerable to those who would exploit it.  Writing about Edward IV’s own literary interest, Francis Leary states, “He (Edward IV) was eager that his son and heir, Edward, should have similar tastes, and nothing is more pathetic than the universally attested fact of the Young King’s scholarship and his beautiful eloquence contrasting with the dread factors of power politics which cast him in the Tower and deprived him of his life.”  The contrast between the innocence and “beautiful and pleasing accomplishments” of Edward V and Richard and the brutal political forces that swept them up and destroyed them just adds to the horror of their fate.  Hicks states that the stories of the Princes in the Tower, or The Babes in the Woods, written as an allegory to their fate, have resonated with people ever since because they “originated…in concrete events, the most heinous and unforgivable crimes that an earlier age could conceive of.  That Edward V was born to be king and was wrongfully brought down deeply impressed subsequent generations.  Edward V mattered in his own time.  He has mattered ever since.  He matters today.  Beware wicked uncles everywhere!”

The Wicked Uncle

Edward V is the subject of Hicks’ book, and he never forgets that.  But, just as one could have a difficult time writing a book about Richard III without mentioning Edward V, so would a book about Edward V necessitate the mention of Richard III.  Since Richard was only on the periphery of Edward’s life before Edward IV’s death, so is he only on the periphery of this book until Edward IV’s death.  He is the villain of the piece, and rightly so.  Just as a biography of Richard III can’t help but treat Edward V as his uncle’s victim, the one he exploited and destroyed, so can’t a biography of Edward V treat Richard as anything better than a villain.  Like Paul Murray Kendall, Michael Hicks can’t say for sure that Richard III murdered the Princes, but he can certainly say, as Kendall does, that Richard deprived Edward V of his throne, and, by doing so, doomed both boys to death.  Like Kendall also, Hicks examines what evidence we have regarding the deaths of the Princes and comes to the same conclusion as the famed Ricardian apologist.  Their thought processes are different, however, as Kendall would like to apologize for Richard, but can’t.  Both regard Henry Tudor’s guilt in the murders of Edward V and little Richard of York untenable, because Tudor had no opportunity.  In my opinion and certainly in the opinion of Francis Leary, author of “The Golden Longing,” though, Tudor could have been a long-distance accomplice, but that’s only assuming that Buckingham, and not Richard, was the murderer.  After taking Tudor out of the lineup of suspects, Kendall and Hicks are ultimately back to the only other two possible — Richard and Buckingham.  Although both scholars employ their own thought processes to reason it out, they both conclude that Richard was the murderer.  Kendall, of course, would rather not, and considers that the murders would have been morally repugnant to Richard.  They would be morally repugnant to most people.  I have never thought that Richard regarded life, even his own, as a highly valuable commodity.  Upon reading Hicks’ book, I am even more convinced of that.

What impresses me once again is how Richard exploited Edward V, and then “discarded and destroyed” him.  It would be bad enough if Edward V had been regarded from the start as Richard’s enemy, but instead Edward V was the incumbent King of Richard’s own party.  Worse yet, Richard had been trusted and appointed to serve as Edward’s Protector.  Council had given Richard great power as Protector, which Richard immediately used to destroy the allies of the boy he was supposed to protect and whose interests he was supposed to serve.  Hicks states that Richard wanted to kill Rivers, Grey and Vaughan because of what they meant to Edward V.  Richard wanted to make sure that Edward could never count on them again.  They were disposable.  Unfortunately for Richard, Council refused to let him execute them as soon as he wanted to.  Hicks considers Richard’s execution of Hastings another pre-emptive strike whereby Richard didn’t make the same mistake of not cutting down his quarry when he had best opportunity.  Once again, the man who supported Richard initially but who couldn’t be counted upon to support his claim to the throne was disposable.  The others were fortunate that they didn’t join Hastings in death, but were merely arrested.  Since Richard’s powers as Protector were as great as a king’s, it was then treason to work against him.  Therefore, we have the irony of Edward V’s friends being considered traitors when they tried to support the King and serve his interests instead of Richard’s.  Once again, Hicks states how Richard used Edward V’s resources and patronage to build up his own affinity and to destroy Edward’s.  Except for Edward V’s extreme youth and Richard’s kinship to him as his only living paternal uncle, Richard would have never been granted such power over Edward.  Thus he who was morally responsible for Edward V and his brother was the one who destroyed them.  Worse, he used them for all they were worth and then he destroyed them.  Scholars are not engaging in “moral posturing” when they acknowledge this for the great evil that it is.  At the end of the book, Hicks writes, “Yet Edward V was much more than an archaeological deposit, a forensic project, a literary exemplar, a historical mystery, or an inconvenience to be palmed off on some half-forgotten nobleman.  He was a historical reality.  He was also a Christian who believed in eternal life.  As he knelt in the Tower in trepidation of death, Edward V cannot have supposed that his killer could escape eternal damnation.  We cannot answer that question.  Earthly retribution he may not have expected.  Yet within two years, both claimants for his murder, Richard III and Buckingham, met violent ends.”  Hicks quotes Polydore Vergil (“But see how God remembers all the crimes we have committed”) concerning the execution of James Tyrell, a possible “agent” of the Princes’ deaths, nearly 20 years later.  Hicks continues, “If Edward V suffered for what he was, his cruel fate brought him all the vengeance on earth that anyone could desire — and perhaps also hereafter.  Surely the terrified boy besought God both for mercy during his life and salvation after his death.  The former was denied; the latter was a matter of faith that not everybody can share… Nothing has been passed down against his character.  Our sole witnesses report a youth of high promise well-suited to fulfill his predestined role.  He was the hope of his parents, his dynasty, and his nation…” One can’t help feeling a sense of loss that Edward’s promise was never fulfilled.

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