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April 30, 1483 — The First Strike Against the King

April 30, 1483 From “Kings and Queens” Series: Edward V and Richard III, O. B. Gregory, Color Illustrations by Peter Kesteven, 1977

Edward V (from “The True Tragedy of Richard III” (1594)): “Is it justice without my consent?  Am I a King and bear no authority?  My loving kindred committed to prison as traitors in my presence, and I stand to give aim at them?  Ah, Edward!  Would you lay by your father’s side or else he had lived until you had been better able to rule!  If my near kindred be committed to prison, what remains for me, a crown?  But how?  So beset with sorrows that the care and grief will kill me ‘ere I shall enjoy my kingdom.  Well, since I cannot command, I will entreat.”

Was Richard’s arrest of Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan a strike against the Woodvilles or a strike against the King?

People seem to forget that these men had been Edward V’s household officers while he was Prince of Wales.  As Edward reminded Richard when he made accusations against them at Stony Stratford, they had been appointed by his father the King.

Historians, and possibly some of the members of Council too, recognizing that Rivers and Grey were the brother and son of Elizabeth Woodville, have overlooked their special connection to Edward V.  Something is lost when we fail to consider this.

Take the situation of Thomas Vaughan, who was not a Woodville but was much more than a Woodville toady.  Here was a man who had been a supporter of the House of York since the 1450’s.  His name is included, along with those of Richard, Duke of York; Edward, Earl of March (later Edward IV); and Edmund, Earl of Rutland, in the Act of Attainder against the House of York, dated 1459.  His service to York was mostly in the area of diplomacy.  Early in Edward IV’s reign and while in his service, he was captured by the French and almost lost his life to the entreaties of Henry of Lancaster’s Queen Margaret of Anjou, who badgered the French to turn their Yorkist prisoners over to her.  After York’s triumph at Barnet and Tewskesbury in 1471, Edward IV paid Vaughan the sincerest compliment by making him the chamberlain of his infant son.  Hence forth, as Annette Joelson writes in her book on the Princes of Wales, “wherever King Edward went, so did Sir Thomas, carrying the infant prince in his arms.”

If Richard’s only intention had been to persecute Woodvilles, there would have been no reason to arrest this long-time Yorkist supporter.  The arrest of long-time Yorkist adherent Thomas Vaughan would have been a superfluous stroke of cruelty towards the King.  However, if Richard intended to strike against the King, Thomas Vaughan’s arrest would have been as necessary as his arrest of Edward’s Woodville kin.  Perhaps what Richard really wanted to see was whether Council would accept his abuse of the King’s most intimate officers, and, if they did, it was assurance to him that he could use the King as he willed, and no one would step up on the King’s behalf to resist him.

We all know how that turned out.  Being only a boy of 12, Edward was subjected to the wishes of the Council regarding the setup of his government.  They could have empowered him or made him more vulnerable.  They chose to make him more vulnerable by confirming Richard’s hold on him and by confirming Richard as Protector, with powers “just like another King” (Croyland Chronicles).  Of course, this isn’t what they intended to do, but that was a consequence of their actions.  Richard, seeking justification for the coup against Edward’s household officers, wrote a letter to Council, assuring them that “only he” (Mancini) had the welfare of the King and the nation centermost on his mind.  Council “bought into” this and strengthened Richard’s arm, allowing him to continue to make war against the King and his friends, leading to his coronation on July 6.

Michael Hicks indicates that, as Protector, Richard exploited Edward’s patronage, using his nephew’s powers and prerogatives to build up his own friends and weaken Edward’s.  Thomas More indicates that Richard discouraged people from visiting the King.  Richard’s abuse of his nephew was only possible because Edward was a child.  If he hadn’t been a child, he would have been allowed to rule on his own from the start, and he wouldn’t have needed a “Protector” to sabotage his interests.  His youth put him in a bad position, and Richard’s control of him thereby was the instrument that destroyed him.

Perhaps upon taking the throne, Richard made the assumption that Council, and, consequentially, the nation, actually did prefer him to his nephew Edward V, since it had done nothing to protect him from him.

With a Protector like Richard, Edward V needed no enemies.  As Margaret Campbell Barnes has Edward sagely remark in her novel The Tudor Rose, “An enemy in one’s camp is more dangerous than a dozen outside.”


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