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Brotherly Love?

Paul Murray Kendall’s influential biography of Richard III created the mythology that there was a great deal of fraternal affection between Edward IV and Richard.  Unfortunately, there is little real evidence of such affection.  Somehow, the fact that Richard remained loyal to Edward during the darkest days of his reign, while George of Clarence, the “middle” brother, meddled with treason, is to be regarded of evidence of his virtue and of his affection for his older brother.  What seems to be accepted as a given is that all brothers of kings are treacherous, so, if a brother of a King stays true to his liege, it’s a sign of superior moral character.  This, of course, is ridiculous.  If remaining loyal to one’s sovereign is a sign of greater moral character, then Rivers, Hastings, and all of the other Englishmen who stood for Edward IV were of superior moral character, as well.  Richard does not distinguish himself from them just because he, as brother of the King, was true to Edward in 1469, whereas George, the “bad” brother, was not.

What was demonstrable to all but a few rash Englishmen during Edward’s second reign was that Edward was supreme.  He had become a very dangerous man, much more dangerous than during his first reign, when he was weaning himself away from his mentor the Earl of Warwick and struggling to become his own master.  Thwarting him, as George did, was a prescription for disaster, for, if Edward had some remorse about executing George, he had little or no remorse about executing those who weren’t bound to him by family ties.  Should we be surprised that Richard served Edward well as Lord of the North?  Should we congratulate him for extraordinary loyalty?  Not really, because Richard’s influence in the North was a matter of self-interest, an opportunity for exercising power independently from Edward and building a small empire for himself while acting in the capacity of Edward’s lieutenant there.

Still, the portrait of Richard that Kendall created in 1955 has been an appealing and convincing one to those since then (including me) who were seeking an alternative to the one painted by Thomas More and William Shakespeare.  But, just because More’s and Shakespeare’s were extreme doesn’t give historians license to create an opposite portrait that is just as extreme.  Taken to its illogical conclusions, the perceived affection between Edward IV and Richard has even led writers to suggest that Edward wanted Richard to take his son’s throne, despite the fact that Edward was investing heavily in his son and that not the slightest evidence supports this preposterous notion.  This notion is an extension of the Ricardian myth that Edward V did not see his father very often and therefore had no relationship with him.  Like Richard himself, they would like to erase Edward V from history so that it is Richard III, and not Edward V, who was the successor of Edward IV.  As one wise student of history wryly comments, “If Edward IV wanted Richard to reign after him, why didn’t he just kill his sons himself before he died and save Richard the trouble, since the consequence of deposition is death?”

Some of Richard’s defenders would have us think that there was something objectionable about Edward V, some reason why his own father would not support his ascension.  This is wishful thinking.  As Michael Hicks said in his biography of Edward, “Nothing against his character has come down.”  Even Richard and his supporters could not come up with one criticism of Edward’s character.  The only thing that can be said against Edward was that he was young.  Regardless of what Ricardian Varrel Smith, or, more recently, Terry Jones thinks, youth has never disqualified anyone from the succession of the English monarchy.

As far as the so-called affection between Edward IV and his brother Richard is concerned, we can look at those whom Richard destroyed or harmed in his path to the throne:  William Hastings, Edward IV’s best friend; Jane Shore, Edward IV’s favorite mistress; his sons Edward V and Richard, Duke of York; his wife Elizabeth Woodville; and his daughters, who had to accept lower marriage expectations because of Richard’s usurpation.  I can’t think of less proof of Richard’s affection for Edward IV than the fact that he destroyed so many whom Edward loved.

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