We do not have a copy of Edward IV’s will from 1483, but the actions and words of people after his death inform us that he must have selected his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as the Protector of his minor son. If so, historians throughout the years have wondered why, considering Richard’s legendary unscrupulousness.
However, Richard was not considered unscrupulous by his contemporaries at the time of Edward’s death. In fact, he was highly esteemed.
There was never a written job description for the position of Protector. However, there was a precedence for selecting royal uncles to fill that role, and Richard was Edward IV’s only living brother. How could the title of Protector be denied him?
In his influential 1953 biography of Richard III, Paul Murray Kendall suggested that Edward IV and Richard had a strong fraternal bond, only marred by the existence of the Woodville Queen and her family. Kendall naturally concluded that Edward would make his beloved brother the Protector of his minor son.
However, what Kendall suggested isn’t quite true, although what he surmised in his biography had staying power among Ricardians for a long time afterwards. Edward IV had no choice but to make Richard Protector, and it had little to do with brotherly affection. There was no reason to deny him the role.
Edward was well aware of Richard’s warlike predilection, and he knew that his energetic and restless younger brother was at the peak of his abilities. He also must have believed that Richard was getting harder to control. Perhaps the continuation of the Scottish wars and the enticing incentive that Edward’s last Parliament gave him (provoking a strong objection from Cora Scofield) were also distractions to keep Richard occupied.
Edward knew that his brother was acquisitive, and that he would not be content with any role within Edward V’s government other than Protector. It would be up to the King’s council to determine the limits of that position. Edward could hope that, as Protector, Richard would find an honorable outlet for his energies.
There was no reason to expect deceit or violence; Richard had worked amiably with both William Hastings and Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, the Queen’s brother, for years, and they had been comrades in arms and also companions of Edward IV’s misfortunes.
However, only months before, Edward had settled a violent quarrel between William Hastings and Rivers that had cost two men their lives. Hastings’ quarrel with the Woodvilles extended to the Queen and her family, and, in particular, to Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset who was the Queen’s elder son by her first marriage.
If there was a triumvirate of power following Edward’s death, it included the King’s brother Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, now the most powerful man in the kingdom; William Hastings, the King’s chamberlain and best friend, and the moderates on Council; and the Woodvilles, the large family of Edward’s Queen, who had both of Edward’s young sons under their supervision.
Edward considered it vital that all these three work together harmoniously, and Edward might have hoped for a form of checks and balances as each side was a counterweight for the others.
However, there is another way to think about Edward’s making Richard Protector. Perhaps he didn’t trust him as much as some historians believe. He knew he couldn’t logically deny his brother the position; Richard wouldn’t stand for it and many others would agree with him, but Edward hoped that Richard’s better nature would prevail.
He hoped also that Hastings and the Woodvilles could be reconciled so that they would be united in keeping Richard in check. Edward’s deathbed plea that Hastings and Dorset bury their quarrel was all the more poignant because Edward did not want Richard to wield all the power alone. If Rivers had been at Westminster and not at Ludlow, he would undoubtedly had been present with Hastings in that deathbed room.
If this was Edward’s strategy, it failed under the weight of Richard’s ambition and the prompting of aggrieved powerful men, and the fatal dislike and suspicion between Hastings and the moderates and the Woodville party.
I no longer believe in Paul Murray Kendall’s story of fraternal love and affection. I don’t even know how Kendall could believe it himself, considering that Richard managed to ruin or destroy everyone his brother loved.