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Elizabeth Woodville and Richard III

On March 1, 1484, Richard III stood before the lords spiritual and temporal of England and the magnates of London to publicly promise to honor the daughters of Edward IV as a condition of their leaving the Sanctuary of Westminster Abbey, where they had been staying with the mother Elizabeth Woodville following the coup at Northampton and Stony Stratford on April 30, 1483.

Ricardians have often used this negotiated settlement between Richard III and Elizabeth Woodville as evidence that Richard was innocent of authorizing the murders of Edward V and little Richard of York.

They figure that Richard either murdered Edward and Richard and their mother would never negotiate with him or that he was innocent of their murder.

This Ricardian argument is a false dichotomy that can be instantly blown away.  We know for a fact that Elizabeth Woodville negotiated with Richard III and we know for a fact that Richard ordered the execution of Richard Grey (as well as Anthony Woodville and Thomas Vaughan) on June 25, 1483.

Who was Richard GreyHe was the second son of Elizabeth Woodville to her first husband.  I assume that Elizabeth loved him as much as she loved her other children.  That didn’t stop her from negotiating with his murderer.

The Ricardian false dichotomy allows only for an either/or answer that ignores the possibility of conditions that might cause Elizabeth to negotiate with the murderer of her children.  Thus, things are never as black and white as the Ricardians like to make them out to be.

Ironically, however, if the Ricardians are inclined to accept conditions at all, they only accept the ones they like.  For example, in response to the argument that Richard Grey was likewise Elizabeth Woodville’s child, Ricardians would allow for the condition that Richard Grey was a young adult who had participated in an attempt to outmaneuver and destroy Richard on April 30, 1483, even though there is no evidence that this is true.  We are expected to accept that it is true on the grounds that Richard was too nice a guy to be in the wrong here.

However, there are more conditions that would cause a mother — this mother — to negotiate with her children’s murderer.

There is the timing of the negotiations.  Richard’s kingship was never more successful or secure as it was in January and February 1484.  He had quelled a significant rebellion against him.  His title had just been affirmed by Parliament, and the lords had taken an oath recognizing his son as his successor.  The prospects for his continued rule had never seemed so likely, and Richard was a young man who might be expected to live many more years.

For Elizabeth Woodville’s remaining six children, things weren’t so great in January and February 1484.  Her eldest Thomas Grey, the marquis of Dorset, was in exile living on the charity of foreign princes.  Her daughters of Edward IV were cooped up in sanctuary with no prospects for a future, living on charity.  What was a mother to do?  She took the only course that seemed available at the time.  She negotiated with Richard for the future of her children, so that they would not live in poverty for the rest of their lives.

She secured the safety of her children through these negotiations, and the only thing this proves in Richard’s favor it that she did not consider him a homicidal monster who would kill for the sake of killing.  There was no need for Richard to kill Dorset because he had attained the throne, defeated his enemies, and was no longer in the “killing vein.”  Dorset could safely return to England, which was undoubtedly a more attractive option than living penniless abroad.

As for her daughters, she secured an agreement with Richard that she made him declare publicly in front of the lords spiritual and temporal of England and the magnates of London:

“I Richard, by grace of God, etc., in the presence of you, my lords spiritual and temporal, and you, my Lord Mayor and aldermen of London, promise and swear…that if the daughters of Elizabeth…will come to me out of the Sanctuary of Westminster and be guided, ruled, and demeaned after me, then I shall see that they shall be in surety of their lives…nor any of them imprison in the Tower of London or other prison, but that I shall put them into honest places…”

Notice that, in that public declaration, Richard promised to cherish the girls, marry them off to gentlemen, and, most telling, not to imprison them in the Tower of London.  How more poignantly and discretely could Elizabeth have made a reference to her murdered royal sons without mentioning them by name?

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