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Protector or Competitor

When I consider what the sources have to say regarding the early days of Richard’s Protectorate, I have a hard time believing that he was sincere about the position, or was well-meaning in his intentions.

The moderates in Council, led by William Hastings, might have been glad that he so quickly and bloodlessly shattered the power of the Queen and her party, but the gist of Richard’s message to them, as reported by Dominic Mancini, should have given them cause to wonder.  He indicated that “no one save him had such solicitude for the welfare of King Edward and the preservation on the state.”  Considering the brutality with which he dealt with Edward’s household officers Rivers, Grey and Vaughan, and the way in which he and his men confiscated Woodville properties without due process, Council might have been forewarned about what would happen next.  Richard was not the only one who had a care for the king and the kingdom, and even inferring that he was seems to be an extravagant statement, not to mention oily and insincere.

As Edward V’s brief reign unfolded, Richard amply demonstrated how solicitous he was in keeping Edward’s subjects far away from him, while he himself made the sacrifice of keeping himself in the public eye.  After Edward’s very public arrival in London on Sunday, May 4, following which the lords spiritual and temporal greeted him and pledged their fealty, he was soon shut away in the Tower while Richard removed himself to his townhouse where he was increasingly surrounded by admirers and supporters.

While Richard’s townhouse began to resemble a royal court, Edward’s royal apartments at the Tower increasingly began to resemble the place of his house arrest.

Thomas More provides a poignant comparison between Richard’s and Edward’s situations: “But the Protector and the Duke (of Buckingham), after they had set the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of Ely, the Lord Stanley, the Lord Hastings, the Lord Chamberlain, with many other men to confer and devise about the coronation in one place, as fast were they in another place contriving the contrary, and to make the Protector King.  To which council albeit there were invited very few, and they very secret, yet began there, here and there about, some manner of muttering among the people, as though all should not long be well, though they neither knew what they feared nor wherefore…Howbeit, somewhat the dealing itself made men to muse on the matter, though the council were close.  For little by little all folk withdrew from the Tower and drew to Crosby’s Place (Richard’s townhouse)…where the Protector kept his household.  The Protector had the resort; the King in like manner desolate.  For some for their business made suit to them that had the doing, some were by their friends secretly warned that it might haply turn them to no good to be too much attendant about the King without the Protector’s appointment, who removed also divers of the Prince’s old servants from him and set new about him.  Lord Stanley…wisely mistrusted it and said unto the Lord Hastings that he much misliked these too separate councils.  ‘For while we talk of one matter in the one place, little know we whereof they talk in another place.'”

More shows how Richard’s fastness upon Edward’s freedom and accessibility discouraged his supporters and visitors, while at the same time, Richard was manipulating himself to center stage as the man of the hour.  Such manipulations would be bad enough if Edward had really been his competitor, but Richard had positioned himself as Edward’s Protector.  He had petitioned Council hard for the job, testifying that only he had such solicitation for King Edward and the state, and he had been granted considerable powers for its execution (“just like another King,” reports the Croyland Chronicler).*  But Richard’s idea of protecting Edward in May 1483 was to keep him entirely under his power, with no liberty outside that.  Once Edward was housed in the Tower in mid-May, does any source indicate that he ever left? Did he attend any public event? Was he hosted at any feast? Was he seen publicly in the streets of his capital city? Are kings awaiting their coronation expected to be as sequestered as Edward was?

It is important to remember that Edward was still a schoolboy, a minor.  It was up to Council to decide the limitations of Richard’s Protectorate. Following the coup at Northampton and Stony Stratford on April 30, which destroyed the Woodville party, the satisfied moderates on Council had given Richard total control and power over Edward “just like another king.” It was therefore very easy for Richard to undermine him.

Soon, Richard abandoned his mourning clothes for purple.  He displayed himself on the streets of London with an increasingly large crowd of admirers who knew full well where the real power lay and probably understood that Richard’s men at the Tower knew of every visitor the King had and reported the same to their master.  More goes even as far as to say that people declined to visit the King in the Tower because they knew Richard wouldn’t like it.

Richard styled himself grandly as the Uncle and Brother of Kings, expected to play a role in his nephew’s government that was just as large as the one he was given in John Russell’s intended address for Edward V’s first opening of Parliament, and had his porcine device affixed to his nephew’s coinage.  In short, he was Protector but one might confuse him for a king.  He had the means at his disposal to undercut Edward by destroying or neutralizing his friends and supporters, while at the same time preparing to fill the capitol with armed men from the North who would be under his direction.  He could then depose him on any invention he could muster and then assume what seems to have been his objective all along.

But what seems to be obvious to any impartial observer seems to elude Richard’s modern-day apologists, who see nothing untoward about Richard’s actions as Protector, but his hypocrisy was obvious to his contemporaries, just as it is to me.  I am reminded of the end of Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 3, depicting the events of 1471 when Edward IV presents his infant son to Richard for a kiss.  In an aside, Richard says, “To say the truth, so Judas kissed his Master and cried ‘All hail,’ when as he meant all harm.”

* Despite what Kendall claims, Council had no mandate to follow Edward IV’s death wishes concerning his son’s government.  Further, there was no job description for the role of Protector, so it was up to Council to choose to make the Protector merely the head of the Council or to give him full control of the King’s person and government.  We do not have a copy of Edward IV’s last will; it is lost.  We can only surmise what Edward IV intended by looking at the words and actions of his contemporaries after his death.

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