Ricardians will never get it right because they reject the contemporary sources. Like Holocaust deniers who refuse to accept the words of living survivors, they prefer their fantasies of what they want history to be to the recollections of those who really lived it.
The Ricardian tendency to undervalue Edward V and overvalue Henry Tudor is a great example of their bias and blindness.
Who were Lancastrians in 1483?
During his first reign, Edward IV attempted to keep the nascent Yorkist dynasty in power and the Lancastrian dynasty at bay. Who was the Lancastrian dynasty, and how did they spend Edward’s first reign? Henry VI, the deposed Lancastrian king, was Edward IV’s prisoner in the Tower of London, and Henry’s son was with his mother in France. Such a situation might have lasted longer, except that the Yorkist affinity was divided by Warwick’s rebellion and eventual overthrow of Edward IV, who went into exile.
In 1471, Edward returned, triumphed over Lancaster, and destroyed its King and Prince. What happened then to the Lancastrian adherents? For the most part, they made their peace with Edward and became his servants and subjects.
There were exceptions. The Earl of Oxford was still causing strife as late as 1475, and shortly after, found himself a prisoner at Hammes Castle in France, under Edward IV’s officer James Blount. Jasper Tudor, who had lost men to Edward IV in the past, had taken his 14-year old nephew Henry into exile with him, but was Jasper worried for his own safety or for Henry’s? Edward IV was not threatened by Henry Tudor, who was only a boy and whose English royal blood sprang only from the illegitimate Beauforts. He had been secure enough about Henry during his first reign to place him in the wardship of the Herbert family, whose homestead was miles away from Edward and London. Edward probably hoped to make a good Yorkist of Henry.
During Edward’s second reign, he periodically attempted to regain control of Henry in exile. This didn’t mean that he was threatened by him, but simply that he did not want Henry to be used as a political weapon by his host the Duke of Brittany. Wanting to regain a subject currently under the control of a foreign prince is no evidence that the subject was an especially important personage. When the French captured Thomas Vaughan and other Yorkist gentlemen at the start of Edward’s first reign, Henry VI’s Queen Margaret of Anjou petitioned France for their release into her custody, but certainly not because she felt threatened by them, but because they were Yorkists, and, in her mind, rebel subjects.
So, who were the Lancastrians at the end of Edward’s second reign, and was there any support for any candidate that they might have left? A better question to ask is whether time had stood still, so that the politics of 1483 were the politics of 1469. Apparently caught in a time warp, Ricardians fail to take this into account, whether they are considering Woodville unpopularity or a Lancastrian come-back. Like Shakespeare, they act as if Edward IV’s highly successful and prosperous reign never happened. Perhaps they fantasize that there were oodles of imaginary Lancastrian Englishmen somewhere twiddling their thumbs throughout the 12 years of Edward’s second reign. No, former Lancastrian adherents couldn’t possibly be like most human beings, picking up the pieces and moving on with their lives, even if it meant making peace with the Yorkist King they used to call their enemy.
From a Lancastrian Perspective — Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond
Who was Henry Tudor anyway? If Lancaster had succeeded, what would he have been? He would have inherited his father’s earldom of Richmond. That was the most to which he had been born. His royal blood was the result of an illegitimate union between John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III, and Katheryn Swynford, his mistress. The Lancastrian King Henry IV had barred his half-siblings and their descendants from the throne. From a Lancastrian perspective, Henry Tudor was not kingly material. Moreover, there were Beaufort cousins with better claims than his. Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham, for instance, not only had royal blood through John of Gaunt, but unsullied royal blood from Thomas of Woodstock, another son of Edward III.
From a Yorkist Perspective — Henry Tudor, the exiled claimant to the earldom of Richmond
If Henry Tudor was not kingly material from a Lancastrian perspective, he was even less from a Yorkist perspective. His title was forfeit. During Henry’s 12-year exile, he and his mother, Edward IV, and the Duke of Brittany were involved in a delicate dance of negotiation; Henry and his mother wanted a restoration of his earldom and a safe return to England. Edward IV wanted Henry under his control, and Duke Francis wanted to continue to use Henry as a political advantage over Edward.
No one goes triumphantly into exile. Usually, going into exile is indicative of some bad luck. It is ridiculous that Ricardians suppose that Henry Tudor was rolling in power and money while living on Breton charity. If they had sense instead of imagination and bias, they would ask the obvious question: How did someone who was in exile from England since boyhood end up being King of England?
A usurper doesn’t get to be King of England without support. If Richard hadn’t deceived Council, if he hadn’t the support of malcontents like the Howards, Herbert, and Buckingham, or the support of rivals like Northumberland, who wanted Richard on the throne in the south and out of his sphere of influence in the north, if Richard hadn’t systematically destroyed Edward V’s supporters, his usurpation would not have been possible. The Ricardians, however, just don’t get it because they refuse to see Richard as an agent of wrongdoing. His usurpation looks so easy that they miss what was painfully obvious to everyone else: Richard usurped the throne by deceit, fraud, and fear, and they can’t assume that the acquiescence of the English, in the face of Richard’s brutal actions against Hastings, Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan, meant that they gave their consent to it.
From a Yorkist Perspective — Edward V, Heir of York
It shouldn’t take a genius to know that the relationship between Edward IV and Henry VI was not the same as the relationship between Edward V and Richard of Gloucester (later Richard III). Since 1459 (and barring his disingenuousness at Ravenspur in 1471), Edward had been an enemy of Henry VI and had fought for his deposition. He never pretended to be his protector or to have his best interests at heart. Richard’s usurpation was easy because he deceived Council into putting the King in his power and then into confirming him as Protector with powers “just like another King.” His usurpation was easy because he exploited the vulnerability of Edward’s youth and dependence upon adults to responsibly conduct his affairs.
“Loyalty Binds Me (subject to change)”
Edward V was the son of Edward IV, the Yorkist King and the brother whose kingship Richard had fought for and supported. Edward V was the Yorkist heir to whom Richard had sworn loyalty, not once but several times. He was the nephew for whom Richard was made responsible in 1471, when Edward IV appointed him as one of the administrators of his son’s affairs, and in 1483, when he was confirmed as his Protector. Through his oaths of loyalty and years of service to the Yorkist dynasty, Richard had bound himself to Edward IV and Edward V. However, he wasn’t the only one to do so, only the most important (after George of Clarence) to do so. Many others had bound themselves to the Yorkist dynasty, and not all of them took their oaths as lightly as Richard did.
The fact that Richard’s usurpation went unchallenged in the weeks following Hastings’ murder and Richard’s coronation did not mean that Edward V had no loyal subjects. No, by that time, Edward’s loyal subjects were dead, in prison, in sanctuary, in exile, or intimidated into silence. How could they not be intimidated, with the exemplary executions of Hastings, Rivers, Grey and Vaughan, the arrest of Morton, Rotherham, Stanley, King, Forster and Shore, and the knowledge that Richard had called down an army from the North to strengthen his hand?
Richard Deceived the North
Ricardians will tell you that Richard was a popular king and the people’s choice. That is why, I suppose, he needed to reinforce his takeover of the government with a northern army. Sure, he told the northerners that he needed an army against “the Queen and her affinity,” but he deceived them as well, since they did not know that they were going to be used as accessories in the deposition of the rightful King. There is no evidence to show it, but perhaps this deception was the turning point in Richard’s relationship with the North which would eventually lead to their indifference in his fate at the battle of Bosworth.
The reaction to Richard’s usurpation did not happen on July 6, 1483. The absence of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Richard’s coronation banquet could merely have meant that the 78-year old prelate was exhausted after crowning the usurper. The large attendance of people at Richard’s coronation was not necessarily a show of support. Richard’s usurpation was news, and nobody can be blamed for wanting to see what might happen at his coronation. If Richard took the large attendance as a sign of support, he was living in a fool’s paradise.
There was no reaction to Richard’s usurpation until he left London. There isn’t much that is known about the conspiracy that arose to rescue Edward V and Richard from the Tower and to send their sisters abroad to rally support against Richard, but we know the names of the four men who were executed for their part in it. This is the first time that Henry Tudor and his mother were identified with Richard’s opposition. John Cheney, Edward IV’s master of the horse who was involved early with the opposition, reportedly sent a message to Henry asking for his support. Cheney probably hoped that Henry could influence the Duke of Brittany to lend some help to the effort. Apparently, Henry’s mother Margaret Beaufort was active even at this early stage in the efforts to restore Edward V. It is not surprising. She had petitioned Edward IV for the sake of her son, and there was certainly more to gain from the restoration of a grateful King with several unmarried sisters than from Richard III who had no legitimate daughters. Edward IV himself had tried to tempt Henry with a promise of marriage to one of his daughters.
Margaret’s early involvement with those working for Edward V’s restoration placed her in a good position to change the course of history when rumors surfaced that Edward V and Richard of York were dead. The rumors might have had their origin with Buckingham who was in communication with Margaret through his prisoner John Morton. Legend has it that Margaret was the one who informed the Queen Mother Elizabeth Woodville of their death through her physician. The death of Edward V and Richard of York meant that, in the eyes of the Yorkist loyalists, Elizabeth of York was now Edward IV’s heir.
A Husband for Elizabeth
Who can doubt that Margaret was the one who conceived the idea of her son’s marrying Elizabeth? He had all of the qualifications for this role: He was a bachelor and nobody in England knew him well enough to dislike him. Because he wasn’t well known, he could be packaged as the perfect prince, the White Knight ready to rid England of the Black Legend. The Croyland Chronicler remarks that Henry was received in London like an angel from heaven following Richard’s death at Bosworth. It would only be later that Henry’s subjects would come to know how wrong that was.