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Were the Woodvilles Guilty

The Feud Between Hastings and Rivers

The feud between William Hastings and the Woodvilles had grave ramifications for Edward V’s reign, just as his father Edward IV feared it would.

Contemporary writer Dominic Mancini mentions this feud early in his account of Richard III’s usurpation, so it was common knowledge among his unnamed court informers.  Thomas More’s History describes Edward IV’s deathbed reconciliation of Hastings and Thomas Grey, the marquis of Dorset, whose contest for mistresses and the King’s favor was the object of court gossip.

However, much more damaging than the feud between Hastings and Dorset was the feud between Hastings and Anthony Woodville, the earl Rivers, which had culminated in the execution of two people, John Edward and William Vanbar, in December 1482.  Occurring just a few months before Edward IV’s death on April 9, 1483, this feud explains why Hastings and his supporters were so adamant against the size of the escort raised by Rivers to bring the King to the capital city for his coronation.  They feared that a small army at Rivers’ disposal could be used to fortify Woodville power under the King and to harass and persecute their political enemies.

Indeed, Dorset’s and Hastings’ rivalry over paramours and drinking partners pales compared with Rivers’ and Hastings’ quarrel over the captaincy of Calais.  Rivers wanted the position, but Edward IV awarded it instead to Hastings.  Hastings was probably the better of the two candidates, but neither he nor Rivers deserve much credit for the sniping and backbiting that occurred afterwards.  Hastings expelled Woodville ally Robert Ratcliffe’s servants from Calais in August 1482.  Rivers’ faction spread rumors that Hastings was planning to turn Calais over to the French, a rumor that briefly tainted Hastings’ relationship with the King.

Edward’s death and the brief ascendency of the Woodville party in the Council of the new King Edward V probably frightened Hastings and his allies on the Council.  An admiralty was given to Edward Woodville for defense against French pirates who took advantage of Edward’s death to increase their harassment of English vessels on the seas and English coastal cities.  As governor to the young Prince of Wales, Rivers had possession of the new King.  Young Edward himself was in a precarious position, favorably inclined toward his maternal kin and old enough to show them support.  For those who hated and feared the Woodvilles, this was not a satisfying scenario.  If Hastings wrote an urgent letter to Richard of Gloucester, urging him to come to London as soon as possible, as it is believed, it was out of hope that Richard’s presence in the Council would act as a counterweight to Woodville ambitions, as his alliance with Hastings and other moderates would be an effective balance.

Escort Size a Stumbling Block

If you can’t have your way with small matters, what does it matter whether your party is in the ascendency on the King’s Council?  Elizabeth Woodville and her party ran straight into the objections of Hastings and the moderates on the size of the King’s escort to London.  Considering his recent feud with Rivers, Hastings had no wish for him to come to London in command of an army.  The Woodville party had no recourse but to submit to the Council’s limitations.  Two thousand has been the traditional number to which Council compromised, but historians suggest that this was just a round figure intended to suggest a small army.  Since no contemporary source suggests otherwise, we might assume that Rivers kept within the limitation imposed by Council.

Did Rivers Intend to Outrun Richard?

At the time of Edward IV’s death, Rivers was governor of the new King Edward V.  Around April 14, word of Edward IV’s death reached Ludlow.  The new King and his household officers remained at Ludlow, making preparations for the journey to London.  With this in mind, we might consider the Ricardian claim that Rivers intended to march the King to London and crown him before Richard had a chance to intervene.  The timeline doesn’t support this argument.  The new King and his escort didn’t leave Ludlow until April 24, 10 days after the news of Edward IV’s death was received.  One would expect a much hastier departure if Rivers had intended to outrun Richard.  Ricardians could respond that Rivers needed time to prepare his “army” for a military confrontation, but the truth of the matter is that a 2,000-man escort is not going to “run” anywhere.  The movement of 2,000 men over primitive roads over the course of several days is cumbersome.  If Rivers had wanted to outrun Richard, he would have limited the number of men and would have left Ludlow earlier with the King to make better time.  The nicety of waiting in order to celebrate St. George’s feast day at Ludlow on the 23rd would have to be discarded, as it was an irrelevance that Rivers couldn’t have afforded.

May 4th Coronation?

The coronation was originally scheduled for May 4.  This date was not selected clandestinely by the Woodvilles; it was public knowledge and must have been done with the Council’s consent.  Still, it seems rather hasty, considering that Edward V wasn’t even in his capital city when the date was arranged.  This might suggest that the Woodvilles were in a hurry to capitalize on their ascendency in Council and their advantage of having control of the King.  However, Kendall’s remark that the illegitimacy of their actions wouldn’t have meant a thing after the coronation seems to be hyperbole, especially in light of the fact that the Woodvilles couldn’t even get Council to agree with them on the size of the royal escort.  Ricardian denial of the reality of Richard’s actions, pointing to theoretical outcomes that might have been worse, should not blind us to the fact that after Hastings’ murder, “the Dukes (Richard and Buckingham) did as they pleased.”  In other words, after being confirmed as Protector with powers “just like another King,” and after executing the King’s strongest supporters, the illegality of Richard’s and Buckingham’s actions wouldn’t have meant a thing.  As usual, the Ricardians are more interested in the dire consequences of what might have happened than they are in what actually happened.

Rivers’ Innocence

It is difficult to see any deception on Rivers’ part.  If he made arrangements on the road to meet Richard at Northampton, the entire King’s escort could not have been accommodated in that small city.  Some would have to move ahead or fall back.  As it was, Rivers and his party were left behind and the King, the rest of his officers, and the escort went ahead to Stony Stratford, 14 miles closer to London.  Are we so out of touch with the 15th century world that we expect a 15th-century Northampton Regency Hotel with accommodations for over 2,000 people?

If Rivers was a commander of an army intended to destroy or obstruct Richard, his leaving the bulk of the force behind for a meeting with his intended victim was a stupid thing to do.  He would have given instruction to others about what to do in his absence.  Richard wouldn’t have found Rivers surprised in his room on the morning of April 30th.  He wouldn’t have found the escort passively watching his approach at Stony Stratford.  Nothing in Rivers’ actions nor in the actions of the escort give any hint whatsoever of violent intentions.  That cannot be said of Richard’s and Buckingham’s actions.  There is not one contemporary source that supports the Ricardian contention that Rivers was planning to outrun Richard to London or planning to destroy him before he got there.

Unlike Ricardians, we don’t have to take it for granted that Rivers’ intentions were hostile simply because Richard was too nice a guy to be in the wrong.  The Croyland Chronicler makes it clear that the King’s Council was not convinced of the guilt of Edward V’s household officers.  In the absence of even the slightest shred of evidence, Rivers must be found innocent of wrongdoing.  Instead, it was Richard who was the “ringleader” (Croyland), the instigator of violence, the aggressor.  He was the one took means to ensure that word of Rivers’ arrest didn’t reach Stony Stratford before he had a chance to complete the capture of the King and the arrest of his household officers.

Mancini mentions that it was the King who sent Rivers to Northampton to meet Richard.  Richard’s contemporaries didn’t find it unusual that the King and his companions marched beyond Northampton, leaving Rivers to meet Richard and Buckingham.  Kendall, blinded by his Ricardianism, can’t understand why the King himself didn’t backtrack in order to greet Richard.  Ricardians are quick to take offense in any slight, intentional or otherwise, directed at their hero.  We are supposed to assume that the entire world was dazzled by Richard’s presence in it, and so the King was obliged to fall behind his own escort to show Richard the proper respect.  Who was the King and who was the Duke?  Who was supposed to show respect to whom?

When Rivers met up with Richard and Buckingham on April 29, they spent a convivial evening together.  However, when they parted company, it was Rivers who went to bed and Richard and Buckingham who stayed up all night plotting and planning.  When the morning came, it was Rivers who found himself a prisoner of the Dukes’ deceit, not the other way around.  Rivers might not have had the military ability of an Edward IV or a Richard, but he had military experience, command experience, and he was no fool.  People who are planning treachery are alert against discovery; those who are innocent and unaware of deceit are unprepared for it, just as a man in his own home is taken aback when a burglar breaks in.  The very fact that Rivers was captured is testimony of his innocence.

Following Rivers’ arrest, Richard and Buckingham rushed to Stony Stratford to seize the King.  Kendall foolishly infers that the 2,000-man escort was so awed by Richard’s presence that they obeyed his command to disperse, rather than cut him down, as Kendall had imagined they planned.  Those of us who are not enamored by Richard know that an absence of evidence of hostility on Rivers’ part or on the part of the escort can only mean that Rivers, Grey and Vaughan were innocent of aggression against Richard.

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