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Lady Margaret by E.M.G. Routh (pub. 1924)

 

III

RICHARD III

1483


NOT long after the death of Lord Henry, Lady Margaret was again married, this time to a well-known Yorkist, Thomas, Lord Stanley, afterwards Earl of Derby.

If her first marriage could be called one of romance, and the second one of expediency and calm affection, the third was frankly a matter of policy.

Stanley was a widower and the father of a number of children; Margaret was forty-two, and her son held the first place in her heart; she had always sympa thized with Lancaster, Stanley had supported York, but there were solid advantages to be gained on both sides, and the match turned out an amicable if business-like arrangement, and a sort of preliminary union of the rival Roses.

Lord Stanley made his bride a wedding-present of the revenues of various lordships and manors, of a yearly value of 500 marks, and she, in return, assigned to him for life manors and lands worth 800 marks a year.

She gained in time great influence over her husband, and at the end of three years she persuaded him to give his powerful support to her son's cause, and Stanley eventually won an earldom as a reward for his help. At the time of her marriage she hoped, no doubt, that his influence with the King would prove a safe-guard for Henry of Richmond, whom Edward IV was always trying to get into his own power, even offering a marriage with one of his own daughters as a lure to bring him back to England from Brittany, where Henry had lived, as guest or prisoner, ever since his escape from Wales in 1471.[1]

The death of Edward IV in 1483, the imprisonment and subsequent murder of his two young sons in the Tower, and the usurpation of the throne by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, brought another change in the situation.

The dowager-queen Elizabeth, handsome, arrogant and tactless, had all the capacity of the nouvelle riche for getting herself disliked; her upstart relatives, the Woodvilles and Greys, were unpopular with some of the old nobility; even the Duke of Buckingham, though he had married the Queen's sister, disliked her party and was mistrusted by it, and Richard won his support by fair words and great honours.

Many Yorkists were at first inclined to favour Richard as Protector rather than to leave the Queen's party in power, and hardly any one suspected him of designs on his nephew's crown or life.

Lord Stanley had been in favour with Edward IV, whom the Countess of Richmond also had recognized as king; they both, in all probability, would have remained loyal to his son had Gloucester's sudden action not taken them by surprise.

Stanley was present at the famous Council meeting in the Tower on the 13th June, which was supposed to discuss the coronation of Edward V, when Richard began by chatting pleasantly about strawberries, and then, having left the room for half an hour or so, came back in a furious rage, professed to have discovered a plot against his life, called in his men- at- arms, had Lord Hastings seized and beheaded on the spot with out trial before dinner-time, and arrested Lord Stanley, Morton Bishop of Ely, and the Archbishop of York. Stanley was hit on the head by a soldier in the melee, and only saved his life by falling under the table. Although he and his family gained a reputation for their success in keeping out of hot water, 'the Lord Thomas' must have found it unpleasantly warm on that occasion, and his loyalty to Richard III was naturally a little shaky afterwards.

He was kept a prisoner in the Tower for some weeks, and then Richard, having been proclaimed King, bethought him that a few powerful friends might be useful; he went in state to the Tower, released Stanley, reappointed him Steward of the Royal Household, and summoned him and the Countess of Richmond to attend his coronation in two days time.

It seemed to be a choice between compliance and the block; they were prudent people and they both took part in the gorgeous coronation procession at Westminster-- the most magnificent that had ever been known-- on the 6th July. Lord Stanley, his broken head scarcely healed, bore the Mace before the King, and Lady Margaret attended the Queen -- unhappy Anne of Warwick -- who had 'over her hed a clothe of estate and of every corner of the cloth a bell of golde, on her hed a cyrklet of golde wt many presyous stones sett therein, and on every syde the Quene going a Bushope (the Bushope of Excester and the Bushope of Norwyche) and my Lady of Richemond bare the Quene's trayne' [2]. This was not in any sense a light duty, for the Queen's robes were made of no less than forty-eight yards of 'crymysyn velvett', furred with miniver and garnished with a mantle-lace and buttons and tassels of silk and gold. She had, to kneel upon, 'a long quysshon covered in crymysyn tisshue clothe of golde' and there were cushions of white damask with gold flowers for her ladies.

'My Lady of Richemond' was given from the Royal Wardrobe for the coronation ceremonies, ten yards of scarlet for her livery, a long gown made of 'vi yards of crymysyn velvet and purfiled with vi yards of white cloth of gold', and another long gown of blue velvet 'purfiled' with crimson cloth of gold. [3]

The King and Queen were crowned 'with great solempnetye'; at the mass afterwards, the Duchess of Suffolk sat on the right of the Queen and the Countess of Richmond on her left. The Duke of Buckingham was the King's train- bearer, and the sceptre was carried by the Duke of Suffolk, once the little boy whom Margaret Beaufort so nearly married.

A magnificent banquet followed the coronation, at which the Lady Margaret sat at a table with the Duchess of Norfolk. Sir Robert Dymoke, the King's Champion, his horse trapped with white and red silk, and himself in white armour, rode into the hall and made the customary challenge, and 'anon all the Hall cried "King Richard!" all with one voice'-- though no doubt with mixed feelings. It must have been a splendid sight, but what Lady Margaret thought of it all no one has related.

Hardly had King Richard seized his nephew's crown when plots began to be made against him. 'With large gifts he got him unstedfast friendships'; even the Duke of Buckingham, who had done more than any one to raise him to power, quarrelled with him before the autumn, and began to consider how he could turn himroff the throne again, and perhaps take his place as king.

Hereditary right to the throne had been shaken so long by rival claims, that any one of royal descent and sufficient ability might be tempted to try his luck in a revolt. Henry Stafford, second Duke of Buckingham-- nephew to Lady Margaret by her second marriage-- was a Beaufort on his mother's side, and was doubly descended from Edward III.[4] He was a cultivated man and a fluent speaker, with sufficient vanity to like the picture of himself as king.

The first conspiracies against Richard III had the object of freeing the two young princes from the Tower; there was to be a revolt all over the south of England in their favour; the fact of the murder was not generally known till the eve of the rising.

Buckingham, however, heard of it sooner, while he was with the King at Gloucester; he said afterwards that when he knew of the horrible crime he could no longer bear to stay at Court; he feigned an excuse to depart and took leave of Richard 'with a merry countenance and a despiteful heart'. For two days on his way back to Wales he played with the idea of making himself king; he thought his own claim to be heir of the House of Lancaster was not a bad one, but as he rode along, wrapped in his day-dreams, through the green and golden English country on a summer afternoon, he chanced to meet his cousin the Lady Margaret travelling on the high road between Worcester and Bridgnorth, and (as he said in telling the tale to Bishop Morton afterwards) he suddenly remembered that she and her son stood like a double portcullis [5] between him and his claim to the crown, 'which was as clean out of my mind as though I had never seen her'.

The countess stopped to talk with her 'cousin of Buks', and asked him to use his supposedly great influence with King Richard in favour of her exiled son. She naturally wanted to have Henry back in England, and suggested that he might marry one of the daughters of Edward IV. She would ask no dowry, she said, if only the King would give his consent.

Buckingham put her off with fair words, but he was fond of talking and he may have betrayed himself more than he thought.

Whether the suggestion was purposely conveyed to him by his cousin or not, a brilliant idea flashed into his mind when he was thinking over the conversation after he reached his night's lodging at Shrewsbury. Supposing Henry of Richmond were to marry Elizabeth of York, the rival houses of York and Lancaster would be at last united, and the hostile factions could join to put them on the throne together!

Buckingham could not help seeing that if he became king himself, Yorkists and Lancastrians alikc would be jealous of him; he would have the friends of King Edward's daughters 'barking at him' on one side, while the kinsfolk of his cousin of Richmond would bite at him 'like a fierce greyhound' on the other. But if the mothers of both parties, and especially the earl himself and the lady, would agree to the marriage-- why then, he thought, the 'bragging boar' (Richard) would be brought to confusion, all civil war would cease, the 'clear 'stablishment of the title to the Crown of this noble realm' would be obtained, and England be brought again to 'quietness, renown and glory'.

He did not suspect that the Countess of Richmond had any idea of the dazzling prospect opened out by her modest proposal. She, good lady, thought the duke, was merely anxious to get her precious only son home again, and to arrange for him a suitable and not too ambitious match with one of the fallen princesses of York, who were now penniless refugees in the Sanctuary at Westminster, and counted only as the daughters of Dame Elizabeth Grey, no longer styled Queen.

Among all his inspirations that day, it did not occur to Buckingham that Lady Margaret, having carefully kept Henry out of reach of Edward IV,[6] would be unlikely to confide him to the mercy of Richard III, whose nearest friends were beginning to dread his propensity to 'off with their heads' on the slightest suspicion, and who, having arranged the disappearance of his own nephews, made several attempts to get Henry Tudor into his power, no doubt with the same end in view.

Buckingham rode home to Brecknock Castle, and had a long talk about it all with Morton, Bishop of Ely, who had been confided to him as a prisoner by thc King, after the stormy Council meeting of the 13th June. [7]

Morton had been a Lancastrian while Henry VI still lived, and after his death had accepted the rule of Edward IV. He still had a leaning to the House of Lancaster, and was 'wondrous joyful' when he heard the duke's words, 'for now came the wind about even as he would have it'. He worked cleverly on Buckingham's hesitation in order to make him commit himself irrevocably to a revolt, before his mind should alter again 'as it did often before'. He said to the duke:

'My Lord, since by God's high provision and your incomparable wisdom and policy this noble conjunction is first moved, now is it convenient, yea, and necessary to consider what personages and what friends we shall first make privy of this high device and politic conclusion.'

'By my truth', quoth the duke, 'we will begin with my Lady of Richmond, the Earl's mother, who knoweth where he is, either in captivity or at large in Brittany, for I heard say that the Duke of Brittany restored him to liberty immediately after the death of King Edward, by whose means he was restrained.'

'Since you will begin that way', said the bishop, 'I have an old friend with the Countess, a man sober, secret and well-witted, called Reginald Bray, whose prudent policy I have known to have compassed things of great importance, for whom I shall secretly send, if it be your pleasure, and I doubt not he will gladly come, and that with a good will.'

The bishop thereupon wrote to Reginald Bray, requiring him to come to Brecknock with speed, for great and urgent causes touching his mistress, and prudently saying nothing more. The messenger rode away to Lancashire, where Bray was with the countess and her husband, and delivered the letter; Bray came quickly with the messenger back to Brecknock, where the duke and the bishop told him of the plan, and requested him to ask the countess to devise some means of communicating with Queen Elizabeth, who dared not leave sanctuary at Westminster, and to obtain her goodwill and that of her eldest daughter, the Lady Elizabeth. After this she was to send word of the plot secretly to her son in Brittany, and ask him to swear to marry the princess as soon as he should be put in royal possession of the realm.

Then Reginald Bray 'with a glad heart, forgetting nothing given to him in charge, in great haste and good speed returned to the Countess, his Lady and Mistress'.