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

 

IV

INSURRECTION

1483


IT was assumed, and has been often repeated, that Morton's was the brain and Buckingham's the hand that planned and carried out the insurrection of 1483 in favour of Henry Tudor against Richard III, and the Countess of Richmond was quite willing that they should have the credit for the scheme, if only they would help her to carry it out; she was tactful enough to express joyful surprise when they told her of the plan which had been suggested by her own words to Buckingham. She had that quality of self effacement so often found in a woman of strong character where the interests of a husband or son are concerned; it is true that she would have had little or no chance of enforcing her own claim to be queen, but not every one would have had the good sense and unselfishness to see this so clearly and to throw her self whole-heartedly into the cause of another.

England just then wanted a king, and one who would be strong enough to overthrow Richard III and to keep down all rivals. Even faithful Yorkists did not propose that Princess Elizabeth should reign alone, and in general the Yorkist claim to the Crown by priority of descent, which had been enforced by war and bloodshed, had less influence than the wish for a strong and peaceable ruler; to his mother and to many other people, Henry of Richmond seemed the man for the moment.

With characteristic energy Lady Margaret brought into action all her talent for organization and diplomacy, which she used only in her son's cause. She hurried from Lancashire to London, and soon devised a way to get into touch with the queen dowager, although the King had a guard set closely round the Sanctuary, and no one could go in or out without his knowledge.

It happened that she had with her at that time, 'for the preservation of her health', Dr. Lewis, a physician from North Wales, who was well known and much esteemed among the nobility for his 'gravity and experience'. He was a man of 'ready wit, clear judgment, and well-read in the liberal sciences, as having had most of his breeding in Italy, in the University of Padua'. [1] The countess had a high opinion of his discretion, and confided the whole plot to him, requesting him to go to Queen Elizabeth 'not as a messenger, but as one that came friendly to visit and consolate her'.

This was easily arranged, for the unfortunate queen had made herself ill with the violence of unrestrained grief on being told of the death of her sons. She tore her fair hair, screamed and fainted; 'with pitefull scriches she replenished the hole mancion', and then fell into such despairing melancholy that the visits of Dr. Lewis in his professional capacity aroused no suspicion, and he went unhindered to and fro daily as messenger between the two mothers.

At first he said to Queen Elizabeth only that he sympathized deeply with her and wished greatly to bring her comfort. Then he went on: 'Madam, I am so bold to utter unto you a secret and privy conceit that I have cast and compassed in my fantastical brain . . . you know very well, Madam, that of the House of Lancaster, the Earl of Richmond is next of blood which is living, and a lusty young bachelor, and to the House of York your daughters now are heirs; if you could agree and invent the mean how to couple your eldest daughter [2] with the young Earl of Richmond in matrimony, no doubt but that the usurper of this realm should be shortly deposed, and your heir again to her right restored.'

The young princess raised no objection, and her mother was overjoyed by the proposal. She begged Dr. Lewis to go back quickly to the countess, and to promise on her own behalf that all the friends of York would support the Earl of Richmond if he, for his part, would take an oath to marry the Lady Elizabeth, or (should she not live) her sister, Lady Cecil.

They could not contrive to get the princess out of the Sanctuary in disguise, as they wished, but the conspiracy was soon busily afoot; secret letters and disguised messengers sped over the country; armed men were quietly collected at convenient points, and those who were known to hate King Richard were secretly invited to join the plot.

Lady Margaret was most fortunate in her fellow conspirators-- or perhaps it was that she had a states manlike ability to choose good counsellors; she was evidently an excellent judge of character.

Her faithful friend Reginald Bray was her chief agent; she charged him 'secretly to inveigle and attract such persons of the nobility to join with her and take her part as he knew to be ingenious, faithful, diligent and of ability'. She had also in her service Christopher Urswyck, recommended to her by Dr. Lewis as a wise and honest priest. Having sworn him to secrecy she gave him her confidence, and he went on her behalf more than once to Flanders where he joined Bishop Morton, who had escaped there from Brecknock, and who, by means of letters and messages, secured many friends for the cause.

Lady Margaret, finding a great measure of support in the country, sent a large sum of money by a gentleman, Hugh Conway, to her son in Brittany, and advised him not to miss so good an opportunity but with all speed to set his mind how to return home again, for he was both wished and looked for. She very wisely counselled him to make his landing in Wales, where the Tudor family still had many friends. Lest Conway should be stopped at Plymouth, his point of embarcation, she sent a second messenger from Kent; they arrived within an hour of each other and delivered their messages to Henry, who gladly agreed to his mother's proposals.

Lady Margaret meanwhile had dispatched Dr. Lewis, who was 'an active stirring man of strong abilities', into Wales, to choose the best landing-place for the invading expedition. Milford Haven was picked out as the most suitable spot, but in order to use it for this purpose a Welsh chieftain, Rice ap Thomas, had to be won over, for he was paramount in that neighbourhood. Dr. Lewis first had to settle a deadly feud between Rice ap Thomas and the Duke of Buckingham, which he did with great diplomacy, and then he set to work to interest several influential Welshmen in the Earl of Richmond's cause. Lady Margaret, 'thinking the fort now half won', sent a special message to Henry, advising him to clinch the matter by a personal letter to Rice, who eventually promised his support.

The movement in the south of England on behalf of Edward V and his brother was followed by the public report of their death in the Tower, which was heard with such general horror that in every town and street the people wept, and the King was openly denounced as their murderer. Disaffection was undisguised and the time was ripe for revolt, for Richard's ferocity was too great even for that fierce age, when every man was another's enemy, and people made grim jokes about one, who had received his reward with an axe, and another, whose body was 'shorted' by the length of his head.

Buckingham's rebellion was planned to begin on the 18th October, and Henry of Richmond was to land in Wales on the same day. The duke unfurled his standard at Brecknock; he intended to cross the Severn at Gloucester and so join his allies, the Courtenays and others from the West of England, but he was stopped by a fearful storm and floods which made the fords impassable. The river rose so high that it overflowed all the country adjoining; men and beasts were drowned and babies floated over the fields in their cradles. It was ten days before the floods went down, and they were remembered long after as 'the Duke of Buckingham's great water'. The storm brought disaster to the cause, for the bridges had been destroyed by some of the King's adherents, and Buckingham, held up in Wales with insufficient supplies, was deserted by his Welsh followers, who did not like the arrogant manner with which he gave them orders.

The King, when he heard of the rising, hurried south from York, and arrived at Salisbury with a large force. Buckingham escaped in disguise to the house of a trusted servant near Shrewsbury, hoping to get abroad later, but Richard's spies tracked him down, and the man betrayed him to them in the hope of getting the offered reward of a thousand pounds. The duke was taken to Salisbury, where he begged in vain for an interview with the King. Richard was surprised and enraged by the treason of one who had been his friend, and would have no mercy; the same day, although it was Sunday and All Souls Day, he had a scaffold put up in the Market Place, and Buckingham, like many another enemy of Richard, lost his head.

His little son Edward, then five years old, was dressed like a girl by friendly hands, and smuggled into a safe house in Hereford, for even children were thought to be in danger from Richard's vengeance.

Henry, in the meantime, had done his part with the help of his friends in Brittany, and sailed with a considerable force in time to arrive on the appointed day. The same storm, however, which had ruined Buckingham's chances, scattered his fleet, and though his own ship reached the coast he was too prudent to attempt a landing without the support of his troops; he put back across the Channel, arrived on the coast of Normandy, and from there returned overland to Brittany.