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Henry the Seventh by James Gairdner (pub. 1899)

 

CHAPTER II

ATTAINMENT OF THE CROWN


SO ended the first great movement in England in Henry's favour, and the first attempt of Henry himself to make good his claim to the throne. Such of his friends in England as fell into the tyrant's power were of course put to death without the least remorse. Even Sir Thomas St. Leger, who had married Richard's own sister, Anne, Duchess of Exeter, was beheaded at Exeter, where Thomas Ramme, who had carried messages between the Countess of Richmond and her son, also suffered death at the same time. But many, as we have seen, contrived to save themselves by flight, and Britanny now swarmed more than ever with English refugees; while Bishop Morton and the Countess of Richmond's chaplain, Christopher Urswick, found an asylum in Flanders, with various others, who by correspondence among themselves and with friends in England still kept alive the spirit of disaffection and the prospect of relief from tyranny.

Henry himself had no reason to be seriously discouraged. His ill success seems rather to have gained him friends upon the upon the Continent; for as he landed in Normandy he sent to Charles VIII. of France for a passport into Brittany, and this was not only granted to him by the young king (or by the regent, Madame de Beaujeu, in his name) but money for his expenses was also freely given him by the French Council. Meanwhile, trusting to a favourable answer to his application, he had sent his ships back to Brittany, and proceeded thither himself by land by slow journeys till his messengers returned from the French Court. Yet he appears to have been in Brittany again at least as early as the 30th of October, on which day he gave the Duke of Brittany, at Paimpol, near Brehat, a receipt for a load of 10,000 crowns of gold. This may have been with a view to a new crossing of the Channel by the collected fleet, in hope of forcing a landing; for as yet the news even of Buckingham's capture could hardly have reached Brittany, and his decapitation at Salisbury only took place on the 2nd of November. But tidings soon came of that event and of the total collapse of the rebellion, and presently he heard that Dorset and other friends has also arrived in Brittany and were at Vannes. Henry summoned them to a council at Rennes, where it was resolved to make another invasion of England on some future occasion; and on Christmas Day they all went together to Rennes Cathedral, where they pledged themselves to be true to each other and swore allegiance to Henry as if he had been already king, he for his part giving his corporal oath to marry the Princess Elizabeth after he had attained the Crown. The result of their conferences was then communicated to the Duke of Brittany with a request for further aid, which, as he had already so far committed himself, he readily granted on Henry's promise, as a prince, to repay him as soon as he had obtained the kingdom.

But with all this the Duke of Britanny, as time went on, proved a very inefficient protector. For King Richard, wisely shutting his eyes to the duke's past double dealing, renewed his request for Henry's surrender, offering to restore the earldom of Richmond to the ducal house of Britanny, to which it had belonged till the days of Edward III., if the earl were delivered up to him. The duke's own pledges and the apparent success of Richard would probably have made it difficult to evade compliance, even if there had been no other cause. But the duke was at the time incapacitated for business by an illness that affected his mental faculties, and it fell to his unpopular minister, Pierre Landois, who had been the agent used to prevent Henry being delivered up to Edward IV., to receive the English embassy. Landois would probably have been glad to protect the earl on this occasion also. But under the circumstances he seems to have felt that he incurred a more serious responsibility by declining or evading the English demands than by compliance; and he was on the point of surrendering the earl to King Richard when Bishop Morton in Flanders, having heard of what was going on, sent Christopher Urswick into Britanny to give his master warning. Urswick found the earl at Vannes, and was immediately despatched by him to the court of Charles VIII. to procure a passport into France, which he soon obtained and brought to the earl in Britanny. Henry then, having made secret inquiry as to all the byways leading from Britanny into France, requested his companions to go with his uncle, the Earl of Pembroke, as if to pay a visit to the duke, who was at that time, for change of air, residing on the confines of the duchy. He

privately instructed his uncle, however, as soon as they came near the borders to conduct them by the shortest road into France; and he himself left Vannes two days after their departure to rejoin them in the duchy of Anjou. No man imagined that he had left the place for good, as there still remained about three hundred Englishmen in Vannes who knew nothing of his purpose; but after he had gone about five miles he turned into a wood, where he changed clothes with an attendant, and pursued the remainder of his journey as page to his own servant, who led the way for him and a small company till, by a zigzag route adopted to defeat pursuit, they at length reached Angers.

Henry's flight naturally caused great perplexity to Landois. Continuing the policy of double-dealing, he had prepared a company of soldiers, as if for the service of Henry in his enterprise, who were really to have apprehended him and his followers and delivered them to King Richard. But finding his prey escaped, he sent horsemen galloping in all directions after the fugitive, who, it is said, had only one hour before they arrived passed the frontier, where they could pursue him no farther. The duke, who was now in better health, had thus the mortification of knowing that he or his ministers had given serious grounds of complaint both to Richard and to Henry; and he was extremely displeased with Landois in consequence. Since, however, matters had taken such a turn, he determined at once to get rid of all further responsibility for the English fugitives, and at the same time to convince Henry, at least, of the sincerity of his friendship. He therefore sent for Edward Poynings and Sir Edward Woodville, and gave them money to conduct the other Englishmen in Britanny to the Earl of Richmond in France.

It was a great advantage to Henry and his exiled friends to be together under the protection of a great power like France, with which the English usurper could not well afford to quarrel; and the earl, to show his gratitude, sent some of his gentlemen to the Duke of Britanny, acknowledging that it was only by his favour and protection that he and his had been preserved from imminent danger. He then repaired to Charles VIII. at Langeais, upon the Loire, and after thanking him for past favours, asked his assistance to return to England, where the nobility, he said, were anxious for his presence to terminate the tyranny and oppression of Richard III. The French king, or his Council, assured him that he would be glad to promote his enterprise and liberally assist him; with which encouraging answer the earl and his friends accompanied the Court to Montargis, and afterwards to Paris.

Meanwhile in England Richard had not only triumphed over rebellion, but got Parliament to ratify his title; and the queen-dowager, seeing no relief at hand, was tempted by a politic offer made her by the usurper to come out of sanctuary with her daughters, for whom he promised to provide honourable marriages, with jointures of 200 marks a year each. This was in March 1484, and even this was a serious blow to the earl's designs, the chief mainstay of which was his pledge to marry the eldest of these young ladies. But matters some time after began to look more serious still. For, strange to say, the usurper seems after a while to have won the queen dowager's confidence, or else she believed it to be better policy to comply with his requests than to fulfil her compact with the Earl of Richmond. She accordingly wrote, at Richard's suggestion, to her son, the Marquis of Dorset, at Paris, to abandon Henry's party and come to England, where he would be not only pardoned but advanced to great honour by the king; and so effectual were her persuasions that the marquis actually stole away from Paris at night and made for Flanders. But Richmond and his friends prevailed on the French Council to allow them to send in pursuit of the deserter, whom they arrested near Compiegne and brought back to Paris.

The defection of Dorset would have been mischievous enough, but it was not the only way in which Henry's prospects were endangered by the queen-dowager's vacillation and weakness. King Richard's pledge to provide husbands for her daughters seems to have been given with an intention of marrying them as bastard children, considerably below their rank; but at length, to defeat the designs of Henry, the usurper seems actually to have hinted that he would willingly marry his eldest niece himself as soon as he could get rid of the impediment of a living wife, whose days were not likely to be protracted. She died, most conveniently for him, on the 16th of March 1485, and alarming rumours immediately got abroad that he was actually about to marry the Princess Elizabeth. He was compelled by his own councillors to repudiate the intention before the Lord Mayor and aldermen of London, but the story got abroad, and caused much anxiety to Henry, who was then at Rouen, preparing to collect a fleet at Hardeur for a new expedition against England. So greatly, indeed, did it disconcert his plans that, looking upon a match with any of Edward's daughters as now hopeless (for it was said that the second, Cecily, was also to be married, and to a man of obscure birth), he was beginning to think of marrying a sister of Sir Walter Herbert, who was very powerful in Wales, and with this view had sent secret messages to the Earl of Northumberland, who had married another of Sir Walter's sisters, when he learned, to his great relief, that Richard had been obliged to disclaim the disgraceful design imputed to him.

Meanwhile many other things had been working in Henry's favour. The cruel punishments inflicted on many of his adherents in England had caused numbers to fly beyond sea and flock to him in Paris, among whom was Richard Fox, a priest of great learning and ability, who became from that time one of Henry's leading councillors, and was advanced by him after he became king to four successive bishoprics. Many English students at the University of Paris also swore to take part with him. James Blount, captain of Hammes Castle, near Calais, was persuaded by his prisoner, the Lancastrian Earl of Oxford, not only to set him at liberty but to accompany him to the Earl of Richmond. Sir John Fortescue, porter of Calais, also went with them. Blount had left Hammes Castle well fortified and reinforced with new soldiers, but it could not be expected to stand a siege by the neighbouring garrison of Calais, and Oxford, who, after being received with joy by Henry in Paris, was immediately sent back to rescue it, was only able to secure for the garrison honourable terms of capitulation.

The preparations made by Henry for the invasion of England were so well known that Richard took the most active measures to meet the coming danger. He not only issued proclamations against Henry and his adherents, but raised money by forced loans-a thing differing only by a shade from those unpopular " benevolences " which he had declared by Act of Parliament should no longer be enforced-caused the coasts to be guarded, sent the Princess Elizabeth to Sheriff Hutton to be out of the way, and took up his position with an army at Nottingham, in the centre of the kingdom, so as to be equally ready to meet the invader in whatever quarter he might land.

Henry determined to land in his own native district. He had received messages by one Morgan of Kidwelly, a lawyer, that Rice ap Thomas, a valiant captain of South Wales, and another, named Sir John Savage, were ready to take his part; and he had every reason to believe that his uncle, Jasper Tudor, on his reappearance in that country, would be at once greeted as Earl of Pembroke, notwithstanding his attainder. The French king had given him a body of troops, under the command of an able leader named Philibert de Shaunde, and with these and the whole body of his English followers he embarked at Harfleur on the 1st of August. With a prosperous wind he reached the coast of Wales in little more than a week, and landed at Milford Haven. He kissed the ground on landing, knelt, signed himself with the cross, and sang Judica me, Deus, et decerne causam meam. His own company was but 2000 men, and everything depended on the trustiness of the Welsh chieftains in the first place, to whom he issued regular summonses to join his standard, saying that he had come to claim the Crown of England as his right and to dispossess the usurper Richard. The attitude of some of these chieftains was for a few days uncertain, but as he advanced he met with little opposition, and when he reached Shrewsbury his ranks were swelled by a considerable body of Welsh followers.

At his landing he had sent messages to his mother, the Lady Margaret; to her husband, Lord Stanley, and his brother, Sir William; to Sir Gilbert Talbot and other friends, to intimate that he was in Wales and would cross the Severn at Tewkesbury. The position of the Stanleys at this juncture was a little peculiar. Richard had all along treated them as loyal friends, and had found it politic even to show singular toleration to the Lady Margaret, the mother of his arch-enemy, for her husband's sake. Her name was not included in the general Act of Attainder against Henry's adherents, but a special Act was passed depriving her, indeed, of her lands for her treason in conspiring against King Richard, but remitting the punishment due to such a crime in consideration of the faithful service done by her husband, and granting him her lands for life. Lord Stanley's services were further rewarded by some substantial grants of the forfeited property of rebels, and he was required to keep his wife henceforth securely in some secret place, "without any servant or company," that she might stir up no more intrigues. It would almost seem that the faithful service which, as the Act declared, Lord Stanley "hath done and intendeth to do" consisted more of what was expected of him in the future than of what he actually had done for King Richard in the past. If the usurper had treated him as an enemy he could easily have raised Lancashire and Cheshire in arms against him, as Richard himself had commissioned him to do against any invader.

We are told by Sir Thomas More that Richard not unfrequently purchased with large gifts unsteadfast friendships. Of this he could hardly himself have entertained much doubt in the case of the Stanleys; and although Lord Stanley was steward of the royal house hold, and his brother, Sir William Stanley, Chamberlain of North Wales, while his son, Lord Strange, was joined with both of them in the commission to lead the men of Lancashire and Cheshire against invaders, Richard certainly must have suspected long before the day of trial came that the powers he had recognised rather than conferred upon the family might easily be turned against him. As a matter of fact, North Wales, under the government of Sir William, offered the invader a benevolent neutrality, and it seemed doubtful whether the power of Lancashire and Cheshire would be actively engaged in Richard's service. The usurper, however, seems really to have been blinded in the case of some Welsh chieftains whom he expected to oppose the ad venturer's progress. Welsh national sympathy, on the contrary, went with the invader as a descendant of the old British kings, and the red fiery dragon of Cadwallader accompanied him in his march through Wales. So easy, indeed, was his progress that he seems actually to have reached Shrewsbury before Richard had been informed of his landing.

Matters looked serious for the usurper. South Wales, his first line of defence, was already broken through, and Lancashire and Cheshire might not care to bestir themselves any more than North Wales. Sir William Stanley and Sir John Savage were at once proclaimed traitors, and Lord Stanley was summoned immediately to repair to the king at Nottingham, or send his son, Lord Strange, in his place. Lord Strange was sent, and then Richard intimated to his father that his presence also would be required, as the case was urgent. Lord Stanley pleaded sickness, and his son, attempting to escape, was obliged to reveal the fact that the whole family had been in communication with the enemy. He, however, said his father would still join the king's standard, and consented to remain as a host age for his loyalty. Lord Stanley accordingly took care to preserve the appearance of loyalty as long as it was possible for him to do so.

This of course disappointed Henry almost as much as Richard; and it seems that, full of anxious thoughts, he one night lost himself straying alone in the rear of his army between Lichfield and Tamworth. He, however, rejoined his followers in the morning, and explained his absence as owing to a secret message from allies, who would declare themselves at a future opportunity. To keep up this encouraging belief he again made an abrupt departure, and contrived a meeting with Lord Stanley and Sir William, in which the former explained to him the danger his son would incur by an immediate declaration on his part. And though Henry's army was still greatly inferior to his enemy in numbers, he received numerous accessions to his ranks from men who had deserted King Richard, knowing that he held them in distrust.

As Richard was advancing to meet him Henry took up his ground near Bosworth in Leicestershire, in a place where inferior numbers could fight to most advantage, protected by a rivulet on one side and a morass on the other. And here the decisive battle was fought in which Richard lost his life and Henry won the Crown. For some time the active assistance of Lord Stanley was not given to either party, and even Sir William Stanley, who was likewise in the neighbourhood, stood aloof, though he had been actually proclaimed a traitor by the usurper. For King Richard, on being refused the immediate aid of Lord Stanley, at once ordered Lord Strange to be beheaded; but some of his attendants procured the respite of the sanguinary order till the issue of the battle had been declared. But during the engagement both Lord Stanley and Sir William openly turned against the tyrant, the latter coming to Henry's rescue just at the moment when Richard had singled him out for a personal encounter as the shortest way to bring matters to a conclusion.

Richard had gone into the field wearing his crown. It was found after the battle by Reginald Bray, who brought it to Lord Stanley, and Lord Stanley placed it on the Earl of Richmond's head, while his men everywhere raised the cry, "King Henry! King Henry!" And the victor, at once exercising royal rights, knighted upon the field eleven of his most valiant followers, among whom were Gilbert Talbot and Rice ap Thomas.