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Jacob Abbott

Accession of Edward IV., Richard's Elder Brother

R ICHARD'S brother Edward, as has already been remarked, was at Gloucester when he heard the news of his father death. This news, of course, made a great change in his condition. To his mother, the event was purely and simply a calamity, and it could awaken no feelings in her heart but those of sorrow and chagrin. In Edward's mind, on the other hand, the first emotions of astonishment and grief were followed immediately by a burst of exultation and pride. He, of course, as now the oldest surviving son, succeeded at once to all the rights and titles which his father had enjoyed, and among these, according to the ideas which his mother had instilled into his mind, was the right to the crown. His heart, therefore, when the first feeling of grief for the loss of his father had subsided, bounded with joy as he exclaimed,

"So now I  am the King of England."

The enthusiasm which he felt extended itself at once to all around him. He immediately made preparations to put himself at the head of his troops, and march to the eastward, so as to intercept Queen Margaret on her way to London, for he knew that she would, of course, now press forward toward the capital as fast as possible.

He accordingly set out at once upon his march, and, as he went on, he found that the number of his followers increased very rapidly. The truth was, that the queen's party, by their murder of Richard, and of young Edmund his son, had gone altogether too far for the good of their own cause. The people, when they heard the tidings, were indignant at such cruelty. Those who belonged to the party of the house of York, instead of being intimidated by the severity of the measure, were exasperated at the brutality of it, and they were all eager to join the young duke, Edward, and help him to avenge his father's and his brother's death. Those who had been before on the side of the house of Lancaster were discouraged and repelled, while those who had been doubtful were now ready to declare against the queen.

It is in this way that all excesses in the hour of victory defeat the very ends they were intended to subserve. They weaken the perpetrators, and not the subjects of them.

In the mean time, while young Edward, at the head of his army, was marching on from the westward toward London to intercept the queen, the Earl of Warwick, who has already been mentioned as a friend of Lady Cecily, had also assembled a large force near London, and he was now advancing toward the northward. The poor king was with him. Nominally, the king was in command of the expedition, and every thing was done in his name, but really he was a forlorn and helpless prisoner, forced wholly against his will—so far as the feeble degree of intellect which remained to him enabled him to exercise a will—to seem to head an enterprise directed against his own wife, and his best and strongest friend.

The armies of the queen and of the Earl of Warwick advanced toward each other, until they met at last at a short distance north of London. A desperate battle was fought, and the queen's party were completely victorious. When night came on, the Earl of Warwick found that he was beaten at every point, and that his troops had fled in all directions, leaving thousands of the dead and dying all along the road sides. The camp had been abandoned, and there was no time to save any thing; even the poor king was left behind, and the officers of the queen's army found him in a tent, with only one attendant. Of course, the queen was overjoyed at recovering possession of her husband, not merely on his own account personally, but also because she could now act again directly in his name. So she prepared a proclamation, by which the king revoked all that he had done while in the hands of Warwick, on the ground that he had been in durance, and had not acted of his own free will, and also declared Edward a traitor, and offered a large reward for his apprehension.

The queen was now once more filled with exultation and joy. Her joy would have been complete were it not that Edward himself was still to be met, for he was all this time advancing from the westward; she, however, thought that there was not much to be feared from such a boy, Edward being at this time only about nineteen years of age. So the queen moved on toward London, flushed with the victory, and exasperated with the opposition which she had met with. Her soldiers were under very little control, and they committed great excesses. They ravaged the country, and plundered without mercy all those whom they considered as belonging to the opposite party; they committed, too, many atrocious acts of cruelty. It is always thus in civil war. In foreign wars, armies are much more easily kept under control. Troops march through a foreign territory, feeling no personal spite or hatred against the inhabitants of it, for they think it is a matter of course that the people should defend their country and resist invaders. But in a civil war, the men of each party feel a special personal hate against every individual that does not belong to their side, and in periods of actual conflict this hatred becomes a rage that is perfectly uncontrollable.

Accordingly, as the queen and her troops advanced, they robbed and murdered all who came in their way, and they filled the whole country with terror. They even seized and plundered a convent, which was a species of sacrilege. This greatly increased the general alarm. "The wretches!" exclaimed the people, when they heard the tidings, "nothing is sacred in their eyes." The people of London were particularly alarmed. They thought there was danger that the city itself would be given up to plunder if the queen's troops gained admission. So they all turned against her. She sent one day into the town for a supply of provisions, and the authorities, perhaps thinking themselves bound by their official duty to obey orders of this kind coming in the king's name, loaded up some wagons and sent them forth, but the people raised a mob, and stopped the wagons at the gates, refusing to let them go on.

In the mean time, Edward, growing every hour stronger as he advanced, came rapidly on toward London. He was joined at length by the Earl of Warwick and the remnant of the force which remained to the earl after the battle which he had fought with the queen. The queen, now finding that Edward's strength was becoming formidable, did not dare to meet him; so she retreated toward the north again. Edward, instead of pursuing her, advanced directly toward London. The people threw open the gates to him, and welcomed him as their deliverer. They thronged the streets to look upon him as he passed, and made the air ring with their loud and long acclamations.

There was, indeed, every thing in the circumstances of the case to awaken excitement and emotion. Here was a boy not yet out of his teens, extremely handsome in appearance and agreeable in manners, who had taken the field in command of a very large force to avenge the cruel death of his father and brother, and was now coming boldly, at the head of his troops, into the very capital of the king and queen under whose authority his father and brother had been killed.

The most extraordinary circumstance connected with these proceedings was, that during all this time Henry was still acknowledged by every one as the actual king. Edward and his friends maintained, indeed, that he, Edward, was entitled  to reign, but no one pretended that any thing had yet been done which could have the legal effect of putting him upon the throne. There was, however, now a general expectation that the time for the formal deposition of Henry was near, and in and around London all was excitement and confusion. The people from the surrounding towns flocked every day into the city to see what they could see, and to hear what they could hear. They thronged the streets whenever Edward appeared in public, eager to obtain a glimpse of him.

At length, a few days after Edward entered the city, his counselors and friends deemed that the time had come for action. Accordingly, they made arrangements for a grand review in a large open field. Their design was by this review to call together a great concourse of spectators. A vast assembly convened according to their expectations. In the midst of the ceremonies, two noblemen appeared before the multitude to make addresses to them. One of them made a speech in respect to Henry, denouncing the crimes, and the acts of treachery and of oppression which his government had committed. He dilated long on the feebleness and incapacity of the king, and his total inability to exercise any control in the management of public affairs. After he had finished, he called out to the people in a loud voice to declare whether they would submit any longer to have such a man for king.

The people answered "Nay, Nay, Nay," with loud and long acclamations.

Then the other speaker made an address in favor of Edward. He explained at length the nature of his title to the crown, showing it to be altogether superior in point of right to that of Henry. He also spoke long and eloquently in praise of Edward's personal qualifications, describing his courage, his activity, and energy, and the various graces and accomplishments for which he was distinguished, in the most glowing terms. He ended by demanding of the people whether they would have Edward for king.

The people answered with acclamations as long and loud as before.

Of course there could be no legal validity in such proceedings as these, for, even if England had at that time been an elective monarchy, the acclamations of an accidental assembly drawn together to witness a review could on no account have been deemed a valid vote. This ceremony was only meant as a very public announcement of the intention of Edward immediately to assume the throne.

The next day, accordingly, a grand council was held of all the great barons, and nobles, and officers of state. By this council a decree was passed that King Henry, by his late proceedings, had forfeited the crown, and Edward was solemnly declared king in his stead. Immediately afterward, Edward rode at the head of a royal procession, which was arranged for the purpose, to Westminster, and there, in the presence of a vast assembly, he took his seat upon the throne. While there seated, he made a speech to the audience, in which he explained the nature of his hereditary rights, and declared his intention to maintain his rights thenceforth in the most determined manner.

The king now proceeded to Westminster Abbey, where he performed the same ceremonies a second time. He was also publicly proclaimed king on the same day in various parts of London.

Edward was now full of ardor and enthusiasm, and his first impulse was to set off, at the head of his army, toward the north, in pursuit of the queen and the old king. The king and queen had gone to York. The queen had not only the king under her care, but also her son, the little Prince of Wales, who was now about eight years old. This young prince was the heir to the crown on the Lancastrian side, and Edward was, of course, very desirous of getting him, as well as the king and queen, into his hands; so he put himself at the head of his troops, and began to move forward as fast as he could go. The body of troops under his command consisted of fifty thousand men. In the queen's army, which was encamped in the neighborhood of York, there were about sixty thousand.

Both parties were extremely exasperated against each other, and were eager for the fight. Edward gave orders to his troops to grant no quarter, but, in the event of victory, to massacre without mercy every man that they could bring within their reach. The armies came together at a place called Towton. The combat was begun in the midst of a snow-storm. The armies fought from nine o'clock in the morning till three in the afternoon, and by that time the queen's troops were every where driven from the field. Edward's men pursued them along the roads, slaughtering them without mercy as fast as they could overtake them, until at length nearly forty thousand men were left dead upon the ground.

The queen fled toward the north, taking with her her husband and child. Edward entered York in triumph. At the gates he found the head of his father and that of his brother still remaining upon the poles where the queen had put them. He took them reverently down, and then put other heads in their places, which he cut off for the purpose from some of his prisoners. He was in such a state of fury, that I suppose, if he could have caught the king and queen, he would have cut off their  heads, and put them on the poles in the place of his father's and his brother's; but he could not catch them. They fled to the north, toward the frontiers of Scotland, and so escaped from his hands.

Edward determined not to pursue the fugitives any farther at that time, as there were many important affairs to be attended to in London, and so he concluded to be satisfied at present with the victory which he had obtained, and with the dispersion of his enemies, and to return to the capital. He first, however, gathered together the remains of his father and brother, and caused them to be buried with solemn funeral ceremonies in one of his castles near York. This was, however, only a temporary arrangement, for, as soon as his affairs were fully settled, the remains were disinterred, and conveyed, with great funeral pomp and parade, to their final resting-place in the southern part of the kingdom.

As soon as Edward reached London, one of the first things that he did was to send for his two brothers, George and Richard, who, as will be recollected, had been removed by their mother to Holland, and were now in Utrecht pursuing their education. These two boys were all the brothers of Edward that remained now alive. They came back to London. Their widowed mother's heart was filled with a melancholy sort of joy in seeing her children once more together, safe in their native land; but her spirit, after reviving for a moment, sank again, overwhelmed with the bitter and irreparable loss which she had sustained in the death of her husband. His death was, of course, a fatal blow to all those ambitious plans and aspirations which she had cherished for herself. Though the mother of a king, she could now never become herself a queen; and, disappointed and unhappy, she retired to one of the family castles in the neighborhood of London, and lived there comparatively alone and in great seclusion.

The boys, on the other hand, were brought forward very conspicuously into public life. In the autumn of the same year in which Edward took possession of the crown, they were made royal dukes, with great parade and ceremony, and were endowed with immense estates to enable them to support the dignity of their rank and position. George was made Duke of Clarence; Richard, Duke of Gloucester; and from this time the two boys were almost always designated by these names.

Suitable persons, too, were appointed to take charge of the boys, for the purpose of conducting their education, and also to manage their estates until they should become of age.

There have been a great many disputes in respect to Richard's appearance and character at this time. For a long period after his death, people generally believed that he was, from his very childhood, an ugly little monster, that nobody could look upon without fear; and, in fact, he was very repulsive in his personal appearance when he grew up, but at this time of his life the historians and biographers who saw and knew him say that he was quite a pretty boy, though puny and weak. His face was handsome enough, though his form was frail, and not perfectly symmetrical. Those who had charge of him tried to strengthen his constitution by training him to the martial exercises and usages which were practiced in those days, and especially by accustoming him to wear the ponderous armor which was then in use.

This armor was made of iron or steel. It consisted of a great number of separate pieces, which, when they were all put on, incased almost the whole body, so as to defend it against blows coming from any quarter. First, there was the helmet, or cap of steel, with large oval pieces coming down to protect the ears. Next came the gorget, as it was called, which was a sort of collar to cover the neck. Then there were elbow pieces to guard the elbows, and shoulder-plates for the shoulders, and a breast-plate or buckler for the front, and greaves for the legs and thighs. These things were necessary in those days, or at least they were advantageous, for they afforded pretty effectual protection against all the ordinary weapons which were then in use. But they made the warriors themselves so heavy and unwieldy as very greatly to interfere with the freedom of their movements when engaged in battle. There was, indeed, a certain advantage in this weight, as it made the shock with which the knight on horseback encountered his enemy in the charge so much the more heavy and overpowering; but if he were by any accident to lose his seat and fall to the ground, he was generally so encumbered by his armor that he could only partially raise himself therefrom. He was thus compelled to lie almost helpless until his enemy came to kill him, or his squire or some other friend came to help him up.

Of course, to be able to manage one's self at all in these habiliments of iron and steel, there was required not only native strength of constitution, but long and careful training, and it was a very important part of the education of young men of rank in Richard's days to familiarize them with the use of this armor, and inure them to the weight of it. Suits of it were made for boys, the size and weight of each suit being fitted to the form and strength of the wearer. Many of these suits of boys' armor are still preserved in England. There are several specimens to be seen in the Tower of London. They are in the apartment called the Horse Armory, which is a vast hall with effigies of horses, and of men mounted upon them, all completely armed with the veritable suits of steel which the men and the horses that they represent actually wore when they were alive. The horses are arranged along the sides of the room in regular order from the earliest ages down to the time when steel armor of this kind ceased to be worn.

These suits of armor were very costly, and the boys for whom they were made were, of course, filled with feelings of exultation and pride when they put them on; and, heavy and uncomfortable as such clothing must have been, they were willing to wear it, and to practice the required exercises in it. When actually made of steel, the armor was very expensive, and such could only be afforded for young princes and nobles of very high rank; for other young men, various substitutes were provided; but all were trained, either in the use of actual armor, or of substitutes, to perform a great number and variety of exercises. They were taught, when they were old enough, to spring upon a horse with as much armor upon them and in their hands as possible; to run races; to see how long they could continue to strike heavy blows in quick succession with a battle-axe or club, as if they were beating an enemy lying upon the ground, and trying to break his armor to pieces; to dance and throw summersets; to mount upon a horse behind another person by leaping from the ground, and assisting themselves only by one hand, and other similar things. One feat which they practiced was to climb up between two partition walls built pretty near together, by bracing their back against one wall, and working with their knees and hands against the other. Another feat was to climb up a ladder on the under side by means of the hands alone.


The Old Quintaine.

Another famous exercise, or perhaps rather game, was performed with what was called the quintaine. The quintaine consisted of a stout post set in the ground, and rising about ten or twelve feet above the surface. Across the top was a strong bar, which turned on a pivot made in the top of the post, so that it would go round and round. To one end of this cross-bar there was fixed a square board for a target; to the other end was hung a heavy club. The cross-bar was so poised upon the central pivot that it would move very easily. In playing the game, the competitors, mounted on horseback, were to ride, one after another, under the target-end of the cross-bar, and hurl their spears at it with all their force. The blow from the spear would knock the target-end of the cross-bar away, and so bring round the other end, with its heavy club, to strike a blow on the horseman's head if he did not get instantly out of the way. It was as if he were to strike one enemy in front in battle, while there was an-other enemy ready on the instant to strike him from behind.

There is one of these ancient quintaines now standing on the green in the village of Offham, in Kent.

Such exercises as these were, of course, only fitted for men, or at least for boys who had nearly attained to their full size and strength. There were other games and exercises intended for smaller boys. There are many rude pictures in ancient books illustrating these old games. In one they are playing ball; in another they are playing shuttle-cock. The battle-doors that they use are very rude.


Playing Ball.

These pictures show how ancient these common games are. In another picture the boys are playing with a hoop. Two of them are holding the hoop up between them, and the third is preparing to jump through it, head foremost. His plan is to come down on the other side upon his hands, and so turn a summerset, and come up on his feet beyond.


Battle-Door and Shuttle-cock.

In these exercises and amusements, and indeed, in all his occupations, Richard had his brother George, the Duke of Clarence, for his playmate and companion. George was not only older than Richard, but he was also much more healthy and athletic; and some persons have thought that Richard injured himself, and perhaps, in some degree, increased the deformity which he seems to have suffered from in later years, or perhaps brought on entirely, by overloading himself, in his attempts to keep pace with his brother in these exercises, with burdens of armor, or by straining himself in athletic exertions which were beyond his powers.

The intellectual education of the boys was not entirely neglected. They learned to read and write, though they could not write much, or very well. Their names are still found, as they signed them to ancient documents, several of which remain to the present day. The following is a facsimile of Richard's signature, copied exactly from one of those documents.


Richardís Signature.

Richard continued in this state of pupilage in some of the castles belonging to the family from the time that his brother began to reign until he was about fourteen years of age. Edward, the king, was then twenty-four, and Clarence about seventeen.