When we think of Britain’s monarchs, most of us would agree that early periods of time are clearly muddled. Many are hidden in the mists of time while some have almost completely disappeared. What we do know is that there were kings who ruled for only a few months and there are some who ruled for over fifty years. There are also some who should never have ruled at all. They include, among their number, the vain, the greedy and the downright corrupt as well as adulterers, swindlers and cowards.
Yet this group also shares one thing in common. In their lifetimes, they were the most powerful individuals in the land.
My story, ‘Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of being King’ spans 1500 years and is full of lust, betrayal, heroism, murder, cruelty and mysteries. It’s a journey through time when the Romans began their march through Britain and travels through Saxon times, the Vikings, the Normans, the Plantagents and finally the Tudors.
History is full of savagery and cruelty but there are none more brutal than the Wars of the Roses during the Plantagenet dynasty.
This period of time was basically a terrible family squabble that ended up a bloodbath between royal cousins where each house was eager to snatch the crown and the throne of England for themselves away from other family members. But as with most rebellions, it left both sides vulnerable since it usually meant that battles were fought ‘to the bitter end’, leaving fewer contenders alive after every battle.
It was a dangerous period full of unfathomable brutality, shifting alliances, murders, betrayals, plots and savage elimination. It ended when Henry Tudor usurped the throne from Richard III, the last of the Plantagenets, and a different sort of battle began as he continued on the bloodbath with gusto.
Richard III’s story is not too different from many others in history. It’s a story of ambition gone awry and the damage it leaves in its wake. He was the twelfth of thirteen children of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York (a strong claimant to the throne himself) and Cecily Neville (who was also a direct descendant of John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III).
What makes Richard different from most of his ancestors is the crime that’s been associated him. His interest in the throne was plain and his character has proven to be ruthless. We are led to believe that his young nephews were held captive in the Tower, never to be seen again, while he simply stepped in and took the throne from under everyone’s noses. Presumably he had them murdered.
But was it actually Richard who ordered their murder as it’s been assumed throughout history?
“Suspect Number 1. There have been a few names pulled out of the hat and the first one is definitely Richard III. He had the most to gain from their death and he had the personality to do it. He had been implicated in the death of Warwick as well as the suspicious death of his brother Edward IV, which is something we should not forget as Richard gained dramatically because of that.
Suspect Number 2. No man had done more to place Richard on the throne than Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. Yet strangely and suddenly, during the first three months of Richard’s reign, Buckingham suddenly changed his allegiance completely and became Richard’s mortal enemy. Why did he do that? Was it perhaps his dislike at being an accomplice in what was seen as the usurpation of the throne and the murder of two young children? Perhaps he feared for his own safety? Ah, and then we ask … wasn’t he of royal blood as well, being a descendant firstly through John Beaufort, son of John of Gaunt, and secondly, through the bloodline of Thomas of Woodstock, Edward III’s fifth son? If anything happened to Richard’s son, Buckingham’s bloodline could be strong enough to claim the throne. Knowing the Yorkists’ relish for using the chopping block, it wouldn’t have made him feel very safe. Not at all.
So very soon after the coronation, Buckingham changed sides dramatically and no one knows why. What we do know is that his job was one of responsibility and he was in charge of the safekeeping of the boys between June and July. Suffocation was probably the method of killing them, especially when you consider their youth and frailty, and it was a tried and true means of getting rid of someone you didn’t want around.
Suspect Number 3. In the background was Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor. No other mother in history seems to have been as dedicated as she was to have her son sit on the throne. But she would not have done it herself. There would have been a third party involved.
In 1472 after the death of her second husband, Margaret did the unthinkable and arranged for her own marriage to a prominent widower, Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby who was in good standing with Edward IV. By all accounts, the marriage was one of pure convenience. This marriage enabled her to return to the court of Edward and Elizabeth Woodville and she was chosen by Elizabeth to be her daughter’s godmother. After Edward’s death and Elizabeth’s rush to sanctuary in Westminster Abbey, Margaret became Anne Neville’s lady-in-waiting carrying the train at Anne’s husband’s coronation. Richard had already stripped Margaret of her titles and estates and had given them all to her husband, Lord Stanley, which was a meaningless gesture as he would already have had the rights to her property as her new husband anyway. During all of this, she was actively plotting with Elizabeth Woodville and had betrothed her beloved son Henry to Elizabeth’s daughter, young Elizabeth of York. She has been called a formidable opponent of Richard III, a habitual conspirator and a dedicated promoter of her son’s cause.
Within a couple of months of Richard’s coronation, Margaret’s nephew Buckingham from her previous marriage, (yes it is complicated), raised a rebellion against Richard in favour of Henry Tudor and you can bet she used every bit of her influence on him to encourage the rebellion. She would have promised him anything for his support.
I guess my question right now is: why did Buckingham raise the rebellion in favour of Henry and not for the princes since nobody apparently knew they were already dead? Did he actually know they were dead and was he the one who gave the orders to kill them? In view of that and the fact that Buckingham had no immediate motive to move against Richard except that he had a very distant claim to the throne himself, what could he hope to gain by attacking the king in such a wild and reckless rebellion after having sworn his loyalty one month previously? My guess is Margaret Beaufort had a hand in it. As a consequence of the failed rebellion and Buckingham’s death, Margaret’s current husband, Lord Stanley, was promoted to the position of High Constable in charge of all prisoners in the Tower. Food for thought.
All Margaret wanted was for her son Henry Tudor to sit on the throne at any cost. At the beginning of Buckingham’s rebellion, she sent word to Henry who was living in abject poverty in France with his uncle Jasper Tudor and told him to gather forces and hurry home. To me, it seems she was pulling the strings and had everything planned and under control.
And here is something else to think about – if Henry Tudor defeated Richard III in battle, Henry would not necessarily become king, as the throne would theoretically be restored to young Edward V who might have been in the tower. However, the princes’ ‘removal’ would leave her son Henry as the prime candidate for the throne. Are bells ringing in your head yet?
Suspect Number 4. Henry Tudor had a great need to be king and he was the plausible alternative … but only if the two princes weren’t around. Henry was a Welshman, whose grandfather, Owen Tudor had been a page in the court of Henry V and as we know, Owen is reported to have secretly married Henry V’s widow, Catherine of Valois. One of their sons was Edmund Tudor, who in turn married Margaret Beaufort at the age of twelve.
Perhaps at this stage, I should remind you that Henry Tudor’s grandmother Catherine of Valois was the sister of Charles VI of France who had sadly inherited a ‘crazy’ gene and we saw this gene pop its nasty head up during Henry VI’s reign. Although Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne was through his mother and the House of Beaufort as far back as John of Gaunt and Edward III, this gene from his paternal French grandmother should not, perhaps, be forgotten regarding future generations and their actions.
It has been suggested by some historians that Richard had stashed the princes in the Tower of London for safe keeping while he ruled in peace after having declared them illegitimate. It has also been suggested that it was in fact Henry Tudor, when he was King Henry VII, who had the princes executed between June and July of 1486 when his stepfather, Lord Stanley, was High Constable of the Tower two years later. Richard was long gone by then. It was only after this date that orders went out to circulate the story that Richard had killed the princes. This could easily have been to cover up Henry’s own involvement in their murder. It has also been suggested that Elizabeth Woodville knew that this story was false, and so Henry had to have her ‘silenced’ by confining her to a nunnery where she died six years later. All very plausible.
When you think about it, it seems impossible that no one knew what happened to the Princes after they entered the tower. Richard III, Henry VII and Elizabeth Woodville would have had their spies out and all of them would have known the boys’ whereabouts and welfare. If both boys had died, the matter could have been discussed and the culprit would have been blamed openly. But neither Richard III nor Henry VII did so with the reason being that if the princes were alive, the boys’ claim to the throne was better than either of theirs. The princes would simply have had to go in either case. It’s something we will never know and it is history’s best-kept secret.”
‘Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of being King’ is a rambling narrative beginning when the Britons first glimpsed a square sail and a dragon-headed prow on the horizon, churned by oars through the waves as blue water foamed around the hull of a mighty ship one cold, miserable January morning. No one heard the muffled sounds over the water. They were still rubbing sleep out of their eyes after a savage night of arctic air had cut its way through cracks in the walls.
It’s a story of kings who struggled to hold on to their throne, of horrendous bloody battles, of tiny boys becoming rulers, of ruthless usurpers and of queens who proved to be more powerful than anyone could have ever imagined. It’s a story of invading armies, of rival family members, of spies and conspiracies.
And I’ve loved every minute of it.
About the author: Trisha Hughes started her writing career with her autobiography ‘Daughters of Nazareth’ eighteen years ago. The debut novel was first published by Pan Macmillan Australia and became a bestseller in 1997 beating the current Stephen King book to the top 10 bestsellers at the time. Since then she has discovered a thirst for writing. She’s written crime novels but her latest book, the first in her ‘V 2 V’ trilogy, ‘Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of being King’ is her passion and due for release on 28th February 2017. She is currently working on the second in the series ‘Virgin to Victoria – The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.’
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©2017 Trisha Hughes