Buckingham was having doubts about supporting Richard, though it is not entirely clear why, given the gold and goodies with which he had been showered so far. There are a couple of possibilities, and these possibilities may be connected with the presence of Dr John Morton.
John Morton was the Bishop of Ely, and was one of the many of Edward IV’s counsellors who had fallen under the suspicions of Good King Richard when he seized the throne. But Cutting the head off a bishop was not straightforward, even for Richard. So rather than remove said organ, Richard had sent him home in the care of the man he could trust more than life itself – his partner in crime Buckingham.
In summer 1483, after what we might agree had been a very busy year, Richard went north to the homeland of Yorkshire, land of the free as it’s known, as well as the land of dripping, to see his son Edward. 9 years old, Edward was given a chariot to ride in to meet his Dad, which sounds like every 9 year old’s dream to me. Buckingham, meanwhile, went home to Brecknock in Wales. There, Morton started to mess with his head. Morton probably worried aloud about ‘ what will people think about Richard’s usurpation I wonder’; ‘gosh’, he might have suggested, ‘the gentry south of the Thames, they really loved Edward IV very much, and loved their roles in his household. Now they’ve got nothing to do, hanging around at home…well, I figure they must be seriously grump, and I bet they are up in arms about whatever’s happened to the son of their king – not that I’m accusing Richard of anything you understand, but you know how people talk!’ ‘But’, he might have sighed heavily, ‘though there are many of them, they have no leader. So maybe Richard can afford not to worry, but if a leader appeared well…things could get nasty, you know’. And then, Morton may have pointed out, ‘there are all those Woodville lot; the Queen and her family had built a big affinity, the Woodvilles and the Greys, and they must be seriously upset. Given with the right leadership, Richard had better watch his back!’
Morton might also have just possibly happened to casually mention Henry Tudor and Jasper too. Richard had in fact started to turn his mind towards Henry and Duke Francis in Brittany; he had briefed his envoy to start discussions with Francis, and although Henry was not specifically targeted, it seems the topic did get raised in discussion. And Francis began playing his trump card with enthusiasm; ooh, he said, I have the king of France constantly in my lugs about that Henry Tudor chappie, he’s making me fantastic offers, I have a good mind to let him go to France. As it happens, said king of France died in August 1483 which took the pressure off. But meanwhile Morton was able to explain to Buckingham that look – Henry could appear at any moment with the support of either Brittany or France; Richard had better be scared of that too.
So Buckingham now must have been in a right old paddy; it appears that he had rather taken Morton to his heart, for later Morton would appear by his side as his counsellor. So now silver tongued Morton dropped the last bit of poison. Buckingham himself later explained that Morton had reminded him that – ooh, d’you know what (slaps forehead) – I’d forgotten that YOU yourself you have a claim to the throne – you are descended from John of Gaunt. I might tell you, gentle listeners, that the chance that Buckingham had at any point in his life forgotten this, would be precisely zero, zip, a non chance. 15th century nobles did ancestry, big time. But there we go; Buckingham’s pretty little head had been comprehensively turned.
Now at this point you are probably wondering – I thought it was Margaret who was supposed to be the spinner of plots? Well Margaret was indeed ploughing the field of rebellion, but she was working a different strip. She could herself bring rebels to stand on the headland; her relative John Welles, and other lords such as Thomas Lewknor, John Cheyny, John Heron. But it would not be enough; so she had another target; this target was incarcerated in Westminster Abbey’s sanctuary – the Queen, Elizabeth Woodville.
By this stage, Elizabeth would probably have been pretty desperate. No one likes to be trapped in a church for more than an hour, however good the sermon. It was probably dawning on her that her two boys’ lives were either in danger or indeed lost; and since Richard had persuaded her to give up her younger boy to his care, that must have driven her mad with agony. Elizabeth stood at the head of an extensive affinity – she could in particular bring Thomas Grey the Marquis of Dorset to the table, and Lionel, the Bishop of Salisbury, so if she could be persuaded to join the rebellion, her support could swing it. But – how to have that conversation? One does not just walk into Westminster Abbey; or not to go a plotting with Elizabeth Woodville you don’t.
It just so happened, though, that Margaret, being one of the tippy top elite, used one of the very best physicians in England, whose name was Dr Lewis of Caerleon; another of Dr Lewis’ clients was, spookily enough, Elizabeth Woodville. Everyone was used to Dr Lewis’ face around Westminster, and so Margaret took a risk and took Lewis into her confidence, and to her relief found him ready to conspire.
Lewis took a proposition of alliance to Elizabeth; if she supported rebellion against Richard III in favour of Margaret’s boy, Henry Tudor, succeeding to the throne, she would commit to a royal marriage; Elizabeth’s eldest daughter, also called Elizabeth, Elizabeth of York let’s call her, to Henry Tudor, so that if all went smoothly, Elizabeth of York would be queen. Woodville really didn’t have much going for her as it was, and so she agreed to roll the dice, and agreed to recruit as many as she could to the cause.
Margaret then enlisted her faithful and long time servant, Reginald Bray, a man close to her, but with the personal authority to talk to gentry families. Bray urgently started conversations, recruiting members of Edward IV’s household like Giles Daubeney, Richard Guildford and others. Meanwhile, Margaret was desperate to get Henry into the loop, and had the perfect man for the job – a cleric called Christopher Urswick, who had probably come into her patronage via Stanley. Urswick was being primed to get his bottom over to Brittany and get Henry to sign up to the marriage idea, and for he in his turn to bring his own bottom over to England to lead the rebellion and claim the throne of England as his birthright.
Before Urswick could leave, however, John Morton got in touch with Margaret – and urged her to send Bray to Wales where he could meet Buckingham as well. It’s not exactly clear how it all happened but somehow, Buckingham and Margaret got to hear that they were both plotting, and they should really get it together. There was of course an elephant in the room, and that elephant was called ‘who’s going to be king then?’. We do not know what deal was struck; but the balance of opinion seems to be that there was hoodwinking going on, and the winker behind the hood was Margaret, who led Buckingham to believe that he would wear the crown.
In Brittany meanwhile, a different envoy did arrive from Margaret – one Hugh Conway, and he brought with ‘a good deal of money’. Henry had approached Duke Francis and asked for aid; despite Richard’s advances, Francis saw the benefit in having the new King of England in his debt, in addition to which Henry now came with money; so he agreed to fit him out with ships and with men. Henry sent word back to blighty, and it seems that by 24th September Henry and Jasper had heard directly from Buckingham. There would be two centres for this rebellion – Buckingham’s estates in Wales, calling out his affinity and tenants; and the south of England, starting in Kent. Meanwhile Henry would sail and land, probably in Devon.
Henry set sail on 3rd October, but the weather was not kind; nonetheless he tried again, though he’d have been looking worriedly at his watch, fearing he’d missed the whole event. This time he managed to make it over the channel, but was blown off course, eastwards along the coast to Poole in Dorset. There, soon after 18th October, he saw a crowd of soldiers on the beach; he sent some of his own men to investigate, and they were greeted with good news – yes, yes, come ashore they cried, the rebellion is working like a dream!
In fact the rebellion was not working like a dream or at least it was from a Riccardian point of view. There were too many moving parts was a problem, and somewhere along the line one of them was squeaky. So Richard knew something was up, and had the time to issue commissions of array in multiple counties in the west. Meanwhile, the risings in Kent and the south of England went off half cock and were poorly co-ordinated; and while Richard kept his eyes firmly on the main man, Buckingham, his trusty lieutenant, the Duke of Norfolk dealt efficiently and successfully with the southern counties.
Meanwhile the heavens had decided to teach Buckingham two lessons. The first, is that if you are planning anything from, I don’t know, a family picnic, or, lets say a rebellion involving marching hundreds of miles to defeat a usurping monarch, costing hundreds of lives in the process – don’t trust British weather and particularly Welsh weather, which makes England look like the Sahara by comparison. The heavens opened, the river Severn rose, and Buckingham’s loyal tenantry floundered in the mud. Richard’s agents had done a good job; as Richard and his main force approached Salisbury – Thomas Vaughan had already captured Brecon castle, and Humphrey Stafford had wrecked key bridges over the Severn, leaving Buckingham unable to cross into England. The second lesson was that Buckingham should have been reading his Bible where he would have read that ‘for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.’ Buckingham was a hard driving, exploitative landowner, and his tenants hated him. So rather few came to join him and John Morton. And when things went swimmingly, in terms of rain and mud, they legged it. A crash of drums, a flash of light, and Buckingham’s golden coat flew out of sight, and he was left alone. Looking at all the options and future scenarios, Buckingham decided to run away.
He was quickly found and caught, and taken to Richard’s camp at Salisbury, where he begged to be able to talk to his old partner in crime. Richard requested only that he talk to the hand. Buckingham was executed in Salisbury on 2nd November.
Let’s return then to Poole harbour on the south coast, and Henry and his welcoming committee. According to his biographers, Henry showed excellent judgement, supposedly around 20th October, in suspecting the intentions of these men of Dorset – who were indeed disreputable, dishonest types, who really wanted to capture him and take to their leader, Richard III. Henry sailed away with his small force instead, ending up landing in Normandy. Now, given the date, which is just about when Buckingham was raising his army and had yet to crash and burn, wouldn’t it be fair to say that Henry, rather than being a model of sagacity was something of a model of wimpiness? As far as he knew, the game was still in play, his loyal partners in rebellion were out there risking their lives – and he sailed off at the first sign of trouble for a nice cup of team and a bun? Not sure I would have been very pleased were I a rebel. However one biographer, S J Gunn gives a later date – 30th October for Henry’s arrival. Let’s save Henry’s blushes shall we and assume it was this later date, since by then, the die would indeed have been cast.
Interestingly, Henry ended up in Normandy rather than Brittany, that channel crossing again. Tsk. I say interesting because it meant he had to ask Charles VIII of France for the right to cross his land to get back to Brittany; which Charles did with goodwill and a bit of cash to make the journey more pleasant. Henry continued on back to Brittany – suggesting that he very much trusted Duke Francis, which actually might prove to be a mistake, but both Francis and Charles VIII clearly thought that having a pretender trying to cause trouble in the land of the old enemy was a generally fab idea.
So, where was Margaret in all of this? We don’t know where she was physically, maybe London or the North West; but what we do know is that her husband wasn’t with her. The domestic arrangements of Stanley and Margaret are most intriguing to me. So on this occasion Stanley remained loyal to Richard and was with him at Salisbury. Did he and Margaret have a plan, which involved Stanley being the decoy while Margaret plotted? Or did Margaret keep all of this plotting quiet somehow, which would seem tricky to be fair but maybe not impossible.
It seems that Richard didn’t know immediately about Margaret’s role, but soon did, and if John Fisher was correct about her being a bit of a worrywart and expecting the worse and planning for the frankly catastrophic, she’d have presumably been chewing her nails; her partners in crime either fled, like John Morton and the Marquis of Dorset, Elizabeth Woodville’s son; or took sanctuary like Elizabeth, or were arrested and thrown in the chokey, like the go between, Dr Lewis. Quite probably, Margaret had an idea of what was coming through her husband, but it all became clear in the January 1481 parliament. Bills of attainder were passed against the major rebels – Morton, Dorset, Welles – and of course Henry Tudor. Margaret had her own condemnation, and even if Richard was bigging things up, the charge list was extensive; communicating with Henry, spreading money around to foment rebellion, plotting the destruction of the king.
Now there has been some debate about the severity of the punishment meted out to Margaret; it’s been described as surprisingly lenient, but also as very much the opposite, excessively severe. A later servant wrote
In King Richard’s days, she was often in jeopardy of her life, yet she bear patiently all trouble in such wise
But was Margaret really in jeopardy of her life? Despite the dramatic leap in political revenge and execution through the wars of the Roses, women were almost never executed, in fact I am struggling to remember any. Margaret was probably in no danger of execution. In addition of course, Stanley was in high favour, being showered with new offices by Richard in gratitude for staying by his side. The conversation ‘Thanks Stanley for staying loyal to me – oh by the way I’ve executed your wife’ is difficult to visualise.
In that context, Margaret’s punishment was pretty tough. All her lands were taken from her and given to her husband; if Stanley were to die, Margaret would very probably have been required to kiss them goodbye permanently. The one mercy really was that she was not incarcerated, but allowed to be put under confinement by her husband, at Knowsley and Lathom probably, and she was not allowed to travel.
All of this was not life threatening, but it was enormously humiliating. All her life, Margaret had managed to exercise control over her life and future, in the context of all the constraints women faced. Now she was, by a law with her name on it, to be made powerless, and indeed for any freedom of action entirely dependant on the attitude of her husband. She had been publicly disgraced and humiliated, and shorn of control over her future. She may not have been in danger of death, but this would certainly count as the lowest point of her life.