For much of the 1470s therefore, Edward was very keen to get his hands on Henry Tudor, and we might assume that his intentions were not honourable – and his attitudes towards Margaret must have been coloured by the knowledge that he wanted to secure her son and brother in law. Exactly what Edward wanted to do though with Henry are a little moot; and very probably changed over time. In 1471, the Yorkist succession was far from secure; OK, the Lancastrian cupboard was largely bare of contenders. But on the other hand, Elizabeth and Edward were only just starting to fill the Yorkist cupboard up, if I may be slightly indelicate. Meanwhile though, as in the words of Kenny Everett, Henry’s incarceration in Brittany was all done in the best possible taste; the bars of the cage were well covered.
Edward, it was reported, ‘took very grievously‘ the news of Jasper and Henry’s escape and reception by Francis. And initially Francis was very resistant to Edward’s repeated requests that he hand Henry over to him; and Edward, truth to say, did not have much leverage. But Francis took precautions. In 1474, Henry and Jasper were separated, which must have been hard. Henry was taken to the Chateau at Largoet, there to be guarded by Jean IV de Rieu. Largoet was safely well away from the coast. Difficult to sneak a small boat to take someone over the sea to Skye, or indeed the Isle of Wight. They were looked after – the accounts of Francis II mention things like the purchase of clothes on the Breton account. But they were moved around, and their English servants taken away from them to be replaced by Breton guards.
The situation became more dangerous in 1475 and 1476. Playing off France against England was always a fertile strategy for Francis II, and I suspect that if Machiavelli had met Francis, he’d have been a little shocked at the way he played off both ends. What we have hear is 4 parties; France, Burgundy, Brittany and England. Edward was understandably a little miffed with Louis of France – after all, Louis had bankrolled an attack from his enemies which had lost him his throne, generally viewed as unfriendly. So Edward turned to England’s traditional friends, who’d helped them make such mincemeat of the old enemy back in the glory days – Burgundy and Brittany; helped as we have heard by his sister, Margaret of Burgundy. Francis rather milked Edward’s desire for allies against France – getting him to lend a contingent of English archers at one point, for example. And Indeed, treaties were signed and everything – the Treaty of London with Burgundy, and the treaty of Châteaugiron. Both set Edward to attack France and in 1475 it appeared that maybe Francis’ boat had come in – because Edward IV decided that now was the time to revive the glories of the Hundred Years war, and invade France. Meanwhile Francis had been buddying up to Louis in the background, and had zero intention to go and help Edward. Nor it turned out did Charles the really not as bold as he claimed to be – of Burgundy.
Edward did finally invade in 1475; and it was something of a farce. Since neither of his so called wingmen turned up at the party, it was pretty clear he could not win, and he signed a peace treaty with a French king equally eager to get rid of the English army. Edward’s people were disgusted with him, and Edward must have been disappointed – he’d made prodigious preparations and almost certainly had fully intended to fight. But France paid him to go away, a bit like the Vikings, and kept paying him a pension; and agreed trade privileges. Edward also gained Louis’ promise that he would not attack Brittany, which seems generous of Edward to be fair.
But Edward used this as leverage with Francis, and was determined that this was the moment to capture
‘the only imp now left of Henry VI’s brood’,
He didn’t mean the lad any harm he pleaded, just want to hook him up with one of my daughters; Francis’ Treasurer backed Edward’s claims – and hey presto Francis agreed, Henry was seized and dragged to St Malo to be delivered to the English. Edward could smell his prize. Henry however was to prove he was no fool – he played for time pretending to be ill and then legging it for sanctuary at the Abbey. Meanwhile the admiral of Brittany was begging Henry’s case with Francis, and Francis caved. It had been close, too close.
It is very likely that Margaret knew quite a lot of all this, through her husband Stanley; it’s difficult to know exactly how much. But it would have been difficult surely for Stanley not to want to take Margaret’s side at least to some degree, to warn her to warn Henry. That he was sympathetic is borne out to a degree by his support for Margaret as she worked to find a way to alleviate her son’s semi permanent misery – years spent on the run, well treated but essentially a prisoner as he had been for much of his life so far.
But then – the thing is that Edward’s attitude towards Henry changed. By 1482, he and Elizabeth had produced a string of heirs – an heir and a spare in Edward and Richard, and daughters too in Elizabeth and Catherine. They were growing up, and it seemed inconceivable that the Yorkist dynasty faced any further trouble, Edward was much more secure on his throne, especially after tipping his treacherous brother into a vat of wine, a most suitable end to Clarence’s fickle career, however much Edward apparently regretted his ruthlessness. Meanwhile, Margaret continued to use Stanley’s position to build her own knowledge and presence at Court; in 1480 for example, when Queen Elizabeth gave birth to her final child Bridget, Margaret was at Eltham Palace, and given the highly prestigious job of carrying the baby to the font at the christening. It’s evidence Margaret was connected, recognised, accepted.
It’s easy to judge Margaret as a manipulative schemer, out to get her son onto the throne, but really in 1482 that would have required monstrous levels of optimism and ambition; and we know from Fisher, or at least Fisher claims, that Margaret was something of a worrywort. Nope, it’s much more likely that Margaret wanted what any parent would want – she wanted her son home again, living a fulfilling life, according to his birthright. We don’t know for sure of course, maybe she was a plotter – but by ‘eck she’d have had to be a wild optimist.
Margaret seems to have had Stanley’s support too, and together they now lobbied Edward; and excitingly enough found that they might be pushing at an open door. Around this time, though, just as things were looking up, Margaret also had a set back – when her mother Margaret Beauchamp the dowager Duchess of Somerset died. But Margaret persisted, and it’s very likely that Henry also knew what she was doing – the pair seem to have corresponded regularly.
Finally, around June 1482, Margaret’s efforts met with success; the death of the dowager Duchess of Somerset gave an opportunity to discuss what would happen with her inheritance, and Edward agreed that Henry could inherit lands to the tune of £400 a year, which is substantial, and
‘to be in the grace and favour of the king’s highness
Edward also had a pardon re-drafted; it was real, after 12 years of tiresome exile, football was coming home. Or well, less importantly, Henry Tudor was coming home. Hang out the bunting on the Siegfried line. Interestingly though, while Margaret appears to have been convinced by Edward’s change of heart and was now vouching for him, it’s notable that Edward made alternative provisions for Somerset’s estates, should Henry not accept the deal; so for whatever reason, it seems that there was doubt – that Henry might suspect another trap, or might not want to return.
By 1483, Edward IV appeared to be in total command; true, he’d furiously declared war on France over Christmas, as Louis callously dumped his agreement to marry the Dauphin of France to Elizabeth of York; but he showed few signs of raising a campaign, and although the fracas distracted him from Henry’s return, Margaret would have remained hopeful. It was true that Edward by this stage was something of a porker, a phrase I have not doubt that will get me into trouble, since fat is a four letter word, but look, it’s noted that from being handsome and how can I say, well proportioned, by the age of 43 he was running to fat – and frankly the French chroniclers laid into him as being the helpless pawn of extravagance and excess. Whether or not his death was due to some illness or stroke brought on by poor health, or as Mancini the visitor and chronicler would have it, he had a chill caught from the river, Edward suddenly became very ill around Easter time. And although he rallied, within 10 days he died, on 9th April 1483. The English court was shocked and stunned.
But never mind; although young ish, Edward IV had an undisputed heir, also Edward, 13 years old; and look hey, Margaret Beaufort had given birth at the age of 13 so how hard could it be to become king? Edward V was at Ludlow with his uncle, the Earl Rivers, one of the Woodville clan, and Rivers would no doubt bring Edward safely to London; and then there was the old king’s brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester. There was the most powerful man in the kingdom, utterly loyal, as steady and reliable as a Reliant Robin. He’d no doubt steer the lad through his early years. Let’s not panic, just breathe, and relax. It’ll all be fine
And indeed, Gloucester was clearly taking his responsibilities very seriously – he wrote to Rivers and said he’d like to pay his respects to the new king – what direction would he be taking to London? Meanwhile in London, despite the divisions in the Council between the factions of Woodvilles and others, Queen Elizabeth had taken control within 2 days of her husband’s death – and a coronation date had been set for 4th May.
Rivers and Edward V had reached the jewel of Milton Keynes, otherwise known as Stony Stratford, and that night, 29th April 1483 Rivers rode over to see Richard of Gloucester at Northampton; and a good time was had by all
they were received with an especially cheerful and joyous countenance, and, sitting at supper at the duke’s table, passed the whole time in very pleasant conversation.
How lovely! Nothing wrong, nothing to see here then. The Duke of Buckingham appeared also – well, the more the merrier I say! Open a new bottle of sack there, boy! They all agreed, happily, amicably and possibly slightly boozily, that Buckingham and Gloucester would join them in the morning.
Well, in the morning was a trainsmash and no mistake. Gloucester told young Edward V that all the men round him like Rivers were wicked traitors, and Buckingham helpfully added that as for his mother, women were not meant to rule so she’d be first up against the wall come the revolution. Please. Edward should avoid getting the wrong impression – Gloucester and Buckingham were loyal folk here to save them from the wicked Woodvilles.
London was in a ferment; the support of one William Hastings for Gloucester prevented a coherent and effective response from the Woodvilles, and by 10th May it appeared that the kipper had been suitably stitched; Gloucester was confirmed in a post of Protector as his brother had wished, the coronation of Edward V was postponed but agreed. There was some sand in the oyster – Elizabeth Woodville had lifted her skirts and legged it to the sanctuary at Westminster Abbey again; the Abbot was probably beginning to think he should really keep a permanent suite of rooms available for her, she seemed to be in and out like a cuckoo clock. Also she had Richard Duke of York with her – this was inconvenient for Gloucester, since he was of course next in line to the throne. But to cut a long story short, the long version of which is in the History of England podcast of course, by June 1483 Richard had persuaded Elizabeth Woodville to hand over her 10 year old lad to Gloucester’s tender care; he then had Hastings, Rivers and other Woodvilles executed without trial, and revealed that Edward IVth had been married before Elizabeth and therefore all his children were bastards. Which meant that the real king was…hang on give me a moment…ooh! Me! Golly would you Adam and Eve it! The idea of a coronation for Edward V had disappeared from the calendar.
Well, where was our heroine in all of this? As a council member, her husband Stanley would have seen all of this drama unwind in front of him; although Stanley and Gloucester had worked more amicably together under Edward IV than their fracas in the NW would suggest, going on campaign together for example, the vibes were not great; Richard was asking his supporters like Buckingham to take on shiny new honours, all he asked Stanley was if he wouldn’t mind standing aside while he got through the crush to shake someone else’s hand. It is likely Stanley therefore felt
- Unloved and
Stanley spent a few days in prison, relieved by declaring publicly his allegiance to Gloucester. It seems likely the pillow talk back home was reasonably intense, and that Margaret was therefore well informed; and well aware that Gloucester’s position rested firmly on the portly figure of the Duke of Buckingham. A Stafford no less.
It’s difficult to know Margaret’s immediate reaction to Edward IV’s death, and what kind of personal relationship they’d built up in all the negotiating about Henry’s status; but at very least Margaret and Henry were back to the first of all possible squares, and that must have been frustrating.
Now that Richard had set himself on the path for usurpation he was once more all smiles to Stanley and his wife. He gave them an interview, he promoted Stanley at last to Steward of the Royal Household; he offered to help with debt collection, a debt in France Margaret, ever thrifty and eager to exploit her rights to the full, was eager to get hold of; and he gave Margaret the job of holding Queen Anne’s train at Richard’s forthcoming coronation, a signal honour. According to Francis Bacon Margaret dissembled and oiled for England, taking the opportunity to plead for her son’s rehabilitation as well as help in the credit control department. And I have to say from personal experience, it’s always the fiercest people who work in credit control, and are not to be messed with.
On the outward show of things, then, Margaret was taking the same approach as she’d taken with Edward IV. But I suspect, but do not know, that right from the start there was a difference. First of all Richard was a usurper, and one who had not traditionally been on good terms with her husband. Secondly, he had displayed his utter ruthlessness and paranoia; killing his political opponents without trial, disinheriting his own flesh and blood with some trumped up story which had all the solidity of a misty morning in the desert. And rumours were starting about the princes in the tower – whose servants had all mysteriously been sent packing.
Margaret can have had few illusions then about Richard’s feelings towards her son, even at this early stage. Most significantly, Richard’s route to the throne absolutely inevitably involved strengthening exponentially Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne. Suddenly Henry was no longer fidgeting way down in the line to the throne, so far back he was parked metaphorically outside the public conveniences. Now all of a sudden he was number 3 in line, behind Richard and his only son Edward, who was jolly young, and we all know about infant mortality rates in medieval England don’t we? It would seem impossible that Richard felt relaxed about Henry Tudor. And Margaret was no fool.
Even as she walked down the aisle holding Anne Neville’s coronation train, I figure Margaret Beaufort was looking like a mongoose at Richard’s weakest spot. And I am guessing that she was well aware that Richard’s weakest spot was right there in the Abbey – and it’s name was Henry Stafford, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham.