Chapter 1: The Family of York
On 9th April 1483, King Edward IV died. He left two sons and four daughters. He also had a niece, Lady Margaret Plantagenet, and a nephew, Edward Earl of Warwick, the children of his next brother, George, Duke of Clarence. Clarence had been convicted of treason, and executed (perhaps in the famous butt of malmsey). He had also been ‘attainted’ by Parliament. Attainder was a sentence that deprived the attainted’s children of their rights of inheritance. These sentences were frequently made, and almost as frequently reversed.
King Edward also had a second brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who had one son, Edward of Middleham, and three sisters. The elder sister, Anne, who had died in 1476, had been Duchess of Exeter. Her husband was a Lancastrian and their only child, Anne, had died young. Anne had remarried, but to a gentleman of undistinguished birth. She had one daughter living, Anne St Leger.
The next sister, Elizabeth, was married to John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. Suffolk’s father had been the mortal enemy of his wife’s father, Richard, Duke of York, and had been killed in the factional struggles that preceded the open warfare of the Wars of the Roses. Nevertheless, de la Pole was on good terms with his in-laws. The Suffolks had three sons – John, Edmund and Richard.
The third sister of Edward IV was Margaret, who had married Duke Charles of Burgundy in 1468, but had no children before his untimely death in the Battle of Nancy in 1477. The marriage had been intended to gain Burgundy as an ally for the House of York. Margaret’s mother-in-law, Duchess Isabella, was a princess of Portugal, whose royal house represented the senior branch of the Lancastrian line.
On Edward IV’s death, his son, another Edward, was proclaimed King as Edward V. However, his uncle, Richard of Gloucester, announced that Edward IV’s marriage had been invalid, and that therefore the new King and all his siblings were illegitimate. Rather than reversing the attainder against the Duke of Clarence’s children (who would otherwise have been the heirs) Richard took the throne himself and was crowned as Richard III. The young King Edward, and his brother, Richard, Duke of York, were last seen in the Tower of London in the summer of 1483.
The following March, Richard III’s only son died, and it seems probable that he specifically nominated John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, son of the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, as his heir. Lincoln was about twenty-two years old. But not everyone was happy with Richard as King. The Lancastrians, and the many supporters of Edward IV who had been shocked by Richard’s actions, were clustering around a distant Lancastrian claimant, Henry, Earl of Richmond, exiled in Brittany.
Henry’s chances of successfully challenging Richard were hugely improved when he publicly swore to marry Edward IV’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, if and when he became King – or any of her sisters, if she were no longer available for marriage. Whilst no-one was certain of the fate of Edward’s sons, there was a presumption that they were dead, and that Elizabeth was the senior representative of the House of York. Since no-one envisaged a Queen-regnant as a viable option, if Henry married Elizabeth, that would be an acceptable outcome for the Yorkists.
On 22nd August 1485, Henry defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. He was immediately proclaimed King. Henry began with a policy of reconciling Lancaster and York. He married Elizabeth in January 1486, and did not take any action against any of Richard’s supporters. The Earl of Lincoln was welcomed at Henry’s court, as was his father. Lady Margaret Plantagenet was probably placed amongst Elizabeth’s ladies, and the only immediate casualty was the ten year old Earl of Warwick who was sent to the Tower – not quite the sinister place it later became, but nevertheless, a fortress and a prison.