The Death and Usurpation of King Richard III

Richard III’s body was put on public display for two days at Greyfriars church, probably in a place of honour. A tomb made of alabaster, with an effigy of Richard on top, was later erected on the orders of Henry. However, the tomb was torn down during the Reformation and whether his remains are still in the church grounds or, as legend has it, thrown into the River Soar, is not known.

Henry VII also spent two days at Leicester, before sending a proclamation around his new kingdom announcing his accession. With the old administration totally destroyed, Henry had to start again, and it was another month before the business of running the country began in earnest. Sir Robert Willoughby was sent to Sheriff Hutton to arrest Edward, Earl of Warwick, the son of the late Duke of Clarence and last of the male Plantagenets. Willoughby also brought with him Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward IV and Henry’s future bride. Elizabeth and her mother were escorted back to London, while the 10-year-old Edward was made a prisoner in the Tower.

Henry made a triumphal entry into London on 3 September, having been met by the mayor and aldermen at Hornsey, who, dressed in all their splendour, escorted him to St Paul’s Cathedral. Henry then set about rewarding all those who had helped him: his uncle Jasper was made Duke of Bedford; Philbert de Chandée was made Earl of Bath; Thomas Stanley became Earl of Derby; Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon; and Sir William Stanley was also given key offices. Henry’s official coronation was held on 30 October and eight days later he held his first Parliament.

His first act was to repeal Titulus Regius, the statute that declared Edward IV’s marriage invalid and his children illegitimate. His second action was to declare himself king from the day before the Battle of Bosworth Field. This meant that anyone who had fought for Richard would be guilty of treason, although, surprisingly, only twenty-eight of Richard’s supporters were named in the act of attainder that followed. Richard’s nephew and designated heir, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln was spared – a decision that Henry would come to regret.

Henry honoured his pledge of December 1483 and married Elizabeth of York on 18 January 1486 at Westminster, uniting the warring houses and giving his children a strong claim to the throne. His heraldic emblem, the Tudor rose, a combination of the white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster, reflected the unification of the two houses.

Henry’s first main concern was how to secure the throne, which he did by dividing and undermining the power of the nobility. His principal weapon was the Court of Star Chamber which revived an earlier practice of using a small group of the Privy Council as a personal or prerogative court, able to cut swiftly through the cumbersome legal system. Serious disputes involving the use of personal power, or threats to royal authority, were dealt with accordingly. Henry allowed the nobles to continue with their regional influence as long as they remained loyal to him.

This, however, was not enough as, less than a year after he was crowned, whilst at Lincoln, Henry became aware of a rebellion by Francis Lovell, Richard’s lord chamberlain, along with Humphrey and Thomas Stafford. Together they planned to raise troops and kill Henry as he travelled to the north of England. Henry had them followed, finding the Staffords in Culham church near Abingdon where they were arrested. Sir Richard Edgecombe and Sir William Tyler were sent to arrest Lovell; however, he managed to escape, first joining fellow rebels at Furness Falls and later fleeing to Margaret of York in Flanders. Sir John Conyers, who was also suspected of being involved in the revolt, lost his stewardship of Middleham Castle and had a £2,000 bond imposed.

John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, fled to his aunt Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, at Mechelen (Malines) on 19 March 1487. Here, Margaret provided him with financial and military support in the form of 2,000 German mercenaries, under Martin Schwartz. He was also joined by a number of Yorkist supporters, including Lord Lovell, Sir Richard Harleston, the former governor of Jersey, and Thomas David, a captain of the English garrison at Calais. In April, the army landed in Ireland, claiming that a boy called Lambert Simnel was the Earl of Warwick (who was, in reality, a prisoner in the Tower). On 4 June 1487, de la Pole, his army boosted by a body of Irish troops, crossed over to England. Here they were joined by a number of the local gentry led by Sir Thomas Broughton. In a series of forced marches, the Yorkist army, now numbering some 8,000 men, covered over 320km (200 miles) in five days. On the night of 10 June, at Bramham Moor, outside Tadcaster, Lovell led 2,000 men on a night attack against 400 Lancastrians, led by Lord Clifford. The result was an overwhelming Yorkist victory. On 12 June, de la Pole outmanoeuvred King Henry’s northern army, under the command of the Earl of Northumberland, by ordering a force under John, Lord Scrope, to mount a diversionary attack on Bootham Bar in York. Lord Scrope then withdrew northwards, taking Northumberland’s army with him.

De la Pole and the main army continued south. They met with a body of Lancastrian cavalry under Lord Scales outside Doncaster, and three days of skirmishing through Sherwood Forest followed. Eventually, Scales was forced to retreat to Nottingham; however, the fighting allowed Henry time to bring up substantial reinforcements under the command of Lord Strange, who arrived at Nottingham on 14 June. The next day they began moving north-east toward Newark after receiving news that Lincoln had crossed the River Trent. At around 9 a.m. on 16 June, Henry’s vanguard, commanded by the Earl of Oxford, encountered the Yorkist army on the brow of a hill by the River Trent at the village of East Stoke. The Yorkists were surrounded on three sides and attacked immediately. However, the unarmoured Irish were cut to pieces and the German mercenaries, unable to retreat, fought to the last man. The battle lasted for three hours and de la Pole, Fitzgerald, Broughton and Schwartz were all killed in the fighting. Only Lord Lovell escaped and, according to legend, died hidden in a secret room at his house, while Simnel was captured and made a servant in the royal kitchen by Henry. Twenty-eight Yorkists were attained in the aftermath, but the Irish were pardoned. Following the death of his older brother John, Edmund de la Pole became the leading Yorkist claimant to the throne. Henry allowed him to succeed as Duke of Suffolk in 1491, although some time later Edmund’s title was demoted to the rank of earl.

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