Richard, Duke of Gloucester and the North

Richard, Duke of Gloucester and the North

By Michael Hicks

Richard III and the North, edited by Rosemary Horrox (University of Hull: Studies in Regional and Local History v.6, 1986)

Introduction: Richard III is the only northerner among our late medieval kings. It was because he was a northerner that he became king in the first place – because of the power-base that his northern retainers represented. His brother Edward IV died on 9 April 1483. No doubt it was predominantly men of the north who accompanied Richard from York to Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire, where on 30 April he arrested the boy king Edward V, his uncle Earl Rivers, and his half-brother Richard Grey. Certainly it was to safe-custody in the north that Rivers and Grey were sent when Richard went on to London. Again, it was to northerners that he looked for help, summoning support from the city of York and Lord Neville on 10/11 June 1483. It was the northern leaders of this northern army who eliminated Rivers and Grey before marching south, and it was the threat of this northern army to London that permitted the peaceful usurpation of the throne on 26 June and coronation on 6 July following. Only after power was transferred and the military threat had receded could hostile southerners rebel and enlist the foreign support that made Richard’s rule so insecure. The loss of his original power-base – the desertion of key northern supporters – resulted in his defeat and death at Bosworth, scarcely two years after his accession. Finally, it was because he was a northerner, hated in the south, that he features so unfavourably in the history books, written after the event by southerners, and northern regret and nostalgia – if noticed at all – has merited only a footnote. I am not concerned here with Richard’s posthumous reputation or with the reasons for his defeat, but with the northern power-base which made his reign possible and which he created during the years 1471-83, between the ages of 19 and 31.

I started off by saying that Richard was a “northern” king, but what did I mean? He was not qualified by birth for Yorkshire, nor indeed Lancashire or Minor Counties North, though he had a birth qualification for Northants. Admittedly his father was duke of York, lord of Wakefield, Sandal and Conisbrough, but he was also earl of March in Wales, earl of Ulster in Ireland, lord of Clare in East Anglia, Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire and many other places besides. His mother Cecily – the “Rose of Raby” – came of a good northern family but was married as a child and never – as far as we know – revisited her parental home. York’s death at Wakefield was almost his only visit to the north in the last twenty years of his life. The young Richard, born at Fotheringhay, resided with his mother, probably mainly at Ludlow in the Welsh borders, until 1459. Following the accession of his eldest brother Edward IV in 1461, he was established in a tower at Greenwich palace, emerging occasionally on forays as far afield as Canterbury and Leicester, but not to the north. From 1465 he was in the household of Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, a great northern magnate, but great also in Wales and the West Midlands. It is at Warwick and Stratford that his presence is recorded, not at Middleham or Sheriff Hutton, though he may have accompanied the earl there too: certainly he was at or near York in 1468-9. Declared of age, though only 17, Richard was among those who met Edward in the north on his release by Warwick in 1469 and missed the Lincolnshire campaign next spring only because he was at Hornby Castle in Lancashire. In July 1470 he apparently helped suppress Lord Fitzhugh’s Richmondshire rebellion. Such northern affiliations may explain the presence in 1471 in his retinue (and perhaps in his household) of Thomas Parr and Thomas Huddleston, two cadets of prominent Cumbrian families. Even so, Richard was not a fully fledged northerner in 1471: he was not normally resident in the north and probably spoke not a northern dialect, but with a southern or even Welsh intonation. Although two northern saints, St Ninian and St Cuthbert, attracted his particular devotions, he still preferred the Use of Salisbury current in the south to the Use of York. His status as a northerner came fortuitously: only later, it seems, did the north become the place where Richard felt most at home and where he stayed, so Mancini states, in preference to life at court.

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