How did Richard III become King?

A timeline of events leading to the accession of Richard III. The question ‘How did Richard III become King?’ is one for which there is no simple answer. In a period of just 78 days Richard was transformed from being the loyal brother of King Edward IV to monarch in place of his nephew. It is a scenario unparallelled in English constitutional history which is further complicated by the mystery of what became of his nephews.

Allegations, Assumptions and Armies: Richard III’s route to the throne

Questions can be asked about the intentions of several people as the rule of Edward IV came to an end and the short-lived reign of Edward V began. There are allegations of plots, executions, snap judgements, raising of small armies, securing of the treasury and the preaching of sermons to consider. What it was not, was a simple coup. Nobody seized the crown when Edward IV died but there was suspicion that factions were trying to control the new King. Nor was there any bloodshed at first, there was a period of over two months before anybody was physically harmed.

How did Richard III become King?

So, was Richard’s accession to Kingship a long standing plan? Was it a result of the frustrations of the ‘old nobility’ at the Woodville’s actions following Edward IV’s death? Did word of Edward’s pre-contract come as a surprise to everybody?

Events surrounding the Death of Edward IV

6th April 1483. Premature news reached the City of York of the death of King Edward IV.

7th April 1483. Dirges sung in York.

8th April 1483. A Requiem mass scheduled for the repose of Edward IV’s soul at York Minster.

9th April 1483. Edward IV died.

11th April 1483. Proclamation of King Edward V in London. His coronation was scheduled for 4th May.

14th April 1483. Edward V was informed of his fathers death.

20th April 1483. Funeral of King Edward IV.

The Arrest of Earl Rivers

24th April 1483. King Edward V accompanied by his uncle, Earl Rivers, half brother Sir Richard Grey and Sir Thomas Vaughan, with a large retinue, departed from Ludlow on his journey to London for his coronation. Edward V departs Ludlow for London and his coronation.

27th April 1483. Appointment of Commissioners to collect taxes imposed on Aliens in the last of King Edward IV’s parliaments. Chief amongst the Commissioners are Earl Rivers and the Marquis of Dorset. At the same time, Edward Woodville was Keeper of the Seas and the Marquis of Dorset was Constable of the Tower of London, which housed the King’s treasure. Earl Rivers has a force of 2000 men of his escorting the King.

29th April 1483. Richard Duke of Gloucester and Henry Duke of Buckingham arrive in Northampton. They spend the evening with Earl Rivers. King Edward V and his escort had travelled onwards.

30th April 1483. Earl Rivers, Sir Richard Grey, and Sir Thomas Vaughan arrested and sent under guard to the royal castle at Pontefract.

From Stony Stratford to London

30th April 1483. Edward Woodville held command of the navy. He put the fleet to sea on this date.

1st May 1483. Queen Elizabeth [Woodville], Richard of Shrewsbury, the Marquis of Dorset, the Princesses and several senior clerics enter the sanctuary at Westminster. Elizabeth Woodville enters Sanctuary at Westminster.

2nd May 1483. ‘King Edward V‘ wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury asking him to safeguard the Great Seal, Tower of London, and the Treasury.

4th May 1483. King Edward, the Duke of Gloucester, and Duke of Buckingham arrive in London. They are accompanied by cartloads of weapons that are stated to have been taken from Woodville forces. [This is the escort initially sent to protect the young King.]

Richard Duke of Gloucester confirmed as Protector by the Council

7th May 1483. Executors of King Edward IV’s Will met at Baynard’s Castle. They were unable to proceed with their role due to so many of the main benefactors of the will having taken sanctuary at Westminster.

10th May 1483. Council confirms Richard Duke of Gloucester as Protector. [He only seems to have used the additional term ‘Defender’ in correspondence from 21st May onwards].

10th May 1483. Sir Thomas Fulford and John Halwell were ordered to ‘go among’ Edward Woodville and his company on land or at sea. [Order to disperse the fleet, using force if necessary].

13th May 1483. Writs of summons to Parliament were dispatched.

14th-21st 1483 At some point between these dates pardons were offered to all mariners with the exceptions of Edward Woodville and Sir Robert Ratcliff.

Preparation for the Coronation of King Edward V

20th May 1483. Sheriff’s instructed to order unknighted men holding £40 in land or rents to attend London for knighting ceremonies on 18th June.

23rd May 1483. The City of London was acting as an intermediary between those in Sanctuary and the Council. On the 23rd May they wrote to the Dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham, Archbishop of Canterbury and to the King’s Council. The letter asked each of them to swear to the safety of the Queen and her party should they choose to relinquish their right to remain in sanctuary. There is no evidence of any reply to this request.

5th June 1483. Writs issued to 40 men of high birth summoning them to attend to the King’s coronation for the purpose of their being knighted during the service.

5th June 1483. Bishop Russell wrote a letter suggesting that Richard Duke of Gloucester should be Protector until Edward V reached his minority. Further, he implies that the young King should not be crowned until he is of age.

How did Richard III become King? A Bigamous Marriage

8th June 1483. Historian Sir Clements Robert Markham argues that Richard was informed of the Bigamous nature of King Edward IV’s marriage on this date. Markham states that Richard was told by the Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Welles.

9th June 1483. A letter sent by a court official recorded that no lord had spoken with Queen Elizabeth to this date. [Stallworth to Sir William Stonor]

9th June 1483. Markham suggests that Richard Duke of Gloucester presented the information received from Bishop Stillington to the Council on this date.

Allegations of Plots by the Queen’s adherents and affinity and Lord Hastings

10/11th June. Richard writes to the City of York asking for support  as he believes there is a plot against his person being organised by ‘the Queen, her blood adherents and affinity’.

13th June 1483. Arrest of William, Lord Hastings. Possible date of his execution. [Disputed date for his execution. Alternatively, see 20th June. Historians stating 13th June for the execution include Wolfe, Coleman].

Cardinal Bourchier urges Queen Elizabeth Woodville to let her younger son Richard, Duke of York out of Sanctuary in Westminster Abbey, by John Z. Bell. How did Richard III become King? This took place on 16th June 1483, the Coronation of Edward V was still planned for 22nd June at this time
Cardinal Bourchier urges Queen Elizabeth Woodville to let her younger son Richard, Duke of York out of Sanctuary in Westminster Abbey, by John Z. Bell

Prince Richard entered the tower, Parliament postponed

16th June 1483. Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, left sanctuary to prepare for his brothers coronation. The Dowager Queen had consented. Richard of Shrewsbury was taken to join his elder brother in the royal apartments of the Tower of London.

17/18th June 1483. Supersedas were issued to cancel the Parliament that had been summoned to meet.

18th June 1483. Date upon which Richard had asked the support from the north to have mustered at Pontefract Castle.

20th June 1483. Possible date of the execution of William, Lord Hastings. [Disputed date. Historians stating this date include Markham, Hannon].

Illegitimacy of Edward V and Richard’s right to be king.

22nd June 1483. A sermon was preached by Dr Ralph Shaa at St Paul’s Cross. It stated that the marriage of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville was bigamous. Consequently, the children from the relationship were illegitimate.

24th June 1483. Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, speaks at the Guildhall, London, explaining Richard’s right to be King.

25th June 1483. Date upon which Parliament had been summoned to meet. Though this had subsequently been cancelled, the update had been dispatched very late. Many members of parliament had not received the news and were in London on this date.

25th June 1483. Support from the North for Richard Duke of Gloucester was expected to be in London on or before this date.

King Richard III

26th June 1483. Richard accepts the invitation to become King of England.

28th June 1483. Richard wrote to Calais addressing them as King of England.

6th July 1483. Coronation of Richard III and Queen Consort Anne [Neville]

January 1484. Titulus Regius, an Act of Parliament that details the illegitimacy of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville’s marriage and subsequent bastardisation of their children.

Image Credits

Featured Image: Anne Neville and Richard III Coronation image. From the Rous Roll. 15th Century, Public Domain.

Cardinal Bourchier urges Queen Elizabeth Woodville to let her younger son Richard, Duke of York out of Sanctuary in Westminster Abbey, by John Z. Bell. From: Boy kings and girl queens by Marshall, H. E. (Henrietta Elizabeth), Published [1914] Topics Kings and rulers, Queens. Publisher New York: F.A. Stokes Company

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