On 10th June 1483 Richard Duke of Gloucester wrote to the City of York asking for assistance against those who wish him harm. In a period in which things were changing very quickly in and around court and Government, Richard, then acting as Protector of the Realm, sent an urgent message to the City of York asking for military assistance to be sent at the earliest opportunity.
It provides a clue as to the insecurities felt by the leading nobles and families at this time. It is sent at a time when members of the Woodville family are imprisoned and shortly before Lord Hastings was arrested, tried, and executed for plotting.
Richard duke of Gloucester’s letter to York, 10th June 1483
The request holds little back in saying who he believes is plotting against him, making it clear that he believes there is a plot instigated by Elizabeth Woodville against his person.
“Right trusty and well-beloved … we heartily pray you to come unto us in London as speedily as possible after the sight of this letter with as many well-armed men as possible, to aid and assist us against the Queen, her blood and other adherents and affinity who intend to murder and utterly destroy us and our cousin, the Duke of Buckingham and the old royal blood of this realm”.
Richard Duke of Gloucester. 10th June 1483.
At the time of the letter being dispatched Earl Rivers, the Queen’s brother, was imprisoned at Pontefract Castle. Edward Woodville had armed several ships and taken to the seas. The Queen, her son Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, her daughters and several of their affinity were in sanctuary at Westminster. It is two months since the death of Edward IV. It is shortly before the intended date of Edward V’s coronation. The Woodville family had sent a large military escort of 2000 men to bring Edward to London, which had been intercepted and ordered to disband by the Dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham, who themselves had a force of men to ensure the princes safety.
Lord Hastings had allegedly threatened to retreat to Calais. This could be seen as a threat to either the Duke of Gloucester, the Woodville family, or both.
Historian Clements Markham argues the case that the information about King Edward IV‘s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville being invalid had been received by the Duke of Gloucester on the 8th of June, 2 days prior to this request being sent to York.
The letters relationship to Richard becoming king
It is unclear when Richard decided or realised that he should be king. If Markham is correct on the date upon which the news of the marriage contract between Edward and Eleanor Butler, then the matter was about to become common knowledge. In the event of the news being leaked, the Woodville affinity would be in a strong position to challenge the Duke of Gloucester. It was unclear how Lord Hastings would respond to such news.
It is also not known for sure what, if any, communication there was between members of the Woodville family and their supporters at this time. Similarly there is no evidence beyond circumstantial that any other senior magnate or royal was implicated in a plot against Richard at this time.
Events soon changed that.