Richard executed a coup d’etat
shortly after the death of his brother, Edward IV
, in 1483.
Edward IV’s immediate successor was his son by marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, who reigned as Edward V until June of 1483. Richard had been loyal to his brother all his life, but he now found himself in a desperate struggle with the Woodville family, who had been elevated to their station by Edward IV’s ill-advised marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. Defenders of Richard III cite a Woodville attempt to usurp Richard from his rightful place in Edward’s will as the reason for Richard’s plots against the Woodvilles and, ultimately, to remove Edward V from the throne.
Edward IV was aware of the split in the nobles that his policies had caused, but his death was premature and he was therefore ill-prepared to deal with it. He thus failed to ensure the succession of his son, failing this vital test of medieval Kingship. Although Edward’s will has not survived, it seems certain that Richard of Gloucester was to be made protector, as the nobility would not accept the Woodvilles.
As Richard began to plot, he could initially rely on the support of nobles who found themselves inconvenienced by the Woodville’s rise to power. Most importantly he had the backing of Lord Hastings and Henry Stafford of Buckingham, the most powerful magnate among the old nobility.
Three weeks after Edward IV’s death, Richard took Edward V, his nephew, into custody and declared himself protector for the duration of the boy’s minority. Meanwhile, Lord Stafford began to spread rumours regarding Edward V’s legitimacy, claiming that Edward IV was already contracted to marry Lady Eleanor Butler when he married Elizabeth Woodville. Richard began to use his rights of patronage to “build up” his followers, and to discriminate against the Woodvilles. Richard and his followers feared the consequences of their actions should Edward V ever come of age and reinstate his mother’s family, who had indoctrinated the young Prince to think in their favour, and therefore had got themselves into a situation where they had little choice but to dethrone Edward V.
They did so in June, and Richard of Gloucester became King Richard III of England on June 26. The rumours spread regarding the legitimacy of Edward V and Edward IV spread by Richard and his followers were mere propaganda, and the real taking over was done by force of arms. Richard and his followers took control of London, arrested those servants of Edward IV still loyal to Edward V. Edward V and his younger brother, Richard, were put in the tower of London. By the autumn of 1483 they had disappeared, almost certainly murdered on their uncle’s orders.
Richard has crowned in mid-July after a petition by nobles, which was carried out mostly due to fear. After token hesitation Richard accepted, and his coronation was accompanied by an impressive royal progress around the country. By September he was forced to return to London as discontent swelled in the southern and western counties.
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