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The Prayer of Richard III
The Prayer of Richard III: A Short Story
If you had been able to look down on England in the summer of 1483, you would have seen a land in disquiet, its people doubtful and anxious, its recently crowned king uncertain and troubled, some of his subjects already plotting rebellion.
* * *
Bishop John Russell, chancellor to King Richard III and keeper of the Great Seal, found himself awake. What hour of the night it was he could not be sure, but he was aware of a growing sense of fear creeping over him. He sat up in his bed and tried to listen for something, anything, over the din of rain and thunder, but to no avail. Russell had always been somewhat timid, but afraid of the dark? Not since he was a child! He forced himself to close his eyes and lie down. While he could not overthrow the icy sensation of unidentified dread, he managed to focus on prayer until he finally fell into a fitful sleep. For once though, the bishop’s fears were justified. In the morning, he found that someone had stolen into his office and gone through his papers. Nothing appeared to be missing or destroyed, but the small room was in terrible disorder and dried mud caked parts of the floor--quite unlike its condition when Russell had left it the previous day. He began the dismal task of reorganizing all the documents, feeding the fire with scraps of parchment no longer needed.
“This place was due for a cleaning anyway,” he said to himself, trying to look on the bright side.
He threw another unwanted crumple of paper to the fire, ignorant of the fact that he had just tossed the only evidence for one of England’s most infamous crimes into the greedy flames.
* * *
The north wind and pelting rain had been hammering Buckingham since dusk some hours ago. He was finally nearing his destination, his castle at Brecknock, deep in his Welsh estate. He spurred his horse on, nearly losing his balance as the bay stumbled. He regained just enough control to not be dislodged as his mount cleared a stream and clambered up the steep, muddy opposite bank. He stopped on a knoll, which usually gave a view of the castle and surrounding town. Buckingham wiped his face with a sopping sleeve and wondered whether it was still July 29th or if it was now the 30th. He had been riding hard, having set out from London about a week ago, bearing grave news for King Richard III from Sir Robert Brakenbury, constable of the Tower of London. The two young, illegitimate sons of the late King Edward IV, Edward and Richard, suddenly and mysteriously went missing on the stormy night of July 22nd. The King, on a royal progress around the country, was currently at Gloucester, where Buckingham had met with him. He was shocked, seemingly, at the news. After taking it in he had sat down in stony silence. It was a long time before Buckingham had dared to speak, for he knew what Richard was like when terribly shaken or angered: swift verging on hasty, and justice would come crashing down on the offender, no matter who it was. But he also possessed a remarkable trait, one lacking in most rulers, and that was mercy.
Mercy notwithstanding, Buckingham, had to venture one question,
“My Sovereign Liege, was this thing done . . . by your command?”
At this, Richard started, then accusingly queried,
“Why, Lord Buckingham, would it ever occur to me to have my nephews murdered?”
Buckingham flinched inwardly and nervously tightened under the powerful gaze of the monarch he had helped to put on the throne.
“Well, Your Grace, you know the people are uneasy, and some still think that it is young Lord Edward who should be on the throne. It would be understandable to have him and other rivals done away with. Your own life would never be completely safe while they lived. And it’s not as if it is an unheard of thing to do.”
“Is any man’s life ever completely safe?” The king’s blue eyes flashed up at the duke. “By your reasoning, I ought to kill all my relatives, perhaps even my own sons, perhaps even you. What would you say to that? Remember, Henry Stafford, what profits it a man if he gains all the kingdoms of the earth, yet loses his soul?”
Chastised by this remark, Buckingham made no answer. After Richard told him he was going to write his chancellor, Bishop Russell, concerning the matter and what action to take, the king brusquely dismissed his advisor. Buckingham had not stayed; he ate a quick meal, obtained a fresh mount, and rode out of Gloucester, never again to return to his king’s side.
What the king had written to the bishop, Buckingham could only guess, but his bitterness toward Richard’s treatment of him and his envy of Richard’s position had been steadily growing the past few weeks. Their meeting this morning only escalated the duke’s raging feelings. He noticed with a sudden jolt that Richard had never directly answered his question. “Of course”, he thought, “that’s just like him; I let him play me like a harp, again. He is a liar. Just like when he promised me the other half of the Bohun estate, then said that the parliament has to approve it. He knows it won’t. He knows it’s rightfully mine. Doesn’t the crown have enough lands? Ever since his coronation, he’s been trying to be fair and give everybody, including those who tried to take his life, honors and glory. He’s been forgetting how he got the crown, and who’s second in the kingdom! Richard is only king because of an unthinkable chain of events, the fourth son of that upstart Duke of York. By rights he shouldn’t even be king!”
And so, in that state of mind, Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, rode up to his rain-wreathed keep, and summoned his prisoner, Bishop John Morton of Ely, one of “those who had tried to take the king’s life.”
“Can this not wait until the morning?” Bishop Morton uselessly pleaded. He had not been sleeping well the past few nights. He was struggling with a cold and was irritated at being woken and brought to Lord Buckingham’s chamber in the middle of the night.
“No,” answered Buckingham.
He was sitting at a table in front of the fire in clean, dry clothes, finishing the last remnants of his long overdue repast. He motioned to the attentive page to leave and for Morton to sit. In the lantern light on the table, Morton could see that Buckingham’s sandy hair was still damp and he looked about as weary as Morton felt. Though Buckingham’s body was fatigued, his mind was not. He scrutinized the elderly Bishop’s face and deep eyes that gave no hint to the thoughts behind them. “Should I really tell the renegade Bishop of my meeting with the king? Is he to be trusted? What could he do?” thought Buckingham. “After all he is my prisoner. He must be of same mind as me in some things since he had once attempted to contrive Richard’s death.” Decided, Buckingham laid his grievances at Bishop Morton’s feet.
“You think,” Morton warily asked when Buckingham ceased his rant, “that the king had the little princes put to death? What if he seeks your own life? The same blood does flow in your veins. I confess . . . that I wish God had given Richard the virtues meant for the rule of the realm . . . such as he has planted in the person of Your Grace.”
“I’m sure God would not want such virtues to go to waste,” Buckingham agreed with a sneer at Richard’s name, glad that finally someone seemed to possess the sense to see his position.
“Do you think the king might already suspect you?”
“That I doubt. He has trusted me in every thing . . . instead of ‘Loyalty Binds Me,’ his motto should be ‘Loyalty Blinds Me!’” Buckingham laughed aloud at his own joke.
The prelate did not find it amusing. He did, however, see the truth in Buckingham’s jest. Richard was too easy to trust, rather impetuous at times and while even his enemies admitted he was valiant and admirable in many ways, he was not always the best judge of a man’s disposition. Even Morton, who was, knew the one thing he could expect from the arrogant lord across from him was unpredictability; he knew he must proceed with caution.
“But how would you go about your little . . . rebellion?”
The duke’s ambitious spark had been ignited.
“I have soldiers and friends in plenty. Come to think of it, now that Edward IV’s brats have been tragically removed from the picture, the restless people have no one else to rally under. ”
“But you cannot possibly gain enough support; you need help from abroad.”
Buckingham was playing with a small round broche that had been torn from his cloak, rolling it along his fingers, feeling its grooved edges. He decisively set it down, shifted in his seat, and tilted his head with a questioning look.
“Who from ‘abroad’?”
“Send for Henry Tudor, Your Grace; many months he has been biding his time, planning an invasion from Brittany with the help of his mother. He has funds and support from France. Then with a combined force, march on Richard . . . though you run the risk of Tudor claiming the throne in your stead.”
“Henry Tudor? That untested foreign fop! What have I to fear from him? In fact let him vie for the crown! One or the other, perhaps both, will certainly perish in the contest.”
“But what if one prevails?”
“My dear Bishop Morton, many ‘accidents’ happen in battle.”
* * *
Richard surveyed the soft, rolling hills of Salisbury around him and the untarnished azure dome of the sky above him with a heavy heart. The early November air felt crisp in his lungs, for the sun had not yet risen high enough to warm it, though its golden rays had already bathed the land with light. He could see his stallion, White Surrey, some distance away, absent-mindedly cropping the last of the good grass; the destrier had long ago grown used to the sights and sounds of men playing at their seemingly unceasing game of warfare. It was nearly nine o’clock, the hour designated for the execution of Lord Buckingham. The duke who had held the high office of constable of England ironically was tried and found guilty of High Treason by the vice constable. After the complete and total failure of his rebellion, Buckingham had hidden in disguise, but was turned in by the man with whom he had taken shelter.
“I guess the reward was large enough for Buckingham’s friends,” Richard mused.
He had been infuriated with Buckingham’s betrayal and uprising in October. A great sadness for his former friend swept over him, as if it accompanied the doleful northern breeze. His personal standard of the white rose of York and the white boar fluttered above his dark head. In his mind, he turned over the events of the past months with reluctance, knowing they would bring ill memories. The king had received no information of his nephews, nothing solid for weeks, not since Buckingham’s rebellion erupted while he was still on his royal tour around the country, catching him off guard. He hadn’t had time to think or act and was growing increasingly distressed. He wished Edward were here, that he had not let his unrestrained passions and gluttony destroy him. He wished for the brother before that, who had inspired in him such loyalty and admiration. But he was gone, and the consequences of many of his decisions during his reign, ranging from international difficulties to local disputes, were left for Richard to deal with.
Presently a squire came running towards him, drawing a small group of lords from their various conversations and pastimes into a semicircle around the king. Richard knew why he had come.
“My Lord!” puffed the husky voice of the boy. “The Duke of Buckingham urgently requests your presence.”
“Why? So he can stab me?”
The squire was relieved that the king had not taken offence at his lack of formality. He scanned the guards and attendants for some sign of reassurance and finding none, answered as well as his scattered wits would allow.
“He begs for pardon and mercy from Your Royal Highness . . . and wishes to speak to you of a most important matter.”
Richard brushed a fallen leaf off his doublet’s soft sleeve and glanced at a young man standing in the company of some knights several yards to his left. The young man was Lord Buckingham’s son.
“I have heard. I have also heard other things. I will not see him. He chose to live a traitor, therefore, by law, he must die one.”
“Will you not come to the execution Your Grace?”
“No, I will not.”
Richard then retired to his tent, and though his men at arms stood on guard outside, not one heard him weep. As the bell on the distant steeple of the Salisbury Cathedral tolled nine, he kneeled on the cool ground and offered up his Terce, the midmorning prayer in the liturgy of the hours, for Buckingham’s soul. He had added a prayer to the back of his devotional book and said it quietly in the dim light before going about the duty of discharging his army:
“Lord Jesus Christ, deign to free me, your servant King Richard, from every tribulation, sorrow and trouble in which I am placed . . . hear me, in the name of all your goodness, for which I give thanks, and for all the gifts granted to me, because you made me from nothing and redeemed me out of your bounteous love and pity from eternal damnation to promising eternal life.”
This prayer was to be a great comfort to him in the tumultuous years to come, but those years were numbered. For while he returned to his wife in London, his adversaries were already forming their final schemes to achieve his demise.
* * *
Lady Margaret Beaufort gazed out her window on the lands that had become her prison. Her golden hair was hidden under an elaborate headdress and her small, sharp features made her complexion severe, yet beautiful. Her husband, Lord Stanley, was away again at the request of the king. Resentment swelled up in her: Thomas was not at the king’s side because of favor, but mistrust. Richard was keeping him close, in order to check any mischief that might ensue. Not without reason, she conceded. In his will, King Edward IV had appointed his faithful brother Richard, then Duke of Gloucester, the Protector of Prince Edward and the kingdom until the boy came of age. Lord Stanley had taken part in a plot to see Richard dead and give power over the young prince to Edward’s Queen, Elizabeth Woodville. She and her rabble of ambitious relatives lacked any sufficient royal blood to lay claim to the throne, and had been understandably irate over Richard’s appointment as “Protector.” Therefore, she and her followers determined to take matters into their own hands. Richard, with Buckingham’s help, unfortunately discovered the conspiracy. He had Lord Hastings, whom he believed to be at the center of the plot, though once a trusted friend and ally, executed, in hot anger at his unexpected treachery. In contrast, he was quite forgiving with the others. Morton was put in Buckingham’s charge; two others and Stanley were simply pardoned. Stanley was even given the honor carrying the constable’s mace in Richard’s coronation, while Lady Margaret was given the privilege to hold the train of Anne, Richard’s queen. Despite these favors, he failed to gain their loyalty.
Margaret had been confined to one of her husband’s more obscure estates for her involvement in Buckingham’s rebellion. However, she had been more than involved; she was the driving force behind it, for she was Henry Tudor’s mother. He was her only child, her only key to better fortune, and her only wish now was to see his dreams, which ultimately were hers, fulfilled. Margaret had a way of getting what she wished, and both mother and son had aspired to the crown of England long enough. Margaret remained undeterred by the fact that her son’s claim to the throne was thought of as shallow and even mocked by many. “Richard is king because his nephew was found to be born of an invalid marriage. Henry, while brought into this world from a true and holy union, is denied his rightful claim because a remote ancestor wasn’t. How long must this go on?” She thought.
Now she awaited her ever-crafty turncoat, Bishop Morton, whose hate for the king nearly matched her own in intensity and surpassed it in years. Richard and the Bishop had always been at odds: Richard with the Bishop’s avarice, Morton with Richard’s obstinacy to conform to his will. Each envied the other’s influence with King Edward IV.
It was evening when the clergyman finally arrived. Margaret could barely curb her impatience long enough to wait for someone to take his horse, fetch food and bring him to the solace where they could converse in private.
“Where have you been?” She demanded without regard to his holy office. “I expected you here days ago.”
Morton, unperturbed, sat down and removed his worn and weather-stained cap before replying.
“I’m sorry for the delay, Madame. I was forced to tarry along the way. The king would have me arrested and I was forced to take precautions.”
“Has it been done?”
“Buckingham’s execution?” Morton said hesitantly, “Yes, My Lady.”
“Good. I’m glad Richard finally rid me of him.”
Morton swallowed and Margaret, one of the few people that knew him well enough to decipher the subtle indications of his mindset, could tell it was a sign of apprehension.
“What? You know as well as I that Buckingham was dangerous. Though when his head was clouded with ambitious notions, he couldn’t see past his belly, could he? I need not remind you that you planned the whole thing. You had access to him, and could use your persuasive tongue to the desired result, which you did, as you’ve done so many times past.” She continued a with dramatic tone, “Once hapless Buckingham breathed your poison, he condemned himself. You, my Bishop, even told him where to go in the event his rebellion turned to disaster, knowing full well that the ‘staunch supporter’ would give Buckingham up! I do hope you didn’t fail to pay Mister Bannister, even though he now has the king’s gold. In short, Bishop Morton of Ely, you did what you do to perfection--serve me.”
Morton stared at the only person who occasionally left him speechless and humiliated and heaved a sigh of defeat. He could not argue with her. He never had been able to anyway. Her velvety emerald gown accented the same shade in her eyes that had not once released Morton from their rigid hold since he entered the chamber. Knowing that he had nothing to say, Margaret continued,
“There is one thing, though, that you could not do for me, and that’s where Buckingham served his finest use.”
“What may that be My Lady?” Morton dryly inquired.
“He helped me to forever be free of trouble from those ‘princes’ in the Tower.”
The bishop sat stone silent, white as a sheet, his throat dry. Morton now knew the reason behind Buckingham’s reported pleas to speak to Richard before his death. Perhaps he thought to gain his life with information the king so desperately needed. Eventually he managed to stammer,
“It was almost too easy!” She laughed, “A couple of trusted men--you need not know who--told Buckingham they needed access to the boys, in the name of the king. They had a copy of the Great Seal to prove it, taken from right under Bishop Russell’s nose! Buckingham obliged, he probably knew what they were going to do and obviously condoned it. For all we know he might have had plans to do it himself. Now Richard does not know what to do; perhaps he suspects it was Buckingham, and people will want answers . . . poor fool,” she added with sarcastic pity.
She went on,
“Now you must do your part. Go to my son, Henry, in France, and help him win support for another invasion. I don’t expect it to be instant; don’t worry. But the time will be ripe soon. Tell him . . . that we have reason to believe the rumors of Richard putting his nephews to death to be true.”
“Yes, the ones you will start.”
Morton got up and prepared to leave, but Margaret had one more thing to say.
“And Morton, just remember that what happened to Buckingham can easily be repeated. Don’t even think I will have any trepidation about disposing of anyone who I deem a threat, not after all I’ve done to try to secure Henry’s throne. Richard III will forever be known as the murdering usurper that I will make him out to be. It is my son who will make history when he becomes Henry VII, and he will. After all,” a smile tugged at the corners of Margaret’s mouth, “seven is a lucky number.”
This is a story I wrote in the Spring of 2008, when I was sixteen. I entered it into my school's short story contest. There are a couple historical discrepancies I realized after the fact, but the whole story is rather far fetched in any regard. I did try very much to make it as historically accurate as possible with respect to the known facts, while having a story that was different from the typical scenarios and entertaining. A lot of research and time went into this piece, and I hope you enjoyed it.
No one knows what really happened to the "Princes in the Tower" Edward V, and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York. The "evidence" can be construed many ways, the primary suspects being Richard III, Henry the Duke of Buckingham, and Henry VII. Some even believe that one or both of the princes survived for a time in hiding. Personally I do not think that they lived through the reign of Richard III, though every theory is intriguing. Richard III was not the monster of Shakespeare, though not the "white knight" of this story either. I don't think he "did it," but it is certainly possible.
On Aug. 22, 1845 the army of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, comprising mainly of French mercenaries, met with the forces of King Richard III on the field of Bosworth. In an effort to decisively end the battle, Richard charged with one hundred or so loyal retainers down Ambion hill toward the exposed and inexperienced Henry. At that moment the inactive Lord Stanley saw his chance to join the battle on the side of his step-son. His men soon surrounded and cut down the King's. Richard is the last English King to have died in battle, fighting until the end and crying "treason!" He was almost 33 and his final resting place is unknown.
Henry Tudor ascended to the throne as King Henry VII on Oct. 30th, 1485 and married Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV early in 1486, uniting the houses of Lancaster and York. They had seven children including future King Henry VIII, Queen Mary Tudor, and Margaret who became Queen of Scotland. Under Henry VII’s reign the power of the English nobility was eroded, giving way to a more powerful monarchy during the Tudor dynasty. Two rebellions were put down by his armies, the leader of one claiming to be one of the “Princes in the Tower.” Otherwise he had a fairly peaceful reign though he was never popular. He died on Apr. 21, 1509 at the age of 52.
Bishop Morton was made the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1486 and Lord Chancellor a year later, always having great influence with King Henry VII. He wrote a “History” of Richard III, parts of which have been proven historically inaccurate and he obviously has a heavy bias. Much of this history is believed to have been copied by St. Thomas More, who for unexplained reasons left his version unfinished and unpublished. Bishop Morton died on the 15th of September in 1500 at the age of 80.
Lady Margaret Beaufort saw her son become Henry VII and became known and as extremely pious and charitable women during her later years. She was a benefactor to many universities and religious orders. She died in on June 29th, 1509 at the age of 66, only months after her son.