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Charles Dickens > A Child's History of England > Chapter XXIV

A Child's History of England

Chapter XXIV


THE late King's eldest son, the Prince of Wales, called EDWARD
after him, was only thirteen years of age at his father's death.
He was at Ludlow Castle with his uncle, the Earl of Rivers. The
prince's brother, the Duke of York, only eleven years of age, was
in London with his mother. The boldest, most crafty, and most
dreaded nobleman in England at that time was their uncle RICHARD,
Duke of Gloucester, and everybody wondered how the two poor boys
would fare with such an uncle for a friend or a foe.

The Queen, their mother, being exceedingly uneasy about this, was
anxious that instructions should be sent to Lord Rivers to raise an
army to escort the young King safely to London. But, Lord
Hastings, who was of the Court party opposed to the Woodvilles, and
who disliked the thought of giving them that power, argued against
the proposal, and obliged the Queen to be satisfied with an escort
of two thousand horse. The Duke of Gloucester did nothing, at
first, to justify suspicion. He came from Scotland (where he was
commanding an army) to York, and was there the first to swear
allegiance to his nephew. He then wrote a condoling letter to the
Queen-Mother, and set off to be present at the coronation in

Now, the young King, journeying towards London too, with Lord
Rivers and Lord Gray, came to Stony Stratford, as his uncle came to
Northampton, about ten miles distant; and when those two lords
heard that the Duke of Gloucester was so near, they proposed to the
young King that they should go back and greet him in his name. The
boy being very willing that they should do so, they rode off and
were received with great friendliness, and asked by the Duke of
Gloucester to stay and dine with him. In the evening, while they
were merry together, up came the Duke of Buckingham with three
hundred horsemen; and next morning the two lords and the two dukes,
and the three hundred horsemen, rode away together to rejoin the
King. Just as they were entering Stony Stratford, the Duke of
Gloucester, checking his horse, turned suddenly on the two lords,
charged them with alienating from him the affections of his sweet
nephew, and caused them to be arrested by the three hundred
horsemen and taken back. Then, he and the Duke of Buckingham went
straight to the King (whom they had now in their power), to whom
they made a show of kneeling down, and offering great love and
submission; and then they ordered his attendants to disperse, and
took him, alone with them, to Northampton.

A few days afterwards they conducted him to London, and lodged him
in the Bishop's Palace. But, he did not remain there long; for,
the Duke of Buckingham with a tender face made a speech expressing
how anxious he was for the Royal boy's safety, and how much safer
he would be in the Tower until his coronation, than he could be
anywhere else. So, to the Tower he was taken, very carefully, and
the Duke of Gloucester was named Protector of the State.

Although Gloucester had proceeded thus far with a very smooth
countenance - and although he was a clever man, fair of speech, and
not ill-looking, in spite of one of his shoulders being something
higher than the other - and although he had come into the City
riding bare-headed at the King's side, and looking very fond of him
- he had made the King's mother more uneasy yet; and when the Royal
boy was taken to the Tower, she became so alarmed that she took
sanctuary in Westminster with her five daughters.

Nor did she do this without reason, for, the Duke of Gloucester,
finding that the lords who were opposed to the Woodville family
were faithful to the young King nevertheless, quickly resolved to
strike a blow for himself. Accordingly, while those lords met in
council at the Tower, he and those who were in his interest met in
separate council at his own residence, Crosby Palace, in
Bishopsgate Street. Being at last quite prepared, he one day
appeared unexpectedly at the council in the Tower, and appeared to
be very jocular and merry. He was particularly gay with the Bishop
of Ely: praising the strawberries that grew in his garden on
Holborn Hill, and asking him to have some gathered that he might
eat them at dinner. The Bishop, quite proud of the honour, sent
one of his men to fetch some; and the Duke, still very jocular and
gay, went out; and the council all said what a very agreeable duke
he was! In a little time, however, he came back quite altered -
not at all jocular - frowning and fierce - and suddenly said, -

'What do those persons deserve who have compassed my destruction; I
being the King's lawful, as well as natural, protector?'

To this strange question, Lord Hastings replied, that they deserved
death, whosoever they were.

'Then,' said the Duke, 'I tell you that they are that sorceress my
brother's wife;' meaning the Queen: 'and that other sorceress,
Jane Shore. Who, by witchcraft, have withered my body, and caused
my arm to shrink as I now show you.'

He then pulled up his sleeve and showed them his arm, which was
shrunken, it is true, but which had been so, as they all very well
knew, from the hour of his birth.

Jane Shore, being then the lover of Lord Hastings, as she had
formerly been of the late King, that lord knew that he himself was
attacked. So, he said, in some confusion, 'Certainly, my Lord, if
they have done this, they be worthy of punishment.'

'If?' said the Duke of Gloucester; 'do you talk to me of ifs? I
tell you that they HAVE so done, and I will make it good upon thy
body, thou traitor!'

With that, he struck the table a great blow with his fist. This
was a signal to some of his people outside to cry 'Treason!' They
immediately did so, and there was a rush into the chamber of so
many armed men that it was filled in a moment.

'First,' said the Duke of Gloucester to Lord Hastings, 'I arrest
thee, traitor! And let him,' he added to the armed men who took
him, 'have a priest at once, for by St. Paul I will not dine until
I have seen his head of!'

Lord Hastings was hurried to the green by the Tower chapel, and
there beheaded on a log of wood that happened to be lying on the
ground. Then, the Duke dined with a good appetite, and after
dinner summoning the principal citizens to attend him, told them
that Lord Hastings and the rest had designed to murder both himself
and the Duke if Buckingham, who stood by his side, if he had not
providentially discovered their design. He requested them to be so
obliging as to inform their fellow-citizens of the truth of what he
said, and issued a proclamation (prepared and neatly copied out
beforehand) to the same effect.

On the same day that the Duke did these things in the Tower, Sir
Richard Ratcliffe, the boldest and most undaunted of his men, went
down to Pontefract; arrested Lord Rivers, Lord Gray, and two other
gentlemen; and publicly executed them on the scaffold, without any
trial, for having intended the Duke's death. Three days afterwards
the Duke, not to lose time, went down the river to Westminster in
his barge, attended by divers bishops, lords, and soldiers, and
demanded that the Queen should deliver her second son, the Duke of
York, into his safe keeping. The Queen, being obliged to comply,
resigned the child after she had wept over him; and Richard of
Gloucester placed him with his brother in the Tower. Then, he
seized Jane Shore, and, because she had been the lover of the late
King, confiscated her property, and got her sentenced to do public
penance in the streets by walking in a scanty dress, with bare
feet, and carrying a lighted candle, to St. Paul's Cathedral,
through the most crowded part of the City.

Having now all things ready for his own advancement, he caused a
friar to preach a sermon at the cross which stood in front of St.
Paul's Cathedral, in which he dwelt upon the profligate manners of
the late King, and upon the late shame of Jane Shore, and hinted
that the princes were not his children. 'Whereas, good people,'
said the friar, whose name was SHAW, 'my Lord the Protector, the
noble Duke of Gloucester, that sweet prince, the pattern of all the
noblest virtues, is the perfect image and express likeness of his
father.' There had been a little plot between the Duke and the
friar, that the Duke should appear in the crowd at this moment,
when it was expected that the people would cry 'Long live King
Richard!' But, either through the friar saying the words too soon,
or through the Duke's coming too late, the Duke and the words did
not come together, and the people only laughed, and the friar
sneaked off ashamed.

The Duke of Buckingham was a better hand at such business than the
friar, so he went to the Guildhall the next day, and addressed the
citizens in the Lord Protector's behalf. A few dirty men, who had
been hired and stationed there for the purpose, crying when he had
done, 'God save King Richard!' he made them a great bow, and
thanked them with all his heart. Next day, to make an end of it,
he went with the mayor and some lords and citizens to Bayard
Castle, by the river, where Richard then was, and read an address,
humbly entreating him to accept the Crown of England. Richard, who
looked down upon them out of a window and pretended to be in great
uneasiness and alarm, assured them there was nothing he desired
less, and that his deep affection for his nephews forbade him to
think of it. To this the Duke of Buckingham replied, with
pretended warmth, that the free people of England would never
submit to his nephew's rule, and that if Richard, who was the
lawful heir, refused the Crown, why then they must find some one
else to wear it. The Duke of Gloucester returned, that since he
used that strong language, it became his painful duty to think no
more of himself, and to accept the Crown.

Upon that, the people cheered and dispersed; and the Duke of
Gloucester and the Duke of Buckingham passed a pleasant evening,
talking over the play they had just acted with so much success, and
every word of which they had prepared together.

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