24. Richard III, A.D. 1483—1485
Richard III. seems to have wished to be a good and great king; but he had made his way to the throne in too evil a manner to be likely to prosper. How many people he had put to death we do not know, for when the English began to suspect the he had murdered his two nephews, they also accused him of the death of everyone who had been secretly slain ever since Edward IV. came to the throne, when he had been a mere boy. He found he must be always on the watch; and his home was unhappy, for his son, for whose sake he had striven so hard to be king, died while yet a boy, and Anne, his wife, not long after.
Then his former staunch friend, the Duke of Buckingham, began to feel that though he wanted the sons of Elizabeth Woodville to be set aside from reigning, it was quite another thing to murder them. He was a vain, proud man, who had a little royal blood—being descended from Thomas, the first Duke of Gloucester, son of Edward III.—and he bethought himself that, now all the House of Lancaster was gone, and so many of the House of York, he might possibly become king. But he had hardly begun to make a plot, before the keen-sighted, watchful Richard found it out, and had him seized and beheaded.
There was another plot, though, that Richard did not find out in time. The real House of Lancaster had ended when poor young Edward was killed at Tewkesbury; but the Beauforts—the children of that younger family of John of Gaunt, who had first begun the quarrel with the Duke of York—were not all dead. Lady Margaret Beaufort, the daughter of the eldest son, had married a Welsh gentleman named Edmund Tudor, and had a son called Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond. Edward IV. had always feared that this youth might rise against him, and he had been obliged to wander about in France and Brittany since the death of his father; but nobody was afraid of Lady Margaret, and she had married a Yorkist nobleman, Lord Stanley.
Now, the eldest daughter of Edward IV.—Elizabeth, or Lady Bessee, as she was called—was older than her poor young brothers; and she heard, to her great horror, that her uncle wanted to commit the great wickedness of making her his wife, after poor Anne Nevil's death. There is a curious old set of verses, written by Lord Stanley's squire, which says that Lady Bessee called Lord Stanley to a secret room, and begged him to send to his stepson, Richmond, to invite him to come to England and set them all free.
Stanley said he could not write well enough, and that he could not trust a scribe; but Lady Bessee said she could write as well as any scribe in England. So she told him to come to her chamber at nine that evening, with his trusty squire; and there she wrote letters, kneeling by the table, to all the noblemen likely to be discontented with Richard, and appointing a place of meeting with Stanley; and she promised herself that, if Henry Tudor would come and overthrow the cruel tyrant Richard, she would marry him: and she sent him a ring in pledge of her promise.
Henry was in Brittany when he received the letter. He kissed the ring, but waited long before he made up his mind to try his fortune. At last he sailed in a French ship, and landed at Milford Haven—for he knew the Welsh would be delighted to see him; and, as he was really descended from the great British chiefs, they seemed to think that to make him king of England would be almost like having King Arthur back again.
They gathered round him, and so did a great many English nobles and gentlemen. But Richard, though very angry, was not much alarmed, for he knew Henry Tudor had never seen a battle. He marched out to meet him, and a terrible fight took place at Redmore Heath, near Market Bosworth, where, after long and desperate struggling, Richard was overwhelmed and slain, his banner taken, and his men either killed or driven from the field. His body was found gashed, bleeding, and stripped; and thus was thrown across a horse and carried into Leicester, where he had slept the night before.
The crown he had worn over his helmet was picked up from the branches of a hawthorn, and set on the head of Henry Tudor. Richard was the last king of the Plantagenet family, who had ruled over England for more than three hundred years. This battle of Bosworth likewise finished the whole bloody war of the Red and White Roses.