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Well might you tax his faithless heart,
And yet refus'd in grief to join!—
ANOTHER, BY THE SAME HAND.
On the Death of Mrs. ---
O'er a lov'd sister's timeless urn
CHARACTER OF RICHARD III.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE MIRROR OF TASTE.
WHETHER Richard the Third was as bad a man as he is represented by Shakspeare, or whether he or Henry the Seventh was the perpetrator of the crimes laid to his charge, is of little consequence to the world. Yet as a curious subject of speculation, and a liberal exercise for the mind, it is a question worthy of light discussion, and deserving a place in your miscellany. Perhaps it is not the worse either for being entirely unsusceptible of a conclusive decision. In meeting such points, however unimportant they may really be, the advocates on either side ought to be as much in earnest as possible. Now, sir, I love Shakspeare so much that I wish to establish the character of Richard for ever in the shape in which he has given it. In answer, therefore, to the vindication of the crookback, contained in your number for March, I beg leave to offer the following observations, to which, if you be in reality as impartial as common fame represents you to be, you will afford a place in your next number: they are given without enthusiasm or warmth, and are the result of the cool and deliberate reflections of a very disinterested man.
Richard, born in times of peculiar turbulence, seemed nurtured in ambition; an ambition which knew no restraints, for it violated the most solemn promises and protestations, and the most sacred oaths. Richard Plantagenet, duke of York, his father, who was the
undoubted heir to the crown by descent, prosecuted his right by every crime, that could disgrace talents, evidently great.
By his fall the claim came to his gallant son, Edward IV., who, when dethroned, regained his crown by perjury. To this brother, Richard, when duke of Gloucester, was alike faithful in the cabinet and in the field. In both he conspicuously shone. George, duke of Clarence, the second brother, weak and avaricious, was seldom quiet, often turbulent, and had even been a traitor to the white rose. Clarence and Gloucester, husbands of two sisters, often quarrelled about the rich possessions of the great earl of Warwick, "the king maker," these ladies' father. Richard, taking advantage of the culpable conduct of Clarence, obtained his commitment, his trial, his condemnation, and certainly did not attempt even to stay execution.
What were the designs of Richard after this, and when he saw his elder brother, and his sovereign, sinking with a dropsy, the effect of his intemperance, does not appear from any thing which has reached us.
The death of Edward IV. determined him to, at least, be the governor of the kingdom, and guardian of his young sovereign and nephew. Crimes beget crimes; and ambition, when it has gained one object, seeks another. By the destruction of the beautiful, but weak dowager's faction, he found little opposition, and having obtained the person of the young king and his brother Richard, duke of York, he determined to seize the throne. The duke of Buckingham, the first peer in the realm, if he did not suggest Richard's usurpation, undoubtedly was his chief support in it. A measure soon fatal to himself.
Richard possessed great abilities: he was in the vigor of his age; he had seen much of business; he was artful, dexterous, and insinuating in laying his plans, and bold, daring, and decisive in executing them. Mercy was little understood by any party that succeeded to the sovereign power in the fifteenth century. Richard, far from sparing, seemed prompt to destroy, but never merely, I believe, without supposing it necessary to promote his own aggrandizement, or to secure it. He was far from the unshapen monster, which poets have feigned. Though not exactly of due symmetry in his person, his features were regular. He lost, however, greatly in the comparison when seen with his brother Edward IV., confessedly the handsomest prince of his age; he had not the
elegance of manners of that voluptuous monarch; and though equally brave, and of little less military knowledge, yet he never could inspire an army with such enraptured attachment as his brother did. Richard was a general, Edward an hero. To supply the deficiencies in his character, Richard affected, what most usurpers do, magnificence. His court and tent were more costly than the nation had ever seen. His coronation at Westminster eclipsed all others; that at York, which followed, was as brilliant as the north of England could make it. If we view his laws, they do honour to his understanding. They were best adapted for the good of the subject, as far as related to what was to be transacted between citizen and citizen: the laws were rather specious than solid, for the king knew no law but his will, and the great who were in his favour copied his example.
At first all bent to his mandates; soon disaffection showed itself, and proscriptions followed; these, added to the tragedies acted before his coronation, united a very great body of Yorkists with the Lancastrians. The violent deaths of the sons of Edward IV. gave a finishing blow to Richard's security, though he thought he was establishing his authority by destroying them.
When he raised forces to oppose the handful of meagre sick troops Henry earl of Richmond brought over, he could not have failed being the conqueror, if every one of his pretended friends had not been desirous of his death: all, except his ministers, were secretly engaged to desert him, and he died less pitied than any other sovereign who fell so gallantly in supporting himself and his
I have read, with all the attention possible, lord Orford's " Historic Doubts," and the answers of his lordship's opponents.
That Richard the Third was assisting in the murder of Edward, prince of Wales, son of Henry VI., I think very probable. This nefarious act was not a deliberate crime: it was perpetrated in the fury of passion. Edward IV., enraged at the spirited but ill-timed answer of the prince, instantly struck him with his gauntlet. This was, as it were, a signal for the great personages present to attack the youth: the two royal dukes, and the two noblemen, stabbed him with their daggers or swords, and then thrust him out of the apartment; their attendants, to show their zeal, completed the horrid deed. Edward IV. was most to blame. Had he not struck the prince, or had he commanded the four others to desist from
farther violence, when he had given the blow, Edward would have been saved.
The death of Henry VI. was premeditated. It was performed with the consent, and perhaps at the desire of a victorious army, as it were in honour of their conquest at Tewkesbury, and to assure them that they were freed from all future danger from the Lancastrians. The murder was accompanied with the most indecent festivities. Whether Richard superintended the execution, or killed with his own hand the royal captive, cannot be known. From the ferocity and sanguinary character of Edward IV., it is not improbable that he persuaded the army to demand it, or acquiesced in their desire, as a matter of prudent precaution, and might commission Richard to see it done.
That the death of Clarence was brought about by the intrigues of Richard there can be no doubt. When Edward IV. lamented that no one would plead for Clarence, it should have taught him no longer to confide in Gloucester; but, on the contrary, it should have instigated him to have fenced his family so that they could not have been injured by so unnatural a character.
That Richard murdered his nephews, Edward V., and Richard, duke of York, I see no reason to doubt. That the manner of their deaths was not exactly known at the time appears evident, yet it was generally believed to have been by suffocation in their beds in the tower, and that their bodies were buried there under the stairs. In Charles the Second's reign, the bones of two youths were found under a staircase in the tower. There may have been other murders committed in the tower, besides theirs and that of Henry VI.; yet probably the remains of none were secretly buried there, but those of these two unhappy youths. All other state prisoners in the tower have been buried openly. No other human bones have been ever discovered in the tower that we know of. This weighs greatly with me. Besides, there have never been missed two young persons imprisoned there but them. That the youths, whose bones were thus discovered, had been murdered is self-evident: for, if they had died natural deaths, they would have been buried in consecrated ground. That the bodies had not been buried any very great length of time we may suppose, because a staircase, if a wooden one, as I suppose this was, seldom lasts more than two or three centuries, though then made of oak and very massy. Is it not wonderful that not one of the disputants, on this subject, should quote Speed, whose au
thority is so directly adverse to lord Orford? Take his exact words: "I have heard," says this writer, in his Chronicle, "by credible report, of such as were secret with his [Richard's] chamberlaine, that after this abominable deed done, [the murder of his nephews] he never had quiet in his mind; he never thought himself sure; but where he went his eies ever whirled about; his body privily fenced; his hand ever on his dagger; his countenance and manner like one alwaies readie to strike againe; he took il rest a nights, lay long waking and musing, sore wearied with care and watch, rather slumbered than slept, troubled with fearful dreames, soddenly sometimes start up, and leapt out of his bed, and ranne about the chamber, so was his restlesse heart continually tossed and tumbled with the tedious impression and stormy remembrance of his abominable deed."
If we view Richard in all points, we shall see him extremely wicked. His atrocities, after the death of Edward IV., are such as appal. They exceed the sanguinary acts which were committed in the height of the civil wars. There was not even a semblance of trial; and yet there had been no battle fought, no hostile act. This did not prevent many openly revolting from him when he became king, and many others secretly favouring the earl of Richmond, afterwards Henry VII.
That he was extremely ungrateful to Edward IV., the best, the kindest of brothers, is self-evident in his conduct towards that monarch's sons. That he was inflexible and unforgiving to his other brother, Clarence, has also been seen. Nor was he much kinder to Clarence's children than to Edward's. If we view him as a son, he will appear in the highest degree culpable. He, like Orleans, sullied, as far as he could, the reputation of his mother. Richard made his lewd, when giving life to his elder brethren!! Orleans, when conferring existence even on himself!!! princesses whose fames were as spotless as their sons, Richard and Philip, were polluted. As a husband, Richard was cold and reserved; one who watched, with the utmost impatience, the sickness which was hastening his wife to her end, without his assistance, that he might incestuously unite himself to the real heir of the throne, Elizabeth, eldest daughter of his brother, Edward IV., the real heir by the murder of her brothers, by the cruel command of him the uncle, who now sought her hand. If Richard had any of nature's softer feelings, it was the paternal ones. He appears not only to have tenderly loved