July 6, 2015 is the 532nd anniversary of one of the most controversial events in English history. Many historians and Wars of the Roses enthusiasts continue to debate Richard of Gloucester’s motivations and intentions when he took the crown of England from his young nephew, who was already being called Edward V. I will leave that debate for another day as we look at what the coronation of Richard III may have looked like.
Richard’s coronation was shared with his wife, Anne Neville, who was crowned queen at his side. Their son, another Edward, remained in the north. Did they fear for his health or safety? It is unknown, but the fact remains that he died less than a year later so poor health is a possibility.
Richard’s brother Edward IV had been a boisterous and glamorous king, probably not unlike his grandson, Henry VIII. Except that Edward had better luck with the fertility of his queen, Elizabeth Woodville, and therefore never experienced the frustration to beget a son that defines so much of Henry’s reign. Edward had set a high standard for pageantry and magnificence that Richard’s coronation met and exceeded.
Anne’s dress was handcrafted out of 27 yards of white cloth of gold, trimmed in ermine. Over it, she wore a velvet robe and mantle in royal purple. This purple stretched behind Anne in the form of a stunning train created from 56 yards of the precious velvet. With her proud Neville background, Anne surely looked every bit a Queen of England.
Richard was dressed no less magnificently than his bride in his own purple velvet mantle that was exchanged for one in glimmering cloth of gold once the ceremony at Westminster Abbey was completed. He and Anne had been reverently anointed with holy oil, recognizing them as monarchs of England and representatives of God.
The banquet following the solemn mass was another example of amazing ceremony, especially considering the brief period of time that had been taken to plan it. Course after course of savory foods and delicate desserts were served to the most important people in the land. Richard and Anne were served from dishes of rich gold and silver.
Contrary to what some may believe about Richard’s reputation as a villain and usurper, great rejoicing took place at his coronation. Though Edward V may or may not have been the legitimate heir (that, too, is a discussion for another day), the people of England had suffered through too many years of civil war that were the result of a child king who never truly grew up. Rather than taking the chance that young Edward would become a second Henry VI, many nobles were eager to back the capable brother of the previous king. More than 3,000 people including most of the nobility attended the coronation feast in a celebration that has not seen its equal since.
Since I have a particular interest in her, I have often wondered what Elizabeth of York was thinking as Richard III’s coronation took place. Still in sanctuary with her mother and sisters, Elizabeth would have still been in shock at the death of her larger than life father and the bastardization of herself and her siblings. Did she see Richard as a grasping villain?
Nine more months would go by before Elizabeth and her sisters would leave sanctuary with their mother. In this time, Richard ruled well, but somehow misplaced Elizabeth’s brothers. Did he have them murdered to solidify his own strength and eliminate future heads of rebellion? Did someone else do away with them, thinking they were doing Richard a favor? Possibly a member of the Lancastrian remnant rid the country of two more York boys, or they simply sickened and died. Many authors have written in the hope that the boys didn’t die at all but escaped or were sent away by Richard for their own safety. We do not know the truth to this day, but this is an issue that Elizabeth would have struggled with.
When she went to court, no longer as a princess but as the bastard daughter of the king’s brother, what thoughts were coursing through her mind? Maybe Elizabeth believed the story of her father’s precontract. After all, she was old enough to know that he had been many things, but monogamous was not one of them. To overhear one conversation between her and Richard is a privilege that I wish there was a way to obtain.
Whether Elizabeth hated Richard, was in love with him, or had a relationship that fell somewhere in between, his reign was not to last. Shortly following the deaths of his heir and then his queen, Richard fell in a courageous charge at Bosworth, defending his crown from Henry Tudor on August 22, 1485. Henry had promised to marry Elizabeth the previous Christmas and made good on that promise on January 18, 1486.