Among the nobles who encouraged the work of Caxton we have already seen the figure of the King's youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Ruthless and subtle as Edward himself, the Duke at once came to the front with a scheme of daring ambition when the succession of a boy of thirteen woke again the fierce rivalries of the Court. On the King's death Richard hastened to secure the person of his nephew, Edward the Fifth, to overthrow the power of the Queen's family, and to receive from the council the office of Protector of the realm. Little more than a month had passed, when suddenly entering the Council chamber, he charged Lord Hastings, the chief adviser of the late King and loyal adherent of his sons, with sorcery and designs upon his life. As he dashed his hand upon the table the room was filled with soldiers. " I will not dine," said the Duke, addressing Hastings, "till they have brought me your head;" and the powerful minister was hurried to instant execution in the court-yard of the Tower. The Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Ely were thrown into prison, and every check on Richard's designs was removed.
Only one step remained to be taken, and two months after his brother's death the Duke consented after some show of reluctance to receive a petition presented by a body of lords and others in the name of the three estates, which, setting aside Edward's children as the fruit of an unlawful marriage and those of Clarence as disabled by his attainder, besought him to take the office and title of King. His young nephews, Edward V. and his brother the Duke of York, were flung into the Tower, and there murdered, as was alleged, by their uncle's order; while the Queen's brother and son, Lord Rivers and Sir Richard Grey, were hurried to execution. Morton, the Bishop of Ely, imprisoned under Buckingham in Wales, took advantage of the disappearance of the two boys to found a scheme which was to unite the discontented Yorkists with what remained of the Lancastrian party, and to link both bodies in a wide conspiracy. All the descendants of Henry IV. had passed away, but the line of John of Gaunt still survived.
The Lady Margaret Beaufort, the last representative of the House of Somerset, had married the Earl of Richmond, Edmund Tudor, and become the mother of Henry Tudor. In the act which legitimated the Beauforts an illegal clause had been inserted by Henry IV. which barred their succession to the crown; but as the last remaining scion of the line of Lancaster Henry's claim was acknowledged by the partizans of his House, and he had been driven to seek a refuge in Brittany from the jealous hostility of the Yorkist sovereigns. Morton's plan was the marriage of Henry Tudor with Elizabeth, the daughter and heiress of Edward IV., and with Buckingham's aid a formidable revolt was organized. The outbreak was quickly put down. But daring as was Richard's natural temper, it was not to mere violence that he trusted in his seizure of the throne. During his brother's reign he had watched keenly the upgrowth of public discontent as the new policy of the monarchy developed itself, and it was as the restorer of its older liberties that he appealed for popular support. "We be determined," said the citizens of London in a petition to the King,"rather to adventure and to commit us to the peril of our lives and jeopardy of death, than to live in such thraldom and bondage as we have lived long time heretofore, oppressed and injured by extortions and new impositions against the laws of God and man and the liberty and laws of this realm, wherein every Englishman is inherited." Richard met the ap-.peal by again convoking Parliament, which, as we have seen, had been all but discontinued under Edward, and by sweeping measures of reform.
In the one session of his brief reign the practice of extorting money by "benevolences" was declared illegal, while grants of pardons and remission of forfeitures reversed in some measure the policy of terror by which Edward at once held the country in awe and filled his treasury. Numerous statutes broke the slumbers of Parliamentary legislation. A series of mercantile enactments strode to protect the growing interests of English commerce. The King's love of literature showed itself in the provision that no statutes should act as a hindrance " to any artificer or merchant stranger, of what nation or country he be, for bringing unto this realm or selling by retail or otherwise of any manner of books, written or imprinted." His prohibition of the iniquitous seizure of goods before conviction of felony, which had prevailed during Edward's reign, his liberation of the bondmen who still remained unenfranchised on the royal domain, and his religious foundations, show Richard's keen anxiety to purchase a popularity in which the bloody opening of his reign might be forgotten. But as the news of the royal children's murder slowly spread, the most pitiless stood aghast at this crowning deed of blood.
The pretence of constitutional rule, too, was soon thrown off, and a levy of benevolences in defiance of the statute which had just been passed woke general indignation. The King felt himself safe; he had even won the Queen-mother's consent to his marriage with Elizabeth; and Henry, alone and in exile, seemed a small danger. But a wide conspiracy at once revealed itself when Henry landed at Milford Haven, and advanced through Wales. He no sooner encountered the royal army X Bosworth Field in Leicestershire than treachery decided the day. Abandoned ere the battle began by a division of his forces under Lord Stanley, and as it opened by a second body under the Earl of Northumberland, Richard dashed, with a cry of " Treason, Treason," into the thick of the fight. In the fury of his despair he had already flung the Lancastrian standard to the ground and hewed his way into the very presence of his rival, when he fell overpowered by numbers, and the crown which he had worn, and which was found as the struggle ended lying near a hawthorn bush, was placed on the head of the conqueror.