Whilst reading The Maligned King, Annette Carson’s splendid rebuttal of the Tudor Myth about Richard III, I was especially struck by her suggestion that Edward IV had been poisoned.
Ms. Carson makes a compelling case for the involvement of the Wydevilles and William, Lord Hastings, in the death of the king by poison, and I would refer the reader to her masterly recitation of the evidence. Yet I would propose another suspect for consideration: Cecily, Duchess of York.
Why would Cecily, Duchess of York, want to poison her own son? First, for revenge. After Cecily’s favourite son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland, was killed at Wakefield, her next son, George, Duke of Clarence, took over the role as favourite. When Edward gave into the nagging of his shrewish queen, Elizabeth Wydeville, and murdered Clarence, Cecily naturally longed to avenge his death. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and Cecily was willing to bide her time until an opportune time to poison her son arose.
By 1483, Edward’s death was necessary not only to salve a mother’s anguish, but for the good of the nation. Edward was no longer the golden boy he had been when he came to the throne: he was obese, lazy, debauched, and cruel–a precursor, in fact, of his dreadful grandson, Henry VIII. Indeed, so much like Henry was Edward, he already had two wives–Eleanor Talbot and Elizabeth Wydeville, How many other women might Edward in his lust have “married” simply to bed them? Perhaps Edward, and not Henry, was the most-married monarch in English history.
But I digress.
Terrified of England turning as corrupt and degraded as the monstrous (and quite disturbingly fat) creature who sat on the throne, Cecily knew she had to act, and did. At the same time, she secured a promise from Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who after the deaths of Edmund and George had become her new favourite son, that he would not allow Edward’s sons to come to the throne were Edward to meet an untimely death. After much thought and prayer, Richard agreed, although of course he was unaware just how soon that untimely death would come.
Cecily, then, had acted not only to avenge a private wrong, but to secure the public good by placing England into the hands of a wise, just ruler: her third favourite son, Richard III, who not only lived an upstanding life, but was as spare and lean in body as the starkly beautiful Yorkshire he so loved.
Finally, one may be asking by now, does Cecily’s role as poisoner absolve the Wydevilles of guilt? Certainly not. The truth is, we have no idea of which poison reached Edward first: that prepared by the Wydevilles, or that prepared by Cecily. Given the huge appetites of the king, in fact, it is likely that the Wydevilles poisoned one dish and that Cecily poisoned another, and that both poisons acted at the same time to dispatch the gluttonous king. But while the Wydevilles acted out of self-interest and greed, Cecily acted out of unselfish love for England. We owe her our grateful thanks–except in one respect.
She failed to poison her grandson, the future Henry VIII, after she realised how like in character he was to his debased forebear. Instead, the pious and noble, but increasingly senile, duchess became tragically confused and poisoned Arthur.**
Annette Carson, The Maligned King
John C. Dening and R. E. Collins, Secret History
A Ouija board
**Mind you, it took a while for the poison to take effect.
Jeff Borden’s eyes still well with tears when he thinks of Richard’s tragic death at the battle of Bosworth and of Anne Boleyn’s death at the hands of her syphilitic, vicious, and enormously fat husband. He is at present working on a novel about the union of Richard III and Anne Boleyn in the afterlife.