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The Council in the Tower

from The History of King Richard III
Sir Thomas More


Whereupon soon after, that is to wit, on the Friday the _____ day of _____, many Lords assembled in the Tower, and there sat in council, devising the honorable solemnity of the king's coronation, of which the time appointed then so near approached, that the pageants and subtleties were in making day and night at Westminster, and much vitaille1 killed therefore, that afterwards was cast away. These lords so sitting together communing of this matter, the protector came in among them, first about nine of the clock, saluting them courteously, and excusing himself that he had been from them so long, saying merely that he had been asleep that day. And after a little talking with them, he said unto the Bishop of Ely: My lord you have very good strawberries at your garden in Holborn, I require you let us have a mess of them. Gladly my lord, quoth he, would God I had some better thing as ready to your pleasure as that. And therewith in all the haste he sent his servant for a mess of strawberries. The protector set the lords fast in communing, and thereupon praying them to spare him for a little while departed thence. And soon, after one hour, between ten and eleven he returned into the chamber among them, all changed, with a wonderful sour angry countenance, knitting the brows, frowning and froting2 and gnawing on his lips, and so sat him down in his place; all the lords much dismayed and sore marvelling of this manner of sudden change, and what thing should him ail. Then when he had sitten still a while, thus he began: What were they worthy to have, that compass and imagine the destruction of me, being so near of blood unto the king and protector of his royal person and his realm? At this question, all the lords sat sore astonied, musing much by whom this question should be meant, of which every man wist himself clear. Then the lord chamberlain, as he that for the love between them thought he might be boldest with him, answered and said, that they were worthy to be punished as heinous traitors, whatsoever they were. And all the other affirmed the same. That is (quoth he) yonder sorceress my brother's wife and other with her, meaning the queen. At these words many of the other Lords were greatly abashed that favoured her. But the lord Hastings was in his mind better content, that it was moved by her, than by any other whom he loved better. Albeit his heart somewhat grudged, that he was not afore made of counsel in this matter, as he was of the taking of her kindred, and of their putting to death, which were by his assent before devised to be beheaded at Pomfret this self same day, in which he was not ware that it was by other devised, that himself should the same day be beheaded at London. Then said the protector; ye shall all see in what wise that sorceress and that other witch of her counsel, Shore's wife, with their affinity, have by their sorcery and witchcraft wasted my body. And therewith he plucked up his doublet sleeve to his elbow upon his left arm, where he showed a werish3 withered arm and small, as it was never other. And thereupon every man's mind sore misgave them, well perceiving that this matter was but a quarrel. For well they wist, that the queen was too wise to go about any such folly. And also, if she would, yet would she of all folk least make Shore's wife of counsel, whom of all women she most hated, as that concubine whom the king her husband had most loved. And also no man was there present, but well knew that his harm was ever such since his birth. Natheless the lord Chamberlain answered and said: certainly, my lord, if they have so heinously done, they be worthy heinous punishment. What, quoth the protector, thou servest me, I ween, with ifs and with ans, I tell thee they have so done, and that I will make good on thy body, traitor. And therewith, as in a great anger, he clapped his fist upon the board a great rap. At which token given, one cried treason without the chamber. Therewith a door clapped, and in come there rushing men in harness as many as the chamber might hold. And anon the protector said to the Lord Hastings: I arrest thee, traitor. What, me, my Lord? quoth he. Yea thee, traitor, quoth the protector. And another let fly at the Lord Stanley which shrunk at the stroke and fell under the table, or else his head had been cleft to the teeth: for as shortly as he shrank, yet ran the blood about his ears. Then were they all quickly bestowed in diverse chambers, except the lord Chamberlain, whom the protector bade speed and shrive him apace, for by saint Paul (quoth he) I will not to dinner till I see thy head off. It booted him not to ask why, but heavily he took a priest at adventure, and made a short shrift, for a longer would not be suffered, the protector made so much haste to dinner; which he might not go to till this were done for saving of his oath. So was he brought forth into the green beside the chapel within the Tower, and his head laid down upon a long log of timber, and there stricken off, and afterwards his body with the head interred at Windsor beside the body of king Edward, whose both souls our Lord pardon.

A marvellous case is it to hear, either the warnings of that he should have voided, or the tokens of that he could not void. For the self night next before his death, the lord Stanley sent a trusty secret messenger unto him at midnight in all the haste, requiring him to rise and ride away with him, for he was disposed utterly no longer to bide; he had so fearful a dream, in which him thought that a boar with his tusks so raced4 them both by the heads, that the blood ran about both their shoulders. And forasmuch as the protector gave the boar for his cognizance, this dream made so fearful an impression in his heart, that he was thoroughly determined no longer to tarry, but had his horse ready, if the lord Hastings would go with him to ride so far yet the same night, that they should be out of danger ere day. Ay, good lord, quoth the lord Hastings to this messenger, leaneth my lord thy master so much to such trifles, and hath such faith in dreams, which either his own fear fantasieth or do rise in the night's rest by reason of his day thoughts? Tell him it is plain witchcraft to believe in such dreams; which if they were tokens of things to come, why thinketh he not that we might be as likely to make them true by our going if we were caught and brought back (as friends fail fleers), for then had the boar a cause likely to race us with his tusks, as folk that fled for some falsehood, wherefore either is there no peril (nor none there is indeed), or if any be, it is rather in going than biding. And if we should, needs cost, fall in peril one way or other, yet had I liever that men should see it were by other men's falsehood, than think it were either our own fault or faint heart. And therefore go to thy master, man, and commend me to him, and pray him be merry and have no fear: for I ensure him I am as sure of the man that he wotteth of, as I am of my own hand. God send grace, sir, quoth the messenger, and went his way.

Certain is it also, that in the riding toward the Tower, the same morning in which he was beheaded, his horse twice or thrice stumbled with him almost to the falling; which thing albeit each man wot well daily happeneth to them to whom no such mischance is toward, yet hath it been, of an old rite and custom, observed as a token often times notably foregoing some great misfortune. Now this that followeth was no warning, but an enemious5 scorn. The same morning ere he were up, came a knight unto him, as it were of courtesy to accompany him to the council, but of truth sent by the protector to haste him thitherward, with whom he was of secret confederacy in that purpose, a mean man at that time, and now of great authority. This knight when it happed the lord Chamberlain by the way to stay his horse, and commune a while with a priest whom he met in the Tower street, brake his tale and said merrily to him: What, my lord, I pray you come on, whereto talk you so long with that priest, you have no need of a priest yet; and therewith he laughed upon him, as though he would say, ye shall have soon. But so little wist that other what he meant, and so little mistrusted, that he was never merrier nor never so full of good hope in his life; which self thing is often seen a sign of change. But I shall rather let any thing pass me, than the vain surety of man's mind so near his death. Upon the very Tower wharf, so near the place where his head was off so soon after, there met he with one Hastings, a pursuivant of his own name. And of their meeting in that place, he was put in remembrance of another time, in which it had happened them before to meet in like manner together in the same place. At which other time the lord Chamberlain had been accused unto king Edward, by the lord Rivers the queen's brother, in such wise that he was for the while (but it lasted not long) far fallen into the king's indignation, and stood in great fear of himself. And forasmuch as he now met this pursuivant in the same place, that jeopardy so well passed, it gave him great pleasure to talk with him thereof with whom he had before talked thereof in the same place while he was therein. And therefore he said: Ah Hastings, art thou remembered when I met thee here once with an heavy heart? Yea, my lord (quoth he), that remember I well: and thanked be God they gat no good, nor ye none harm thereby. Thou wouldest say so, quoth he, if thou knewest as much as I know, which few know else as yet and more shall shortly. That meant he by the lords of the queen's kindred that were taken before, and should that day be beheaded at Pomfret: which he well wist, but nothing ware that the axe hung over his own head. In faith, man, quoth he, I was never so sorry, nor never stood in so great dread in my life, as I did when thou and I met here. And lo, how the world is turned, now stand mine enemies in the danger (as thou mayst hap to hear more hereafter) and I never in my life so merry nor never in so great surety. O good God, the blindness of our mortal nature, when he most feared, he was in good surety, when he reckoned himself surest, he lost his life, and that within two hours after. Thus ended this honorable man, a good knight and a gentle, of great authority with his prince, of living somewhat dissolute, plain and open to his enemy, and secret to his friend, eath6 to beguile, as he that of good heart and courage forestudied no perils. A loving man and passing well beloved. Very faithful, and trusty enough, trusting too much.

1. vitaille, animals used for food.
2. froting, chafing.
3. werish, deformed.
4. raced, tore, gashed.
5. enemious, shown by the enemy.
6. eath, easy.

Craik, Henry, ed. English Prose. Vol I.
New York: The Macmillan Company, 1916. 167-171.

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