Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thomas Vaughan, Executed June 25, 1483

On June 25, 1483, three men died at the command of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who would become Richard III the next day. All three were intimately associated with Edward V: Anthony Woodville, his maternal uncle; Richard Grey, his half-brother; and Thomas Vaughan, his chamberlain. You can read about their execution here and about Richard Grey here.

All three men's deaths were tragic and most likely amounted to nothing less than judicial murder, but Thomas Vaughan's fate is particularly sad. A Welshman who was granted denizenship in 1443, he entered royal service as early as 1446, long before Richard III was even born. Though Vaughan had initially served Henry VI, he joined the Yorkists in 1459 and from then on was unshakably faithful to the House of York and to Edward IV.

In 1471, Edward IV, having been restored to power, made Vaughan the chamberlain of his infant son, Edward. It was a position that Vaughan would hold for the rest of his life, and one that would prove fatal to him. Vaughan carried his charge in his arms on state occasions, such as the welcoming of Louis of Gruuthuse to England, and was knighted alongside young Edward in 1475.

Vaughan was not only an administrator but an experienced soldier, who had fought in several battles and who had been captured by French pirates in 1461. Had Vaughan been involved in a plot to ambush Gloucester, as Richard and his present-day admirers have claimed, he and the troops who formed Edward V's escort would have surely been on guard as they waited at Stony Stratford for Richard and the rest of the party from Northampton to arrive. Instead, Vaughan's arrest on April 30, 1483, seems to have been accomplished by Gloucester almost effortlessly.

Vaughan, who must have been in his sixties--he is described by the Crowland Chronicler as "an aged knight"--was probably a grandfather figure to young Edward. Now this relationship was brutally severed by Gloucester. One hopes that at least the twelve-year-old king was spared the sight of the man who had served him since infancy being hauled off in chains.

Richard sent Vaughan to Pontefract Castle. As Mancini reports, Gloucester wanted Vaughan, Richard Grey, and Anthony Woodville to be executed straightaway, but the council refused "because there appeared no certain case as regards the ambushes, and even had the crime been manifest, it would not have been treason, for at the time of the alleged ambushes he was neither regent nor did he hold any other public office." Soon, however, Gloucester would be able to dispense with the council, having made himself king. With the crown safely within Richard's grasp, Vaughan and the rest were executed at Pontefract after either no trial at all or a mockery of one.

Hall's Chronicle gives a scaffold speech to Vaughan in which he speaks of a prophecy that "G" would destroy Edward IV's children. Vaughan then adds, "I appeal to the high tribunal of God for this wrongful murder and our true innocence," and advises Sir Richard Ratcliffe (who died at the Battle of Bosworth), "I die in the right, beware you die not in the wrong." How authentic this speech is cannot be determined, but one hopes that this faithful old Yorkist died proudly. He was buried in the Chapel of St. John the Baptist at Westminster Abbey, where part of his memorial brass survives. Whether the burial took place in 1483 or after Richard's own death is unknown.

Vaughan had a grown stepson, George Brown, who joined the rebellion of October 1483 against Richard III. Sadly, he was captured and executed, but Brown's own stepson, Edward Poynings, fled abroad and survived to have a successful career under Henry VII and Henry VIII. Poynings also had a busy private life: he had seven illegitimate children when he died in 1521.

Sources:

C. A. J. Armstrong, ed., The Usurpation of Richard III. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969 (2d. ed.).

Calendar of Patent Rolls.

Steven G. Ellis, ‘Poynings, Sir Edward (1459–1521)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/22683, accessed 25 June 2009].

Louise Gill, Richard III and Buckingham's Rebellion. Gloucestershire: Sutton, 2000.

R. A. Griffiths, ‘Vaughan, Sir Thomas (d. 1483)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/28147, accessed 25 June 2009].

Hall's Chronicle.

Rosemary Horrox, Richard III: A Study in Service. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Nicholas Pronay and John Cox, eds., The Crowland Chronicle Continuations, 1459–1486. London: Richard III and Yorkist History Trust: 1986.

5 comments:

Alianore said...

A sad anniversary!

Susan Higginbotham said...

Indeed! I've actually been bummed out about it today.

And who would have thought that Anthony Woodville, Richard Grey, Thomas Vaughan, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson would all end up having the same death day (minus 526 years, of course)?

Joansz said...

Coincidence? Yes!

While I admit I don't know enough about Vaughan, Grey, and Rivers to understand if their executions had more to them than collateral damage or merely guilt by association, I think the inability for Ricardians to see r3's warts does perhaps as much damage to r3 as those who can only see him as a villian.

I don't have time to look into it now, but I think I'll run with this topic on my blog at some point. Thanks for highlighting it and for giving me a leg up on the references.

Bearded Lady said...

Vaughan sounds like he got a seriously raw deal. I am not really familiar with his story. Why was he was such a threat to Richard?

Susan Higginbotham said...

Joan, looking forward to seeing it!

Bearded Lady, thanks for stopping by! The closest contemporary sources we have for the executions of Grey, Rivers, and Vaughan are the Crowland Chronicle and Mancini, both of which are skeptical of Richard's allegations. Crowland says outright that the men were innocent. Fabian, writing early in the 16th century, stated that the executions were "more of will than justice."

My guess is that Vaughan wasn't a threat to Richard personally, but that he was so close to Edward V and had served him so long that Richard decided that he could be a potential troublemaker and had to die along with the king's Woodville relatives. Interestingly, Vaughan seems to have been on good terms with Richard before 1483--Richard used his house during a stay in London in the 1470's.