Wooden Swords, Hobby Horses, and Educating Richard

The War of the Roses was a war that lasted through many a childhood for children during the fifteenth century.  One child included was Richard, the son of Richard, Duke of York and his mother Cecily Neville, a great beauty deemed by many. The family was of high station, but this didn’t keep the war at bay for the household.  Most assume that if your family was well off, even in the time of war in the Middle Ages, they were spared some of the hardships associated with war, but that was not the case at all for the youngest son of York.

Richard was the last child of Richard and Cecily’s. In my research I have found that sources deter between Cecily having 10 or 11 children, including one child born after him, which did not survive very long. Infant mortality and mothers others who gave birth during the Middle Ages, prove over and over, to be a very life threatening situation. The medieval person, and midwives included, had no knowledge of disease, germs, how to prevent infection or access to painkillers or antibiotics if a problem arouse. You could have a fairly smooth delivery but the risk for infection resulting in “child-bed fever” was exceptionally high due to lack of preventative hygiene.  The next hurdle for any child who made it past their first year which held its own mortality rate of 25%, was surviving childhood in where, mortality alone was a 50% survival rate.  Noting, these statistics varied socioeconomically and demographically as well.

The little castle toy (above) would have been a typical toy in the 15th C.  

Richard’s early years were rather turbulent. It’s a surprise to some that because of the war and conditions, he made it through this time.  He definitely did not have a peaceful childhood like one would hope. Looking at all the experiences he went through, it is very easy to understand why some would conclude he might have been a bit of a control freak or a tad insecure in later life. [1] After surviving infancy swaddled and nursed by a wet nurse, memories he more than likely would not remember suggest that the chaotic world around him was constantly changing, for good and for worse.  When other children his age where playing with toys such as kites, spinning-tops, hobby horses or making castles out of wooden blocks, he was being shuffled around to escape the dangers of war with his mother.  We know from literature written later in the Middle Ages, primary after 1400’s most children were aware of their roles in the household at a young age.  But this documentation also stresses the importance of play in the household.  This aspect of play helped the children learn their duties.  Knowing this, Richard and his siblings might of had little toys similar to what a knight would have, a wooden sword, a castle with figures where his sisters had dolls. 

But even the aspects and the adventures he might have had during play, as a child could not prepare him for what was to come.  Cecily seems to have been more apart of his life than most parents during his childhood, more than likely due to war and the need to keep her sons safe. His father on the other hand, he saw not so much, it was a relationship that was rather brief, but expected during this time. At the age of seven during the battle of Ludlow, his father and older brother Edmund, fled to Ireland escaping pending Lancastrian forces.  Richard with his brother George, one of their sisters, and the Duchess Cecily were all taken as prisoners of war.  They were held at Wigmore, and then later moved to Tunbridge Castle by their mother’s sister whom had married a Lancastrian husband. His brother Edward (later Edward IV) had fled to Calais.

Illumination showing children at court.
Illumination showing children at court.
A manuscript showing very young children in the care of women.

Cecily escaped from Tunbridge after a short time and was able to gain safety for her small children in the chambers of John Paston. Meanwhile, war waged around them.  The adventures of childhood play more than likely limited because of the war for Richard and his siblings.  Cecily had been called to London, not two days after they came to the Pastons’ and the children were left in the care of servants. Edward had returned to London after his victory at North Hampton. Henry VI was now his prisoner. Due to this time, and on going war, relations with the immediate family were close and treasured. Because of this, it is important to recognize the early relationships Richard had as a child, specifically with Edward.  This closeness that he developed with his older brother is what made him into the honorable and loyal brother he is noted to have been. The relationship Edward had with his younger siblings, specifically with Richard was a close one, for he visited the children almost every day, if possible. Richard probably admired and looked up to him greatly as he grew older, like a mentor.

In October 1460, Richard’s father Richard, Duke of York and his mother, and Edmund, Earl of Rutland returned to London. Parliament came to an agreement and enacted an Act that would make the Duke of York, “Heir-Apparent” and Lord Protector for the whole duration of Henry’s life.  This case was probably not hard at all to present to Parliament, as Henry had repeated bouts of insanity multiple times during his reign.  Richard, Duke of York had rights to the throne as well, through his family line that ran down through second son of Edward III. Henry VI was only related through the third son.  This stated that Henry VI could still be on the throne, but he had to acknowledge that Richard Duke of York was the “Heir-Apparent.” This didn’t go over well, as Queen Margaret fled with her son to Scotland in opposition to the decision made by Parliament.

The family spent that winter and Christmas at Baynard’s Castle. It was apparently the last time Richard saw his father. The Duke and his son Edmund traveled to Sandal Castle and spent their holidays there.  As the festivities of the winter months continued, so did the threat of ongoing war and unbeknownst to Richard, his mother Cecily, and the other children, they were to never see their father or husband, or Edmund their older brother again. On December 31, Richard Duke of York fell in the battle at Wakefield, with his son Edmund and many of his loyal knights. The heads of Edmund and the Duke were stuck on different gates of the city of York. It is noted that the Dukes’ was placed on Micklesgate Bar with a paper crown, as a form of insult. [2]

News traveled to London about the devastation of the battle of Wakefield. Duchess Cecily was grief stricken, and terrified for the safety of her children.  Fearing harm would come to them, she put Richard and George on a boat and sent them to Holland out of harms way. According to “The History of Richard III” by George Buck, Richard and his brother George, eventually were sent to Ulrich, which at the time was the largest and most prestigious city in Holland. A move perhaps to be near their older sister Margaret whom was married to Charles the Bold of Burgundy. It was there they received a “Princley and liberall education.” Richard did not return for a good few years later, by then he was ready to become a knight.



[1] http://www.livescience.com/27625-king-richard-iii-control-freak.html

[2] Markham, Richard III: His Life & Character Reviewed in Light.

Sources cited:



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