Homage of the Twenty-Five-Year-Old Richard, duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) to His Nephew, the Four-Year-Old Richard, duke of York
Edward, prince of Wales and son of king Edward IV, held a formal banquet on 9 November 1477, and at that feast, Richard, duke of Gloucester, appeared before Edward's younger brother, Richard, duke of York, and did homage for lands held of him in the Duchy of Norfolk. The young duke sat on a small bed-seat beside his brother's "cloth of estate," and Gloucester performed the ceremony as Littleton describes it, putting his adult hands between Richard's tiny hands and kneeling before the child. According to Charles Ross, Gloucester's liege lord "thanked him for that it liked him to do it so humble" (35).
We should not delude ourselves about the socially controlling power of medieval ceremonies when they were not performed by actors in good faith. In this case, the act of homage was anything but sincere. Edward of Wales had been born in 1470 in the sanctuary of Westminster Cathedral after the earl of Warwick had deposed his father and restored Henry VI to the throne, and he took up his duties as heir to the throne after Warwick's defeat and Edward's "readeption" of the crown. His brother, Richard, was born three years later and constituted a highly desirable "insurance policy" for the continuation of Edward IV's Yorkist dynastic ambitions. However, upon Edward IV's death and the prince of Wales' proclamation as Edward V, his powerful relatives began fighting over custody of Edward and Richard. Their uncle, Richard of Gloucester, took them into his custody in the Tower of London, and after August 1483 they were never heard from again. Skeletons excavated beneath the paving stones in a Tower courtyard in 1674 were presumed to be those of the two "princes in the tower." Richard III's modern defenders, including historians who are members of the "Richard III Society," tend to blame the murders on Henry Stafford, the duke of Buckingham and an undoubtedly ambitious man. In August of 1483, however, Buckingham still was Richard's ally and, in any event, could not have entered the Tower to come into contact with two such dangerous prisoners without the king's permission. In any event, only months later, Buckingham, himself, rebelled against Richard and was beheaded on November 2, 1483, in Salisbury (Wiltshire).
Source: Charles Ross, Richard III, Berkeley: U California P, 1981.