With a flourish of trumpets, the young Prince Edward, the heir to the throne, rides into London with his retinue. His uncle Richard is there to greet him, accompanied by several noblemen, including Richard’s close allies, the lords Buckingham and Catesby. Richard greets the prince, but the intelligent boy is suspicious of his uncle and parries Richard’s flattering language with wordplay as clever as Richard’s own. The prince wants to know what has happened to his relatives on his mother’s side—Rivers, Gray, and Dorset. Although he doesn’t tell Prince Edward, Richard has had Rivers and Gray arrested and imprisoned in the castle of Pomfret; Dorset is presumably in hiding.
Lord Hastings enters, and announces that Elizabeth and her younger son, the young duke of York, have taken sanctuary (taking sanctuary means retreating to within a church or other holy ground, where, by ancient English tradition, it was blasphemous for enemies to pursue a fugitive). Buckingham is very irritated to hear this news. He asks the Lord Cardinal to go to Elizabeth and retrieve young York from her, and he orders Hastings to accompany the cardinal and forcibly remove the young prince if Elizabeth refuses to yield him. The cardinal understandably refuses, but Buckingham gives him a long argument in which he says that a young child is not self-determining enough to claim sanctuary. The cardinal gives in, and he and Lord Hastings go to fetch young York. By the time they return, Richard has told Prince Edward that he and his brother will stay in the Tower of London until the young prince’s coronation. Both princes are unwilling to be shut up in the tower.
After he sends the princes off to the tower, Richard holds a private conference with Buckingham and Catesby to discuss how his master plan is unfolding. Buckingham asks Catesby whether he thinks that Lord Hastings and Lord Stanley can be counted on to help Richard seize the throne. Although Lord Hastings is an enemy of Elizabeth and her family, Catesby believes that Hastings’s loyalty to the dead King Edward IV is so great that he would never support Richard’s goal of taking the crown from the rightful prince. Moreover, Catesby believes, Lord Stanley will follow whatever Lord Hastings does.
Buckingham suggests that Richard hold a council in the palace on the following day, supposedly to discuss when to crown young Prince Edward as king. In reality, however, they will scheme about how Richard can become king himself, and they must determine which of the noblemen they can count on as allies. There will be “divided counsels” the following day. First, a secret council will be held to strategize. Next, there will be a public one, which everyone will attend, at which those plans will be carried out (III.i.176).
Buckingham and Richard order Catesby to go to Lord Hastings, in order to sound him out and find out how willing he might be to go along with Richard’s plans. Richard adds that Catesby should tell Hastings that Queen Elizabeth’s kinsmen, who are currently imprisoned in Pomfret Castle, will be executed the next day. This news, he believes, should please Hastings, who has long been their enemy. After Catesby leaves, Buckingham asks Richard what they will do if Hastings remains loyal to Prince Edward. Richard cheerfully answers that they will chop off Hastings’s head. Buoyed by his plans, Richard promises Buckingham that, after he becomes king, he will give Buckingham the title of earl of Hereford.Read a translation of Act III, scene i →
This scene provides further evidence of Richard’s skill at manipulation and deception, but it also makes it clear that Richard’s manipu-lations are transparent to the right kind of person. When Richard speaks to the intelligent young prince, the boy is clearly not fooled. When Prince Edward says, “I want more uncles here to welcome me,” he reveals that he suspects Richard of having acted against his other uncles—which is in fact the case (III.i.6). The prince may be referring to Clarence, his actual uncle, whom Richard has caused to be murdered. Still, since kinship titles are rather vague in Shakespeare, he probably refers more directly to Rivers, Gray, and Dorset, although two of them are actually his mother’s adult sons.