Act 3, scene 5
Richard and Buckingham enter, both dressed in rusty armor and looking like men who have been in battle for their lives. The mayor of London and Catesby enter, quickly followed by Lovel and Radcliffe, who holds the head of Hastings. Lovel says Hastings was a traitor, and Richard makes a big show of how much he loved Hastings and would never have suspected him of such a deed. Gloucester tells the mayor that Hastings was plotting to kill both him and Richard that very day. Richard adds that not only were their own lives at risk, but so was the peace of England. Buckingham pretends to the mayor that they would sooner have waited until the mayor had had a chance to hear Hastings confess his crimes, and then the mayor could have explained the situation to the citizens, who otherwise might misconstrue what happened and lament Hastings’ death and blame Richard and Buckingham.
The mayor is convinced that Hastings must have been guilty. He says he will convey this to the citizens.
Richard tells Buckingham to go after the mayor and to the Guildhall and when the time is right, say that Edward IV’s children are illegitimate. Moreover, Richard says, Buckingham must insinuate that Edward himself was illegitimate, having been conceived at a time when Richard’s father, the Duke of York, was at war in France.
Richard then sets in motion a plan to hide the children of Clarence and make sure that no one gets to see the two princes in the Tower.
Shakespeare follows his sources in respect of the illegitimacy of Edward’s children. It had been reported that Edward had engaged in a secret premarriage contract with Lady Eleanor Butler before his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. Such a contract was considered legally binding, so his marriage to Elizabeth was invalid and the children of that marriage illegitimate. However, since Eleanor was now dead, such a contract could not be proven.
The charge that Edward himself was illegitimate is not taken seriously by modern historians, who do however note that it was a story that circulated at the time, propagated by both Warwick and Clarence. In the play, Richard has little compunction about tarring his mother’s reputation in this way.