November 1481. Westminster Palace, England.
The air was sombre around the King’s bed. Over the weeks, the physicians grew more and more desperate in their attempts to cure his sickness, letting all who came to visit know that he was dying. Edward especially. They couldn’t deny it to him, who felt the sickness growing and rising from deep in his stomach. He knew he was in his last days, had known for a very long time and though he’d never admit it, Edward knew that he had to make them count.
They brought the children to him. Ed, Dickon, Lionel and the girls. At some point in the night, he called out for his favoured child Magdalene, only for the Queen to tell him that she had left for Bohemia in the previous year. Then, he called for Lionel again. His youngest trueborn child, the boy of just four years of age with his blonde curls and green eyes, sat in his bed and he weakly raised his arm to stroke his face and hair.
“Poor boy,” Edward whispered. Lionel clinged to the hem of his gown, frowning almost as if he was about to cry. “You will not remember me.”
Richard placed his hand over Edward’s shoulder. “He will, brother,” said the Duke of Gloucester. “You will soon recover, I swear it.”
“Oh, Richard,” Edward mumbled out. He looked back at his son, who did not know him very well. None of the younger children did in truth, but Lionel especially. Magdalena kept him close at all times and the King never really cared to prevent that. Lionel was the Queen’s favourite child and Edward had other things to worry about. “Sweet boy, you must be good to your mother, do you hear me? Obey her every command.”
Lionel began to weep, sticking his fingers inside his mouth as he babbled out, “Mama!” Edward closed his eyes, the sound of the boy’s crying ringing in his head and the Queen stepped forward to take him in her arms. When Edward opened his eyes again, Richard was sitting by his side and the Dowager Duchess of York was there too, hands tightly wrapped around a rosary as she prayed. Richard was holding her hand.
“Mother…” the King breathed and Duchess Cecily opened her eyes.
“Oh, my boy,” his mother said, standing up to cup his face. “I’m here. Mother is here to care for you.” She leaned forward and Edward remembered how his mother never wept for the siblings that he lost in childhood. Little Henry, Ursula, Thomas, William and John. But she wept for Edmund and George too, in her own way.
“Where is the Queen?” he asked. His mother stroked his face, sitting at the foot of his bed.
“The Queen is without,” said Richard. “She has to attend to some important matters.”
His mother scoffed. “That whore of yours wishes to visit you, my love,” she said in a biting tone. “The Queen is there to prevent it.”
Edward closed his eyes. He had a terrible headache. “Mother, please,” Richard said, his voice flying through the room. “Let us not speak of such subjects.”
“Yes, you’re right,” said the Dowager Duchess. “You’re absolutely right.” Edward felt her hand on his face again. “It will be alright, my sweet Ted. Mother is here.”
When Edward opened his eyes again, his mother had left and Magdalena was by his side again, praying deeply. He saw that William Hastings was there as well with a forlorn face, and the Duke of Buckingham and his wife, Eleanor Percy.
Edward shifted in his bed. “Find me a paper and a quill,” he breathed out and all eyes turned to him. “I wish to write my will.”
“Do not strain yourself,” the Queen said, standing to touch his shoulder. “Recover your strength.”
Edward shook his head. He could feel his strength wafting off of him every passing moment. The physicians had applied leeches to his chest and made cuts on his arms to bleed him, and he could feel the little creatures sucking away at his skin. William Hastings offered him paper and a quill, but Edward had strength enough only to sign his name at the end. So, he handed the objects back to Magdalena, whom he trusted to see his orders done.
“In the name of the most holy and blessed trinity, I, Edward, by the grace of God King of England and France, Lord of Ireland, leave the kingdom and all my lands to my trueborn son, Edward of Eltham and his heirs,” he began to dictate. “After him, England shall be inherited by Richard, Duke of York and his heirs, Edmund, Duke of Clarence and his heirs and then, Lionel, Duke of Bedford and his heirs. Should they not produce surviving children, the throne must thus pass to the eldest surviving son of one of my trueborn daughters.” The Queen raised her eyes as she continued to write down his command, William Hastings standing behind her. “The debt of my brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester is hereby forgiven.” Richard squeezed his shoulder in thanks and the Duke of Buckingham stepped closer to observe the situation. “My wife, Queen Magdalena, must enjoy the same allowance and standing as she did in my lifetime with the lands of Devonshire and any other that my executors find necessary.” He named his sixteen executors as well, rattling off the names of those he trusted the most. His brother Richard, the Baron Hastings and the Duke of Buckingham were some of them. “The guardianship of my underage children must be given to the Queen Magdalena, and their marriages must not happen without an accord between her and my ruling heir.” He paused, taking a deep breath. “It is my wish that my trueborn son and heir, Prince Edward start his rule in the moment of my death, foregoing the need for a regency and protectorate despite his tender age of sixteen.”
He continued to speak well into the night, detailing plans for his funeral and burial at St George’s Chapel in Windsor. Magdalena squeezed his hand for Edward had long made arrangements for a sarcophagus to be built in marble where they’d be buried together. It was almost morning when he stopped at last, mouth dry and queasy and all rubbed their eyes in an attempt to not appear tired before the dying king. Edward would have laughed, had he possessed the strength for it.
Instead, he said, “Be good to each other. Work together to advise Prince Edward.” The Lancastrians were no longer a threat, with Ned married to their last heiress, but Edward would be stupid to not think his son would have difficulty ascending to and keeping the throne. Someone stirred by the door and he saw his mother entering, and the Duchess of Gloucester walking beside her. “You are all my kin, my friends and I trust you. Set aside your petty differences in the name of our boy.”
His wife squeezed his hand again. “I promise,” she said, looking at the people present. “I shall work with you all to place Prince Edward on the throne.”
Edward closed his eyes, nodding as he felt satisfied that they’d obey his wishes. Finally, he felt ready to die.
And so he did.