Richard III: From Loyal Warrior to Villainous King

Richard III: From Loyal Warrior to Villainous King

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Born on 2 October 1452, just two-and-a-half years before the Wars of the Roses broke out, Richard III’s life played out almost entirely against the backdrop of the power struggle between the Houses of York and Lancaster.

The man who become Shakespeare’s villainous hunchbacked king, as well as a fine warrior and general, was the twelfth child of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, one of the main instigators of the Wars. The duke’s personal ambitions set him up against the Lancastrians fronted by King Henry VI – son of the warrior King of Agincourt – and his wife, Margaret of Anjou.

After enjoying initial success which saw him capture the king, the duke was killed at Wakefield in 1460, along with the future Richard III’s younger brother Edmund. Richard was consequently sent to the Low Countries until the pendulum swung back in his family’s favour at Towton, where another of his brothers, Edward, defeated Margaret’s army.

From student to admiral

Richard then spent time under the tutelage of the Earl of Warwick, who would later become known as the “Kingmaker”, where he learned to fight despite a condition known as idiopathic scoliosis, which gave him a twisted spine.

The Earl of Warwick submits to Margaret of Anjou.

However, in one of the many twists of the civil war, Warwick fell out with Richard’s brother Edward, who was by now king, having deposed Henry following Towton. Warwick then defected to the exiled Queen Margaret in France. Rejoining his elder brother, an 18-year-old Richard fought with distinction at the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury against Margaret’s resurgent forces.

Analysis of casualties amongst Richard’s household guard shows that he was in the thick of the fighting. Edward regained the throne after losing it briefly to Henry, who was then killed to prevent another war of succession. Richard, who stayed loyal to Edward, unlike their brother George, was rewarded with titles – including that of Admiral.

Richard showcased his abilities as a general, fighting the Scots in the latter years of Edward’s reign – and all the while remaining scrupulously loyal to his brother until the king’s sudden and early death in 1483.

The “Princes in the Tower”

Edward and Richard were held in the Tower of London after being captured by their uncle, and thus became known as the “Princes in the Tower”.

It was at this point that Richard’s hitherto hidden ambitions came to the fore. In one of the most infamously villainous moves in British history, he captured Edward’s two sons, Edward and Richard, and used evidence of an old marriage to declare them illegitimate. They then suspiciously disappeared from all records.

With all rivals out of the way, Richard was officially crowned as King Richard III. But despite successfully putting down a rebellion by the Duke of Buckingham, a former friend, Richard’s reign was to be a short one.

This 4-part Our Site audio drama, starring Iain Glen, tells the story of Perkin Warbeck, a young pretender to the English crown in the 1490s.

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The Battle of Bosworth (Field)

An invasion by the last son of Lancaster, Henry Tudor, gathered support in Wales before meeting Richard’s troops at the Battle of Bosworth (or the Battle of Bosworth Field as it is also known). Richard once again fought nobly, even trying to kill Henry himself and almost succeeding. But treachery from one of his lords doomed his army to defeat and he was killed in the fighting.

Henry was then crowned as the first Tudor monarch.

Richard’s body, which matched contemporary descriptions of him, was found beneath a Leicestershire car park in 2012, relaunching debates about this famous figure as he was propelled back into the limelight.

What caused the 30 year period of internecine violence in medieval England? Dan Snow narrates this animated short documentary on the events that led to 22 May 1455 - the First Battle of Saint Albans.

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Though Richard’s seizure of power was undoubtedly ruthless, it reflected troubled times where wars over succession had led to thousands of deaths, and he did have many qualities of a good monarch. Ultimately, however, it is Shakespeare’s portrayal of the last Plantagenet king that has proved to be the most enduring – though the question of whether that is fair will no doubt be debated for many more years to come.

Richard III (play)

Richard III is a play by William Shakespeare. It was probably written c. 1592–1594. It is labelled a history in the First Folio, and is usually considered one, but it is sometimes called a tragedy, as in the quarto edition. Richard III concludes Shakespeare's first tetralogy (also containing Henry VI, Part 1, and Henry VI, Part 2, and Henry VI, Part 3) and depicts the Machiavellian rise to power and subsequent short reign of King Richard III of England. [1]

It is the second longest play in the Shakespearean canon, and is the longest of the First Folio, whose version of Hamlet, otherwise the longest, is shorter than its quarto counterpart. The play is often abridged for brevity, and peripheral characters removed. In such cases, extra lines are often invented or added from elsewhere to establish the nature of the characters' relationships. A further reason for abridgment is that Shakespeare assumed his audiences' familiarity with his Henry VI plays, frequently referring to these plays. [ citation needed ]

Richard III, the great villain of English history, is due a makeover

T o the headline writers, he's become "the king in the car park". To Shakespeare, he was the "bottled spider". But 527 years after he died on Bosworth Field, he has become part of the national conversation again. Somewhere between a Mondeo monarch and a pantomime villain lies the figure of Richard III, one of the most disputed kings in British history.

A thrilling palimpsest of folklore, drama, archaeology and Tudor propaganda means that we will probably never begin to approach the truth about the reign and character of the man Shakespeare painted as "rudely stamp'd… deformed, unfinish'd". A monster of sadism, duplicity and cunning, much worse than bad king John, more cruel than Henry VIII and less fit than Charles I for the English throne, Richard III is by far the most reviled entry in a catalogue of sovereigns not exactly renowned for their grace, distinction, or humanity.

Shakespeare has a line for that, too, from Mark Anthony's celebrated eulogy for the assassinated Julius Caesar: "The evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interred with their bones." The sensational find of the Grey Friars skeleton in Leicester last week, grippingly replete with evidence of severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine), has reanimated an old English argument about the last of the Plantagenets. Various commentators, rallying to the royal standard like trusty housecarls, have focused on the DNA angle. Conclusively identify the remains, goes the argument, and a process of regal restoration and rehabilitation can finally begin. For these inky royalists, the Queen's intervention in this saga cannot come soon enough.

It must be a long shot. Even the most casual enumeration of the competing plot lines, braided into the breaking news of the Leicester bones, throws up several archetypal tales that condemn Richard to a kind of narrative hell. The DNA evidence would have to link the notorious hunchback to Joseph of Arimathea to reverse the negative momentum of these stories.

First, and most sobering, there's the historical record: the chilling tale of a deposed tyrant. It's part of Richard's enduring appeal that he is not unambiguously corrupt. The Richard III Society, which sponsored the excavations in Leicester, points to the king's record as a wise educator and a brave soldier. Nevertheless, his brief reign (1483-1485) was terminated by a spectacular military rebellion conducted by a Welshman, leading a motley force of Scottish, French and exiled English soldiers. Losing that war became the first step to losing his historical reputation. Here, too, his story is archetypal. In the best English tradition, by all accounts, Richard seems to have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. When Richard's army met the forces of Henry Tudor at Bosworth field on 22 August 1485, the king's men seriously outnumbered the enemy. Richard rode to battle in some pomp, but the king's confidence betrayed him. He charged with his cavalry deep into enemy lines, overpowered the Tudor standard bearer and was about to kill Henry when he was surrounded, cut off, and slaughtered in the thick of fierce fighting.

Shakespeare has him, on foot, calling "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse." What seems to have happened, from conflicting eyewitness accounts, was that his white charger became mired in heavy ground. Richard, immobilised at bay, was felled by a Welshman's poleaxe. His naked body was thrown across a horse and publicly displayed for three days so that the English people could see that the hated tyrant was dead.

Later, he was buried in the choir of the church of the Grey Friars, the site of the recent archaeology. Henry Tudor, meanwhile, was crowned on the battlefield. According to legend, his crown was rescued from the hawthorn where it had fallen.

Richard was the last English king to fight and die on the battlefield. The end of both the Wars of the Roses and the Plantagenet dynasty was a turning point in English history. For these reasons alone, Richard III has a special place in the national myth. What follows, however, was sheer propaganda. Contrary to popular opinion, this came not from Shakespeare but from the pen of the saintly Thomas More.

The History of King Richard III was a hatchet job designed to explore the nature of power, leading to tyranny, and the sin that made such despotism possible. In More's account, Richard is accursed and unnatural, a parricide who broke all ties of kinship, like the figure of Vice in a morality play. An avuncular protector who was not a protector, a plotter and a killer, More's Richard contrives the murder of his nephews (Edward V and Richard of York), the princes in the tower. More, a loyal Tudor servant, had no interest in an impartial history. He wanted to present a narrative of evil with the hunchback king as a secular Satan.

It was More's Richard that caught Shakespeare's eye, the version he put on stage in his stunningly theatrical characterisation of the "poisonous hunchbacked toad". The young Shakespeare revelled in his dramatic powers. An ordinary chronicle play, routine propaganda, became a star vehicle for a great actor, initially Richard Burbage. It was also Shakespeare's genius to transform the king into a sinister comic performer, a character audiences will love and loathe. But there's no mistaking the playwright's loyalties. This is the victor's history, a version of events calculated to legitimise the reign of the founding Tudor, Henry VII.

Scene after scene accumulates into a complex, unforgettable portrait of villainy, in which even the hero participates. "Oh no, alas," says the king in act five, during a rare moment of remorse, "I rather hate myself/ For hateful deeds committed by myself. I am a villain." Then, even Shakespeare recoils from that line. "Yet I lie," Richard continues, "I am not [a villain]."

More's history is forgotten now. Shakespeare's devastating script lives on in a succession of great performances, from Garrick and Kean to Olivier and McKellen, and now Mark Rylance's brilliant interpretation at the Globe. Our rhetorical landscape is deeply coloured by the language of the play: "Now is the winter of our discontent" "Was ever woman in this humour wooed?" "The king's name is a tower of strength" and "Seem a saint when I most play the devil". No wonder Hollywood returns again and again to this seam of theatrical gold.

The next archetypal narrative colouring Richard's reputation might be summarised as "the lovely bones", a subject of special interest to nerds and anoraks. Not only do we have the bones of Leicester for DNA testing, but we can also return to two skeletons buried in Westminster Abbey. These are not innocent remains, but thought to be the "princes in the tower".

So far, the Queen has resisted granting permission for the scientific scrutiny of these relics. But now that the Leicester bones are on their way to the laboratory, she may want to rescind this prohibition. There is the very real prospect that two royal mysteries – the identity of the little princes and the identity of their vicious uncle – will be cleared up simultaneously. From here, perhaps, it's a short step to the most promising pro-Richard narrative line: the rehabilitation of Crookback Dick.

The classic statement of this revisionist account – which must still concede the old accusations of infamy – is Josephine Tey's novel The Daughter of Time. The author of the Alan Grant mysteries (A Shilling For Candles The Singing Sands) puts her hero in hospital and has him cross-examining the documentary record to uncover "the historical truth" about Richard, stripping away the accumulation of lies and misrepresentation to the point where he can be declared innocent of the deaths in the tower.

So this, perhaps, is the redemptive, archetypal version that might be available to the British public soon: "The Return of the King" – his bones triumphantly verified and acknowledged, a new tomb, probably in Leicester, and another royal shrine for the British tourist trade. As in the best dramas, we're now held in suspense, awaiting the closing act. The DNA testing will take about 12 weeks, apparently. Some time before Christmas, science will deliver its verdict. The king's bones may yet become a secular relic, an object of national veneration. Shakespeare, for one, would relish the irony.

Did Richard III Really Have a Friendly Face?

William Shakespeare immortalized King Richard III as a villainous, sneering hunchback. But a new facial reconstruction of the skull of the rediscovered monarch has some people viewing him in a kinder, gentler light.

"It's an interesting face, younger and fuller than we have been used to seeing, less careworn, and with the hint of a smile," said Phil Stone, the chairman of the Richard III Society, which has been part of a recent effort with the University of Leicester to unearth and identify the remains of the lost king.

But facial reconstructions, even well-done ones, can be misleading. For example, bones tell scientists nothing about the size of someone's ears, how many forehead wrinkles they had, or whether they often smiled or habitually wore a frown.

"The reconstruction is a combination of science, history and art," said Kristina Killgrove, an anthropologist at the University of West Florida who was not involved in the research. "It likely bears a great resemblance to Richard III, but it's not his 'real' face the way we would think of a photograph representing a person's visage." [See Images of Richard III's Face and Skull]

The real Richard III

Richard III enthusiasts have reason to want to rehabilitate their beloved king's image. After his death in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, the king was reportedly stripped and beaten before a hasty burial in Leicester. The archaeological evidence &mdash a battered skeleton shoved into a poorly dug grave &mdash backs up this tale. The skeleton was identified as Richard III's because of its location, age, wounds and DNA links to modern descendents of the king.

Richard III came to power in 1483 after declaring his nephews, sons of the previous king, illegitimate. The two young boys were never seen in public again, fueling rumors that Richard had them killed. And then there was Shakespeare. The playwright penned the tragedy "Richard III" a century after the monarch's death, portraying him as a scheming hunchback, "deformed, unfinish'd" and "determined to prove a villain." [8 Grisly Archaeological Discoveries]

Richard III's skeleton reveals that he did have scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that would not have formed a hunchback, but would have left him looking somewhat asymmetrical. Wounds to the buttocks also suggest that his body was stripped of armor and abused after death. But the rumors of murder and treachery are harder to support. The Tudors, the royal house that defeated Richard III and took over the monarchy after him, had political reasons to vilify their slain enemy, and some of the stories may have been propaganda.

Face out of history

From a historical sense, the facial reconstruction sheds little light on Richard III as a good or bad guy. Appearances can be deceiving, after all, and the lack of wrinkles and tranquil expression are artistic choices by Janice Aitken, a lecturer at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design of the University of Dundee, who painted the 3D replica of the reconstruction.

"My part in the process was purely interpretive rather than scientific," Aitken said in a statement, adding, "I drew on my experience in portrait painting, using a combination of historical and contemporary references to create a finished surface texture."

The face shape and structure, however, is based on strong science. To reconstruct faces, forensic scientists look for features on the skull bones that indicate where muscles would attach. Other clues to outward looks include the size and prominence of the teeth and the the width of the nasal opening and the size and shape of the cheekbones, said Caroline Wilkinson, the University of Dundee researcher who led the Richard III reconstruction project.

"I'm not sure that this reconstruction tells us anything about him as a person in terms of his chracter, but it may help in some way to expel some of those myths, mostly perpetuated by Shakespeare, as to his kind of 'monster' appearance," Wilkinson told LiveScience. The researchers did include Richard III's scoliosis on the bust, building one shoulder higher than the other.

One of the oldest techniques of facial modeling involves physically putting clay on the skull (or a cast of the skull), using averages from real faces to determine how thick the flesh would likely be. The method can work, Killgrove told LiveScience, "but often looks like a craft project."

Newer techniques involve precise measurements and computer modeling, Killgrove said. In the case of Richard III, Wilkinson and her colleagues used computed tomography (CT) scans of the battle-scarred skull and stereolithography, a type of 3D printing, to create a lifelike bust of the medieval king. The bust is set to be displayed in a planned visitor's center at the site of Richard III's burial in Leicester.

Whether or not the man in the bust has the same forehead wrinkles or precise skin tone as the real Richard III, reconstructions can draw people in to history and humanize the past, Killgrove said. For Philippa Langley, a screenwriter and Richard III Society secretary who helped push archaeologists to search for the king's bones, the new bust had that effect.

"Seeing a true likeness of England's last Plantagenet and warrior king meant, for me, finally coming face-to-face with the man I'd invested four years searching for," Langley said in a statement. "The experience was breathtaking &mdash one of the most overwhelming moments of my life. I wasn't alone in finding this an approachable, kindly face, almost inviting conversation. Perhaps I may be forgiven for adding a personal impression of loyalty and steadfastness, someone seemingly capable of deep thought."

Alternate history: what if Richard III had won at Bosworth?

Each month BBC History Revealed asks a historical expert for their take on what might have happened if a key moment in the past had turned out differently. This time, Jonny Wilkes talks to Professor Emeritus Michael Hicks about what might had happened had Richard III triumphed over Henry Tudor at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485

Richard III had a clear advantage going into the battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485. As king of England, he commanded an army two or three times the size of the ragtag Lancastrian force that sailed from France, he had brought more cannon, and he was a seasoned warrior. His enemy, a Lancastrian with a tenuous claim to the throne named Henry Tudor (later Henry VII), had never seen battle. When Richard heard of Henry’s landing, he was overjoyed: he had a chance to crush this pretender once and for all.

“With the larger army, substantial ordnance and archery, and a fighting ground of his choosing, Richard was best-placed for a defensive battle,” says Michael Hicks, Professor Emeritus at the University of Winchester and author of Richard III: The Self-Made King (Yale, 2019).

“Henry had to attack a strongly entrenched position.” Yet Richard famously lost the day, ending 331 years of Plantagenet rule and ushering in the Tudor dynasty, as key allies failed to join the fray and, in some cases, actually turned on their king and attacked his flank.

If the brothers Lord Thomas and Sir William Stanley had stayed loyal to Richard – or if they had heeded the king’s warning that he would execute Thomas’s son if they didn’t fight for him– and if Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, had come to Richard’s aid, then Henry Tudor’s reign might never have begun.

Henry gambled everything on achieving a decisive victory with his 5,000-strong army, an uneasy alliance of Lancastrians, disgruntled Yorkists, Bretons, French, Scots and Welsh. The pivotal moment came when Richard, spotting Henry at the rear of the action, led a mounted charge. Breaking through, he unhorsed the mighty John Cheyney, killed Henry’s standard bearer and came within killing distance of Henry himself. With one more slash of his blade, Richard could have ended Henry’s bid for the throne and made safe his own rule. Hicks says: “Richard would have continued to reign with his dynasty secured. It’s unlikely another formidable threat could have been raised for years, if then.”

Would the Tudors have become a historical footnote?

Henry may well have perished in the battle, along with his uncle Jasper, leaving no heir to carry on his claim. “If Henry had died, who knows who might have taken his place as contender to the throne” says Hicks. “His strength was that he was not Richard. But how could a newcomer secure support?” Even if, in the case of a Yorkist victory, Henry had survived, what awaited him would have been capture and possible execution or exile. The name of the Tudors would have become nothing more than a historical footnote.

With victory in battle seen as proof of God’s favour, Richard – even though he had faced stern opposition following his taking of the throne in 1483 and the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower – could have strengthened his position. In the aftermath, he would undoubtedly have extinguished any remaining Lancastrian support and taken vengeance on those who had not supported him. “Richard had a track record for executing opponents and would certainly have disposed of the Tudors, the Earl of Oxford and any traitors,” says Hicks. This may well have included the Stanleys and Northumberland.

A priority of Richard’s continued reign, with significant political, diplomatic and dynastic implications, would have been to remarry. He had lost his son and wife Anne within a year so securing a new queen would have been vital. “Richard needed a fertile wife able to bear children,” says Hicks. “She would need to have been a lady of royal or perhaps noble birth, but definitely not a parvenu and widow, which his brother Edward IV’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville, had been.” A promising prospect was Portuguese princess Joanna, sister of John II, as this union would have formed a strategic alliance.

Richard may have looked to enhance this alliance by marrying his niece, Elizabeth of York, to John’s cousin, Manuel. Hicks suggests that Elizabeth may even have been Richard’s option for his own bride. “Marrying Elizabeth would have strengthened his own position and denied her title to foes. Richard would have needed to seek approval from the Pope for the union, but there were precedents to uncle-niece marriages.”

Richard could then have turned his attention to governing the realm. Pursuing a commitment to law and justice, and a willingness to reform, as seen in the years before Bosworth, he may have made further changes to the legal system, which could have benefited the poor and under-represented. His sights would also have been on foreign matters. Although the French had aided Henry, Hicks points out that they were never “officially hostile and so would have cultivated good relations”.

By fostering relations with France, Spain and Portugal through marriage alliances or treaties, Richard’s ongoing reign would still have impacted England in the decades after his death. If there was no Tudor dynasty, there would have been no Henry VIII. So, as Reformation swept over Europe, England may have remained Catholic – Richard was a pious and conventional Catholic, and his successors would probably have been the same – or, at least, not moved over to Protestantism as quickly as seen in the 1530s with Henry VIII’s split from Rome.

“If Richard continued after Bosworth, he would have been a more consistent ruler than Edward IV, similar to what we saw in Henry VII’s centralising and authoritarian rule, and more conventionally chivalric,” says Hicks. Now regarded as a divisive figure – murderer or misunderstood? – Hicks concludes that Richard could instead have been seen as a “competent medieval king, seldom remembered”.

In context

Richard, fourth son of the Duke of York, was not destined to be king of England, even after his brother won the crown in the Wars of the Roses and became Edward IV.

When Edward died in 1483, his son Edward V ascended the throne, but Richard, chosen as Lord Protector, supplanted his nephew only a few months later.

As Richard III, he faced opposition both from nobles whom he had replaced with his own supporters and from Yorkists, who named him a usurper and suspected murderer of his two nephews – the Princes in the Tower.

A Lancastrian with a feeble royal claim, Henry Tudor, was declared king by the rebels and defeated Richard at the battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485. Henry VII united the roses of York and Lancaster by marrying Elizabeth of York, Edward IV’s daughter, while Richard’s reputation was denigrated by Tudor propaganda, including in the popular works of William Shakespeare.

Michael Hicks is Professor Emeritus at the University of Winchester and author of Richard III: The Self-Made King (Yale, 2019). He was speaking to freelance writer Jonny Wilkes

William Shakespeare's Richard III: Brilliant Schemer, Entertaining Villain

William Shakespeare&rsquos Richard III is no doubt a fascinating character and an entertaining villain. It is Shakespeare&rsquos command of the English language, and his keen sense of drama and psychological depth, that make his plays so affecting and deeply memorable. Shakespeare was a brilliant playwright, but nevertheless, he was not a historian Unfortunately for history, and for Richard, the power and appeal of his plays make this small fact easy to forget.

Shakespeare&rsquos Richard is a brilliant schemer and manipulator, completely devoid of scruples of any kind. He also happens to be severely physically deformed. The inevitable feelings of inadequacy, envy, and frustration that this engenders are heightened when his military talents are no longer needed. As he beautifully explains at the beginning of Act I, &ldquoall the clouds that loured upon&rdquo the house of York are now &ldquoin the deep bosom of the ocean buried&rdquo. It seems the Wars of the Roses are finally over (for now), and unadapted as Richard is to &ldquoidle pleasures&rdquo, he has no alternative left but to divert himself by other means. He bluntly claims from the outset that he is &ldquodetermined to prove a villain&rdquo. He then proceeds throughout the play to act on this assertion committing various acts of escalating treachery and cruelty. Early on in the play Richard demonstrates to us, using his brother Clarence, and his future wife, Lady Anne, as examples of his ability to control people&rsquos perceptions and decisions, and his readiness to go as far as necessary to get what he wants.

One cannot help but wonder how Shakespeare came by this vivid characterization, and how much he really knew about the people he wrote about. The plain truth is that he didn&rsquot really care. It is hard to blame Shakespeare for his harsh portrayal of Richard. Living as he did in the reign of Elizabeth I, granddaughter to Henry VII, he had access to a very limited range of facts. Naturally the Tudors, who destroyed the House of York at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, did not want the last Yorkist king to have a sympathetic image, hence the desire to bend the truth. The facts conveyed to Shakespeare, mostly through the medium of the irreproachable Thomas More, ended up every bit as mangled and deformed as the body of his fictional Richard. The saintly More himself of course, had his facts directly from the source &ndash John Morton, the treacherous strawberry-cultivating bishop of Shakespeare&rsquos play. Now, who can possibly doubt the evidence of someone who Richard had imprisoned for treason? But it wasn&rsquot in Shakespeare&rsquos plans to be subversive. He took what he was given and asked no questions.

The unbiased evidence of various chroniclers and legal documents, both before and after Richard&rsquos reign, and both English and international, demonstrate that he was a just ruler, a caring uncle, and a loyal brother. He may not have been stunningly handsome by any standards, but he was definitely far from deformed &ndash he was an able warrior (which even Shakespeare does not deny), and an excellent dancer. His reign as king was short, but not because he was stifled in his tangled web of evil plots, but rather because he lacked the faculty for intrigue that Shakespeare assigns to him.

Another striking discrepancy is Shakespeare&rsquos insistence on mixing up and compressing dates and names, turning his historical backdrop into an unintelligible web of lost identities and missing years. Queen Elizabeth&rsquos three brothers for instance (Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, and Lord Scales), are actually a breakdown of her real brother, Anthony Woodville, who also happened to be Earl Rivers and Lord Scales. The entire play, which according to Richard&rsquos opening monologue begins right after the Battle of Tewkesbury (1471), seems to take up only a year or two, as hardly any passage of time is allowed for in the text of the play. Richard hardly has time to express his dissatisfaction with the idleness of peacetime, when he rushes off to seduce Lady Anne, sending murderers to Clarence with one hand, and waving goodbye to the dying Edward with the other. He takes over the throne in mere minutes, sweeping the young princes aside, and already Henry Tudor is closing in. Naturally for the sake of pacing, Shakespeare needed to draw out the highlights from the fifteen years these events really took up. However, he doesn&rsquot even put up a pretense of chronology, and events that had years between them happen in one scene. Shakespeare makes it amply obvious that he is prepared to cast all historical accuracy to the winds for the sake of his dramatic vision.

His vision by the way, unjust and scathing as it is to Richard, leads him somewhat astray from what the Tudors may have wanted as well. Shakespeare&rsquos Richard may be the epitome of vice, but the heroic Richmond, who should in this context have been the avenging angel, crushing the forces of evil with his flaming sword, is just bland. Shakespeare is not interested in Richmond, and perhaps even a little bit daunted by the challenge of having to write about his Queen&rsquos grandfather. His monologues are devoid of feeling and his character is too lifeless and formal to even seem virtuous.

Shakespeare really lets himself go with the character of Richard, however. He breathes vivid and poisonous life into More&rsquos villainous but overly didactic creation. Constantly breaking away from the action of the play, Richard speaks directly to us, sharing his thoughts, his feelings, and his schemes. Shakespeare himself is swept up in awe of the skill, the malice, and the pure, exuberant wickedness of the character he has created. It is only with deep regret that he sends Richard off to die at Bosworth. Richard&rsquos monologue after he is visited by the ghosts of his victims is meant to condemn him and his &ldquohateful deeds&rdquo, to show that his conscience has finally caught up with him. It fulfills that purpose admirably, but at the same time as Richard despairingly claims, &ldquothere is no creature loves me, /And if I die no soul will pity me.&rdquo (V.3.212-213), we cannot help but realize that we do, and Shakespeare wants us to.

As Richmond pronounces his closing monologue after killing Richard, his empty righteousness forms a stark and melancholy contrast to Richard&rsquos fiery malevolence. It is small wonder that the play&rsquos full name is The Tragedy of Richard III, not The Victory of Henry VII. In a subconsciously ironic twist, while creating the ultimate popular image of Richard III, which shattered Richard&rsquos reputation for generations, Shakespeare has also given him a way out of the obscure graveyard of Tudor propaganda. For his own artistic caprice, Shakespeare has let Richard win by making Henry Tudor&rsquos victory emotionally insignificant. We forget Richmond as soon as the play ends, but we will always remember Richard.


Shakespeare, William, Burton Raffel, and Harold Bloom. Richard III. New Haven: Yale UP, 2008. Print.

Richard III: Elsewhere on the web

"Would Richard really have done away with the sons of a brother to whom he was demonstrably loyal, inviting scandal so early in his reign?" asks Ben Macintyre in The Times.

"Others, including Henry Tudor, had ample reason to want the princes out of the way… If the murders cannot be pinned on Richard with any certainty, then the last English monarch to die in battle has surely been maligned by gossip, political manipulation, Victorian sentimentality and literary licence."

In the Daily Mail, Simon Heffer suggests "there was much more to Richard than Shakespeare the pro-Tudor propagandist revealed. In fact, he had been a popular governor of his brother's northern provinces during the reign of Edward IV… Given the case against Richard III is far from proven, but there is much that we know of the good he did in a turbulent age, he deserves, with due ceremony, a decent burial."

And Allan Massie of the Daily Telegraph says it is incontestable that Shakespeare's Richard is the product of Tudor propaganda.

"Yet the historical Richard is a dim figure about whom even the most learned historians know very little for certain. He can't compete with the compelling vitality of Shakespeare's deformed villain.

"We don't know whether Shakespeare swallowed [Thomas] More's version of Richard uncritically, or whether he merely thought it offered irresistible dramatic material, and was unconcerned about historical accuracy. What is undeniable is that it is Shakespeare's Richard who has imprinted himself on our imagination."

Richard Marius, Thomas More
Alfred A. Knopf, 1984
© 1984, Richard Marius used with permission

Chapter 7: The History of King Richard III
Part One of Two

This chapter has been broken into two html files the first part reproduces pages 98 through 108 of the text. Thanks are due to Richard Marius for permission to reproduce this chapter in an html edition, and to Judie Gall for keyboarding and html markup. Proofreading by Laura Blanchard.

Although More was absorbed with his public career in these years, a hankering for the life of letters evidently burned within. It found its first major expression in his History of King Richard III, perhaps the finest thing he ever wrote. It is his only historical work, and it is so different from other works of his that some scholars still doubt that he wrote it, although the general consensus is that he did. Its influence and the controversies it has engendered have been vast.

More would have been surprised. Although he wrote versions in both Latin and English, he never finished either, and the book remained unpublished in his lifetime. Yet it is the first long piece of his prose left to us other than the translation of Pico’s life, and in it we find the mature man, a genius at setting a scene, a wizard at depicting character, a believer in a fundamental order of things that gave events meaning and provided a moral context that allowed reasonable men to recognize virtue when they saw it and to condemn vice on the intuitive perception of the vicious act.

It is a dark tale, the history of a villainous king who let nothing stand before his headlong rush to power. More lived through the days he describes, although he was only a child, no older than seven, on the August morning when Richard galloped to his death at Bosworth Field. He may have recalled Richard parading through the streets of London, and he must have heard stories from his loquacious father about the brief, violent reign of the usurper. Perhaps his fascination with Richard was partly a means of dealing with memory, of reaching into the dimness of his own recollections to find something hard and enduring in the way a middle aged man will sometimes visit the distant house where he was born, trying to bring the haunting phantoms of childhood back to reality.

More’s History was later incorporated into Edward Hall’s great Chronicle of 1543, and Hall’s work was copied over by Holinshed in 1577. More’s book was first independently published from a holograph in the Rastell edition of More’s English works in 1557. (Rastell’s headnote telling us of the holograph is the strongest external evidence we have of More’s authorship.) Shakespeare took the story up from these sources and added some details, and his monstrous villain, slinking and grinning about the stage, is the King Richard III Thomas More gave to the world.

Reaction to such a persistent tradition was inevitable. Richard III has become an abused saint, crucified by hearsay. No one saw him kill the little princes in the Tower. His coronation, attended by the greatest lords and ladies in the realm, was splendid. Laws passed in his brief reign were good. The portrait done of him by an unknown artist and preserved in the National Portrait Gallery, shows a sensitive face. (It is a sixteenth-century copy of a vanished original, perhaps taken from life.) So for some it is an article of faith that the real villain in this story is Thomas More, who slandered Richard and made him a caricature of tyranny. More is seen as just another Tudor propagandist, grossly inaccurate, deluded, malicious, and deluding.

But More’s account is only one of several written about Richard III by Richard’s contemporaries and none of them is flattering to the usurper king. Some of these histories were– like More’s own–left in manuscript and published long after the writers had died. They can hardly be interpreted as self-conscious efforts to flatter the Tudors. There are many contradictory details in the several accounts, and we will never pierce the veil to know exactly what happened in that confused and darksome time or read clearly all the motives of all the actors in a drama now dead for centuries. All we can do is build a plausible reconstruction, leaving it to readers to decide whether what is plausible to at least one observer is plausible to others.

Like all historians in the Renaissance, More wrote to teach a moral lesson–here, the nature of tyranny, the wicked conduct and self-seeking that kings should avoid if they are to be good. He was also preoccupied with one of the great dilemmas of the day: How did one preserve and respect a good office, necessary for the rule of a dangerously unstable society, while condemning the bad officer? His story errs in some names, and he makes other obvious mistakes. He left some names blank in the version of his history that his nephew William Rastell faithfully reproduced in 1557, intending no doubt to go back and fill them in. But on the whole the history stands up remarkably well, and there is every reason to assume its basic reliability. He had, as we know, lived in the house of Bishop Morton, a major character in The History of King Richard III. John Morton was a prejudiced witness, having worked for Richard’s doom and ending as the chief counselor to Henry VII. But More knew many others as well, including his father, who had lived through the same days: Christopher Urswick, who had been in exile with Morton, and very probably the elder Thomas Howard, second Duke of Norfolk and victor of Flodden, one of Richard’s most valiant supporters. Since More did not publish his work or even finish it, it is hard to make the charge of “Tudor propagandist” stick, and he seems throughout his tale to sift evidence in a geniune effort to find the truth. The work is polemical of course–a polemic both against Richard and against tyranny. But it is the most dispassionate of all the polemical works More ever wrote.

The story as More tells it can be briefly summarized. When Edward IV died in 1483, he left two little sons, Edward, Prince of Wales, age twelve, and Richard, Duke of York, age nine. The dead king’s brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, conspired with the Duke of Buckingham, Henry Stafford, and William Lord Hastings (More calls Buckingham “Edward” and Hastings “Richard”) to seize Prince Edward, who had been residing at Ludlow Castle, the traditional station of the Prince of Wales. Young Edward had been under the tutelage of Anthony Earl Rivers, the brother of Elizabeth Woodville–Edward IV’s queen–and her son by her first marriage, Richard Grey, Marquis of Dorset. Richard exploited the fears of his cohorts that the queen’s family might use the child king to destroy enemies that included themselves. Richard and Buckingham intercepted Rivers and Grey at Northampton, and put them under arrest. Richard had them beheaded later without trial. The child king was brought by Richard and his fellow conspirators to London, where, they discovered, Queen Elizabeth had gone into sanctuary in St. Peter’s Church at Westminster Abbey with the little Duke of York. As long as she could keep him safe, she knew, she protected her other son as well. But Richard, Buckingham, and Hastings persuaded the council of regency that the right of sanctuary should not be granted to a child who had committed no crime. Confronted with the prospect of seeing her child forcibly removed, Elizabeth gave him up, and the two boys were locked away in the Tower.

Meanwhile Richard moved relentlessly toward usurpation. He decided that Hastings, devoted to the children of Edward IV, would not follow him to usurpation and murder. So he trumped up a charge of treason against this loyal lord and had him summarily beheaded. He then alleged that his dead brother, Edward IV, was a bastard, thereby impugning the good name of his own mother, who was still alive. Richard also argued that Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was invalid because Edward had previously been vowed to marry another woman. Consequently, the little princes in the Tower were bastards, and young Edward V had no right to the thone of England.

Buckingham became Richard’s chief agent in getting London to accept him as king, and so it was done. To assure his own security, Richard saw to it that the little princes in the Tower were smothered to death in their sleep. But now the colleagues in the conspriacy began to fall apart. Buckingham felt mistreated. He had become keeper of John Morton after the judicial murder of Hastings, and he was incited by the wily bishop to rebel against the new king. Right here More’s History breaks off.

This is history in the classical mode of Thucydides or Tacitus it is the first true work of Renaissance historiography done by an Englishman, a lean, fast-moving narrative intended not only to teach the major lessons More has in mind about tyranny and public office but also to instruct his readers in the vagaries of fortune and the evils of presumption. Here is Lord Hastings on his way to the Friday-morning council meeting where Richard has resolved to kill him before lunch. Not dreaming of his fate, he runs into an old acquaintance whom he had seen in the same place at a time when, deeply out of favor with Edward IV, Hastings had feared for his life. Now he says:

In faith man I was never so sorry, nor never stood in so great dread in my life as I did when thou and I met here. And lo how the world is turned. Now stand mine enemies in the danger…and I never in my life so merry, nor never in so great surety.

To make sure we don’t miss the point, More shouts at us: “O good God, the blindness of our mortal nature! When he most feared, he was in good surety when he reckoned himself surest, he lost his life, and that within two hours after.”

Sometimes a single incident provokes More to teach several lessons. Edward IV had a beautful mistress, Jane Shore, beloved by Hastings and taken over by him after Edward’s death. More, calling her “Shore’s wife,” finds her example both proof of how earthly beauty dissolves into corruption and sure evidence for the ingratitude of human nature. She was beautiful and generous, he says, but now she is forgotten because, at the time More writes, she is “old, lean, withered, and dried up, nothing left but wrinkled skin and hard bone.” His description has many affinities to the funerary monuments of the time that showed female bodies in hideous decay. The original motive, and one surely shared by More, was to point out how quickly bodily grace passes away so that onlookers might think more soberly of the eternal soul and its destiny. But by More’s time, artists and writers alike seemed to depict corruption for corruption’s sake and take a melancholy delight in recounting the details of physical disintegration.

Shore’s wife never used her favor with the king to harm any man, More says, but “where the king took displeasure, she would mitigate and appease his mind where men were out of favor, she would bring them in his grace for many that highly offended, she obtained pardon.” Now she is utterly neglected, in “beggarly condition, unfriended and worn out of acquaintance.” “For men are accustomed,” More says,” if they have an evil turn, to write it in marble, and whoso doth us a good turn, we write it in the dust which is not worst proved by her, for at this day she beggeth of many at this day living, that at this day had begged if she had not been.”

Despite his occasional digressions, More’s narrative always returns to his major character, Richard himself. Richard’s depravity lies in his fierce ambition that has long since corrupted all his natural human feelings, making him a monster. More has no sympathy for the dilemma that Richard’s modern defenders have, with some truth, put strongly forward: Had the young princes escaped his power, Richard’s property, position, and life would have been endangered by the queen mother and the ambitious and ruthless men around her. For More, Richard’s danger is only smoke, and he gives us a villain much like Shakespeare’s Iago, doing evil continually only because evil is his nature.

Richard was born, More says, by cesarean section and came into this world feet first. The point is made that Richard arrived in this world in the same posture that men are carried out to their graves, implying that the usurper’s life was a kind of death. He and many of his educated readers would have recalled that Nero had been born of cesarean section and that eventually Nero had murdered his own mother. A graver crime against nature could scarcely be imagined, and it was in keeping with the unnatural birth with which he had perversely entered the world.

More readily admits that Richard was brave and that he never lost a battle through lack of courage. But, says More, giving us the key to Richard’s nature, “he was close and secret, a deep dissembler,” humble in expression and arrogant in his heart, outwardly friendly, “where he inwardly hated,” not hesitating “to kiss whom he meant to kill. He spared no man’s death whose life withstood his purpose.” The physical ugliness of the man was in perfect keeping with the spiritual ugliness of his hideous heart.

Although More has been criticized for inventing these details to prove Richard’s ugliness, they did not in fact originate with him. What is surprising is to find More, who later vehemently attacked Luther’s doctrine of predestination, seemingly here at least making Richard’s character a matter of fate, destined from birth and sealed by appearance. He was influenced in part by the rhetorical mode that held good kings to be handsome and bad kings to be hideous–a style prevailing in the fairy tales most of us recall from our youth. More, devoted as he was to his own family, probably found the most horrifying perversity in Richard’s bloodthirstiness against his close kin. And it was easy for More the moralist and lesson-giver to suppose that a villain of such unnatural lusts would have had an unnatural appearance.

More’s favorite literary device was alway irony, and his History of King Richard III abounds with it. He develops Richard’s hypocritical character through a collection of ironies that illustrate the contradictions bewteen Richard’s professions and his deeds.

For example, there is Richard’s public behavior with its effusive and hypocritical meekness. More puts in Buckingham’s mouth a stirring speech delivered in the Guildhall, trumpeting the wickedness of Edward IV, the bastardy of his children, and the perverted claim of Richard to the throne. After a few hirelings toss their hats in the air and shout “King Richard! King Richard!” the conspirators take this shoddy performance as sufficient acclamation for granting Richard the crown. The next day the mayor, the aldermen, and the chief citizens “in their best manner apparelled” are led by Buckingham to Baynard’s Castle, where Richard is staying. Richard pretends that he has no idea why they are coming to him in such numbers and affects to fear that they may mean him harm (this from the most fearsome man in England!). He will not descend to them but stands on a gallery overhead while Buckingham shouts up their wishes.

Richard, in a great show of humility, rejects their offer of the throne. Then, as he and Buckingham had carefully devised, Buckingham whispers among the crowd and calls back that if Richard will not take the throne, they must seek someone else since they are all resolved that the heirs of Edwrd IV will no longer reign over them. Thereupon Richard makes an abject speech accepting the crown.

More likens the performance to a stage play and makes a telling pun on the word “scaffold,” which meant a raised platform where plays could be performed before the age of theaters as well as where executioners might practice their bloody art:

And in a stage play all the people know right well that he that playeth the sultan is perhaps a shoemaker. Yet if one should be so foolish in an inopportune way to show what acquaintance he hath with him and call him by his own name while he standeth in his majesty, one of his tormentors might chance to break his head, and worthily so, for marring of the play. And so they said that these matters be king’s games, as it were, stage plays, and for the more part played upon scaffolds, in which poor men be but the lookers-on. And they that be wise will meddle no farther.

More puts special ironic stress on this fawning and hypocritically humble mask that Richard presents to the public, a mask that momentarily hides Richard’s single-minded and ruthless appetite for power. Since Richard’s story is, in some sense, one we already know when we begin our reading of More, just as we know the story of Othello, Iago, and Desdemona before we see the play, our impulse is to cry warning the moment we come on these expressions of obsequious humility. And when Richard adopts the title of “Protector” over the little boys whom he will slaughter, we are brought to the tragic. Yet More never allows us to rise far from scorn for Richard’s wallowing servility in public. He mentions the way Richard saluted everyone he saw in the streets on his way home from the Court of the King’s Bench, where he had granted amnesty for any offense against him. (We are reminded of how Louis Philippe, the last king in France, got down out of his carriage to shake hands–his own protected by gloves, of course–with commoners he encountered in the streets of Paris.) More’s comment is sharp: “For a mind that knoweth itself guilty is in a manner humbled to a servile flattery.”

Then there is Richard’s war against sexual offenders, a war waged by the perpetrator of usurpation, mendacity, and murder. A charge against Hastings is that on the night before his murder he slept with Jane Shore and that he had been guilty of vicious living and the inordinate perversion of his body with many others. And when Hastings is dead, Richard forces Jane Shore to walk through London in public penance for her adulteries, “going before the cross in procession upon a Sunday, with a taper in her hand,” dressed only in her outer petticoat. Richard impugns the sexual purity of his own mother. He claims that Edward’s children are bastards. And in Buckingham’s speech in the Guildhall, we find a furious litany of attack on Edward IV for his many sexual sins:

For no woman was there anywhere, young or old, rich or poor, whom he set his eye upon, in whom he anything liked, either person or appearance, speech, pace, or countenance, but without any fear of God or respect for his honor, murmur or grudge of the world, he would importunely pursue his appetite and have her, to the great destruction of many a good woman and great dolor of their husband and their other friends, which being honest people of themself so much regard the cleanness of their house, the chastity of their wives and their children that they would prefer to lose all that they have rather than have such a villainy done them.

Buckingham’s speech was obviously coached by Richard, and the usurper is, ironically enough for one sodden with wickedness, claiming the throne by reason of his purity!

These ironies make Richard’s tale exactly the kind of story that would be thoroughly appealing to More’s devout temperment. More could never resist teaching the lesson that things are seldom what they seem to be, that the most careful plans of human beings often come to nothing because a profound current of irony pours across the uncharted ocean of wordly life and casts all of us where we do not dream of going.

Other characters become almost as vivid in More’s offering. Buckingham is splendidly drawn–a hearty, witty, garrulous, impetuous figure, ruthless in his ambition, magnificent in his duplicity, yet somehow fatally lacking in substance, so that he is led by others like some great bull coaxed to the slaughterhouse with a handful of straw. More thinks that when the usurpation began, Buckingham did not know where it would end, but that once the princes were in custody, Richard revealed the rest of his purpose to the duke, without whom he could not hope to succeed, and drew him into the conspiracy.

Buckingham, for all his outward bluster, is in More’s account a fearful man, and he is convinced by Richard that the two of them have already offended young Edward V to the point that they cannot turn back. If Edward should now assume power on his own, Buckingham would be in lethal danger, for, according to Richard, the king would never forget what had been done to him when he was powerless. But Richard also makes it clear to Buckingham that the duke would be in equally grave danger should he oppose Richard, whose present power and ruthlessness–as well as his spies–pose a mortal threat to anyone Richard sees as an enemy. “These things and such like, being beaten into the Duke’s mind, brought him to that point where he had repented the way he had entered, yet would he go forth in the same, and since he had once begun, he would stoutly go through. And therefore to this wicked enterprise which he believed could not be undone, he bent himself and went through, and determined that since the common mischief could not be amended, he would turn it as much as he might to his own commodity.”

At the end, Bishop Morton, left with Buckingham for safekeeping, uses Buckingham’s flawed charactger to provoke the duke to rebellion. In More’s closing scene, just before breaking his history off, he has Morton and Buckingham discussing Richard, now king. Buckingham has praised Richard Morton relates some of his own history, recalling his loyal service to Henry VI and afterwards to Edward IV, but stops in midsentence when he begins to discuss Richard, as if he would not say something for fear of being misunderstood. Buckingham genially insists that Morton continue. And in the last passage in More’s book, the bishop says, “In good faith, my lord, as for the late protector, since he is now king in possession, I purpose not to dispute his title. But for the weal of this realm whereof his grace hath now the governance and whereof I am myself one poor member, I was about to wish that those good abilities, whereof he hath already right many little needing my praise, it might yet have pleased God for the better store to have given him some of such other excellent virtues meet for the rule of a realm, as our Lord hath planted in the person of your grace.”

Buckingham did rebel in the autumn of 1483, for reasons that have always been obscure. His uprising collapsed. The duke was taken and summarily beheaded at Salisbury, pleading for one last interview with Richard–which was denied. It appeared that More read his impetuous and unstable character well.

The women in More’s story are well done. We have mentioned Jane Shore there are two others, the queen mother, Elizabeth Woodville, and Elizabeth Lucy, a foolish deceived woman with whom Edward IV was said to have contracted marriage before he wed Elizabeth Woodville.

In the queen, More gives us a mother driven to desperation by events she cannot control, a powerless creature bent on protecting her own children from the wickedness she alone discerns in the Protector. (More can fairly be accused of distortion here in her own days as England’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville was cruel, arrogant, greedy, and deadly even to the little children of those she considered her foes.)

When Richard and his council demand the release of the little Duke of York from sanctuary, Queen Elizabeth appeals to the quality of mercy in her tormentors and finds none. But in the fervor of her appeals and in the depths of her grief, she attains, in our eyes, a heroic and tragic stature. “The law of nature,” she protests, “wills the mother to keep her child.” We know all along that Richard’s iron heart is not to be melted by such a plea, so we see in her sad figure almost the archetypal mother who can only weep while war, famine, pestilence, and death consume her sons.

In the end, when she realizes that her cause is hopeless and that she must give up her youngest son, she utters a long monologue filled with resigned grief. Since she cannot protect him herself, she can only call on the lords who have come to fetch him away, lords blind to the Protector’s evil, and she begs them to pledge their honor to keep the boy safe: No matter what anyone says, she could keep him safe in sanctuary. She knows that there are some people out there who hate her blood so much that if they thought any of it ran through their own veins, they would cut themselves to let it out. Ambition for a kingdom knows no kindred. One brother has killed another for such a prize. And may nephews trust an uncle? As long as they are apart, each of her children is defense for the other “and each of their lives lieth in the other’s body. Keep one safe and both be sure, and nothing for them both more perilous than to be both in one place. For what wise merchant adventureth all his good in one ship? All this notwithstanding, here I deliver him, and his brother in him, to keep into your hands, of whom I shall ask them both afore God and the world.” If these lords cannot vow to protect this child, they should leave him with her, she says. They say she fears too much she thinks they do not fear enough. “And therewithall she said unto the child: ‘farewell my own sweet son God send you good keeping. Let me kiss you once yet ere you go, for God knoweth when we shall kiss together again.’ And therewith she kissed him and blessed him, turned her back and wept and went her way, leaving the child weeping as fast.”

As we have already noted, women exist in More’s works either to show how good and sensible some of them are in comparison to wicked men, or else to play a comic role. More often used to the full the literary convention of the times that made women signal that the audience should be prepared to laugh, much as black actors (and whites in blackface) were once used in American plays. So we have Elizabeth Lucy in the History, a pole away from the tragic figure of Elizabeth Woodville.

Elizabeth Lucy had a child by Edward IV. Edward’s mother, the dowager Duchess of York, was furious with him for marrying Elizabeth Woodville and claimed, so More says, that the marriage was invalid because Edward had promised to marry Elizabeth Lucy. Elizabeth Lucy was thereupon interrogated by a panel of judges and asked if the charge was true. Under oath she said that the king had never made such a promise explicitly. “Howbeit, she said his grace spoke so loving words unto her that she verily hoped he would have married her, and if it had not been for such kind words she would never have have showed such kindness to him to let him so kindly get her with child.” More’s point was not mere comedy it was to show that the charge had been made and refuted long before Richard and his cohorts brought it up. Yet the story does let him mock a foolish woman.

More’s eye for detail is one of the most compelling literary qualities of his History. At Northampton, where Richard, Buckingham, and their henchmen intercept Earl Rivers, they feast merrily with him in the evening, but after he has happily and without suspicion gone off to bed, they conspire against him until nearly dawn. Early the next day, says More’s Latin text, they move against the earl while his servants are still snoring. When Rivers, Thomas Vaughan, and others friendly and familiar to the child king are snatched away, the boy weeps–an unkingly gesture but one fitting for the child the king is. More says it made no difference. It is a small detail that prepares us to be outraged when this weeping and helpless child is smothered to death in the Tower at Richard’s command.

When the queen mother goes into sanctuary, we find a brilliant description of the turmoil of servants hurrying in with chests, coffers, packs, and bundles while the queen mother sits apart on the rushes that cover the floor, “all desolate and dismayed,” and while outside the Thames fills with boats manned by Richard’s servants. Richard at the Friday-morning council that will end in the murder of Hastings looks cheerfully over at Bishop Morton and says,” My lord, you have very good strawberries at your garden in Holborn I require you, let us have a mess of them.” Since it is Friday, a good Catholic can eat no meat, and the detail of Richard’s request for strawberries underscores his hypocrisy.

Jane Shore blushes as she carries her taper through the street in penance for adultery. She is far more virtuous than Richard, who is beyond any sense of shame. At the Guildhall, Bukingham makes his infamous speech, claiming the bastardy of the children of Edward IV and of Edward himself, demanding an answer from the assembly as to whether Richard should be king. More ays, “At these words the people began to whisper among themselves secretly [so] that the voice was neither loud nor distinct, but as it were the sound of a swarm of bees.” In nearly every scene More combines details like these with pithy lessons to be learned from the story, so that, together, details and lessons give us a morality play. To us the most compelling function of these sharp and memorable details is the Proustian one of making us aware of the striking power of small things to elicit whole scenes.

The greatest public interest in More’s History of King Richard III has been the one least interesting to a biographer. It is this: How accurate is the work? Richard’s modern defenders have assaulted More as a slanderer and a simple liar, believing it necessary to impugn More’s character to extol that of Richard III. These people have leaped on the obvious inaccuracies of parts of the tale to argue that the whole is in error. It is true that More gets things wrong–the Christian names of Hastings and Buckingham, for example. He errs as well in dates and in some other things. Richard and Buckingham in some accounts accused Edward IV of making a marriage contract with one Eleanor Butler. More does not mention her but gives instead the humorous tale of Elizabeth Lucy, who hoped that the king might wed her if she permitted him to bed with her.

Obviously, too, the long speeches in the work were composed by More for rhetorical effect. He was following a tradition as old as Thucydides, allowing historians to put words to fit the occasion into the mouths of leading characters. The line between history and literature was not as sharply drawn then as it is now, and More fell into the habit of centuries. We should recall that he had had occasion to talk to a great many eyewitnesses of the events he reports and that the underlying substance of the long speeches may be accurate. This is especially true of Buckingham’s speech in the Guildhall.

Of greatest interest is More’s portrayal of Richard’s character. Here the modern literature is immense, though much of it is trivial. Some things that Richard’s defenders can hardly deny speak powerfully against him. He had Hastings summarily executed. Paul Murray Kendall, Richard’s ablest modern champion, does his best to mitigate Richard’s crime even in this calculated bloodiness. “The speed with which Hastings was hustled to the headsman was perphaps prompted by Richard’s fear that if he paused to reflect, he would be unable to commit the deed.” But the Great Chronicle of London, written a few years after Richard’s reign, expressed a more realistic appraisal and the conviction that informs the work of Thomas More: Hastings’s execution was “done without process of any law or lawful examination.”

What Makes Richard a Villain

In William Shakespeare’s Richard III, Richard opens the play by informing the audience that, since he is “?not shap’d for sportive tricks ?” (I.i.16) that are expected in the peacetime following the York’s victory, he can only prove a spiteful, scheming villain. He goes on to describe his incompatibility with the leisure of peacetime in terms of his deformity ­ his hunched back and shriveled, weak arm ­ naming this as the source of his wickedness. Like Joe Christmas in Faulkner’s Light In August, Richard struggles with his mental and emotional identity in terms of his physical identity Is Richard’s physical condition a manifestation of his evil nature which further emphasizes the depravity already present in Richard’s mind, or is his evil behavior a result of years with a physical deformity in a superstitious, intolerant society? After carefully reading and analyzing of the play, it becomes evident that the latter is true. In a sense, Richard’s deformity is the cause of his vile nature Richard’s villainy is derived from his belief that his physical deformity and the effects of that deformity prevent him from being a good person. In this respect, Richard’s condition limits him and leads to his ultimate emotional break down in the final act. By carefully analyzing Richard’s opening soliloquy and his much later battlefield soliloquy, the effects of his physical deformity are evident.

Richard’s opening soliloquy establishes Richard’s character and status as a villain for the entirety of the play “And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover, / To entertain these fair well-spoken days, / I am determined to prove a villain?” (I.i.30-32). Through this speech, he acknowledges the audience as his confidant, so that his schemes are always communicated and it is clear when he is being false to other characters. This is also the moment when he reveals his motives for his evil deeds, which he attributes wholly to his physical deformity, “Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace, / Have no delight to pass away the time, / Unless to see my shadow in the sun/ And descant on mine own deformity?” (I.i.26-29).

Since Richard needs to establish his antagonist status in light of the recent tranquility that has settled over England, it leads us, the audience, to assume that he neither considered himself nor was considered by others to be a villain during the former period of hostilities. Bearing in mind that he was the warrior who is given the credit for King Henry’s death and that of his son’s, thereby placing Richard’s brother on the throne and winning the war for his family, Richard in fact may have been considered a hero. Margaret, the former regime’s queen, echoes Lady Anne in the previous scene as she names Richard the murderer of her husband and son, “Thou kill’dst my husband Henry in the Tower, / And Edward, my poor son, at Tewksbury.” (I.iii.124-125).

This indicates that his actions were not always malicious, indicating a different “Richard” ­ A Richard compatible to some degree with his surroundings. This “other Richard” surfaces again in his interactions with Lady Anne in the second scene. Although Richard has convinced the audience that he is merely acting for Anne, his performance contradicts his previous conviction that he is unable to “prove a lover?” (I.i.30). Richard proves to be a very convincing “lover” as he successfully woos her to his own surprise, over the body of her dead husband, whom he killed, “Was ever woman in this humour woo’d? / Was ever woman in this humour won?” (I.ii.241-242). Richard wears the lover’s facade as easily as he wore that of the villain in the first scene. He is also shown to be a very convincing, supportive brother, uncle, and politician in later parts of the play. In fact, the more that the play progresses, and the more roles that Richard plays, the less credible his opening convictions seem to be. Obviously, Richard has the capability to be anything he wishes, so why does his physicality dominate his idea of what he should be?Returning to the concept of Richard as a Yorkist war hero and being his family’s champion, one might naturally ask why he developed the homicidal attitude toward them. The source of his state of mine may lie in the attitude of his mother, who never shows Richard any maternal love or affection, even in the beginning of the play before he has committed any atrocities. Without stepping outside the fictional realm of the play, it is safe to theorize that Richard’s mental perversity may be an indirect result of his mother’s ­ and perhaps other characters’ ­ treatment of his physical deformity. Through her later speeches, the audience discovers that the Duchess has abhorred Richard since his birth, “Thou cam’st on earth to make the earth my hell. / A grievous burden was thy birth to me?” (IV.iv.172-173). The audience may assume that Richard was taught to consider himself evil through his mother’s attitude. During this time period it was superstitiously believed that one’s body mirrored the soul. In this way, Richard’s crooked and hideous form consigns him to being thought of as “evil” ­ or at least treated as such ­ whether or not this is his true nature. Without having a violent outlet like the war, Richard falls into a deeper isolation from his family than he had experienced before. If he cannot win acceptance through success in battle, Richard chooses to embrace his isolation and strike out against them. The combination of his alienation and years of being treated as a deformed devil convince Richard of his own maliciousness and indicate vile behavior as his expected and natural disposition.

If there is any question concerning Richard’s identity crisis, it is confirmed by his soliloquy the Act five, Scene three. Here, Richard awakens from a nightmare, in which all of his victims curse him. Shakespeare indicates Richard’s heightened anxiety through the short exclamatory statements in this speech, which contrast with the long, grand sentences exhibited in his earlier soliloquy (I.i.1-43). These statements confirm that Richard is loosening his grip on his sense of self. After playing so many diverse roles in his climb to the throne, Richard is unable to come to terms with his actions and his identity. He addresses himself in the third person and names himself a murderer the resulting confusion of the audience on the level of language signifies his own psychological turmoil, “Richard loves Richard that is, I am I. / Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am?O! no: alas! I rather hate myself / For hateful deeds committed by myself,” (V.iii.202-209). This speech indicates that he finally realizes the consequences of his murders and his treacheries none love him and none will mourn his death, “Nay, wherefore should they, since that I myself / Find in myself no pity to myself?” (V.iii.221-222).

The audience sees Richard’s self-depreciation exposed as he admits to the immorality of his crimes. He describes himself as being “condemned” as a villain (V.iii.214), which is a stark contrast to his embracing attitude toward the antagonist distinction in his soliloquy in the first act. This is also an example of Richard’s crumbling resolve and dulled cunning, revealing a more awkward and more anxious Richard than had existed in the first act. This soliloquy indicates that Richard’s villainous facade is unraveling. Moreover, the audience sees that this façade was just another role in Richard’s search for identity. As he reaches his goal ­ his family dead and his allies traitorous ­ all that remains is himself, a man who he never understood and a role that is finally deserting him.

Richard’s villainous character crumbles in Act Five, scene three. It is now obvious that his villainy was merely a role, which he adopted from the beginning of the play. The source of his villainy, as he claims, is his deformity, which prevents him from being anything else. However, this claim is shown to be false when Richard proves himself to be a dashing lover, a loyal brother, a compassionate uncle, and the many other roles that he assumes in subsequent scenes. Richard’s physical circumstances, therefore, only hinder him mentally, controlling what he thinks he is, instead of what he actually could be. Shakespeare indicates that this idea may theoretically spring from his mother’s verbal abuse of him in later scenes. Therefore, the combination of Richard’s first soliloquy, his mother’s treatment, and his final soliloquy support the argument that Richard’s villainous tendencies originate from his physical deformity. This identity crisis is immediately addressed and finally answered, framing the play and becoming one of the play’s most dynamic and subtle conflicts.


Richard was born on 2 October 1452 at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, the eleventh of the twelve children of Richard, 3rd Duke of York, and Cecily Neville, and the youngest to survive infancy. [2] His childhood coincided with the beginning of what has traditionally been labelled the 'Wars of the Roses', a period of political instability and periodic open civil war in England during the second half of the fifteenth century, [3] between the Yorkists, who supported Richard's father (a potential claimant to the throne of King Henry VI from birth), [4] and opposed the regime of Henry VI and his wife, Margaret of Anjou, [5] and the Lancastrians, who were loyal to the crown. [6] In 1459, his father and the Yorkists were forced to flee England, whereupon Richard and his older brother George were placed in the custody of their aunt Anne Neville, Duchess of Buckingham, and possibly of Cardinal Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury. [7]

When their father and elder brother Edmund, Earl of Rutland, were killed at the Battle of Wakefield on 30 December 1460, Richard and George were sent by their mother to the Low Countries. [8] They returned to England following the defeat of the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton. They participated in the coronation of their eldest brother as King Edward IV on 28 June 1461, when Richard was named Duke of Gloucester and made both a Knight of the Garter and a Knight of the Bath. Edward appointed him the sole Commissioner of Array for the Western Counties in 1464 when he was 11. By the age of 17, he had an independent command. [9]

Richard spent several years during his childhood at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale, Yorkshire, under the tutelage of his cousin Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, later known as 'the Kingmaker' because of his role in the Wars of the Roses. Warwick supervised Richard's training as a knight in the autumn of 1465 Edward IV granted Warwick £1000 for the expenses of his younger brother's tutelage. [10] With some interruptions, Richard stayed at Middleham either from late 1461 until early 1465, when he was 12 [11] or from 1465 until his coming of age in 1468, when he turned 16. [note 1] While at Warwick's estate, it is likely that he met both Francis Lovell, who would be his firm supporter later in his life, and Warwick's younger daughter, his future wife Anne Neville. [13]

It is possible that even at this early stage Warwick was considering the king's brothers as strategic matches for his daughters, Isabel and Anne: young aristocrats were often sent to be raised in the households of their intended future partners, [14] as had been the case for the young dukes' father, Richard of York. [15] As the relationship between the king and Warwick became strained, Edward IV opposed the match. [16] During Warwick's lifetime, George was the only royal brother to marry one of his daughters, the elder, Isabel, on 12 July 1469, without the king's permission. George joined his father-in-law's revolt against the king, [17] while Richard remained loyal to Edward, even though he was rumoured to have been sleeping with Anne. [18] [note 2]

Richard and Edward were forced to flee to Burgundy in October 1470 after Warwick defected to the side of the former Lancastrian queen Margaret of Anjou. In 1468, Richard's sister Margaret had married Charles the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy, and the brothers could expect a welcome there. Edward was restored to the throne in the spring of 1471, following the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury, in both of which the 18-year-old Richard played a crucial role. [19]

During his adolescence, and due to a cause that is unknown, Richard developed a sideways curvature of the spine. [20] In 2014, after the discovery of Richard's remains, the osteoarchaeologist Dr. Jo Appleby, of Leicester University's School of Archaeology and Ancient History, imaged the spinal column and reconstructed a model using 3D printing, and concluded that though the spinal scoliosis looked dramatic, it probably did not cause any major physical deformity that could not be disguised by clothing. [21] [22]

Following a decisive Yorkist victory over the Lancastrians at the Battle of Tewkesbury, Richard married Anne Neville on 12 July 1472. [23] By the end of 1470 Anne had previously been wedded to Edward of Westminster, only son of Henry VI, to seal her father's allegiance to the Lancastrian party. [24] Edward died at the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4 May 1471, while Warwick had died at the Battle of Barnet on 14 April 1471. [25] Richard's marriage plans brought him into conflict with his brother George. [26] John Paston's letter of 17 February 1472 makes it clear that George was not happy about the marriage but grudgingly accepted it on the basis that "he may well have my Lady his sister-in-law, but they shall part no livelihood". [27] The reason was the inheritance Anne shared with her elder sister Isabel, whom George had married in 1469. It was not only the earldom that was at stake Richard Neville had inherited it as a result of his marriage to Anne Beauchamp, 16th Countess of Warwick. The Countess, who was still alive, was technically the owner of the substantial Beauchamp estates, her father having left no male heirs. [28]

The Croyland Chronicle records that Richard agreed to a prenuptial contract in the following terms: "the marriage of the Duke of Gloucester with Anne before-named was to take place, and he was to have such and so much of the earl's lands as should be agreed upon between them through the mediation of arbitrators while all the rest were to remain in the possession of the Duke of Clarence". [29] The date of Paston's letter suggests the marriage was still being negotiated in February 1472. In order to win George's final consent to the marriage, Richard renounced most of the Earl of Warwick's land and property including the earldoms of Warwick (which the Kingmaker had held in his wife's right) and Salisbury and surrendered to George the office of Great Chamberlain of England. [30] Richard retained Neville's forfeit estates he had already been granted in the summer of 1471: [31] [32] Penrith, Sheriff Hutton and Middleham, where he later established his marital household. [33]

The requisite Papal dispensation was obtained dated 22 April 1472. [34] Michael Hicks has suggested that the terms of the dispensation deliberately understated the degrees of consanguinity between the couple, and the marriage was therefore illegal on the ground of first degree consanguinity following George's marriage to Anne's sister Isabel. [24] First-degree consanguinity applied in the case of Henry VIII and his brother's widow Catherine of Aragon. In their case, the papal dispensation was obtained after Catherine declared the first marriage had not been consummated. [35] In Richard's case, there would have been first-degree consanguinity if Richard had sought to marry Isabel (in case of widowhood) after she had married his brother George, but no such consanguinity applied for Anne and Richard. Richard's marriage to Anne was never declared null, and it was public to everyone including secular and canon lawyers for 13 years. [36]

In June 1473, Richard persuaded his mother-in-law to leave the sanctuary and come to live under his protection at Middleham. Later in the year, under the terms of the 1473 Act of Resumption, [37] George lost some of the property he held under royal grant and made no secret of his displeasure. John Paston's letter of November 1473 says that King Edward planned to put both his younger brothers in their place by acting as "a stifler atween them". [38] Early in 1474, Parliament assembled and Edward attempted to reconcile his brothers by stating that both men, and their wives, would enjoy the Warwick inheritance just as if the Countess of Warwick "was naturally dead". [39] The doubts cast by George on the validity of Richard and Anne's marriage were addressed by a clause protecting their rights in the event they were divorced (i.e. of their marriage being declared null and void by the Church) and then legally remarried to each other, and also protected Richard's rights while waiting for such a valid second marriage with Anne. [40] The following year, Richard was rewarded with all the Neville lands in the north of England, at the expense of Anne's cousin, George Neville, 1st Duke of Bedford. [41] From this point, George seems to have fallen steadily out of King Edward's favour, his discontent coming to a head in 1477 when, following Isabel's death, he was denied the opportunity to marry Mary of Burgundy, the stepdaughter of his sister Margaret, even though Margaret approved the proposed match. [42] There is no evidence of Richard's involvement in George's subsequent conviction and execution on a charge of treason. [43]

Estates and titles Edit

Richard was granted the Duchy of Gloucester on 1 November 1461, [44] and on 12 August the next year was awarded large estates in northern England, including the lordships of Richmond in Yorkshire, and Pembroke in Wales. He gained the forfeited lands of the Lancastrian John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford, in East Anglia. In 1462, on his birthday, he was made Constable of Gloucester and Corfe Castles and Admiral of England, Ireland and Aquitaine [45] and appointed Governor of the North, becoming the richest and most powerful noble in England. On 17 October 1469, he was made Constable of England. In November, he replaced William Hastings, 1st Baron Hastings, as Chief Justice of North Wales. The following year, he was appointed Chief Steward and Chamberlain of Wales. [46] On 18 May 1471, Richard was named Great Chamberlain and Lord High Admiral of England. Other positions followed: High Sheriff of Cumberland for life, Lieutenant of the North and Commander-in-Chief against the Scots and hereditary Warden of the West March. [47] Two months later, on 14 July, he gained the Lordships of the strongholds Sheriff Hutton and Middleham in Yorkshire and Penrith in Cumberland, which had belonged to Warwick the Kingmaker. [48] It is possible that the grant of Middleham seconded Richard's personal wishes. [note 3]

Exile and return Edit

During the latter part of Edward IV's reign, Richard demonstrated his loyalty to the king, [50] in contrast to their brother George who had allied himself with the Earl of Warwick when the latter rebelled towards the end of the 1460s. [51] Following Warwick's 1470 rebellion, before which he had made peace with Margaret of Anjou and promised the restoration of Henry VI to the English throne, Richard, the Baron Hastings and Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers, escaped capture at Doncaster by Warwick's brother, John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu. [52] On 2 October they sailed from King's Lynn in two ships Edward landed at Marsdiep and Richard at Zeeland. [53] It was said that, having left England in such haste as to possess almost nothing, Edward was forced to pay their passage with his fur cloak certainly, Richard borrowed three pounds from Zeeland's town bailiff. [54] They were attainted by Warwick's only Parliament on 26 November. [55] They resided in Bruges with Louis de Gruthuse, who had been the Burgundian Ambassador to Edward's court, [56] but it was not until Louis XI of France declared war on Burgundy that Charles, Duke of Burgundy, assisted their return, [57] providing, along with the Hanseatic merchants, £20,000, 36 ships and 1200 men. They departed Flushing for England on 11 March 1471. [58] Warwick's arrest of local sympathisers prevented them from landing in Yorkist East Anglia and on 14 March, after being separated in a storm, their ships ran ashore at Holderness. [59] The town of Hull refused Edward entry. He gained entry to York by using the same claim as Henry of Bolingbroke had before deposing Richard II in 1399 that is, that he was merely reclaiming the Dukedom of York rather than the crown. [60] [61] It was in Edward's attempt to regain his throne that Richard began to demonstrate his skill as a military commander. [62]

1471 military campaign Edit

Once Edward had regained the support of his brother George, he mounted a swift and decisive campaign to regain the crown through combat [63] it is believed that Richard was his principal lieutenant [25] as some of the king's earliest support came from members of Richard's affinity, including Sir James Harrington [64] and Sir William Parr, who brought 600 men-at-arms to them at Doncaster. [65] Richard may have led the vanguard at the Battle of Barnet, in his first command, on 14 April 1471, where he outflanked the wing of Henry Holland, 3rd Duke of Exeter, [66] although the degree to which his command was fundamental may have been exaggerated. [67] That Richard's personal household sustained losses indicates he was in the thick of the fighting. [68] A contemporary source is clear about his holding the vanguard for Edward at Tewkesbury, [69] deployed against the Lancastrian vanguard under Edmund Beaufort, 4th Duke of Somerset, on 4 May 1471, [70] and his role two days later, as Constable of England, sitting alongside John Howard as Earl Marshal, in the trial and sentencing of leading Lancastrians captured after the battle. [71]

1475 invasion of France Edit

At least in part resentful of King Louis XI's previous support of his Lancastrian opponents, and possibly in support of his brother-in-law Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, Edward went to parliament in October 1472 for funding a military campaign, [72] and eventually landed in Calais on 4 July 1475. [73] Richard's was the largest private contingent of his army. [74] Although well known to have publicly been against the eventual treaty signed with Louis XI at Picquigny (and absent from the negotiations, in which one of his rank would have been expected to take a leading role), [75] he acted as Edward's witness when the king instructed his delegates to the French court, [76] and received 'some very fine presents' from Louis on a visit to the French king at Amiens. [77] In refusing other gifts, which included 'pensions' in the guise of 'tribute', he was joined only by Cardinal Bourchier. [78] He supposedly disapproved of Edward's policy of personally benefiting—politically and financially—from a campaign paid for out of a parliamentary grant, and hence out of public funds. [75] Any military prowess was therefore not to be revealed further until the last years of Edward's reign. [7]

Council of the North Edit

Richard controlled the north of England until Edward IV's death. [79] There, and especially in the city of York, he was highly regarded [80] although it has been questioned whether this view was reciprocated by Richard. [note 4] Edward IV set up the Council of the North as an administrative body in 1472 to improve government control and economic prosperity and benefit the whole of Northern England. Kendall and later historians have suggested that this was with the intention of making Richard the Lord of the North [82] Peter Booth, however, has argued that "instead of allowing his brother Richard carte blanche, [Edward] restricted his influence by using his own agent, Sir William Parr." [83] Richard served as its first Lord President from 1472 until his accession to the throne. [84] On his accession, he made his nephew John de la Pole, 1st Earl of Lincoln, president and formally institutionalised it as an offshoot of the royal Council all its letters and judgements were issued on behalf of the king and in his name. [85] The council had a budget of 2000 marks per annum (approximately £1320) [ clarification needed ] and had issued "Regulations" by July of that year: councillors to act impartially and declare vested interests, and to meet at least every three months. Its main focus of operations was Yorkshire and the north-east, and its primary responsibilities were land disputes, keeping of the king's peace, and punishing lawbreakers. [86]

War with Scotland Edit

Richard's increasing role in the north from the mid-1470s to some extent explains his withdrawal from the royal court. He had been Warden of the West March on the Scottish border since 10 September 1470, [87] and again from May 1471 he used Penrith as a base while 'taking effectual measures' against the Scots, and 'enjoyed the revenues of the estates' of the Forest of Cumberland while doing so. [88] It was at the same time that the Duke of Gloucester was appointed sheriff of Cumberland five consecutive years, being described as 'of Penrith Castle' in 1478. [89] By 1480, war with Scotland was looming on 12 May that year he was appointed Lieutenant-General of the North (a position created for the occasion) as fears of a Scottish invasion grew. Louis XI of France had attempted to negotiate a military alliance with Scotland (in the tradition of the "Auld Alliance"), with the aim of attacking England, according to a contemporary French chronicler. [90] Richard had the authority to summon the Border Levies and issue Commissions of Array to repel the Border raids. Together with the Earl of Northumberland, he launched counter-raids, and when the king and council formally declared war in November 1480, he was granted £10,000 for wages. The king failed to arrive to lead the English army and the result was intermittent skirmishing until early 1482. Richard witnessed the treaty with Alexander, Duke of Albany, brother of King James III of Scotland. [13] Northumberland, Stanley, Dorset, Sir Edward Woodville, and Richard with approximately 20,000 men took the town of Berwick almost immediately. The castle held until 24 August 1482, when Richard recaptured Berwick-upon-Tweed from the Kingdom of Scotland. Although it is debatable whether the English victory was due more to internal Scottish divisions rather than any outstanding military prowess by Richard, [91] it was the last time that the Royal Burgh of Berwick changed hands between the two realms. [92]

On the death of Edward IV on 9 April 1483, his 12-year-old son, Edward V, succeeded him. Richard was named Lord Protector of the Realm and at Baron Hastings' urging, Richard assumed his role and left his base in Yorkshire for London. [94] On 29 April, as previously agreed, Richard and his cousin, Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, met Queen Elizabeth's brother, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, at Northampton. At the queen's request, Earl Rivers was escorting the young king to London with an armed escort of 2000 men, while Richard and Buckingham's joint escort was 600 men. [95]

Edward V himself had been sent further south to Stony Stratford. At first convivial, Richard had Earl Rivers, his nephew Richard Grey and his associate, Thomas Vaughan, arrested. They were taken to Pontefract Castle, where they were executed on 25 June on the charge of treason against the Lord Protector after appearing before a tribunal led by Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland. Rivers had appointed Richard as executor of his will. [96]

After having Rivers arrested, Richard and Buckingham moved to Stony Stratford, where Richard informed Edward V of a plot aimed at denying him his role as protector and whose perpetrators had been dealt with. [97] He proceeded to escort the king to London. They entered the city on 4 May, displaying the carriages of weapons Rivers had taken with his 2000-man army. Richard first accommodated Edward in the Bishop's apartments then, on Buckingham's suggestion, the king was moved to the royal apartments of the Tower of London, where kings customarily awaited their coronation. [98]

Within the year 1483, Richard had moved himself to the grandeur of Crosby Hall, London, then in Bishopsgate in the City of London. Robert Fabyan, in his 'The new chronicles of England and of France', writes that "the Duke caused the King (Edward V) to be removed unto the Tower and his broder with hym, and the Duke lodged himselfe in Crosbyes Place in Bisshoppesgate Strete." [99] In Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, he accounts that "little by little all folke withdrew from the Tower, and drew unto Crosbies in Bishops gates Street, where the Protector kept his houshold. The Protector had the resort the King in maner desolate." [100]

On hearing the news of her brother's 30 April arrest, the dowager queen fled to sanctuary in Westminster Abbey. Joining her were her son by her first marriage, Thomas Grey, 1st Marquess of Dorset her five daughters and her youngest son, Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York. [101]

On 10/11 June, Richard wrote to Ralph, Lord Neville, the City of York and others asking for their support against "the Queen, her blood adherents and affinity," whom he suspected of plotting his murder. [102] At a council meeting on 13 June at the Tower of London, Richard accused Hastings and others of having conspired against him with the Woodvilles and accusing Jane Shore, lover to both Hastings and Thomas Grey, of acting as a go-between. According to Thomas More, Hastings was taken out of the council chambers and summarily executed in the courtyard, while others, like Lord Thomas Stanley and John Morton, Bishop of Ely, were arrested. [103] Hastings was not attainted and Richard sealed an indenture that placed Hastings' widow, Katherine, directly under his own protection. [104] Bishop Morton was released into the custody of Buckingham. [105]

On 16 June, the dowager queen agreed to hand over the Duke of York to the Archbishop of Canterbury so that he might attend his brother Edward's coronation, still planned for 22 June. [106]

A clergyman is said to have informed Richard that Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was invalid because of Edward's earlier union with Eleanor Butler, making Edward V and his siblings illegitimate. The identity of the informant, known only through the memoirs of French diplomat Philippe de Commines, was Robert Stillington, the Bishop of Bath and Wells. [107] On 22 June, a sermon was preached outside Old St. Paul's Cathedral declaring Edward IV's children bastards and Richard the rightful king. [108] Shortly after, the citizens of London, both nobles and commons, convened and drew up a petition asking Richard to assume the throne. [109] He accepted on 26 June and was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 6 July. His title to the throne was confirmed by Parliament in January 1484 by the document Titulus Regius. [110]

The princes, who were still lodged in the royal residence of the Tower of London at the time of Richard's coronation, disappeared from sight after the summer of 1483. [111] Although after his death Richard III was accused of having Edward and his brother killed, notably by More and in Shakespeare's play, the facts surrounding their disappearance remain unknown. [112] Other culprits have been suggested, including Buckingham and even Henry VII, although Richard remains a suspect. [113]

After the coronation ceremony, Richard and Anne set out on a royal progress to meet their subjects. During this journey through the country, the king and queen endowed King's College and Queens' College at Cambridge University, and made grants to the church. [114] Still feeling a strong bond with his northern estates, Richard later planned the establishment of a large chantry chapel in York Minster with over 100 priests. [115] He also founded the College of Arms. [116] [117]

Buckingham's rebellion of 1483 Edit

In 1483, a conspiracy arose among a number of disaffected gentry, many of whom had been supporters of Edward IV and the "whole Yorkist establishment". [118] [119] The conspiracy was nominally led by Richard's former ally, the Duke of Buckingham, [note 5] although it had begun as a Woodville-Beaufort conspiracy (being "well underway" by the time of the Duke's involvement). [121] Indeed, Davies has suggested that it was "only the subsequent parliamentary attainder that placed Buckingham at the centre of events", in order to blame a single disaffected magnate motivated by greed, rather than "the embarrassing truth" that those opposing Richard were actually "overwhelmingly Edwardian loyalists". [122] It is possible that they planned to depose Richard III and place Edward V back on the throne, and that when rumours arose that Edward and his brother were dead, Buckingham proposed that Henry Tudor should return from exile, take the throne and marry Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Edward IV. However, it has also been pointed out that as this narrative stems from Richard's own parliament of 1484, it should probably be treated "with caution". [123] For his part, Buckingham raised a substantial force from his estates in Wales and the Marches. [124] Henry, in exile in Brittany, enjoyed the support of the Breton treasurer Pierre Landais, who hoped Buckingham's victory would cement an alliance between Brittany and England. [125]

Some of Henry Tudor's ships ran into a storm and were forced to return to Brittany or Normandy, [126] while Henry himself anchored off Plymouth for a week before learning of Buckingham's failure. [127] Buckingham's army was troubled by the same storm and deserted when Richard's forces came against them. Buckingham tried to escape in disguise, but was either turned in by a retainer for the bounty Richard had put on his head, or was discovered in hiding with him. [128] He was convicted of treason and beheaded in Salisbury, [129] near the Bull's Head Inn, on 2 November. His widow, Catherine Woodville, later married Jasper Tudor, the uncle of Henry Tudor. [130] Richard made overtures to Landais, offering military support for Landais's weak regime under Francis II, Duke of Brittany, in exchange for Henry. Henry fled to Paris, where he secured support from the French regent Anne of Beaujeu, who supplied troops for an invasion in 1485. [131]

Death at the Battle of Bosworth Field Edit

On 22 August 1485, Richard met the outnumbered forces of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Richard rode a white courser (an especially swift and strong horse). [132] The size of Richard's army has been estimated at 8,000 and Henry's at 5,000, but exact numbers are not known, though the royal army is believed to have "substantially" outnumbered Henry's. [133] The traditional view of the king's famous cries of "Treason!" [134] before falling was that during the battle Richard was abandoned by Baron Stanley (made Earl of Derby in October), [135] Sir William Stanley, and Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland. However, the role of Northumberland is unclear his position was with the reserve—behind the king's line—and he could not easily have moved forward without a general royal advance, which did not take place. [136] Indeed, the physical confines behind the crest of Ambion Hill, combined with a difficulty of communications, probably physically hampered any attempt he made to join the fray. [137] Despite appearing "a pillar of the Ricardian regime", [138] and his previous loyalty to Edward IV, [139] Baron Stanley's wife, Lady Margaret Beaufort, was Henry Tudor's mother, [140] and Stanley's inaction combined with his brother's entering the battle on Tudor's behalf was fundamental to Richard's defeat. [141] The death of Richard's close companion John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, may have had a demoralising effect on the king and his men. Either way, Richard led a cavalry charge deep into the enemy ranks in an attempt to end the battle quickly by striking at Henry Tudor himself. [142]

Accounts note that King Richard fought bravely and ably during this manoeuvre, unhorsing Sir John Cheyne, a well-known jousting champion, killing Henry's standard bearer Sir William Brandon and coming within a sword's length of Henry Tudor before being surrounded by Sir William Stanley's men and killed. [143] The Burgundian chronicler Jean Molinet says that a Welshman struck the death-blow with a halberd while Richard's horse was stuck in the marshy ground. [144] It was said that the blows were so violent that the king's helmet was driven into his skull. [145] The contemporary Welsh poet Guto'r Glyn implies a leading Welsh Lancastrian, Rhys ap Thomas, or one of his men killed the king, writing that he "killed the boar, shaved his head". [144] [146] [147] The identification in 2013 of King Richard's body shows that the skeleton had 11 wounds, eight of them to the skull, clearly inflicted in battle and suggesting he had lost his helmet. [148] Professor Guy Rutty, from the University of Leicester, said: "The most likely injuries to have caused the king's death are the two to the inferior aspect of the skull—a large sharp force trauma possibly from a sword or staff weapon, such as a halberd or bill, and a penetrating injury from the tip of an edged weapon." [149] The skull showed that a blade had hacked away part of the rear of the skull. Richard III was the last English king to be killed in battle. [150] Henry Tudor succeeded Richard as King Henry VII. He married the Yorkist heiress Elizabeth of York, Edward IV's daughter and Richard III's niece.

Polydore Vergil, Henry VII's official historian, recorded that "King Richard, alone, was killed fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies". [151] Richard's naked body was then carried back to Leicester tied to a horse, and early sources strongly suggest that it was displayed in the collegiate Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady of the Newarke, [152] prior to being buried at Greyfriars Church in Leicester. [153] [154] In 1495, Henry VII paid £50 (equivalent to £41,397 in 2019) for a marble and alabaster monument. [154] According to a discredited tradition, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, his body was thrown into the River Soar, [155] [156] although other evidence suggests that a memorial stone was visible in 1612, in a garden built on the site of Greyfriars. [154] The exact location was then lost, owing to more than 400 years of subsequent development, [157] until archaeological investigations in 2012 revealed the site of the garden and Greyfriars Church. There was a memorial ledger stone in the choir of the cathedral, since replaced by the tomb of the king, and a stone plaque on Bow Bridge where tradition had falsely suggested that his remains had been thrown into the river. [158]

According to another tradition, Richard consulted a seer in Leicester before the battle who foretold that "where your spur should strike on the ride into battle, your head shall be broken on the return". On the ride into battle, his spur struck the bridge stone of Bow Bridge in the city legend states that as his corpse was carried from the battle over the back of a horse, his head struck the same stone and was broken open. [159]

Richard and Anne had one son, Edward of Middleham, who was born between 1474 and 1476. [160] [161] He was created Earl of Salisbury on 15 February 1478, [162] and Prince of Wales on 24 August 1483, and died in March 1484, less than two months after he had been formally declared heir apparent. [163] After the death of his son, Richard appointed his nephew John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, as Lieutenant of Ireland, an office previously held by his son Edward. [164] Lincoln was the son of Richard's older sister, Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk. After his wife's death, Richard commenced negotiations with John II of Portugal to marry John's pious sister, Joanna, Princess of Portugal. She had already turned down several suitors because of her preference for the religious life. [165]

Richard had two acknowledged illegitimate children, John of Gloucester and Katherine Plantagenet. Also known as 'John of Pontefract', John of Gloucester was appointed Captain of Calais in 1485. Katherine married William Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, in 1484. Neither the birth dates nor the names of the mothers of either of the children is known. Katherine was old enough to be wedded in 1484, when the age of consent was twelve, and John was knighted in September 1483 in York Minster, and so most historians agree that they were both fathered when Richard was a teenager. [166] [167] There is no evidence of infidelity on Richard's part after his marriage to Anne Neville in 1472 when he was around 20. [168] This has led to a suggestion by the historian A. L. Rowse that Richard "had no interest in sex". [169]

Michael Hicks and Josephine Wilkinson have suggested that Katherine's mother may have been Katherine Haute, on the basis of the grant of an annual payment of 100 shillings made to her in 1477. The Haute family was related to the Woodvilles through the marriage of Elizabeth Woodville's aunt, Joan Woodville, to William Haute. One of their children was Richard Haute, Controller of the Prince's Household. Their daughter, Alice, married Sir John Fogge they were ancestors to Catherine Parr, sixth wife of King Henry VIII. [170] They also suggest that John's mother may have been Alice Burgh. Richard visited Pontefract from 1471, in April and October 1473, and in early March 1474, for a week. On 1 March 1474, he granted Alice Burgh £20 a year for life "for certain special causes and considerations". She later received another allowance, apparently for being engaged as a nurse for his brother George's son, Edward of Warwick. Richard continued her annuity when he became king. [171] [172] John Ashdown-Hill has suggested that John was conceived during Richard's first solo expedition to the eastern counties in the summer of 1467 at the invitation of John Howard and that the boy was born in 1468 and named after his friend and supporter. Richard himself noted John was still a minor (not being yet 21) when he issued the royal patent appointing him Captain of Calais on 11 March 1485, possibly on his seventeenth birthday. [166]

Both of Richard's illegitimate children survived him, but they seem to have died without issue and their fate after Richard's demise at Bosworth is not certain. John received a £20 annuity from Henry VII, but there are no mentions of him in contemporary records after 1487 (the year of the Battle of Stoke Field). He may have been executed in 1499, though no record of this exists beyond an assertion by George Buck over a century later. [173] Katherine apparently died before her cousin Elizabeth of York's coronation on 25 November 1487, since her husband Sir William Herbert is described as a widower by that time. [166] [7] Katherine's burial place was located in the London parish church of St James Garlickhithe, [note 6] between Skinner's Lane and Upper Thames Street. [175] The mysterious Richard Plantagenet, who was first mentioned in Francis Peck's Desiderata Curiosa (a two-volume miscellany published 1732–1735) was said to be a possible illegitimate child of Richard III and is sometimes referred to as "Richard the Master-Builder" or "Richard of Eastwell", but it has also been suggested he could have been Richard, Duke of York, one of the missing Princes in the Tower. [176] He died in 1550. [177]

Richard's Council of the North, described as his "one major institutional innovation", derived from his ducal council following his own viceregal appointment by Edward IV when Richard himself became king, he maintained the same conciliar structure in his absence. [178] It officially became part of the royal council machinery under the presidency of John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln in April 1484, based at Sandal Castle in Wakefield. [85] It is considered to have greatly improved conditions for northern England, as it was intended to keep the peace and punish lawbreakers, as well as resolving land disputes. [86] Bringing regional governance directly under the control of central government, it has been described as the king's "most enduring monument", surviving unchanged until 1641. [86]

In December 1483, Richard instituted what later became known as the Court of Requests, a court to which poor people who could not afford legal representation could apply for their grievances to be heard. [179] He also improved bail in January 1484, to protect suspected felons from imprisonment before trial and to protect their property from seizure during that time. [180] [181] He founded the College of Arms in 1484, [116] [117] he banned restrictions on the printing and sale of books, [182] and he ordered the translation of the written Laws and Statutes from the traditional French into English. [183] He ended the arbitrary benevolence (a device by which Edward IV raised funds), [184] made it punishable to conceal from a buyer of land that a part of the property had already been disposed of to somebody else, [185] required that land sales be published, [185] laid down property qualifications for jurors, restricted the abusive Courts of Piepowders, [186] regulated cloth sales, [187] instituted certain forms of trade protectionism, [188] [189] prohibited the sale of wine and oil in fraudulent measure, [189] and prohibited fraudulent collection of clergy dues, [189] among others. Churchill implies he improved the law of trusts. [190]

Richard's death at Bosworth resulted in the end of the Plantagenet dynasty, which had ruled England since the succession of Henry II in 1154. [191] The last legitimate male Plantagenet, Richard's nephew Edward, Earl of Warwick (son of his brother George, Duke of Clarence), was executed by Henry VII in 1499. [192]

Reputation Edit

There are numerous contemporary, or near-contemporary, sources of information about the reign of Richard III. [193] These include the Croyland Chronicle, Commines' Mémoires, the report of Dominic Mancini, the Paston Letters, the Chronicles of Robert Fabyan and numerous court and official records, including a few letters by Richard himself. However, the debate about Richard's true character and motives continues, both because of the subjectivity of many of the written sources, reflecting the generally partisan nature of writers of this period, and because none was written by men with an intimate knowledge of Richard. [194]

During Richard's reign, the historian John Rous praised him as a "good lord" who punished "oppressors of the commons", adding that he had "a great heart". [195] [196] In 1483 the Italian observer Mancini reported that Richard enjoyed a good reputation and that both "his private life and public activities powerfully attracted the esteem of strangers". [197] [198] His bond to the City of York, in particular, was such that on hearing of Richard's demise at the battle of Bosworth the City Council officially deplored the king's death, at the risk of facing the victor's wrath. [199]

During his lifetime he was the subject of some attacks. Even in the North in 1482 a man was prosecuted for offences against the Duke of Gloucester, saying he did "nothing but grin at" the city of York. In 1484, attempts to discredit him took the form of hostile placards, the only surviving one being William Collingbourne's lampoon of July 1484 "The Cat, the Rat, and Lovell the Dog, all rule England under a Hog" which was pinned to the door of St. Paul's Cathedral and referred to Richard himself (the Hog) and his most trusted councillors William Catesby, Richard Ratcliffe and Francis, Viscount Lovell. [200] On 30 March 1485 Richard felt forced to summon the Lords and London City Councillors to publicly deny the rumours that he had poisoned Queen Anne and that he had planned a marriage to his niece Elizabeth, [201] at the same time ordering the Sheriff of London to imprison anyone spreading such slanders. [202] The same orders were issued throughout the realm, including York where the royal pronouncement recorded in the City Records dates 5 April 1485 and carries specific instructions to suppress seditious talk and remove and destroy evidently hostile placards unread. [203] [204]

As for Richard's physical appearance, most contemporary descriptions bear out the evidence that aside from having one shoulder higher than the other (with chronicler Rous not able to correctly remember which one, as slight as the difference was), Richard had no other noticeable bodily deformity. John Stow talked to old men who, remembering him, said "that he was of bodily shape comely enough, only of low stature" [205] and a German traveller, Nicolas von Poppelau, who spent ten days in Richard's household in May 1484, describes him as "three fingers taller than himself. much more lean, with delicate arms and legs and also a great heart." [206] Six years after Richard's death, in 1491, a schoolmaster named William Burton, on hearing a defence of Richard, launched into a diatribe, accusing the dead king of being "a hypocrite and a crookback. who was deservedly buried in a ditch like a dog." [207]

Richard's death encouraged the furtherance of this later negative image by his Tudor successors due to the fact that it helped to legitimise Henry VII's seizure of the throne. [208] The Richard III Society contends that this means that "a lot of what people thought they knew about Richard III was pretty much propaganda and myth building." [209] The Tudor characterisation culminated in the famous fictional portrayal of him in Shakespeare's play Richard III as a physically deformed, Machiavellian villain, ruthlessly committing numerous murders in order to claw his way to power [210] Shakespeare's intention perhaps being to use Richard III as a vehicle for creating his own Marlowesque protagonist. [211] Rous himself in his History of the Kings of England, written during Henry VII's reign, initiated the process. He reversed his earlier position, [212] and now portrayed Richard as a freakish individual who was born with teeth and shoulder-length hair after having been in his mother's womb for two years. His body was stunted and distorted, with one shoulder higher than the other, and he was "slight in body and weak in strength". [213] Rous also attributes the murder of Henry VI to Richard, and claims that he poisoned his own wife. [214] Jeremy Potter, a former Chair of the Richard III Society, claims that "At the bar of history Richard III continues to be guilty because it is impossible to prove him innocent. The Tudors ride high in popular esteem." [215]

Polydore Vergil and Thomas More expanded on this portrayal, emphasising Richard's outward physical deformities as a sign of his inwardly twisted mind. More describes him as "little of stature, ill-featured of limbs, crook-backed . hard-favoured of visage". [196] Vergil also says he was "deformed of body . one shoulder higher than the right". [196] Both emphasise that Richard was devious and flattering, while planning the downfall of both his enemies and supposed friends. Richard's good qualities were his cleverness and bravery. All these characteristics are repeated by Shakespeare, who portrays him as having a hunch, a limp and a withered arm. [216] [217] With regard to the "hunch", the second quarto edition of Richard III (1598) used the term "hunched-backed" but in the First Folio edition (1623) it became "bunch-backed". [218]

Richard's reputation as a promoter of legal fairness persisted, however. William Camden in his Remains Concerning Britain (1605) states that Richard, "albeit he lived wickedly, yet made good laws". [219] Francis Bacon also states that he was "a good lawmaker for the ease and solace of the common people". [220] In 1525, Cardinal Wolsey upbraided the aldermen and Mayor of London for relying on a statute of Richard to avoid paying an extorted tax (benevolence) but received the reply "although he did evil, yet in his time were many good acts made." [221] [222]

Richard was a practicing Catholic, as shown by his personal Book of Hours, surviving in the Lambeth Palace library. As well as conventional aristocratic devotional texts, the book contains a Collect of Saint Ninian, referencing a saint popular in the Anglo-Scottish Borders. [223]

Despite this, the image of Richard as a ruthless power-grabber remained dominant in the 18th and 19th centuries. The 18th century philosopher and historian David Hume described him as a man who used dissimulation to conceal "his fierce and savage nature" and who had "abandoned all principles of honour and humanity". [224] Hume acknowledged that some historians have argued "that he was well qualified for government, had he legally obtained it and that he committed no crimes but such as were necessary to procure him possession of the crown", but he dismissed this view on the grounds that Richard's exercise of arbitrary power encouraged instability. [225] The most important late 19th-century biographer of the king was James Gairdner, who also wrote the entry on Richard in the Dictionary of National Biography. [226] Gairdner stated that he had begun to study Richard with a neutral viewpoint, but became convinced that Shakespeare and More were essentially correct in their view of the king, despite some exaggerations. [227]

Richard was not without his defenders, the first of whom was Sir George Buck, a descendant of one of the king's supporters, who completed The history of King Richard the Third in 1619. [228] The authoritative Buck text was published only in 1979, though a corrupted version was published by Buck's great-nephew in 1646. [229] Buck attacked the "improbable imputations and strange and spiteful scandals" related by Tudor writers, including Richard's alleged deformities and murders. He located lost archival material, including the Titulus Regius, but also claimed to have seen a letter written by Elizabeth of York, according to which Elizabeth sought to marry the king. [230] Elizabeth's supposed letter was never produced. Documents which later emerged from the Portuguese royal archives show that after Queen Anne's death, Richard's ambassadors were sent on a formal errand to negotiate a double marriage between Richard and the Portuguese king's sister Joanna, [7] of Lancastrian descent, [231] and between Elizabeth of York and Joanna's cousin Manuel, Duke of Viseu (later King of Portugal). [166]

Significant among Richard's defenders was Horace Walpole. In Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third (1768), Walpole disputed all the alleged murders and argued that Richard may have acted in good faith. He also argued that any physical abnormality was probably no more than a minor distortion of the shoulders. [232] However, he retracted his views in 1793 after the Terror, stating he now believed that Richard could have committed the crimes he was charged with, [233] although Pollard observes that this retraction is frequently overlooked by later admirers of Richard. [234] Other defenders of Richard include the noted explorer Clements Markham, whose Richard III: His Life and Character (1906) replied to the work of Gairdner. He argued that Henry VII killed the princes and that the bulk of evidence against Richard was nothing more than Tudor propaganda. [235] An intermediate view was provided by Alfred Legge in The Unpopular King (1885). Legge argued that Richard's "greatness of soul" was eventually "warped and dwarfed" by the ingratitude of others. [236]

Some twentieth-century historians have been less inclined to moral judgement, [237] seeing Richard's actions as a product of the unstable times. In the words of Charles Ross, "the later fifteenth century in England is now seen as a ruthless and violent age as concerns the upper ranks of society, full of private feuds, intimidation, land-hunger, and litigiousness, and consideration of Richard's life and career against this background has tended to remove him from the lonely pinnacle of Villainy Incarnate on which Shakespeare had placed him. Like most men, he was conditioned by the standards of his age." [238] The Richard III Society, founded in 1924 as "The Fellowship of the White Boar", is the oldest of several groups dedicated to improving his reputation. Other contemporary historians still describe him as a "power-hungry and ruthless politician" who was still most probably "ultimately responsible for the murder of his nephews." [239] [240]

In culture Edit

Apart from Shakespeare, Richard appears in many other works of literature. Two other plays of the Elizabethan era predated Shakespeare's work. The Latin-language drama Richardus Tertius (first known performance in 1580) by Thomas Legge is believed to be the first history play written in England. The anonymous play The True Tragedy of Richard III (c. 1590), performed in the same decade as Shakespeare's work, was probably an influence on Shakespeare. [241] Neither of the two plays places any emphasis on Richard's physical appearance, though the True Tragedy briefly mentions that he is "A man ill shaped, crooked backed, lame armed" and "valiantly minded, but tyrannous in authority". Both portray him as a man motivated by personal ambition, who uses everyone around him to get his way. Ben Jonson is also known to have written a play Richard Crookback in 1602, but it was never published and nothing is known about its portrayal of the king. [242]

Marjorie Bowen's 1929 novel Dickon set the trend for pro-Ricardian literature. [243] Particularly influential was The Daughter of Time (1951) by Josephine Tey, in which a modern detective concludes that Richard III is innocent in the death of the Princes. [244] [245] [246] Other novelists such as Valerie Anand in the novel Crown of Roses (1989) have also offered alternative versions to the theory that he murdered them. [247] Sharon Kay Penman, in her historical novel The Sunne in Splendour, attributes the death of the Princes to the Duke of Buckingham. [248] In the mystery novel The Murders of Richard III by Elizabeth Peters (1974) the central plot revolves around the debate as to whether Richard III was guilty of these and other crimes. [249] A sympathetic portrayal is given in The Founding (1980), the first volume in The Morland Dynasty series by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. [250]

One film adaptation of Shakespeare's play Richard III is the 1955 version directed and produced by Laurence Olivier, who also played the lead role. [251] [252] Also notable are the 1995 film version starring Ian McKellen, set in a fictional 1930s fascist England, [253] [254] and Looking for Richard, a 1996 documentary film directed by Al Pacino, who plays the title character as well as himself. [255] [256] The play has been adapted for television on several occasions. [257] [258] [259]

On 24 August 2012, the University of Leicester and Leicester City Council, in association with the Richard III Society, announced that they had joined forces to begin a search for the remains of King Richard. The search for Richard III was led by Philippa Langley of the Society's Looking For Richard Project with the archaeological work led by University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS). [260] [261] [262] [263] [264] Experts set out to locate the lost site of the former Greyfriars Church (demolished during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries), and to discover whether his remains were still interred there. [265] [266] By comparing fixed points between maps in a historical sequence, the search located the church, where Richard's body had been hastily buried without pomp in 1485, its foundations identifiable beneath a modern-day city centre car park. [267]

The excavators announced on 5 September 2012 that they had identified Greyfriars Church [268] and two days later that they had identified the location of Robert Herrick's garden, where the memorial to Richard III stood in the early 17th century. [269] A human skeleton was found beneath the Church's choir. [270]

Improbably, the excavators found the remains in the first location in which they dug at the car park. Coincidentally, they lay almost directly under a roughly painted R on the tarmac. This had existed since the early 2000s to signify a reserved parking space. [271] [272] [273]

On 12 September, it was announced that the skeleton discovered during the search might be that of Richard III. Several reasons were given: the body was of an adult male it was buried beneath the choir of the church and there was severe scoliosis of the spine, possibly making one shoulder [268] higher than the other (to what extent depended on the severity of the condition). Additionally, there was an object that appeared to be an arrowhead embedded in the spine and there were perimortem injuries to the skull. These included a relatively shallow orifice, which is most likely to have been caused by a rondel dagger, and a scooping depression to the skull, inflicted by a bladed weapon, most probably a sword.

Further, the bottom of the skull presented a gaping hole, where a halberd had cut away and entered it. Forensic pathologist Dr Stuart Hamilton stated that this injury would have left the individual's brain visible, and most certainly would have been the cause of death. Dr Jo Appleby, the osteo-archaeologist who excavated the skeleton, concurred and described the latter as "a mortal battlefield wound in the back of the skull". The base of the skull also presented another fatal wound in which a bladed weapon had been thrust into it, leaving behind a jagged hole. Closer examination of the interior of the skull revealed a mark opposite this wound, showing that the blade penetrated to a depth of 10.5 centimetres (4.1 in). [274]

In total, the skeleton presented ten wounds: four minor injuries on the top of the skull, one dagger blow on the cheekbone, one cut on the lower jaw, two fatal injuries on the base of the skull, one cut on a rib bone, and one final wound on the pelvis, most probably inflicted after death. It is generally accepted that postmortem, Richard's naked body was tied to the back of a horse, with his arms slung over one side and his legs and buttocks over the other. This presented a tempting target for onlookers, and the angle of the blow on the pelvis suggests that one of them stabbed Richard's right buttock with substantial force, as the cut extends from the back all the way to the front of the pelvic bone and was most probably an act of humiliation. It is also possible that Richard suffered other injuries which left no trace on the skeleton. [275] [276] [277]

British historian John Ashdown-Hill had used genealogical research in 2004 to trace matrilineal descendants of Anne of York, Duchess of Exeter, Richard's elder sister. [278] [279] [280] [281] A British-born woman who emigrated to Canada after the Second World War, Joy Ibsen ( née Brown), was found to be a 16th-generation great-niece of the king in the same direct maternal line. [282] [283] Her mitochondrial DNA was tested and belongs to mitochondrial DNA haplogroup J, which by deduction, should also be the mitochondrial DNA haplogroup of Richard III. [166] Joy Ibsen died in 2008. Her son Michael Ibsen gave a mouth-swab sample to the research team on 24 August 2012. His mitochondrial DNA passed down the direct maternal line was compared to samples from the human remains found at the excavation site and used to identify King Richard. [284] [285] [286] [287]

On 4 February 2013, the University of Leicester confirmed that the skeleton was beyond reasonable doubt that of King Richard III. This conclusion was based on mitochondrial DNA evidence, [288] soil analysis, and dental tests (there were some molars missing as a result of caries), as well as physical characteristics of the skeleton which are highly consistent with contemporary accounts of Richard's appearance. [289] The team announced that the "arrowhead" discovered with the body was a Roman-era nail, probably disturbed when the body was first interred. However, there were numerous perimortem wounds on the body, and part of the skull had been sliced off with a bladed weapon [209] this would have caused rapid death. The team concluded that it is unlikely that the king was wearing a helmet in his last moments. Soil taken from the remains was found to contain microscopic roundworm eggs. Several eggs were found in samples taken from the pelvis, where the king's intestines were, but not from the skull and only very small numbers were identified in soil surrounding the grave. The findings suggest that the higher concentration of eggs in the pelvic area probably arose from a roundworm infection the king suffered in his life, rather than from human waste dumped in the area at a later date, researchers said. The mayor of Leicester announced that the king's skeleton would be re-interred at Leicester Cathedral in early 2014, but a judicial review of that decision delayed the reinterment for a year. [290] A museum to Richard III was opened in July 2014 in the Victorian school buildings next to the Greyfriars grave site. [279] [288] [291]

The proposal to have King Richard buried in Leicester attracted some controversy. Those who challenged the decision included fifteen "collateral [non-direct] descendants of Richard III", [292] represented by the Plantagenet Alliance, who believed that the body should be reburied in York, as they claim the king wished. [293] In August 2013, they filed a court case in order to contest Leicester's claim to re-inter the body within its cathedral, and propose the body be buried in York instead. However, Michael Ibsen, who gave the DNA sample that identified the king, gave his support to Leicester's claim to re-inter the body in their cathedral. [293] On 20 August, a judge ruled that the opponents had the legal standing to contest his burial in Leicester Cathedral, despite a clause in the contract which had authorized the excavations requiring his burial there. He urged the parties, though, to settle out of court in order to "avoid embarking on the Wars of the Roses, Part Two". [294] [295] The Plantagenet Alliance, and the supporting fifteen collateral descendants, also faced the challenge that "Basic maths shows Richard, who had no surviving children but five siblings, could have millions of 'collateral' descendants" [292] undermining the group's claim to represent "the only people who can speak on behalf of him". [292] A ruling in May 2014 decreed that there are "no public law grounds for the Court interfering with the decisions in question". [296] The remains were taken to Leicester Cathedral on 22 March 2015 and reinterred on 26 March. [297]

On 5 February 2013 Professor Caroline Wilkinson of the University of Dundee conducted a facial reconstruction of Richard III, commissioned by the Richard III Society, based on 3D mappings of his skull. [298] The face is described as "warm, young, earnest and rather serious". [299] On 11 February 2014 the University of Leicester announced the project to sequence the entire genome of Richard III and one of his living relatives, Michael Ibsen, whose mitochondrial DNA confirmed the identification of the excavated remains. Richard III thus became the first ancient person of known historical identity whose genome has been sequenced. [300] In 2016 contemporary British artist Alexander de Cadenet presented a skull portrait of Richard III in conjunction with Leicester University. The portraits have been produced using University of Leicester forensic X-ray scans of the king. [301] [302]

In November 2014, the results of the testing were announced, confirming that the maternal side was as previously thought. [303] The paternal side, however, demonstrated some variance from what had been expected, with the DNA showing no links to the purported descendants of Richard's great-great-grandfather Edward III of England through Henry Somerset, 5th Duke of Beaufort. This could be the result of covert illegitimacy that does not reflect the accepted genealogies between Richard and Edward III or between Edward III and the 5th Duke of Beaufort. [303] [304] [305]

Reburial and tomb Edit

After his death in battle in 1485, Richard III's body was buried in Greyfriars Church in Leicester. [7] Following the discoveries of Richard's remains in 2012, it was decided that they should be reburied at Leicester Cathedral, [306] despite feelings in some quarters that he should have been reburied in York Minster. [307] His remains were carried in procession to the cathedral on 22 March 2015, and reburied on 26 March 2015 [308] at a religious re-burial service at which both Tim Stevens, the Bishop of Leicester, and Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, officiated. The British royal family was represented by the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and the Countess of Wessex. The actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who later portrayed him in The Hollow Crown television series, read a poem by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. [259] [309]

Richard's cathedral tomb was designed by the architects van Heyningen and Haward. [310] The tombstone is deeply incised with a cross, and consists of a rectangular block of white Swaledale fossil stone, quarried in North Yorkshire. It sits on a low plinth made of dark Kilkenny marble, incised with Richard's name, dates and motto (Loyaulte me lie – loyalty binds me). The plinth also carries his coat of arms in pietra dura. [311] The remains of Richard III are in a lead-lined inner casket, [312] inside an outer English oak coffin crafted by Michael Ibsen, a direct descendant of Richard's sister Anne, and laid in a brick-lined vault below the floor, and below the plinth and tombstone. [311] The original 2010 raised tomb design had been proposed by Langley's "Looking For Richard Project" and fully funded by members of the Richard III Society. The proposal was publicly launched by the Society on 13 February 2013 but rejected by Leicester Cathedral in favour of a memorial slab. [313] [314] [315] However, following a public outcry, the Cathedral changed its position and on 18 July 2013 announced its agreement to give King Richard III a raised tomb monument. [316] [317]

On 1 November 1461, Richard gained the title of Duke of Gloucester in late 1461, he was invested as a Knight of the Garter. [319] Following the death of King Edward IV, he was made Lord Protector of England. Richard held this office from 30 April to 26 June 1483, when he made himself king. As King of England, Richard was styled Dei Gratia Rex Angliae et Franciae et Dominus Hiberniae (By the Grace of God, King of England and France and Lord of Ireland).

Informally, he may have been known as "Dickon", according to a sixteenth-century legend of a note, warning of treachery, that was sent to the Duke of Norfolk on the eve of Bosworth:

Jack of Norfolk, be not too bold,
For Dickon, thy master, is bought and sold. [320]

Arms Edit

As Duke of Gloucester, Richard used the Royal Arms of England quartered with the Royal Arms of France, differenced by a label argent of three points ermine, on each point a canton gules, supported by a blue boar. [321] [322] As sovereign, he used the arms of the kingdom undifferenced, supported by a white boar and a lion. [322] His motto was Loyaulte me lie, "Loyalty binds me" and his personal device was a white boar. [323]

For More Information


Brundage, James A. Richard Lion Heart. New York: Scribner, 1974.

Gillingham, John. Richard I. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

Hallam, Elizabeth, ed. The Plantagenet Chronicles. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1986.

Regan, Geoffrey. Lionhearts: Saladin, Richard I, and the Era of the ThirdCrusade. New York: Walker, 1998.

Reston, James Jr. Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in theThird Crusade. New York: Doubleday, 2001.

Turner, Ralph V., and Richard R. Heiser. The Reign of Richard Lionheart:Ruler of the Angevin Empire, 1189–99. London: Longman, 2000.

Web Sites

"Kings and Queens of England to 1603: The Angevins: Richard I Coeur de Lion ('The Lionheart') (r. 1189–1199)." The Official Web Site of the British Monarchy. (accessed on July 21, 2004).

"Richard I, King of England." New Advent. (accessed on July 21, 2004).

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