Richard III of England
Richard was born at Fotheringay Castle, the fourth son of Richard, Duke of York who had been a strong claimant to the throne of King Henry VI. He was involved in ongoing battles between different alliances of the House of Lancaster and the House of York factions during the last half of the 15th Century. At the time of his father's death at the Battle of Wakefield, Richard was still a boy, and was taken into the care of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known to history as "The Kingmaker" because of his strong influence on the course of the Wars of the Roses. Warwick was instrumental in deposing Henry VI and replacing him with Richard's eldest brother, Edward.
During the reign of his brother, Edward IV, Richard demonstrated his loyalty, as well as his prodigious skill as a military commander, and was rewarded with the title Duke of Gloucester and the position of Governor of the North. It was from northern England that he always drew his greatest support, having spent much of his childhood at Middleham Castle, where he later made his married home. Following the decisive Yorkist victory over the Lancastrians at the Battle of Tewkesbury, Richard married the widowed Anne Neville, daughter of the late Earl of Warwick. Anne's first husband had been Edward of Westminster, son of Henry VI.
On the death of Edward IV, Richard was entrusted with the role of protector to the king's sons, his young nephews, Edward V and another Richard, Duke of York. When the boy king's retinue was on its way from Wales to London, Richard intercepted them and took them into custody at the Tower of London (then a royal palace). He was wary of the relatives of the boys' mother, the Woodvilles, who were intent on acquiring power. A little more than two months after Edward IV's death in 1483, Richard accepted the throne himself after Parliament declared the two boys illegitimate.
Lord Hastings, who had been a regular visitor to the young Edward V at the Tower and who, with dowager queen Elizabeth Woodville, was a leading member of the anti-Ricardian faction at court, was charged with treason, convicted, and executed in the Tower of London. Three other members of the conspiracy -- the queen's brother Lord Rivers, her second son Richard Grey, and Edward V's chamberlain Sir Thomas Vaughan -- were also convicted and executed elsewhere. But Jane (or Elizabeth) Shore, who had been mistress of King Edward IV, and then of his step-son Thomas Grey (who avoided prosecution in the conspiracy by going into sanctuary at Westminster with his mother), and was now Hastings's mistress, was convicted of only lesser offences and was made to do public penance and briefly imprisoned.
When the members of Parliament met on June 25 (although there was no king to convene a formal session), it apparently heard evidence from a priest (believed to have been Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, although no records survive) that Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had been bigamous, therefore all their children were bastards. Some of the proceedings of that Parliamentary session are believed to survive in a document known as "Titulus Regius", which Parliament issued some months later explaining its actions and of which a single copy escaped destruction.
Richard's three elder brothers were all dead. The children of George, Duke of Clarence were attainted because of their father's treason and not eligible to inherit the throne. With Edward IV's children having been declared illegitimate, Richard was next in line for the crown. He was the last Plantagenet king. By the time of his last stand against the Lancastrians, he was a widower without a legitimate son. After his son's death, he had initially named his nephew, Edward, Earl of Warwick, Clarence's young son and also the nephew of Queen Anne Neville, as his heir. After Anne's death, however, Richard named another nephew, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, as his heir.
Richard was, at least outwardly, a devout man and an efficient administrator. However, he was a Yorkist and heirless, and had ruthlessly removed the Woodvilles and their allies; he was therefore vulnerable to political opposition. His apparently loyal supporter, Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, turned against him and was executed late in 1483. Richard's enemies united against him, and he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485, by Lancastrian forces led by Henry Tudor. Tudor, though his claim to the throne was weak, was able to rally an army as big as the king's. He succeeded Richard to become Henry VII, and cemented the succession by marrying the Yorkist heir, Elizabeth of York. Richard's body was treated disgracefully before being buried at Greyfriars Church, Leicester. According to one tradition, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries his body was thrown into the nearby River Soar, although other evidence suggests that this may not be the case and that his burial site may currently be under a car park in Leicester. There is currently a memorial plaque in the Cathedral where he may have once been buried.
Since his death, Richard III has become one of England's most controversial kings. Modern historians recognise the damage done to his reputation by "historians" of the next reign, and particularly by William Shakespeare. Amongst other things, Richard was represented as physically malformed, which in those days was accepted as evidence of an evil character. However, it has been demonstrated that he could not have carried out most of the crimes attributed to him. The major exception is the question of whether he was responsible for the deaths of his nephews, the "Princes in the Tower".
The Richard III Society was set up during the 20th century in an attempt to rehabilitate Richard, and has gathered considerable research material about his life and reign. Its members, known as "Ricardians", hold events, raise monuments and attempt to preserve the king's memory.
Richard appears in the 2002 List of "100 Great Britons" (sponsored by the BBC and voted for by the public), alongside such other greats as David Beckham, Aleister Crowley, and Johnny Rotten. The BBC History Magazine lists him under "doubtful entrants, based on special interest lobbying or 'cult' status", and comments: "On the list due to the Ricardian lobby, but a minor monarch".
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2 Further reading
3 External links
Fiction about Richard III
A lasting mystery surrounding the accession of Richard was the disappearance and presumed death of Richard's nephews, known as the Princes in the Tower. One of the most readable accounts of the evidence on all sides of the question is Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time, written in 1951 (when some of the sources now available had not yet come to light). The American Branch of the Richard III Society carries out its own review of all the suspects in the case of Richard III, in "Whodunit?" in the online library at :http://www.r3.org/bookcase/whodunit.html (external link). Another fictional representation is the 1939 film Tower of London, where Basil Rathbone is Richard and Boris Karloff his evil henchman; it is available on videotape.
Source material on all aspects of Richard's reign is neatly and impartially brought together by Keith Dockray in Richard III: A Reader in History (Sutton, 1988).
List of British monarchs
For the play Richard III by William Shakespeare, see Richard III (play)