|Table of contents|
2 Reign of Edward IV
4 Coup d'état
10 Fiction about Richard III
11 Further reading
12 External links
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) and Cecily Neville. Richard spent much of his childhood at Middleham Castle, where he later made his married home. 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.
Reign of Edward IV
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 large estates in the North of England, given the title Duke of Gloucester and the position of Governor of the North, becoming the richest and most powerful noble in England, and a loyal aid to Edward IV. (By contrast the other surviving brother, George, Duke of Clarence, was executed by Edward for treason.)
Richard continued to control the north of England until Edward's death. In 1482 Edward recaptured Berwick-upon-Tweed from the Scots, and was noted as being fair and just, endowing universities, making grants to the church.
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, in April 1483, the king's sons (his young nephews), Edward V, age 12, and Richard, Duke of York, age 9, were supposedly next in the order of succession. However, despite his loyalty to Edward, Richard moved to claim the throne for himself.
When the boy king's retinue was on its way from Wales to London, for his coronation, Richard joined them at Northampton. However he had the king's guardian Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (brother of Elizabeth Woodville, Edward's queen consort) and other advisors arrested and taken to Pontefract Castle, allegedly for planning to assassinate Edward V. Richard then took Edward to stay at the Tower of London (then a royal palace), a move widely supported since much of the country distrusted the former queen's family. Edward was soon joined by Richard, Duke of York. Richard called himself Lord Protector and was also made Chief Councillor (head of government).
On June 13, 1483, at a meeting of the Royal Council in the Tower of London, the king's chamberlain Lord Hastings, (who had been a regular visitor to the young Edward V at the Tower and who, with the dowager queen, was a leading member of the anti-Ricardian faction at court,) was arrested for alleged treason. A few minutes later he was beheaded on Tower Green, the first recorded execution at the Tower of London.
Three other members of the alleged conspiracy -- the queen's brother Lord Rivers, her second son Richard Grey, and another 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.
Having removed opposition amongst the nobility, on June 22, 1483, outside St Paul's Cathedral, a statement was read out on behalf of Richard declaring for the first time that he was taking the throne for himself. In it, he claimed that he was the rightful king because his brother, Edward IV, had been born illegitimate and so had the two princes - a declaration met with stunned silence.
Despite rumours that Richard's claims were true, evidence was lacking, and until recently it has generally been accepted that this was propaganda, and that Richard took the crown because he felt that his own power and wealth would be threatened under Edward V. However recently discovered evidence appears to support Richard - see was Edward illegitimate for details.
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.
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 succeeded Richard to become Henry VII, and cemented the succession by marrying the Yorkist heir, Elizabeth of York.
Richard's body was dragged naked through the streets 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".
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).
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)