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Richard III
"Treason!" he shouted. "Treason! Treason!"
      A dozen weapons smashed through his armour. In the midst of his foes, alone, he was beaten lifeless to the ground, leaving his kingdom and his fame to the hands of Henry Tudor.
      He was thirty-two years old, had reigned two years, one month, twenty-eight days. ... Men did not forget how the last of the Plantagenets had died. Polydore Vergil, Henry Tudor's official historian, felt compelled to record: "King Richard, alone, was killed fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies."

Paul Murray Kendall, Richard The Third


RICARDUS III, ANGLIAE REX

Richard III (October 2, 1452 - August 22, 1485) is the last English king to fight in battle in person. To the people who knew him best, the men and women of the northern City of York which he governed for many years, he remained a person to be loved. "King Richard, late mercifully reigning upon us, was ... piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this city."

To the rest of the world, and for a long time, he would soon be known only as a monster. For some people, he still is. Yet, before the Tudors became rulers of England it was written of him: "He contents the people where he goes best that ever did prince; for many a poor man that hath suffered wrong many days have been relieved and helped by him ... God hath sent him to us for the weal of us all."

How did it come about that a man should become thought of as a monster, when in reality he was quite the opposite?

Loyaulté me lie Richard's Motto Loyalty binds me

Did Richard III kill, or order the killing of, his nephews in order to usurp the English throne? I wont repeat the whole story here. But if you're intrigued, I invite you to to do some reading yourself. I'll just summarize what I think are the most relevant details regarding "The Case of the Princes in the Tower".

All sources agree that there was nothing in Richard's character or behaviour prior to the death of his brother, King Edward IV, that is consistent with the commission of the crime which has ruined his reputation. It is also agreed that the Tudors, in the person of Henry VII, had no legitimate claim to the English throne. Henry VII ruled only by right of conquest.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to find reliable independent sources of information about Richard III, because Henry VII had them destroyed or had independent witnesses killed off because of his insecurity due to the circumstances of his seizure of power. This, and a number of seemingly illogical actions on his part throughout his reign, has led a number of researchers to the conclusion that it was Henry VII who had the princes killed, not Richard III. While this may be tempting, particularly because Henry VII had a singularly unattractive personality, it cannot be proved from the sources uncovered so far.

The most likely conclusion to be drawn from the known sources is that the murders, if there were murders (because even that can only be inferred), were committed by, or on the orders of, the Duke of Buckingham shortly after the coronation and without Richard's prior knowledge while he was absent from London.

Buckingham, a mercurial and vainglorious man, had attached himself to Richard after Edward IV's death. A few months after the presumed murders, Richard and Buckingham had a serious falling-out and Buckingham then attempted to seize power for himself. It seems logical to assume that Buckingham, who had a slight claim to the succession (not strong but better than Henry Tudor's), had always planned to seize power. If that seems farfetched, the sources and fictional treatments below should give you enough material to make up your own mind.

The most important thing to remember is that the stories about Richard III most people know were the invention by Richard's worst enemy, John Morton, the Bishop of Ely, in whose house Sir Thomas More was living when he wrote his so-called biography of Richard III's life on which most history textbooks are still based. The only reason this document is so well regarded still is that Thomas More was one of the prominent people to fall victim to another Tudor, Henry VIII, and was sainted by the Catholic Church. The fact that Shakespeare used this as the basis for one of his most famous plays probably hasn't hurt either.

Of course, none of the three were guilty of murdering the princes, if they were removed from England (on the order of Richard III) and grew up abroad. This would explain the behaviour of Henry VII, of Elizabeth Woodville (Edward IV's wife and mother of the princes), and of Margaret of Burgundy (Richard's sister), during the invasions of the two "pretenders" in the years following Richard's death at Bosworth Field in 1485 (for more on this, see Fields, below).
 


If you've become intrigued enough to want to know more, here are some books to read:

Non-Fiction

Bertram Fields, Royal Blood, Richard III and the Mystery of the Princes, Regan Books, 1998 - Eminent litigator Bertram Fields outlines and evaluates the arguments of both traditionalists and revisionists. Very readable, even-handed and logical evaluation of available sources. A must-read, together with Kendall's biography (see below).

Paul Murray Kendall, Richard The Third, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1955, and Sphere Books, 1972 - Perhaps the best and most objective modern biography of Richard III.

Anthony Cheetham, The Life and Times of Richard III, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1972 - Less scholarly and comprehensive than Kendall's book, many pictures. A popular overview.

John Harvey, The Plantagenets, Fontana/Collins, Revised Edition 1959 - Concise biographies of the Plantagenet kings.


Fiction

The authors of these works of fiction follow the now generally accepted view of Richard III as victim of the Tudor propaganda machine.

Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time, Penguin Books, 1951 - Wherein the famous mystery writer attempts to prove that "The Princes in the Tower" were murdered on the order of Henry VII. This book is still in print.

Sharon Kay Penman, The Sunne in Splendour, Penguin Books, 1982 - Still in print.

Marian Palmer, The White Boar, Doubleday & Company, 1962.

Rosemary Hawley Jarman, We Speak No Treason, Little, Brown & Company, 1971.

 

To learn more about Richard III from the internet you might want to visit The Richard III Foundation or The Richard III Society.

I suppose it's only proper to include a link to the most exalted piece of hate literature ever written - or perhaps it's only slander. To give him the benefit of the doubt, it's not likely that William Shakespeare knew that the history he was re-interpreting was Tudor propaganda invented by Richard's worst enemy. And besides, he was writing a play about supreme ambition and evil, not a biography. Anyway, here it is, Shakespeare's Richard III.

Of course there's a total other dimension added to the controversy, if we remember that the man long assumed to have written using the name William Shakespeare is really not the person from Stratford but, as seems most likely now, Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. (Henry VII's principal military commander at the Battle of Bosworth was John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, so Edward de Vere's hostile vision of Richard III would have come to him naturally. And even had he been interested in history not fantasy, under a Tudor queen he couldn't have written anything favourable of any Plantagenet without losing his own head.)