Richard III, King of England

   Richard III, the last king of the houses of YORK and PLANTAGENET, is the most controversial monarch in English history. By deposing and then perhaps murdering his nephew, Richard revived the WARS OF THE ROSES, thereby destroying himself and his dynasty and making possible the rule of the house of TUDOR.
   Born on 2 October 1452, Richard was the youngest son of Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, and his wife, Cecily NEVILLE. In October 1459, following his father’s flight from the field of LUDFORD BRIDGE, sevenyearold Richard, along with his mother and elder brother, George PLANTAGENET, fell into the custody of HENRY VI, who entrusted them to the duchess’s sister. They regained their freedom in July 1460 after the king was captured by the Yorkists at the Battle of NORTHAMPTON. In September, the duchess brought the boys to LONDON, where PARLIAMENT answered York’s demand for the Crown by enacting the compromise Act of ACCORD, which made the duke heir to Henry VI. Following York’s death at the Battle of WAKEFIELD in December and the Yorkist defeat at the Battle of ST.ALBANS in February 1461, Cecily sent Richard and George to safety in BURGUNDY. However, both were recalled to England in April, only weeks after their eldest brother won the Battle of TOWTON and thereby secured the throne as EDWARD IV.
   At Edward’s coronation in June 1461, Richard was created duke of Gloucester and his brother George duke of Clarence. Although only nine, Gloucester was given liberal grants of land and office, including appointment as lord admiral. In 1469, when Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, convinced Clarence to join a coup against Edward, Gloucester remained loyal to his brother and was rewarded with a lifetime appointment as constable of England. In August 1470, after the failure of a second rebellion drove Warwick and Clarence from the realm, Gloucester’s continued loyalty earned him further rewards, including offices traditionally held by the NEVILLE FAMILY. When the rebel magnates returned in October and forced the king to flee, Gloucester was one of a handful of supporters who accompanied Edward to exile in Burgundy (see Edward IV, Overthrow of). Returning to England with Edward in March 1471, Gloucester, now eighteen, commanded the van of the Yorkist army at the Battle of BARNET, where Warwick was slain, and at the Battle of TEWKESBURY, where Prince EDWARD OF LANCASTER died (see Edward IV, Restoration of). Although various reports claimed that Gloucester helped kill the prince and later murdered Henry VI in the TOWER OF LONDON, the former seems to have fallen during the fighting, and the latter was almost certainly slain on the orders of Edward IV (see Henry VI, Murder of). Gloucester’s direct involvement in either death, though possible, cannot now be proven. In the 1470s, Gloucester continued to render loyal service to his brother, who continued to reward the duke with lands and offices, especially in the north. Marriage to Anne NEVILLE,Warwick’s younger daughter, entangled Gloucester in a bitter dispute with Clarence, who was married to Isabel NEVILLE, the elder sister, over division of the late earl’s lands (see Neville Inheritance Dispute). Settlement of the quarrel required royal intervention, but it left Gloucester heir to the Neville influence in the north, where the duke resided after 1475 (see North of England and the Wars of the Roses). By 1480, thanks to his Neville connections, his brother’s support, and his own abilities, Gloucester had constructed a loyal and extensive AFFINITY in the north, which he governed on Edward’s behalf. This network of northern RETAINERS proved both a blessing and curse after Gloucester became king in 1483 (see Richard III, Northern Affinity of).
   In 1475, Gloucester participated in Edward’s invasion of FRANCE. Disapproving of his brother’s decision to eschew military glory in favor of a French pension, Gloucester absented himself from the signing of the Treaty of Picquigny. In the early 1480s, Gloucester implemented Edward’s militant policy toward SCOTLAND. The duke’s several campaigns against the Scots recovered BERWICK, but otherwise they achieved little and cost much, and have led later writers to question his ability as a military commander. He was also suspected of encouraging the king to eliminate the troublesome Clarence, although no evidence exists to link Gloucester directly to the duke’s ATTAINDER and execution in 1478. The king was likely the driving force behind Clarence’s destruction, and Gloucester’s acquiescence— whether eager or reluctant—came only at Edward’s bidding (see Clarence, Execution of).
   When Edward IV died on 9 April 1483, Gloucester was in the north. Although he immediately swore allegiance to his nephew, EDWARDV, the duke was suspicious of his sisterinlaw, Queen Elizabeth WOODVILLE, and of the ambitious WOODVILLE FAMILY, around whom an extensive political interest had formed in the 1470s. Supported by William HASTINGS, Lord Hastings, and other royal servants who feared that the Woodvilles meant to use their influence with Edward to control the government, Gloucester seized the king, arrested Anthony WOODVILLE, Earl Rivers, and frightened the queen into taking SANCTUARY at Westminster. In June, when Hastings and others began to mistrust Gloucester’s intentions, the duke, who had been named lord protector, executed Hastings and secured custody of the king’s brother, Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York (see Council Meeting of 13 june 1483). Having at some point concluded that his best interests required him to take the throne, Gloucester, assisted by Henry STAFFORD, duke of Buckingham, launched a PROPAGANDA campaign to discredit his nephews’ right to the Crown and to advance his own claim (see Butler Precontract; Shaw’s Sermon; Titulus Regius; Usurpation of 1483). Although Gloucester won enough support in London to have himself crowned king as Richard III on 6 July, the usurpation, which was almost immediately followed by rumors that Edward V and York had been murdered in the Tower, drove many Yorkists to join former Lancastrians in seeking to overthrow Richard in favor of Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond (see Henry VII, King of England), the last heir of the house of LANCASTER.
   Never able to overcome the opposition generated by the usurpation, Richard’s regime was always narrowly based and threatened by betrayal and indifference among the PEERAGE and GENTRY. After the failure of BUCKINGRICHARD HAM’S REBELLION—so-called because of the involvement in it of Richard’s former ally Buckingham—many southern gentlemen either fled to Richmond in BRITTANY or became too untrustworthy for further employment. Forced to intrude his northern supporters into the leadership of southern counties, Richard reaped further ill will, which only intensified the condemnation and mistrust arising from his silence regarding the disappearance of the PRINCES IN THE TOWER. The death of his son in 1484 and of his queen in 1485 further weakened the king’s position and led to damaging rumors, which Richard had to personally disavow, that he intended to marry his niece, ELIZABETH OF YORK. Accused of tyranny and suspected of murder, the king confronted Richmond at BOSWORTH FIELD on 22 August 1485. Although Richard commanded the larger force, the defection of Thomas STANLEY, Lord Stanley, and his brother Sir William STANLEY, combined with the lukewarm adherence of other lords, such as Henry PERCY, earl of Northumberland, led to the king’s defeat and death.
   After Bosworth, the continuing mystery surrounding the fate of the princes, as well as the new dynasty’s need to justify itself through the misdeeds of its predecessors, fostered the writing of a series of works that progressively blackened the reputation of Richard III (see Anglica Historia; History of King Richard III; Union of the Two Noble and Illustrious Families of Lancaster and York). Culminating in William Shakespeare’s brilliant play, RICHARD III, and answered later by many passionate defenses of Richard and his actions, these writings created a controversy that continues unabated to this day.
   Further Reading: Hicks, Michael, Richard III: The Man behind the Myth (London: Collins and Brown, 1991); Horrox, Rosemary, Richard III: A Study in Service (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Kendall, Paul Murray, Richard the Third (New York:W.W. Norton, 1956); Potter, Jeremy, Good King Richard? An Account of Richard III and His Reputation (London: Constable, 1994); Ross, Charles, Richard III (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); see also the Richard III Society Web site at for a variety of sources and materials relating to Richard III and his reign.

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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