Major Work on Richard III – Nicole Preis, 2010
Nicole’s Extension History teacher, who evaluated this Major Work, commented that “Nicole’s project on Richard III demonstrated sound research skills and the ability to critically evaluate primary sources” and awarded it a mark of 9/10.
Was King Richard III a murderous usurper or a king whose good name has been slandered throughout history? Contemporary sources provide much evidence, including Mancini and the Croyland Chronicle, as well as later writers such as Polydore Vergil, Sir Thomas More, and George Buck, when considering Richard III’s guilt, often with considerably different results. Was Richard III the scheming hunchbacked man who had anyone standing in his way to the throne murdered? Recently this view has been questioned by historians and even some lawyers, such as Bertram Fields, who have attempted to prove his innocence by analysing sources of the time as well as subsequent Tudor-influenced arguments.
How did Richard III’s background shape his future? Richard III was born on 2 October, 1452 to Richard, Duke of York and Cecily Neville, when England was on the verge of civil war, later called the ‘War of the Roses’ between the Lancastrians and Yorkists. In 1461, his brother Edward defeated the Lancastrian King Henry VI, becoming King Edward IV and gave Richard the title Duke of Gloucester. In 1478, Edward passed an Act of Attainder against his brother, George of Clarence, which barred George’s children from the throne, thus making Richard the next in line to the throne after Edward’s children. Following Edward IV’s death in 1483, Richard was named Protector of the Realm and the guardian of his heir, Edward Prince of Wales. However, before this Edward could be crowned, it was revealed that Edward IV had been married secretly to Eleanor Talbot, when he married Elizabeth Woodville, also in a secret ceremony. As Eleanor Talbot was still alive, this meant the marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was bigamous and their children bastards. Thus Parliament passed an Act called Titulus Regius, justifying Richard’s accession to the throne by invalidating the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Richard’s successor, King Henry VII ordered each copy of Titulus Regius and related documents be destroyed. However, one copy survived, proving Richard III was not the usurper portrayed by the Tudors.
Which contemporary sources have been used to discuss Richard III? Mancini is a contemporary source as he was in London during 1482 as an Italian cleric. He reported politics to his patron Angelo Casto which subsequently reached the French court. His information was hostile towards Richard and occasionally cited inaccurate chronology. As he wrote following his return to France, his work was possibly ‘influenced by hindsight and his desire to please his patron by telling his patron as dramatic a story as possible’. Mancini’s work must be used critically, rather than at face value, as he lacked knowledge of English customs, geography and affairs. However, his work provides verification that Richard was named Protector in his brother, Edward IV’s will which did not survive.
The second contemporary source of the time that is useful is the Second Continuator of the Croyland Chronicle, whose identity is unknown. Possibly the writer was a secular cleric and member of the royal council, accounting for his good information. Like Mancini, he was probably present in London at the time. Yet his work is biased and at times, deliberately distorted, indicating a personal animosity towards Richard and northern England, as they are referred to as ‘rude northerners’. Despite his dislike of Richard III, he does concede that he ‘fell in the field like a brave & most valiant prince’. The Croyland Chronicle contained the only surviving copy of Titulus Regius despite Henry VII’s order that all copies be destroyed, which was ‘a high risk activity; one that might be construed as likely for an old man, nearing the end of his life (certainly not seeking an extended career under the new monarch).’
However, Polydore Vergil and his successors during the Tudor reign wrote with considerably less freedom. Henry VII commissioned Vergil to write an ‘updated’ version of English history adding a ‘veneer of respectability to Tudor claims and pretensions’. Like Mancini, Vergil was an Italian cleric. Vergil arrived in England in 1502, without firsthand knowledge. Vergil’s ‘official’ history was completed in 1517 to please the Tudors and accuses Richard of murdering his nephews, his wife and Henry VI. However, it is significant that he doesn’t accuse Richard of murdering Clarence. Vergil selectively chose information, and has been accused of destroying documents contradicting his views.
Another source given some credence is Sir Thomas More through his later sainthood. Yet his unfinished work was essentially a dramatic presentation of villainy, containing many absurdities and errors. More’s purpose for writing is unknown. Possibly he never intended to publish, instead writing for private amusement. As More was only 8 years old during the Battle of Bosworth his sources probably were Richard’s victorious enemies seeking justification for their treason, perhaps including the Stanleys and Bishop Morton of Ely. Shakespeare’s Richard III was written for the theatre and was copied largely from More’s ‘history’. As K Blakeney puts it: ‘In a subconsciously ironic twist, while creating the ultimate popular image of Richard III, which shattered Richard’s reputation for generations, Shakespeare has also given him a way out of the obscure graveyard of Tudor propaganda… Shakespeare has let Richard win by making Henry Tudor’s victory emotionally insignificant’.
Finally, George Buck’s contribution to history must be looked at. Descended from a Yorkist family who served Richard III, Buck was the first historian to challenge the validity of Tudor propaganda and in Buck’s own words ‘malice and ignorance have been the king’s greatest accusers’. While Buck described Richard’s virtues and good deeds, he wasn’t blind to his faults, such as a misguided leniency towards traitors. Buck discredited More’s ‘history’ and claimed it was actually written by Bishop Morton.
Did Richard III murder his brother George the Duke of Clarence or King Henry VI? Most sources acquit him of these murders. It is now commonly accepted that George was convicted of high treason by Parliament and executed under King Edward IV without Richard’s involvement. Even Mancini, while generally hostile towards Richard describes him as ‘overcome with grief for his brother’ and that Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville were responsible. More accuses Richard of the crime, but his reliability is dubious as he makes some blatant errors. In addition, Vergil, Rous and More claim that Richard murdered Henry VI. However, as Rous also claims that Richard spent two years in his mother’s womb with hair and a full set of teeth, his reliability is somewhat questionable. More maintained that Richard personally murdered Henry VI and did this ‘without commandment or knowledge of the King [Edward IV]’. This seems not only unlikely, but impossible. The majority of modern historians attribute Henry VI’s death to Edward IV as it would have ended any effective Lancastrian claim and strengthened his position on the throne.
Did Richard III murder his nephews? This mystery has sparked speculation throughout the years. Contemporary sources have often been used to prove certain viewpoints but to this day, historians cannot be sure of the princes’ fate. According to Mancini, ‘He [Edward V] and his brother were withdrawn into the inner apartments of the Tower proper, and day by day began to be seen more rarely behind the bars and windows, till at length they ceased to appear altogether…Already there was a suspicion that he had been done away with, and by what manner of death, so far I have not at all discovered’. Here Mancini does not directly accuse Richard of murdering his nephews, and only reports a rumour. The extent of which the rumours were believed during Richard’s reign is unknown. In the Tudor era the rumours were encouraged and reinforced. Yet the Great Chronicle of London provides conflicting evidence that ‘the childyr of Kyng Edward were seen shotyng and playing in the Garden of the Towyr by sundry tymys’.
Meanwhile, the Croyland Chronicle offers the last reliable sighting of the princes. While expressing no belief in their murders, the Second Continuator agrees with Mancini that ‘a rumour arose’ that the princes had died ‘by some unknown manner of violent destruction’ in September. As the Chronicler should have been in a position to know the princes’ fate, his omission despite his animosity for Richard seems to indicate he knows as little as everyone else.
While Vergil holds Richard responsible for the princes’ death, he does mention the belief that ‘the sons of Edward IV were still alive, having been conveyed secretly away and obscurely concealed in some distant region’. Vergil, More and subsequently Shakespeare all find Richard guilty of murdering his nephews. More claims that Sir James Tyrell, acting under Richard’s instructions that performed the murder as Richard had decided the princes threatened his security on the throne. More’s blatant error that Richard knighted Tyrell after hearing of his success, although he had been knighted twelve years previously indicates More’s unreliability.
Furthermore, More claims the princes’ bodies were buried at the foot of a staircase within the Tower yet were later moved. This first point may support ‘the bones’ said to be those of the princes. Yet when examined in 1933, preconceived ideas resulted in a false forensic analysis, and ‘the attribution of these bones to the two brothers…could not…be certain on any count, even in 1933’. With DNA analysis today it may be possible to determine whether the bones were those of the princes, but so far no approval has been granted.
Tudor propaganda has influenced several historians’ opinions over Richard III’s guilt in murdering his nephews. Desmond Steward portrays Richard as a scheming usurper, but fails to support his argument with evidence, ignores aspects of the source which clearly contradict his view and does not question his primary sources – using primarily Vergil and More who are Tudor propagandists and to have written anything different under the Tudors would have been dangerous. Michael Hicks suggests that that ‘most likely Richard killed them [the princes], just as other usurpers eliminated their predecessors and concealed their fate to avoid condemnation’. However, this perception of Richard is changing due to the growth in interest and research undertaken by historians, amateur investigators, and the Richard III Society, which ‘aims to… secure a reassessment of the material relating to this period’.
There are several psychological arguments made by historians to counteract these claims of Richard III’s guilt. For instance, it is argued that if Richard did murder the princes, he would have produced the bodies to make clear that they were no longer a rallying point. Also, ‘Richard had been chosen as king while the boys were still alive, on the grounds of their illegitimacy: ascending the throne did not require getting rid of them. Whereas for Henry Tudor to become king, they had to be dead’. Elizabeth Woodville’s behaviour may demonstrate Richard’s innocence as she became reconciled with Richard III in 1484, came out of sanctuary and entrusted her other children under Richard’s protection. Yet an unexpected breach occurred between Elizabeth Woodville and Henry VII once her daughter became his wife.
Tyrell’s journey to Flanders in 1484 gives rise to the belief that the princes were sent by their uncle to safety with their powerful aunt Margaret of York in Burgundy which would have prevented future uprisings in their name. As many citizens wouldn’t have recognised the princes, secrecy of their movements wouldn’t have been too difficult. Margaret would have had the means, contacts and ability to ensure their well-being. The ‘pretender’ called ‘Perkin Warbeck’ resembled Edward IV and had extensive knowledge of the royal family’s private lives and was defended by Margaret of York, Emperor Maximilian, James IV and Sir William Stanley when he was captured. Finally, it is possible that the princes were killed by accident, such as drowning in the Thames or in a ship wreck on the way to their aunt.
Richard III’s supposed deformities of a withered arm and humpback have also been a matter of debate and found to be false. Mancini and the Croyland Chronicler do not mention any deformity, and as both writers would have seen Richard, their omission may indicate it is additional Tudor propaganda. Richard III was said to have resembled his father, with dark hair and a small compact body. Vergil and More are the first to mention a withered arm and agree ‘that one of Richard’s shoulders was higher than the other, but don’t seem to be able to agree which shoulder it was.’ An x-ray of an original painting taken of Richard III during his lifetime revealed one shoulder was later doctored to suggest deformity. Possibly the deformities were created because of ‘the common superstition of the period that a warped body signified an evil character. Deformity was a sign of the devil’s own or at least the mark of God’s disfavour’. Besides, even the staunchest supporter of the Tudor cause acknowledges Richard’s prowess in battle. Therefore, neither of his arms could have been withered, as he would have had to control a horse at the same time as wielding a weapon.
Therefore, Richard III was likely to have been a maligned man who fell victim to historians who, when researching and documenting his life, did not analyse their sources in terms of their reliability and usefulness. Recent investigations have challenged these traditional views of Richard and have revealed he was not the scheming usurper with deformities that historians during the Tudor era (excepting the Croyland Chronicle) have claimed. Richard III has been cleared of any guilt in murdering his brother George, and Henry VII. The fate of his nephews is still uncertain, and while many present day historians have also cleared his name of this crime, there will continue to be speculation.
1. Fields, B, Royal Blood: Richard III and the Mystery of the Princes. HarperCollins, New York, 2000, p. 59
2. Cusack, M C, “Writing About Richard III: Admissible Sources and Emotional Responses”. (speech given to the NSW Branch of the Richard III Society on 22.2.10)
3. Dockray, K, Richard III: A Source Book. Sutton Publishing Limited, Stroud, 1997, pp. xvi-xvii.
4. Potter, J, “Richard III’s Historians: Adverse and Favourable Views”, Richard III Society – American Branch, (accessed 13 Jan. 2010)
8. Fields, p. 14
10. Blakeney, K, “William Shakespeare’s Richard III: Brilliant Schemer, Entertaining Villain”, Student Pulse, Online Academic Student Journal, 11 Jan. 2010. (accessed 21 Jan. 2010).
12. Fields, p. 58
13. Fields, p. 135.
14. Ibid, p. 136.
15. Williamson, A, The Mystery of the Princes. Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd, Stroud, 1978, p. 36
16. Fields, pp. 141-142.
17. Williamson, p. 194.
18. Steward, D, Richard III: England’s Black Legend. Book Club Associations, Great Britain,1983, p. 105
19. Hicks, M, Richard III: The Man Behind the Myth. Collins & Brown, Great Britain, 1991, p. 146.
20. “Mission”, The Richard III Society, 2009. (accessed 22 Dec. 2009)
21. Fields, p. 145
22. Carson, A, Richard III: the Maligned King. The History Press, Stroud, 2008, p. 151.
23. Williamson, p. 117.
24. Fields, p. 207
25. Kosir, B. “Richard III: A Study in Historiographical Controversy”, Richard III Society – American Branch (accessed 13 Jan. 2010)
26. Potter, J, Good King Richard? St Edmundsbury Press Ltd, Great Britain, 1983 p. 141.
27. Fields, p. 277
“Back to Basics: A Series for Newer Ricardians”, Richard III Society – American Branch. (accessed 26 Dec. 2009)
Blakeney, K, “Perceptions of Heroes and Villains in European Literature”. Student Pulse, Online Academic Student Journal, 12 Jan. 2010. (accessed 21 Jan. 2010)
Blakeney, K, “William Shakespeare’s Richard III: Brilliant Schemer, Entertaining Villain”, Student Pulse, Online Academic Student Journal, 11 Jan.2010. (accessed 21 Jan. 2010)
Bliss, D, “Sir Thomas More”, Ricardus Rex, Newsletter of the Richard III Society – Victoria Branch Inc. Vol.IX , Number 2, April 2009, pp.6-10
Carson, A, Richard III: the Maligned King. The History Press, Stroud, 2008
Carson, A, “A Fresh Look at the Sources”, Richard III Society of NSW, 14 July 2009. (accessed 2 Jan. 2010)
Cusack, M C, “Writing About Richard III: Admissible Sources and Emotional Responses”, speech given to the NSW Branch of the Richard III Society on 22 Feb. 2010. You can also find it here.
Cusack’s speech focused primarily on the contemporary sources and how they would have gained their information. This source was particularly useful when I was researching Mancini and the Croyland Chronicler. The introduction section also gave a good overall understanding of the events that lead towards Richard III becoming king. Cusack’s footnotes and bibliography indicate the depth of research undertaken and may show she is more reliable than other sources (such as websites) which do not document where their information from. Cusack’s section on ‘Richard III in Drama’ was not useful as my focus was not on how he was represented through performances. The only discernible weakness of her speech was the limited content on the ‘bones’ and less information on other sources, such as Vergil, More and Buck.
Dockray, K, Richard III: A Source Book. Sutton Publishing Ltd, Stroud, 1997
Fields, B, Royal Blood: Richard III and the Mystery of the Princes. HarperCollins, New York, 2000.
I found Fields’ book to be the most useful out of all my sources in researching Richard III. Reading ‘Royal Blood’ gave me insight into the times and the principal issues concerning Richard III (such as the supposed murders of his nephews and deformities). Fields looked at all evidence from contemporary and more modern sources from a lawyer’s perspective, discussed the sources credibility and eventually made a judgement on what the most likely outcome was. In terms of reliability, I consider this to be less biased and more factual than my other sources because it discusses every source, not merely the ones that agree with the author’s thesis.
Herbert, K, “Richard III: Facts to Counteract the Fiction”, Richard III Society of NSW, 5 Aug. 2009. (accessed 2 Jan. 2010)
Hicks, M, Richard III: The Man Behind the Myth. Collins & Brown, Great Britain, 1991.
Jenkins, E, The Princes in the Tower. Book Club Associates, Great Britain, 1978
Kendall, P M, Richard the Third. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, USA, 1955
Kosir, B, “Richard III, A Study in Historiographical Controversy”, Richard III Society – American Branch, 2007. (accessed 13 Jan. 2010)
Mancini, D. (with translation and introduction by C.A.J. Armstrong), The Usurpation of Richard III. Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd, Stroud, 1989.
Maurer, H, “Whodunit? The Suspects in the Case”, Richard III Society – American Branch, 2007. (accessed 13 Jan. 2010)
“Mission”, The Richard III Society. (accessed 22 Dec. 2009)
Murph, R, “Richard III: the Making of a Legend”, Richard III Society – American Branch, 2007. (accessed 13 Jan. 2010)
Potter, J, “Richard III’s Historians: Adverse and Favourable Views”, Richard III Society – American Branch. (accessed 13 Jan. 2010)
Potter, J, Good King Richard? St Edmundsbury Press Ltd, Great Britain, 1983.
Preis, D, “Richard’s Achievements”, Richard III Society of NSW, 16 Nov. 2009. (accessed 2 Jan. 2010)
“Richard III – Context”, Spark Notes. (accessed 16 Dec. 2009)
“Richard III (1483-5 AD)”, Britannia, 2005. http://www.britannia.com/history/monarchs/mon39.html (accessed 14 Dec. 2009)
Steward, D, Richard III: England’s Black Legend. Book Club Associates, Great Britain, 1983.
Wigram, I, “Were the ‘Princes in the Tower’ Murdered?”, Richard III Society – American Branch, 2007. (accessed 26 Dec. 2009)
Williamson, A, The Mystery of the Princes. Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd, Stroud, 1978.
Williamson’s book concentrated mainly on the princes, and what may have happened to them. I found it to be particularly useful in my essay’s discussion of whether Richard III was likely to have murdered his nephews. In particular, chapters 10 and 12 related the most to my research. Her book was insightful as it gathered a large amount of historical material, including more specialised information from contemporary papers not usually examined by other historians.