Richard III – Facts to Counteract the Fiction

   Posted by: Kevin Herbert   in


Richard’s colours:  Blue and Murrey

Richard’s emblem:  The White Boar

Richard’s motto:  Loyaulte me Lie, which means “Loyalty Binds Me”

Richard was born on 2 October 1452, the eleventh of 12 children and the eighth and last son of Richard, third Duke of York and his Duchess Cecily.  At the time of his birth England was heading towards civil war and his family was destined to be directly involved.  The reason for this war went back to the question of the succession from Edward III through his five sons with the rival claims of the House of York and the House of Lancaster.

In 1422 Henry V (Lancaster) died suddenly leaving an infant to be crowned as Henry VI, a child who grew up to be a gentle, kind and extremely moral man, but who was easily influenced by his French wife, Margaret of Anjou, and her favourites.  So the administration, finances and government ground steadily down in an unravelling spiral.  Things came to a climax in 1453, when the queen gave birth to a healthy son, Edward, and the king lost his wits.  Richard, Duke of York, our Richard’s father, as the most senior member of the royal family, was called upon to be regent and protector of the realm during his cousin’s insanity.  He was descended from both the second and fourth sons of Edward III, whereas Henry VI was descended from the third son only.

Richard duke of York ruled wisely, moderately, and attempted, fairly successfully, to redress the problems of Henry VI’s regime.  But unfortunately his influence was terminated when the king partially regained his wits almost 18 months later.  Richard was forced to retire and was replaced by all the queen’s former favourites.

This series of dynastic struggles between the opposing sides of the conflict became known as ‘The Wars of The Roses’ (although this term was only coined by Sir Walter Scott in 1828), as the Lancastrian symbol was the Rosa Gallacia –  the red rose of Lancaster – and the Yorkist emblem was the Rosa Alba – the white rose of York.

When Richard was eight, his father and an elder brother, Edmund, earl of Rutland, were slain on New Year’s Eve at the battle of Wakefield in 1460.  His widowed mother packed him and his elder brother George off to safety and exile in Burgundy.

It seemed that Yorkist chances were in eclipse until the 18-year-old Edward, Earl of March (and – after his father’s death – also Duke of York), won a resounding victory over the Lancastrians at Mortimer’s Cross a few weeks later.  This was followed up with his resounding victory at Towton in March 1461, just before his 19th birthday.

Edward was proclaimed king as Edward IV and Henry VI was deposed and imprisoned.

Edward recalled his two younger brothers, George and Richard, from exile and created them dukes of Clarence and Gloucester respectively.   As Edward’s heir, George was very visible at Edward’s court, while the eight-year-old Richard was placed in the household of their successful cousin, Richard, earl of Warwick and of Salisbury, to be trained in the useful accomplishments expected of a scion of a royal house at that time.

It was here that Richard probably first became aware of Anne Neville, the earl of Warwick’s younger daughter, who was destined to become his wife and queen.  Here, too, Richard met the friends such as Francis Lovell, who were to stand steadfastly behind him in the years that followed.

This temporary peace was shattered when Edward was forced to announce that on 1 May 1464 he had secretly married a Lancastrian widow, lady Elizabeth Grey, born Woodville.  She was already the mother of two sons close in age to Richard.

Warwick very much opposed this marriage.  Edward’s brother George sided with Warwick and even, against Edward’s wishes, married Isobel, the elder of Warwick’s two daughters.

The situation deteriorated rapidly and Edward was taken captive by Warwick who attempted to rule in his stead.  However, the English populace were having none of it and young Richard at 17 was able to organise a coalition of willing nobles and councillors to march on Warwick’s stronghold to effect the release of Edward.

Warwick and his family fled to France, where he threw himself on the mercy of Edward’s enemy, Louis XI, of France.  Louis, known as the Spider King, arranged a deal between Warwick and the former Lancastrian queen, Margaret of Anjou.  This involved Margaret’s only son Edward marrying Anne, Warwick’s younger daughter.

Eventually the Warwick party returned to England.  Edward and Richard were forced to flee to Burgundy, where his youngest surviving sister, Margaret, was married to Charles, Duke of Burgundy.

In 1471 Edward landed in Yorkshire and returned triumphantly to London, winning two decisive battles at Barnet, where the Earl of Warwick was killed, and at Tewkesbury enabling him to take over the reins of government once more.  The Lancastrian prince Edward was killed in the battle of Tewkesbury and the former King Henry VI died shortly afterwards.


Richard III and his Family (from Rous Roll)

Edward established Richard as Lord of North in Warwick’s stead, a position Richard filled with acumen, justice and reason, winning the hearts and minds of former Neville, Percy and Lancastrian supporters.  After a time of great difficulty from his brother the Duke of Clarence, Richard married Warwick’s daughter Anne and they made their home at Middleham.

On 9 April 1483, Edward IV died suddenly, 19 days shy of his forty-first birthday, leaving as his heir, Edward prince of Wales, who was 12 years old. As Edward IV had made allowances for just such a contingency by naming Richard protector of the realm, guardian of his children and regent, there should have been no problem.

However, Edward’s queen of 19 years, Elizabeth Woodville, attempted to overturn the will of her late husband with the support of her family and determined to set herself and them up in these coveted and powerful positions.  Therefore Edward IV’s former chancellor, Sir William Hastings, sent word to Richard and begged him to make all haste to secure the young King-elect, now known as Edward V, and escort him to London for his coronation .

Richard arranged to meet up with his nephew’s entourage at Northampton, only to discover that when he arrived in the company of his cousin, the duke of Buckingham, the young king had been moved on to Stony Stratford, several miles closer to London.

The Woodville faction seems to have had an earlier coronation in mind, which would have negated the need for a regent, protector and guardian.

Richard dismissed the large Woodville entourage and had his nephew’s three main carers arrested – his uncle, Anthony, lord Rivers, his half-brother Sir Richard Grey and the elderly Sir Thomas Vaughan – and sent them to separate confinement in the North:   Pontefract, Sheriff Hutton and Middleham.  Richard resumed his royal nephew’s progress south to a coronation at a date to be determined.

On arrival in London he found that his sister-in-law, with her younger son and daughters, had gone into sanctuary at Westminster with all of her former possessions and a large proportion of the royal treasury.  The rest of the treasury was divided between her son from her first marriage, Thomas Grey, marquis of Dorset, and her brother Edward who’d taken off to sea with the fleet.

On advice from his supporters he lodged his nephew, Edward V, in the Tower of London in the palace apartments, as was the custom prior to all coronations, to prepare for this particular coronation.  The date was set for 22June 1483, and writs and invitations to attend were sent out as was the custom.

There was an attempt to replace Richard as protector by a council of regency, but the will of Edward IV prevailed and Richard was installed as protector of the realm and first among equals on the council.
It was decided to ask the queen to allow her younger son Richard to join his brother in the Tower prior to the coronation, since he would have to play a role second only to the young king.

It was about this time that Robert Stillington, bishop of Bath and Wells – and onetime chancellor of Edward IV – dropped his bombshell that Edward V could not be crowned since he and all his siblings were bastards.  This he knew as he had been witness to a plight troth between Edward IV when Earl of March and Lady Eleanor Butler, nee Talbot, some years prior to 1464 when Edward IV and Elizabeth Grey nee Woodville had gone through their secret marriage.   As Eleanor did not die until June 1468, the marriage with Elizabeth was bigamous and all their children were illegitimate and unable to take the crown.

Proofs, since destroyed, were given of these claims and so, as Richard was the next legitimate male heir because the children of the duke of Clarence, who had been executed for treason, were attainted he was crowned as Richard III on 6 July 1483.

Previously a council had been set up to aid in the governance of the realm and it became an established practice for it to meet in two parts, the larger body in the Tower and the more effective rump in Crosby Place, where Richard resided.  This was an unwise move since it enabled those of the anti-Richard faction to hijack the process and gain control.  A plot was soon in place to eliminate both Richard and Buckingham, crown young Edward as Edward V and rule through him.

As usual Richard acted promptly to quell the problem.  Sir William Hastings was executed, as were the three prisoners in the north, Rivers, Grey and Vaughn, and the other guilty parties were placed temporarily in protective custody.  Morton, bishop of Ely, was sent to Brecon, Buckingham’s main residence, and Rotherham, archbishop of York, was confined to Gipping, the Suffolk home of Sir James Tyrell.

Richard was too forgiving for his own good.  He should have executed both Morton and Rotherham, Lord Stanley and his new wife, Margaret Beaufort, as well as imprisoning some of the lesser lights in the conspiracy.

By the end of the year Richard paid the penalty for his clemency when he had to face a full scale insurrection masterminded by Morton and Margaret Beaufort and also involving Buckingham in an attempt to replace Richard with Henry Tudor, the only son of Margaret Beaufort by an earlier marriage.  Living in France for some time, he had no claim to the throne since he was descended from double bastardy through both his mother and father.

But to strengthen his illegal claim, he swore in Rennes Cathedral on Christmas Day 1483 to marry Elizabeth of York, the eldest child of Edward IV and Elizabeth Grey – a strange undertaking as her two brothers were probably still very much alive, unless he knew for certain they were no longer contenders .

The insurrection was quickly quashed.  Tudor sailed back to France without landing, Morton, the dedicated enemy of Richard, escaped to spread his anti-Richard poison on the continent and Buckingham was executed.
Richard and Anne seemed destined for a long reign, especially when Elizabeth Woodville and her daughters emerged from sanctuary and accepted a generous pension from Richard, and were seen often at court.  Between January and February 1484 Richard’s enlightened and only Parliament met and legislated for the common good.

Then in mid-April 1484 Edward, earl of Salisbury, the only child of Richard and Anne, died, supposedly of a burst appendix, to the great grief of them both.  On 16 March 1485 Anne herself died of consumption, her death occurring during an eclipse of the sun.  Almost immediately there were rumours that Richard had poisoned her in an attempt to marry his illegitimate niece, Elizabeth of York, thereby quashing Tudor’s hopes.

But the strong Lancastrian movement persisted and on 22 August 1485 Richard fell at the battle of Bosworth.  He’d never previously lost a battle, and he didn’t lose this one.  It was stolen from him because of the betrayal of the Stanley brothers and Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland who, between them, controlled over half of the Yorkist army.

So completely had Richard fulfilled his mission of 1471 when he and Anne were sent to Yorkshire, the former stronghold of the Nevilles, the Percys and the House of Lancaster, to bring it into the Yorkist fold, that on his death York proclaimed in its records in spite of fear of reprisals from the new regime: “that on this day was our good king Richard piteously slain and murdered to the great heaviness of the city”.

Throughout Yorkshire Richard is still remembered with pride and affection through places and streams such as Dickon’s Rest, Dickon’s Well, Dickon’s Crest, Dickon’s Way and Dickon’s Water.  The names Richard and Anne still outdo any other names in the region’s church registers.

Richard is remembered with respect and affection world-wide today, thanks to the ever-growing influence of the Richard III Society which strives to ensure that the truth is unearthed and discussed.  Services close to the date of the Battle of Bosworth are held around the world to mark his memory and his death.

Thanks to the Society’s work the mythical monster necessarily created for Tudor survival and who dominates Shakespeare’s superb work of fiction, is giving way to the real story of the young boy with an uncertain childhood who became an exceptional king before his life was tragically ended.