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Richard III reigned for two years before he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field but he is best remembered for the murder of the Princes of the Tower.
Was Richard the evil genius as portrayed in Shakespeare’s play? The 1995 film starring Ian McKellen continues this tradition by portraying Richard III as a 1930s fascist dictator.
He was born on 2 October 1452 at Fotheringhay Castle, the youngest son born to Richard Duke of York and his wife Cecily Neville. His childhood was dominated by the bloody Wars of the Roses as his father, Richard Duke of York and his eldest brother Edward fought the Lancastrian forces led by Henry VI and his queen Margaret of Anjou.
His eldest brother Edward won a glorious victory at Mortimer’s Cross and was offered the crown in March 1461. George and Richard were created Dukes of Clarence and Gloucester, and became Knights of the Garter.
Richard was educated in the Earl of Warwick’s household where he made some lifelong friends, including Francis Lovell and Richard Ratcliffe, who later became his strongest supporters. Richard became acquainted with Warwick’s daughters Isabel and Anne, before he joined his eldest brother at Court.
Most of the aristocracy, including Richard, resented Edward IV for choosing to marry a commoner and allowing her relatives to join their ranks. These social-climbers used their relationship with the queen to acquire further wealth and titles.
Edward IV was temporarily deposed by the Earl of Warwick and George. Their triumph lasted briefly as Edward returned with a small force in a desperate bid to regain the thrown. Richard acted as peacemaker between his brothers, so George was forgiven and allowed to remain at court.
Richard gave years of loyal service to his older brother who rewarded him with additional grants, lands, honours and titles. He also proved to be an able soldier during his teenage years.
He married Anne Neville, despite objections from George who coveted her share of the inheritance. Finally, they reached an agreement was reached so Richard married Anne in a quiet ceremony in July 1472, without waiting for the necessary dispensation required to arrive. Richard was a faithful husband, as no records survive of any extra-marital activities.
Richard’s only legitimate son, Edward of Middleham, was born in 1474.
He successfully prevented a coup by the Queen and her relatives after Edward IV’s sudden and premature death in April 1483. The Queen sought Sanctuary with her children, but she never saw her two sons—the Princes in the Tower—ever again.
Last of the Plantagenets
Richard was offered the crown after claims Edward IV had committed bigamy when he married. Their children were declared illegitimate by an Act of Parliament.
Most of the nobility were present as Richard and Anne were crowned at Westminster Abbey on 6 July 1483, but no one protested against the new regime.
The military was on standby as Richard heard news of several uprisings supporting a Lancastrian claimant, the unknown Henry Tudor. One rebellion ended in disaster with heavy rainstorms as the turncoat Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham, was captured without a battle. He was executed on 2 November at Salisbury. Later plots involving Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort were revealed, but these two women’s lives were spared.
Richard held his first and only parliament in January 1484 as he was determined to restore law and order.
The newly-created Prince of Wales, Edward, died in April 1484 at Middleham, aged ten—a crippling blow for a devoted father and a newly-crowned monarch.
Queen Anne became seriously ill and died in March 1485. Richard deeply mourned his wife despite scurrilous claims he had poisoned his wife to marry his niece. He quickly issued a public denial.
Richard remained oblivious to the treachery surrounding him as disgruntled Yorkists, involved in earlier rebellions, transferred their allegiance to Henry Tudor. Rumours of the Princes’ death persisted—many which originated from France.
Henry set sail from Harfleur after gaining French support in 1484. He landed at Milford Haven in south-west with a force of Lancastrians and foreign mercenaries in August 1485.
News of the Tudor’s landing on 11 August reached Richard who asked his wealthier subjects for loans, and promised repayment. Richard set up his headquarters at Nottingham, after he raised and equipped an army.
Battle of Bosworth
Their forces clashed near Market Bosworth in Leicestershire on 22 August. The battle barely lasted two hours whilst many nobles, including Lord Stanley, suddenly deserted Richard by changing sides.
Richard was killed as he bravely charged at the head of a small band of faithful friends into enemy ranks in a desperate bid to save the day.
The royal circlet worn by Richard was found in a thorn bush, so Lord Stanley placed it on his stepson’s head, as his followers cheered.
Richard’s body was later found, stripped naked and thrown across the back of a pack horse as it was taken to Leicester. It was later buried in the church of Grey Friars.
Cunningham, Sean, Richard III: A royal enigma, The National Archives, Richmond, 2003
Erickson, Carolly, Royal Panoply, St Martin’s Press, New York, 2003
Fraser, Antonia [Editor], The Lives of the Kings & Queens of England, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, (reprinted 2005)
Gillingham, John [ed], Richard III: A Medieval Kingship, Collins & Brown Limited, London, 1993
Lamb, V B, The Betrayal of Richard III: An Introduction to the Controversy, Alan Sutton Publishing Limited, Stroud, UK, 1959 [Reprinted 1996]
Ross, Charles, Richard III, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1999
Saul, Nigel, The Three Richards: Richard I, Richard II and Richard III, Hambledon and London, London, 2005
© 2010 Carolyn M Cash
This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 31 July 2010.