Richard III

Richard III (1452-1485), last Yorkist king of England, reigned from 1483 to 1485 during the Wars of the Roses. He is generally considered a usurper and is suspected of the murder of Edward V and his brother.

Born on Oct. 2, 1452, at Fotheringhay Castle, Richd was the eleventh child and youngest son of Richard, Duke of York, and Cecily Neville. His father's 1454 and 1460 regencies for Henry VI caused Lancastrian opposition that brought York to his death in the Battle of Wakefield (Dec. 30, 1460). Richard and his brother George were fugitives until their 18-year old brother gained the throne as Edward IV in 1461. Thereafter George became a disloyal Duke of Clarence and Richard an able Duke of Gloucester. Richard shared command in the Yorkist victories at Barnet (April 14, 1471) and Tewkesbury (May 4).

Richard's 1472 marriage to 16-year-old Anne Neville caused disputes with Clarence, husband of Anne's older sister Isabella Neville, over the division of the estates of their late father, the Earl of Warwick. Clarence's treasonable habits led him to challenge the legitimacy of the King and his children, whereupon Edward's Parliament attained Clarence as "incorrigible," resulting in his execution in 1478 and the disinheritance of his son, Edward of Warwick. This reduced the contention for influence to a rivalry between Richard and the Woodville relatives of Edward's queen.


His Regency

The April 9, 1483, deathbed will of Edward IV left his 12-year-old heir, Edward V, to the regency and protectorship of Richard; yet the late king's children, treasure, and ships were in Woodville custody. At Middleham Castle in Yorkshire, Richard learned from Lord Hastings of the queen mother's attempts to dominate the council and of the preparations of Anthony Woodville, Lord Rivers, for bringing the new king from Wales to London with an escort of 2,000 men. Richard added the Duke of Buckingham's troops to his own, confronted the King at Stony Stratford on April 30, and persuaded Edward V to accept the arrest of Rivers and other leaders of the royal escort. Richard and Buckingham accompanied Edward to London House, while the queen mother and her other children sought sanctuary at Westminster.

As protector, Richard retained most government officials but moved to gain control of Woodville-held ships and forts. Buckingham's council motion removed Edward V to the Tower on May 19, 1483, "until his coronation," and on June 10, Richard wrote to the city of York for armed help against adherents of the queen mother. At a June 13 council in the Tower, Richard had Hastings killed, John Morton and former Chancellor Rotherham imprisoned, and Lord Stanley confined to quarters. A royal herald explained this to Londoners as suppression of a plot against the Protector and denounced the immoral liaison of Hastings and Jane Shore.


Accession to the Throne

On June 16, 1483, Richard invested Westminster with troops, and Queen Mother Elizabeth allowed 9-year-old Richard of York to join his brother in the Tower. Then commenced the "Richard for King" movement. From June 22 to 25, several meetings about London heard Buckingham and others claim the illegitimacy of Edward V and his brother and the need for the Protector to assume the crown. Richard was persuaded to occupy the throne on June 26, and on July 6 he was crowned with unusual ceremony as Richard III. Numerous pardons were given, although the June 25 execution of Lord Rivers, Lord Richard Grey, and Sir Thomas Vaughan showed little mercy for the Woodvilles. These deaths, the uncertain fate of the princes in the Tower, and the confinement of Clarence's son, Edward of Warwick, were evidence of at least some legal and moral confusion surrounding the new king.

In July, Richard commenced a royal progress through western and northern England, culminating in the September 8 ceremonies at York investing his only legitimate son, 10-year-old Edward, as Prince of Wales. At Lincoln on October 11, Richard learned that Buckingham was preparing a revolt in support of the exiled Henry Tudor on the claim that the princes in the Tower were dead by Richard's orders. Richard collected troops that dispersed Buckingham's forces and drove off Henry in October 1483. For this rebellion the duke was executed, but many of the rebels were pardoned.

In April 1484 Edward, Prince of Wales, died, leaving Richard with no successor who would have a clear title and the ability to continue the compacts of feudal loyalty beyond the King's lifetime. Richard eventually selected as his heir the Earl of Lincoln, son of the Duke of Suffolk and Richard's sister Elizabeth.

As Queen Anne declined with tuberculosis in 1484, Richard seems to have considered the possibility of a second marriage, to his niece, Elizabeth of York, already the object of Henry Tudor's political affections. However, Anne's death on March 16, 1485, started the canard that Richard had poisoned her in order to be free to marry again. Richard publicly denied all intention of marriage to his niece and sent her from the court.

On Aug. 7, 1485, Henry Tudor landed at Milford Haven with 2,000 men and gained swift support from his fellow Welshmen. From Nottingham, Richard ordered an array of troops, and on August 22 the opposing forces met at Bosworth Field. Richard led a charge on Henry's bodyguard in the hope of slaying his rival but was himself killed by Lord Stanley's soldiers. The victor was proclaimed King Henry VII, and Richard's corpse was stripped and carried on horseback to exposure at Leicester and burial at the Grey Friars.


Further Reading on Richard III

The biography by Paul Murray Kendall, Richard the Third (1955), provides a thoughtful interpretation and comprehensive bibliography. Also useful is Sir Clements Markham, Richard III: His Life and Character (1906; repr. 1968). James Gairdner, Richard III (1898), is a fair appraisal, accurate in its use of sources. The biography attributed to Sir Thomas More in 1513, The History of King Richard III (1963), inspired much of the Tudor propaganda on Richard as "royal monster." Recommended general political histories for the period are E. F. Jacob, The Fifteenth Century (1961); S.B. Chrimes, Lancastrians, Yorkists and Henry VII (1964); J. R. Lander, The Wars of the Roses (1966); and A. L. Rowse, Bosworth Field (1966).