Richard III

Richard III deposed his young nephew to become the King of England. He was defeated at the battle of Bosworth Fields by Henry Richmond, who became Henry VII. Richard’s defeat is considered the last battle of the War of the Roses.

Richard III (1452–1485), king of England and lord of Ireland, was born on 2 October 1452 at Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire, the youngest surviving child of Richard, third duke of York (1411–1460), and Cecily, duchess of York (1415–1495), the daughter of Ralph Neville, first earl of Westmorland, and Joan Beaufort.

Childhood 1452–1468

Little is known of Richard's early life, although he can occasionally be glimpsed on the margins of the developing struggle for power between his father and the circle around Henry VI's queen, Margaret of Anjou. After the Yorkist rout at Ludford in 1459 Cecily Neville submitted to Henry VI and was placed in the keeping of her sister Anne, duchess of Buckingham, with an annual allowance of 1000 marks for the maintenance of herself and her younger children. It may be during the months after Ludford that Richard and his elder brother George were in the care of the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bourchier, who was later (in December 1471) to be rewarded by Edward IV for supporting the king's brothers ‘for a long time at great charges’ (Ross, Richard III, 7).

The Sheldon portrait of Richard III
The Sheldon portrait of Richard III

In July 1460 the political situation was transformed by the Yorkist victory at Northampton. In September Cecily and her three youngest children, Margaret, George, and Richard, arrived in London to await the return of the duke of York from Ireland. They stayed in the Southwark house formerly owned by [[Fastolfe| Sir John Fastolf]]], where the children remained (visited daily by their eldest brother, Edward, earl of March) while the duchess travelled to meet her husband. On his return York asserted his claim to the throne, and, in a compromise solution, was recognized as Henry VI's heir. This agreement, which disinherited Edward of Lancaster, was never likely to hold, and on 30 December York's forces clashed with those of the queen near Wakefield, and York and his second son, Edmund, were killed. The royal army then advanced towards London, meeting and defeating an army under the command of the earl of Warwick at St Albans on 17 February.

With the Lancastrian army at the gates of London, George and Richard were sent for safety to Burgundy. Their arrival was something of a diplomatic embarrassment for Duke Philip and they were initially placed in the household of the bishop of Utrecht, one of the duke's illegitimate sons. News of the battle of Towton (29 March) and Edward IV's accession transformed them into visitors of consequence, and the brothers were invited to the ducal court at Bruges before returning to England early in June. On 26 June, as part of the ceremonial preceding Edward's coronation two days later, both brothers were created knights of the Bath, but, whereas George was made duke of Clarence at the coronation, Richard had to wait until 1 November before becoming duke of Gloucester. He was still only nine, and his early grants were clearly regarded as provisional, with much of what he was given in August 1462 subsequently regranted, including the forfeited de Vere estates, which were restored to the earl of Oxford at the beginning of 1464.

Richard was left with a geographically scattered collection, designed to provide him with an income rather than any sort of power base. In 1465 he was granted the duchy of Lancaster lordships of Bolingbroke, Lincolnshire, and Pickering and Barnoldswick, Yorkshire, but evidently enjoyed no direct influence within the lordships, where the officers remained unchanged. The three lordships yielded £1000, and the grant was probably designed to meet Richard's costs within the household of his cousin, Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, which he had entered by Michaelmas 1465. He had spent some, at least, of the previous years with Margaret and George at Greenwich, in an establishment under the aegis of the royal household. It is possible that the period when he was in Archbishop Bourchier's care should also be dated to the early 1460s rather than to 1459–60.

First steps in war and politics, 1468–1471

Richard probably remained in his cousin's household until late in 1468, when he was sixteen; it is likely that, as with his brother Clarence, he was then deemed to have come of age. In February 1469 he was with the king, and took an active role in the trial for treason of Henry Courtenay and Thomas Hungerford. Late in 1468 Richard had been granted the forfeited estates of Thomas's father, Robert, Lord Hungerford: a sign that Edward was trying to put together an endowment for his youngest brother. But royal resources were in short supply. When in May 1469 Richard was granted a significant collection of duchy of Lancaster land, including Clitheroe, Liverpool, and Halton, the grant cut across the existing interests of Thomas, Lord Stanley, and triggered a dispute in which Edward IV had to intervene in 1470.

Richard's emergence on the public scene took place against a background of growing opposition to Edward IV from Clarence and Warwick. In spite of his links with the earl, Richard's loyalties remained with Edward, and he was with the king in Norwich when trouble finally erupted in June 1469. His movements over the next few months are unclear. He was apparently not with the king when Edward was captured by the rebels in July and is next mentioned in October, when Edward, having reasserted his freedom of action, returned to London. The death of several of Edward's leading allies in the rebellion meant that Richard's loyalty could now be rewarded. On 17 October he became constable of England in succession to the king's father-in-law, the executed Earl Rivers. A month later Richard was granted the castle and manor of Sudeley, Gloucestershire, but his major gain from the events of 1469 was the acquisition, for the first time, of a regional sphere of influence. The rebels' execution of William Herbert, earl of Pembroke, had seriously compromised royal authority in Wales, and the grant to Richard of Herbert's key offices, including the justiciarships of north and south Wales and the stewardship of the principality, cast him, in effect, as Herbert's replacement. His influence, unlike that of Herbert, did not have a territorial base, apart from Chirk, which he had held since September 1462 and where he was retaining men in 1470. He was essentially intended to act as a focus for lesser royal servants in the region. But that role was an important one, actively pursued. Richard probably left for Wales in November 1469 and may have spent most of the next few months there. He was certainly in Wales in mid-June 1470 when he presided as justiciar over the Carmarthenshire great sessions.

By that date Edward had weathered another rebellion by Clarence and Warwick, who, after gaining little support, had fled to France. There is no evidence that Richard played any part in the suppression of the rebellion itself, but in July he joined Edward in mopping up one of the after-effects: the rebellion of Warwick's kinsman, Lord Fitzhugh, in Yorkshire. In August he was granted Warwick's forfeited office of warden of the west march, although there is no other suggestion that he was intended to take over the Neville role in the north. The king's plans must, however, remain doubtful, for in September Warwick and Clarence invaded with French backing to restore Henry VI and it was the turn of Edward and Richard to escape into exile, sailing from Bishop's Lynn on 29 September. Their ships were scattered by storms, and Richard landed at Weilingen in Zeeland, while Edward put ashore further north, at Texel, but by the middle of October the exiles had assembled at The Hague as the guests of Louis, Lord Gruthuyse.

Charles, duke of Burgundy, was initially not convinced that he wished to help his brother-in-law regain the throne, but the alliance of the new regime in England with France, and the increasingly bellicose stance taken by Louis XI, changed his mind, and at the beginning of January 1471 he agreed to support Edward's invasion of England. The fleet sailed early in March and, after an abortive landing near Cromer, where they were opposed by the earl of Oxford, landed in Holderness on 14 March. The Yorkist army defeated Warwick at the battle of Barnet on 14 April and then the Lancastrian army at Tewkesbury on 4 May. Richard commanded the vanguard in the second battle, and may also have held a command at Barnet, where none of the Yorkist commanders, other than the king, is named by the chroniclers. After returning with his brother to London, Richard was sent ahead of the king into Kent to deal with Thomas Neville, the Bastard of Fauconberg, who had led an assault on London in the king's absence. Neville submitted to Richard at Sandwich on 27 May.

Heir of Neville: marriage

Richard, predictably, was the chief beneficiary of Edward's restoration, emerging as the heir to Neville power in the north. On 29 June he was granted the Neville strongholds of Middleham, Sheriff Hutton, and Penrith. On 14 July this was superseded by a grant of all the lands in Yorkshire and Cumberland entailed to Richard Neville and his heirs male. He also assumed the key offices held by Warwick in the region, notably the chief stewardship of the duchy of Lancaster in the north, which he was formally granted on 4 July but which he had been exercising at least since the beginning of June, and which gave him extensive influence from Lincolnshire and Leicestershire northwards. These grants formed the foundation of what became a great northern power base for Richard. The grant of the Neville lands meant that the earl's retainers, in urgent need of effective lordship following Warwick's death at Barnet, turned naturally to Richard, and he was retaining within the lordship of Middleham by August 1471. The grant of the duchy stewardship put him at the head of the royal servants in the north, for whom duchy patronage provided the major source of reward and influence.

The grants thus benefited Richard. But they also benefited the king. There had been disaffection in the north for much of Edward's first reign: in the beginning from committed Lancastrians, and later from Warwick. The assertion of Richard's authority was de facto the assertion of royal authority. The reverse was also true, and much of Richard's authority in the north derived from contemporary awareness that he had royal backing. The steady extension of Richard's hold on the north after 1471 should therefore not be seen as unilateral empire building by an ‘over-mighty’ subject. It was achieved with royal approval and was dependent on the continuance of that approval.

Warwick's patrimony had come to Richard by an exercise of royal patronage: since it was held in tail male it should have passed to Warwick's nephew George on the earl's death. But c.1472 Richard married Warwick's second daughter, Anne (1456–1485), the widow of Edward of Lancaster, and thus became eligible for a share of the Beauchamp and Despenser lands that had come to the earl by marriage. Clarence, who had married Anne's sister Isabel in 1469, was strongly opposed to the prospect of Anne's marriage, reputedly even to the extent of trying to hide her from his brother. The ensuing dispute between the two men was not finally resolved until 1474, when the land was divided between them as if the dowager countess were dead. Richard's major gain in the north was Barnard Castle, which allowed him to extend his influence into the county of Durham, but he also acquired land in Derbyshire and Hertfordshire, which he exchanged in 1475 for land in Yorkshire, notably the castle and lordship of Scarborough. In another exchange accomplished under the royal aegis in 1475, Richard received the Clifford barony in the West Riding, consisting of Skipton and Marton in Craven, from William Stanley in exchange for Chirk. In the same year Richard was made sheriff of Cumberland for life, with the demesne lands of the castle of Carlisle.

Northern pre-eminence

By 1475 Richard had emerged as the pre-eminent nobleman in the north-east and far north-west. The only area outside his sphere of influence was Lancashire and Cheshire. The grant made to him of land there in 1469 had been replaced in 1471 by a grant of office, but even that trespassed on Stanley interests, and there seems to have been continuing friction between them. By 1475 it was clear that Richard was not going to absorb central Lancashire into his sphere of influence, in spite of his duchy office, although he was the leading figure in Clitheroe and Furness (which complemented his West Riding and Westmorland interests respectively). Elsewhere in the north, however, local noblemen, including the restored earl of Northumberland, apparently accepted a place within the duke of Gloucester's connection.

Richard was never an exclusively northern figure. Although the role envisaged for him in Wales in 1469–70 was abandoned in Edward's second reign, his share of the Warwick inheritance, including Glamorgan and Abergavenny, ensured him a continuing interest in the region, which was strengthened in 1478 when he exchanged the Neville lordship of Elfael for Ogmore. He also held land in East Anglia, where he was granted the lion's share of the forfeited de Vere lands in 1471. These did not include the lands held by the widow of the twelfth earl of Oxford, who was persuaded to make an estate in her lands to Richard in 1473. According to her servants she capitulated under threat of a forced removal to Middleham, which ‘considering her great age, the great journey, and the great cold there then was of frost and snow’ (Hicks, ‘Last days’, 91) she thought would be the death of her. Richard's East Anglian grants from the crown were reordered and somewhat reduced in 1475, and he was subsequently prepared to sell off parts of the de Vere dower lands, implying that he now saw them as peripheral to his main concerns. Similarly, in 1478, he was prepared to exchange Sudeley in Gloucestershire, Farleigh Hungerford in Wiltshire, and Corfe in Dorset for land in Yorkshire forfeited by his executed brother, Clarence, including the castle of Richmond which filled an obvious gap in his Middleham-based domination of Richmondshire.

As brother of the king, Richard's importance was national as well as regional. Throughout Edward's second reign the duke was constable and admiral of England, and was active in both capacities. As constable he presided over the trial of the Lancastrian captives after Tewkesbury, and in 1473 looked into a dispute between two London goldsmiths which was thought to have treasonable overtones: an example of Edward IV's willingness to extend the constable's jurisdiction beyond military and chivalric matters. In 1475 Richard led the largest private retinue on the campaign against France which was ended by the treaty of Picquigny. He did not attend the meeting of Louis and Edward at which the treaty was agreed, and evidently disapproved, although he later paid a courtesy visit to Louis at Amiens. His military skills, unused in France, were not called upon until the end of Edward's reign when the war against Scotland was resumed. Little came of the planned invasion of 1481, which was to have been led by the king in person, but the campaign of 1482 led by Richard penetrated as far as Edinburgh in support of the duke of Albany, who had sought English help against his brother James III. At that point, however, Albany backed down, and the English forces had little option but to retreat, with only the capture of Berwick to show for their efforts. English opinion was divided on the value of the campaign, but in the parliament of 1482–3 Richard was rewarded with the grant of palatine authority in any land that he could capture in the Scottish dales along the west march. He was also given the wardenship of the English west march in hereditary right, along with extensive lands and royal rights in Cumberland, where the shrievalty of the county and control of Carlisle were vested in him and his heirs.

Protector of the realm

Edward IV died on 9 April 1483. His death seems to have taken the political community by surprise. Richard was in the north, and the prince of Wales was with his senior maternal uncle, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, at Ludlow. Immediate authority thus rested with the royal council. Edward's own plans for the succession are unclear, but the implication of the Crowland chronicle is that he favoured the immediate coronation of his twelve-year-old son. Some of the council, however, evidently preferred the idea of a protectorate, for which the obvious candidate was Richard, now Edward IV's only surviving brother. There were clearly anxieties within the council about the degree of influence likely to be wielded over the young king by his maternal kinsmen, the Woodvilles. The debate was, however, overtaken by events at the end of the month, when Richard, en route for London, took possession of the prince at Stony Stratford, and arrested Rivers and other members of the prince's circle. By the time the prince and his uncle entered London on 4 May it seems to have been generally believed that Richard would indeed be protector, and he assumed the office almost immediately.

For the next few weeks the regime functioned smoothly. Richard's claims that the Woodvilles had been threatening to take power by force may not have been believed in detail (and he was unable to secure their execution on the grounds that their actions against him constituted treason) but there seems to have been little sympathy for them, and the protector was able to call on the support of Edward IV's former servants against Rivers's brother Edward Woodville, who was in command of a fleet in the channel. The regime's main problem was financial rather than political. Edward IV had left little cash in hand at his death and it was unclear where the money was to be found for the coronation, now scheduled for 22 June. Richard himself paid £800 towards the king's household expenses within this period. This period of harmony is ignored by the chroniclers, who tend to telescope the seizure of the prince and Richard's usurpation, as if one led inexorably to the other. That was not the case, and the protectorate was still viable when Richard chose to end it.

The usurpation of the throne

The date of that decision can be fixed fairly precisely. On 9 June government was still proceeding as normal, and the council meeting that day was still absorbed in how to meet the costs of the coronation. On 10 June 1483 Richard wrote to York for military help against Queen Elizabeth and her associates ‘which have intended and daily doth intend to murder and utterly destroy us’ (Attreed, 714). A Woodville conspiracy against Richard is not improbable—the measures he had taken against the family since seizing power gave them grounds for resentment—but given their political isolation it is hard to see them as a serious threat. It is more likely that, as at the beginning of May, Richard was maximizing the danger of disaffection as an argument for increasing his own authority as a bulwark against political instability. In April and May it had justified his assumption of the protectorship; now it was tacitly to justify his taking the throne.

On 13 June Edward IV's chamberlain and friend, William, Lord Hastings, was seized and executed at the Tower of London; again, it was claimed, this action was in response to an attempt by him to attack the protector. A more likely explanation is that Hastings had been sounded on Richard's plans to claim the throne and had refused to be party to them. Other councillors were arrested: Lord Stanley, the archbishop of York, and the bishop of Ely. With hindsight it seems a clear avowal of Richard's designs on the throne, but contemporaries apparently still hesitated to draw that conclusion. On 16 June the queen (who had taken sanctuary at Westminster at the end of April) was persuaded by the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of Lincoln to hand over her second son, the duke of York, to attend his brother's coronation. With both the sons of Edward IV in his hands, Richard immediately postponed the coronation, this time until 9 November.

From this point government business began to wind down as men awaited a change of ruler. On 22 June Dr Ralph Shaw publicized Richard's claim to the throne in a sermon at Paul's Cross. According to Dominic Mancini, Richard initially claimed that his brother had been illegitimate, but, if so, this line was afterwards abandoned and it was argued instead that his sons were illegitimate, on the grounds that Edward IV, before his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, had been precontracted to another woman—later identified as Eleanor Butler (née Talbot). Contemporaries, and most subsequent historians, have regarded this as an ex post facto justification for a decision taken on other grounds: Richard took the throne because he wanted it. But that still leaves open the question of Gloucester's motivation. Ambition no doubt played a part, but Richard may also have persuaded himself that he was genuinely the best man to preserve the polity created by his brother. In one sense he was probably right, but many contemporaries were not prepared to accept that the end (the accession of an experienced adult) justified the means (the deposition of a child king).

That hostility was not, however, immediately apparent. Richard's seizure of power evidently happened too quickly, and was too shockingly unexpected, for people to concert opposition. He took his seat at Westminster on 26 June, in a ceremony modelled on that of his brother in 1461, and was crowned on 6 July. At that stage Richard clearly still believed that he had carried all his brother's servants with him, save for the Woodvilles and their immediate circle, and the opening weeks of his reign are marked by almost complete continuity of personnel in central and local government.

The rebellion of 1483

After the coronation Richard set off on a progress around his realm, which was to culminate in his triumphant entry into York on 29 August. Shortly after he left London late in July news reached him of an attempt to rescue the princes from the Tower of London. The attempt had failed, but it probably prompted the princes' death. Certainly contemporaries quickly came to believe that the princes were dead, for, when opposition next surfaced, it did so with Margaret Beaufort's son, Henry Tudor, as its figurehead: an inconceivable choice if Edward V and his brother were thought to be still available. News of the rebellion in Tudor's favour reached Richard as he travelled south through Lincolnshire in the second week of October, although it took time for the full extent of the unrest to become apparent. The rebellion affected English counties south of a line from the Wash to the River Severn. It was probably also intended to include Wales, where the elevation during the protectorate of Richard's ally, the duke of Buckingham, had challenged the power of Edward IV's servants in the region; but Buckingham's decision to join the rebels neutralized that element of the rising directed against him, and Tudor writers were agreed that it was the failure of Buckingham to win support that led to the collapse of the rising elsewhere. By the beginning of November the rebellion was effectively over.

Although the rebellion had collapsed without coming to battle, it left Richard III with two uncomfortable legacies. One was the existence, for the first time since 1471, of an acknowledged rival claimant to the throne. The other was the revelation that Richard did not, as he had assumed, enjoy the support of his brother's former servants in the south, many of whom had joined the rebels. The king's response was to use the land and offices forfeited by the rebels to establish trusted servants, many of them from the north-east, in the areas most badly affected by the rebellion, where they could spearhead the reassertion of royal authority: a process which was already under way before the attainder of the rebels in the parliament of January 1484. This ‘plantation’ of outsiders was deeply unpopular, and was to breed further disaffection in the counties concerned.

Continuing unrest

In the short term, however, the rebellion's failure brought Richard a few months of apparently unchallenged authority. Parliament endorsed his title to the throne and granted him the customs revenues for life. Some rebels had sued for pardon before parliament rose, and escaped attainder; others returned to the fold in the course of the spring. But in July 1484 there were further signs of unrest. A commission was appointed to investigate ‘great treasons’ in the south-west, and, in London, William Collingbourne and others conspired to incite Tudor to invade. On 18 July Collingbourne pinned rhymes and ballads of seditious language on the doors of St Paul's including, presumably, the doggerel credited to him by Tudor writers:
The Cat, the Rat and Lovell our Dog
Rule all England under a Hog.
(Ross, Richard III, xxxiii)
Although Richard's inner circle was not limited to William Catesby, Richard Ratcliffe, and Francis, Viscount Lovell (the others, including James Tyrell and Marmaduke Constable, did not lend themselves to animal imagery), the verse highlights Richard's identification with an unacceptably narrow clique.

There was more unrest in the winter of 1484–5, centred on Essex and Hertfordshire but with links to the Calais garrison, where the commander of Hammes, James Blount, freed the Lancastrian earl of Oxford and went with him to Tudor. Again the unrest came to nothing, partly at least because Tudor was not yet ready to act. But it involved members of Richard's own household: former servants of Edward IV who had initially supported Richard but had now reconsidered their position. This continuing seepage of loyalty reflects the growing credibility of Henry Tudor. At Christmas 1483 Tudor had strengthened his appeal to disaffected Yorkists by promising to marry Edward IV's daughter Elizabeth were he to gain the throne. Of more practical consequence, however, was his acquisition of military backing from France. After the collapse of the rising of 1483 Tudor had returned to Brittany, and during 1484 Richard had been negotiating with Pierre Landais, the Breton treasurer, for Tudor's surrender. By autumn the negotiations were close to success, but Tudor was alerted and escaped to France, offering Charles VIII a chance of putting pressure on England. Polydore Vergil, who was well informed about this stage in Tudor's career, noted that once he was based in France men began to make their way from England to join him.

The search for stability

Richard's response to Tudor's growing authority was to seek an understanding with the Woodvilles. Edward IV's daughters had left sanctuary and entered Richard's care in March 1484, but the first indication of a real thaw in relations came at Christmas 1484, when the attention paid by Richard to his niece Elizabeth scandalized the Crowland chronicler. The king's motives were, however, likely to have been political rather than sexual. In January Richard Woodville and John Fogge bound themselves to be faithful lieges of the king, and in March Richard Haute of Ightham, like Fogge a close Woodville associate, secured a royal pardon. Richard had also won over Elizabeth Woodville and it was probably about this time that she persuaded her son the marquess of Dorset to abandon Tudor and return to England, although the plan was foiled by Humphrey Cheyne, one of the other exiles in Tudor's company.

In England, too, there were powerful vested interests opposed to the Woodvilles' rehabilitation. On 16 March 1485 Queen Anne died and Richard, whose only legitimate son had died the previous year, began the search for a second wife. Joanna of Portugal was among the candidates under consideration and so, evidently, was Elizabeth of York. Indeed the rumour that reached Tudor claimed Richard had already married her—news which, in Vergil's graphic phrase, ‘pinched him by the very stomach’ (Polydore Vergil's ‘English History’, 215). But Henry's anxiety was premature. According to the Crowland chronicler, Catesby and Ratcliffe were intent on blocking the proposed marriage. They found canonists to argue that it would be impossible to secure a dispensation for an uncle's marriage to his niece, and further claimed that such a marriage would lose Richard the support of his northern allies, who would think that Richard had murdered Anne Neville in order to marry Elizabeth. The claim echoes the Crowland chronicler's own suspicions of Richard's relationship to Elizabeth, but he adds that the counsellors' real motive was unwillingness to see the restoration of the Woodvilles.

Faced with such opposition Richard publicly denied that he had considered marriage to Elizabeth. His declaration, made before ‘the substance of all our household’ (Attreed, 360), was a tacit assurance that the interests of his servants who had benefited from the forfeitures of the Woodvilles and others would be protected. The episode reveals the extent to which Richard's reliance on trusted associates in the aftermath of the rebellion of 1483 had created a power base that was not only limited but self-limiting. Richard therefore had little hope of winning over former opponents, and instead had to deal with opposition as it occurred. Although he issued orders against seditious speech and probably engaged in counter-espionage, the efficacy of such measures is likely to have been limited.

Even so, time was probably on Richard's side. Much of Henry Tudor's credibility derived from French backing and, if French policy towards England changed, that backing would be withdrawn. As king, Richard still commanded obedience. Although there are signs that the associates of the inner circle to whom he turned for particularly sensitive assignments were finding themselves overstretched, the routine manifestations of royal government (such as local commissions) could still be maintained. In spite of the erosion of loyalty, in practical terms Richard's regime had not ceased to be viable.

The king's difficulties in 1485 were not only political. Finance was evidently also a problem. Richard had inherited an empty treasury from his brother, although he may have taken over Edward's jewels and plate, the fate of which is unknown. One measure of financial stringency is likely to be the truce with Scotland in September 1484. Richard had probably regarded the campaigns of 1481–2 against Scotland as ‘his’ war, and he agreed to the truce grudgingly. Another sign of difficulty is his request for loans from his subjects in February and March 1485. These were not the same as the ‘benevolences’ to which Edward IV had resorted and which Richard had outlawed in parliament—which were gifts rather than loans—but the Crowland chronicler thought that there was nothing to choose between them, and the insistence of Tudor chroniclers that Richard had squandered the wealth left by Edward IV, although assuming a royal hoard which (in cash terms, at least) did not exist, may also be testimony to contemporary dislike of his financial expedients. Those expedients also included maximizing the yield from the royal lands, and from what would later be called ‘prerogative’ revenues—tactics previously employed by Edward IV.

The Bosworth campaign

The military defeat of Tudor would have resolved many of Richard's problems, as well as giving him the divine sanction that his regime signally lacked, and it is likely that Richard genuinely welcomed his rival's invasion. According to the Crowland chronicler, when the king heard of Tudor's landing he rejoiced; after his victory he would ‘comfort his subjects with the blessings of unchallenged peace’ (Pronay and Cox, 176). But the king's public confidence was misplaced. When the two armies met near Dadlington, Leicestershire, on 22 August 1485 the victory was Tudor's, although Richard, who had the larger army, seems to have come close to success. Almost nothing is known of the course of the battle, now known as the battle of Bosworth after the nearby town of Market Bosworth, but it is generally assumed that the climax of the engagement was a charge against Tudor's position led by the king in person. The Yorkist forces apparently came very close to Tudor himself, but at the last moment William Stanley threw in his troops, hitherto unengaged, on Tudor's side, and Richard was overwhelmed and killed, ‘fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies’ (Polydore Vergil's ‘English History’, 224).

Richard had already been aware of the risk from the Stanleys. Indeed he had probably expected Thomas, Lord Stanley, to support his stepson Henry Tudor in 1483. In the event he did not, and Richard's surprise as much as his gratitude is reflected in the rewards that Stanley received and in the lenient treatment accorded to his wife, Margaret Beaufort, who was Tudor's mother. This harmony had eroded by the summer of 1485, when Richard was not prepared to allow Lord Stanley to leave court unless he left his son George, Lord Strange, as hostage for his good behaviour. This subsequently kept Lord Thomas from the battle, and the family forces were led instead by his brother William. In spite of Richard's manifest hostility, William Stanley seems to have hesitated before committing his men on Tudor's side, which may imply that even when battle was engaged Stanley thought Richard likely to win.

Richard III and the north

By the time William Stanley acted, Richard's numerical superiority had probably been eroded by the failure of the earl of Northumberland to engage his troops. Recent writers have been divided on whether the earl's inactivity was deliberate, but most have regarded him as the leader of the many who, according to Vergil, ‘forbore to fight … and departed without any danger, as men who desired not the safety but destruction of that prince whom they hated’ (Polydore Vergil's ‘English History’, 224). If Northumberland was sufficiently disenchanted to withhold his support, it was presumably as a result of Richard's manifest unwillingness to allow him to take over his own former role in the north. Once the rebellion of 1483 had shown the limits of southern support for the new regime, Richard's northern retinue became a vital prop to royal authority, and something which he could not risk allowing to pass under other control. Initially Richard's former ducal council, now nominally acting for his son Edward, served as a focus for the king's affinity. After Edward's death in April 1484 the council was reconstituted as the council in the north, and was headed, not by Northumberland, but by the king's nephew John, earl of Lincoln, whose independent standing in the north was negligible. In spite of Lincoln's royal status (he may by this date have been regarded as Richard's heir apparent), Northumberland must have seen the appointment as a snub.

Richard's accession had brought the north into a new, and much more immediate, relationship with the crown. The treatment of Northumberland suggests that the change might not have been without its problems, but, for those of Richard's northern associates who benefited from the forfeitures of his opponents, his brief reign must have seemed a golden age. Francis Bacon, writing of the rising of 1489 in which Northumberland was killed, blamed it on the fact that in the north ‘the memory of King Richard was so strong that it lay like lees in the bottom of men's hearts, and if the vessel was but stirred it would come up’ (Bacon, 94). Richard's self-identification with the north is reflected in his plans for a chantry of 100 priests in York Minster, where he surely hoped to be buried. In the event his body was taken from the battlefield for burial in the church of the Franciscans at Leicester. In 1495 Henry VII paid for a tomb, but the body was never (as in the case of other deposed kings) translated to a more prestigious burial site, and the tomb was destroyed at the Reformation.

Image and reputation

One strand of Henry Tudor's justification for taking the throne was that he was rescuing England from a tyrant, and Richard III's reputation inevitably darkened under his successors in a way that Edward IV's did not—partly because of Henry VII's marriage to Elizabeth of York and partly because the early Tudor regime was very largely staffed by Edward IV's men. This initial image of a king who seized power and ruled unjustly, best exemplified in the work of Polydore Vergil, gradually developed into a more elaborate picture of an ambitious man intent on clearing his way to the throne from at least 1471. This picture, most potently embodied in Shakespeare's tetralogy (of which Richard III is the shocking denouement), presented Richard's career as a series of calculating murders: Edward of Lancaster and Henry VI in 1471; Clarence in 1478; Hastings, Rivers, Vaughan, and Grey in June 1483; Edward V and his brother later that year; and finally Richard's own wife in 1485. Shakespeare's Richard III was compellingly depicted on film by Laurence Olivier (1955) and Ian McKellen (1995).

Much subsequent writing about the reign centred on whether what came to be called the ‘Tudor myth’ was true or not. Sir George Buck, who died in 1622, and Horace Walpole, whose Historic Doubts appeared in 1767, were early defenders of the king (although Walpole did have second thoughts), and efforts to reverse the Tudor view culminated in Clements Markham in 1906, who saw all hostile references to Richard as the product of Tudor propaganda. Twentieth-century scholarly treatments of the reign have tended to occupy a middle ground, although some popular treatments have remained polarized, including A. L. Rowse's Bosworth Field (1966), which accepts Shakespeare as a legitimate historical source for the reign, and P. M. Kendall's sympathetic Richard III (1955).

It is easy to refute the ‘Tudor myth’, with its cold-blooded schemer who revels in evil. Responsibility for the death of Henry VI and Clarence rests at Edward IV's door, although in the latter case it is probably fair to say that Edward could not have executed one brother without at least the tacit acquiescence of the other. There is no evidence that Richard had ambitions to seize the crown before Edward's death, and no evidence that he was someone who enjoyed violence for its own sake. When he ordered the death of his nephews he may very well have justified it to himself (as he justified his own usurpation) as a way of averting unrest, although that, of course, was synonymous with securing his own position. It is unlikely in the extreme that Richard murdered his own wife. But Richard's bad reputation was not entirely a Tudor creation. His usurpation was profoundly shocking, and it is striking that many of the rebels in 1483 had no material motive to rebel, since Richard had shown himself willing to keep them in office. The continuing seepage of loyalty later in the reign also suggests growing reservations in some circles about the propriety of Richard's regime.

These reservations derived from Richard's inability to deliver the continuity and stability that he had promised—the tacit justification of his usurpation. In 1483 he had identified the Woodvilles with factionalism, but his own regime came to be perceived as dominated by a regional clique. Although he expressed a strong commitment to the maintenance of law and order, his reign was marked by unrest and the large-scale seizure of forfeited land, which would have been unsettling in itself, but also led to actions of dubious legality. Richard was condemned out of his own mouth, and it is significant that one of the early criticisms of him was that he was a hypocrite: the word used by William Burton of York in 1491.

Burton also described Richard as a ‘crochebak’, a description that was to figure largely in later accounts of the king. If Richard did have some physical deformity it is likely to have been slight, probably no more than the uneven shoulders mentioned by Rous and Vergil. Contemporary chroniclers seem agreed that he was small and slight, and the Crowland chronicler refers to his haggard face, a detail that gains support from the most nearly contemporary portraits. These also show Richard fiddling with his rings and tight-lipped, an image of nerviness that recurs in the chronicles, most graphically in Vergil's description of him biting his lower lip, and ‘ever with his right hand pulling out of the sheath to the middle, and putting in again, the dagger which he did always wear’ (Polydore Vergil's ‘English History’, 227).

The king's character

Richard's character is even more contentious than his appearance. Many of his attributes were conventional: he enjoyed splendour, he was devout, committed to law and order, an accomplished soldier. But these were the attributes to which anyone of his social standing would aspire. Some traits, however, were more personal. Richard's piety, which manifested itself in conventional ways, seems to have been coloured in his later years by a deep sense of insecurity, at least judging by the prayer for King Richard copied into his book of hours, in which the king identifies himself with unjustly persecuted heroes and heroines of the Old Testament. Earlier in his career he may more naturally have associated himself with the judges and commanders of Israel. His career as a soldier was evidently important to him, and was accompanied by the physical bravery to which Vergil testifies. But it is his role as arbiter and judge that appears most strongly in the records, and there is no reason to doubt his assertion, uttered twice in the course of an Essex legal dispute, that ‘we intend, nor will none otherwise do at any time, but according to the king's laws’ (Horrox, Richard III: a Study of Service, 66).

Richard's career in the north showed him capable of inspiring great loyalty, although this is much less marked after his accession, perhaps in part because of the strain he found himself under. His sense of insecurity may explain the apparent deviousness that Tudor writers thought they could identify in him. In other respects he does not seem to have been the calculating schemer of later writing. On the contrary, confronted with a problem, Richard seems to have had a preference for immediate action. His usurpation and reign rested on a whole series of short-term solutions, and many of the difficulties of his reign had their roots in his apparent failure to think through the likely consequences of his actions. Impulsiveness of a rather different kind comes across in Nikolaus von Poppelau's account of his meeting with the king in 1484. It was to Poppelau that Richard blurted ‘With my own people alone and without the help of other princes I should like to drive away not only the Turks, but all my foes’ (Usurpation of Richard III, 137). Poppelau may have been responding to this openness in Richard when he praised the king's ‘great heart’, and Vergil, for all his belief in Richard's dissembling, paid a similar tribute to his ‘courage … high and fierce’ (Polydore Vergil's ‘English History’, 227).

Richard and his wife had only one surviving son: Edward, who was probably born in 1476 and died in April 1484. Richard also had two acknowledged bastards: John and Katherine. It is not known when they were born. John, variously described as of Gloucester and of Pontefract, was made captain of Calais in March 1485, and went there in person. He was presumably back in England by the first year of Henry VII's reign, when he was granted an annuity of £20 from Kingston Lacy, Dorset. The manor had previously been Richard's, and the annuity may therefore be a confirmation of provision earlier made by Richard himself. John's later career is not known, but he is presumably the illegitimate son of King Richard who died in captivity in the Tower at about the time of the Warbeck–Warwick conspiracy. Katherine was betrothed in February 1484 to William Herbert, earl of Huntingdon, the marriage to take place before Michaelmas. At the coronation of Queen Elizabeth on 25 November 1487 Herbert is described as a widower, so Katherine may then have been dead, or Herbert may have repudiated the marriage.

Rosemary Horrox

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