Richard III of England

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: British History 1500 and before (including Roman Britain); Monarchs of Great Britain

King Richard III of England
By the Grace of God, King of England
and France and Lord of Ireland
Reign 20 June 1483– 22 Aug 1485

2 years 2 months 2 days

Coronation 6 July 1483
Born 2 October 1452
Fotheringay Castle
Died August 22, 1485 (aged 32)
Bosworth Field, Leicestershire
Buried Greyfriars Abbey, Leicestershire,
disinterred and body lost during
the Dissolution of the Monasteries
Predecessor Edward V
Successor Henry VII
Consort Anne Neville (c. 1456– 1485)
Issue Edward, Prince of Wales
( 1473– 1484)
Royal House York
Father Richard, Duke of York ( 1411– 1460)
Mother Cecily Neville ( 1415– 1495)

Richard III ( 2 October 1452 – 22 August 1485) was King of England from 1483 until his death. He was the last king from the House of York, and his defeat at the Battle of Bosworth marked the culmination of the Wars of the Roses and the end of the Plantagenet dynasty. After the death of his brother King Edward IV, Richard briefly governed as regent for Edward's son King Edward V with the title of Lord Protector, but he placed Edward and his brother Richard in the Tower (see Princes in the Tower) and acquired the throne for himself, being crowned on 6 July 1483. Two large-scale rebellions rose against Richard. The first, in 1483, was led by old die-hard opponents of Edward IV and, most notably, Richard's own 'kingmaker', Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. The revolt collapsed and Buckingham was executed at Salisbury, near the Bull's Head Inn. However, in 1485, another rebellion arose against Richard, headed by Henry Tudor, 2nd Earl of Richmond (later King Henry VII) and his uncle Jasper. The rebels landed troops and Richard fell in the Battle of Bosworth Field, then known as Redemore or Dadlington Field, as the last Plantagenet king and the last English king to die in battle.


Richard was born at Fotheringay Castle, the eighth and youngest, and fourth surviving, son of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York (who had been a strong claimant to the throne of King Henry VI) and Cecily Neville. Richard spent much of his childhood at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale, under the tutelage of his uncle Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick. He was involved in ongoing battles between various alliances of the House of Lancaster and the House of York factions during the last half of the 15th Century. At the time of the death of his father and older brother Edmund at the Battle of Wakefield, Richard was still a boy, and at that time he was taken into the care of Warwick, known to history as "The Kingmaker" because of his strong influence on the course of the Wars of the Roses. Warwick was instrumental in deposing Henry VI and replacing him with Richard's eldest brother, Edward. While Richard was at Warwick's estate, he developed a close friendship with Francis Lovell, a friendship that would remain strong for the rest of his life. Another child in the household was Warwick's daughter Anne Neville, whom Richard would later marry.


Following the decisive Yorkist victory over the Lancastrians at the Battle of Tewkesbury, Richard married the widowed Anne Neville, younger daughter of the late Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick. Anne's first husband had been Edward of Westminster, son of Henry VI. Following his death at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, she disappears from the records for a while, her whereabouts unknown. It is popularly believed that she had fallen under the control of George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, who had an interest in preventing her from marrying again, because it gave him full control over the joint inheritance of Anne and her elder sister Isabella Neville, Duchess of Clarence, George's wife. Richard is said to have found Anne working as a scullery maid in a London chophouse and "rescued" her but the truth of the matter is not known. Their marriage took place on 12 July 1472. He was seen to have wept openly at her funeral in 1485, and there are no reports of open unhappiness in their marriage.

Richard and Anne had one son, Edward Plantagenet (also known as Edward of Middleham, 1473 – 9 April 1484), who died not long after being created Prince of Wales. Richard also had a number of illegitimate children, including John of Gloucester and a daughter named Katharine-married to William Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. It has been thought that their mother may have been one Katherine Haute, who is mentioned in household records. Both of these children survived Richard. Neither apparently left any descendant.

Reign of Edward IV

During the reign of his brother, King Edward IV, Richard demonstrated his loyalty and skill as a military commander. He was rewarded with large estates in Northern England, awarded the title Duke of Gloucester and appointed as Governor of the North, becoming the richest and most powerful noble in England and a loyal aide to Edward IV. In contrast, the other surviving brother, George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, was executed by Edward for treason.

English Royalty
House of York

Armorial of Plantagenet
Richard III
    Edward, Prince of Wales

Richard controlled the north of England until Edward IV's death. In 1482 Richard recaptured Berwick-upon-Tweed from the Scots, and his administration was regarded as being fair and just, endowing universities and making grants to the church.

Accession to the Throne

On the death of Edward IV, on 9 April 1483, the late King's sons (Richard's young nephews), King Edward V, aged 12, and Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York, aged 9, were considered to be next in the order of succession. Appointed Lord Protector of the Realm in his brother's will, Richard was aware of a danger that the Woodvilles would isolate him and would use their influence over Edward V to consolidate their power at Richard's expense.

When the boy King's retinue was on its way from Wales to London, for his coronation, Richard and Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham joined them at Northampton. He had the king's guardian, Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers, (brother of Elizabeth Woodville, Edward's Queen Consort) and other advisors arrested and taken to Pontefract Castle, allegedly for planning to assassinate Edward V. Richard then took Edward to stay at the Tower of London (then a royal palace), a move widely supported since much of the country distrusted the former queen's family. Richard called himself Lord Protector and was also made Chief Councillor (head of government).

John Morton, Bishop of Ely and later Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VII, is considered by some to be an important source of the Tudor propaganda against Richard III. According to Sir Thomas More's History, which may be based in part on Morton's accounts, Lord Hastings (a regular visitor to the young Edward V in the Tower of London) was arrested for alleged treason on 13 June 1483 at a meeting of the Royal Council, at the Tower. A few minutes later, he is said to have been beheaded on Tower Green, a clear violation of his rights (i.e., execution without due process) as a Peer guaranteed under Magna Carta. It has been argued that Hastings, whose execution was the first recorded at the Tower of London, was indeed arrested on 13 June, but later formally charged with treason, tried, convicted and sentenced, and legally executed on 18 June; no record of such proceedings survives. Edward's younger brother, Richard, was removed to the Tower on 16 June, with his mother's consent.

It is thought that Hastings had allied himself with the Queen Dowager because of the rise in influence of Buckingham and what he saw as Richard's usurpation of the throne. Morton claimed to have been in the council room when Hastings was arrested, and may have been one of several men who were detained for participating in the conspiracy with Hastings.

Three other members of the alleged conspiracy: the queen's brother Lord Rivers, her second son Richard Grey, and another chamberlain Sir Thomas Vaughan — were also convicted and executed elsewhere. Jane (or Elizabeth) Shore, who had been a mistress of King Edward IV, and then of his step-son Thomas Grey, 1st Marquess of Dorset, and was now Hastings's mistress, was convicted of only lesser offences and was made to do public penance and briefly imprisoned. Thomas Grey avoided prosecution in the conspiracy by going into sanctuary at Westminster with his mother.

Morton is also thought to be the source of other questionable accusations against Richard, notably:

  • the murder of Henry VI
  • the "private execution" of his brother George, Duke of Clarence
  • the murder of his wife's first husband, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales
  • forcing Anne Neville, to marry him against her will
  • killing Anne Neville so he could marry his niece, Elizabeth of York
  • accusing Jane Shore and Elizabeth Woodville of witchcraft in withering his arm
  • being illegitimate himself

Each of these stories first appears in writing either in Sir Thomas More's The History of King Richard III, believed by some to be based on Morton's account, or on the writings of someone else who had heard the stories. Historians are divided on the issue of Morton's importance as a source, some pointing out that More's own father was an Edwardian loyalist and well-connected in the government of the City of London. The question of whether these stories were true was of great interest to neither Morton nor More, history at that time being regarded as a branch of literature. It was customary for histories to serve as propaganda on both sides, to support and strengthen the cause of a patron. Morton, having been arrested by Richard III, had fled to exile in Flanders. He only returned when Henry VII was on the throne and was quickly promoted.

On June 22, 1483, outside St Paul's Cathedral, a statement was read out on behalf of Richard declaring for the first time that he was taking the throne for himself. When the members of Parliament met on June 25, it apparently heard evidence from the Bishop of Bath that he had conducted a marriage or betrothal between Edward IV and one Lady Eleanor Talbot (or Butler) before his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. Since even a betrothal was a legally binding "pre-contract" in the customs of the time, Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had been bigamous, therefore all their children were illegitimate. Some of the proceedings of that Parliamentary session survive in a document known as Titulus Regius, which Parliament issued some months later explaining its actions and of which a single copy escaped the destruction of all copies of the Titulus Regius later ordered by Henry VII. The identity of the priest in question — thought to have been Edward IV's sometime Chancellor, Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells — is known from only one source, the French political commentator, Philippe de Commines. Titulus Regius also cited two further grounds upon which Edward IV's marriage had been invalid, namely that it was made "in a profane place" and that it was made "without the assent of the Lords".

Despite rumours that Richard's claims were true, evidence was lacking and it was generally accepted that Richard's principal motive for taking the crown was that he felt that his own power and wealth would be threatened under Edward V, who was presumably sympathetic to his Woodville relatives. However, a recently published theory asserts that Edward IV was illegitimate — see Was Edward illegitimate? for details — but hard evidence is lacking.

The disinherited Edward V and his brother Richard, who had joined him in the Tower of London, were never seen again after the summer of 1483. According to contemporary chroniclers, the two boys (known to history as "The Princes in the Tower") were already rumoured to be dead by the end of that year. Modern historians regard Richard III as the most likely culprit in the deaths of the princes, since they were under his care at the time of their disappearance and they presented a threat to his reign as long as they were alive, but the controversy continues to this day.


At the time of Richard's coronation, his three elder brothers were all dead. His elder brother George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence had been attainted in connection with a treason charge, and George's children Margaret and Edward, Earl of Warwick were therefore removed from the line of succession—although they were not personally accused of treason and were otherwise honoured.

On July 6, 1483, Richard was crowned at Westminster Abbey. He was the last Plantagenet king. Except for three earls not old enough to participate and a few lesser nobles, the entire peerage attended his coronation.

Death at the Battle of Bosworth

Richard was known to be a devout man and an efficient administrator. However, he was a Yorkist and heirless and had removed the Woodvilles and their allies: he was, therefore, vulnerable to political opposition. His supporter Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham turned against him and was executed late in 1483 after joining with Henry Tudor in a failed attempt to overthrow Richard by force.

Thereafter, Richard's enemies united against him. According to local tradition in Leicester, Richard consulted a seer in the town before heading off for the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485 to meet Lancastrian forces led by Henry Tudor. The seer foretold that "where your spur should strike on the ride into battle, your head shall be broken on the return". On the ride into battle his spur struck the bridge stone of the Bow Bridge; afterwards, as his dead body was being carried from the battle over the back of a horse, his head struck the same stone and was broken open. Henry Tudor succeeded Richard to become Henry VII, and cemented the succession by marrying the Yorkist heiress, Elizabeth of York. Legends notwithstanding, Richard was abandoned at Bosworth by Lord Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby, Sir William Stanley, and Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland. The switching of sides by the Stanleys depleted severely the strength of Richard's army and had a material effect on the outcome of the battle. Even Tudor accounts note that Richard fought bravely and ably during the battle, unhorsing a well-known champion, killing Henry's standard bearer and nearly reaching Henry himself before being surrounded and killed.

It is said that Richard's naked body was paraded through the streets before being buried at Greyfriars Church, Leicester. According to one tradition, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries his body was thrown into the nearby River Soar, although other evidence suggests that this may not be the case and that his burial site may currently be under a car park in Leicester. There is currently a memorial plaque on the site of the Cathedral where he may have once been buried. Skeletal remains recovered from the Soar and initially believed to be Richard's were later found to be those of an Anglo-Saxon warrior who died nearly 500 years before Richard was killed. This conclusion was made through both radiocarbon dating and the size of the body and the thickness of the bones. Richard is described in contemporary accounts as being somewhat short and slim, conditions not matched by the bones. The greater probability is that Richard's remains are still buried at the original site, whereas his tombstone has been destroyed (see link below).


At the time of his last stand against the Lancastrians, Richard was a widower without a legitimate son. After his son's death, he had initially named his nephew, Edward, Earl of Warwick, Clarence's young son and the nephew of Queen Anne Neville, as his heir. After Anne's death, however, Richard named another nephew, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, as his heir.


Richard's death at Bosworth resulted in the end of the Plantagenet Dynasty, which had ruled England since the succession of Henry II in 1154. Lesser nobility among the Plantagenets were cast aside when the Tudors came to power, including the Aston family, one of whose descendants, John Lathrop, became an ancestor of many famous Americans. Another of their descendants was restored as Lord Aston of Forfar after the Tudors had been succeeded by the Stuarts. The last male Plantagenet, Edward, Earl of Warwick (son of Richard III's brother Clarence) was executed by Henry VII in 1499.

Richard's Council of the North greatly improved conditions for Northern England, as commoners of that region were formerly without any substantial economic activity independent of London. Its descendant position was Secretary of State for the Northern Department.

Distortions of physical appearance

Among other distortions, Richard was represented by Tudor historians as being physically deformed, which was regarded as evidence of an evil character. However, the withered arm, limp and crooked back of legend are nowadays believed to be fabrications, possibly originating from the questionable history by Thomas More, which made a deep impression upon William Shakespeare.

No substantive evidence exists for Richard having been hunchbacked. X-rays of a standard portrait of Richard revealed that the larger shoulder, suggesting a hunchback, had been added later. However, in order to participate in three of the major battles of the Wars of the Roses, Richard would have been clad in up to 80 lbs. (36 kgs.) of plate armour. This would have been almost impossible if he had been hunchbacked. Alternatively, it is possible that, as with other sons of the nobility or seasoned soldiers, Richard had practised swordsmanship from a very early age and had developed a great deal of muscularity in one or both shoulders .


Since his death, Richard III has become one of England's most controversial and maligned monarchs. Modern historians recognise the damage done to his reputation by historians of the following Tudor reigns and particularly by William Shakespeare.

The Richard III Society was established in the 20th century and has gathered considerable research material about his life and reign. Its aim is summed up by its Patron, the present Richard, Duke of Gloucester:

"… the purpose and indeed the strength of the Richard III Society derive from the belief that the truth is more powerful than lies - a faith that even after all these centuries the truth is important. It is proof of our sense of civilised values that something as esoteric and as fragile as reputation is worth campaigning for."

The American Branch of the Richard III Society carries out its own review of all the suspects in the case of Richard III, in the on-line library "Whodunit?".

The Society of Friends of King Richard III was also set up in the 20th century in order to rehabilitate Richard and to honour his memory. The society is based in the city of York, where following his death in 1485 it was proclaimed, that "King Richard, late reigning mercifully over us, was.... piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this city".

Richard III appears in the 2002 List of " 100 Great Britons" (sponsored by the BBC and voted for by the public), alongside such others as David Beckham and Johnny Rotten. The BBC History Magazine lists him under "doubtful entrants, based on special interest lobbying or 'cult' status", and comments: "On the list owing to the Ricardian lobby, but a minor monarch".


Richard III's ancestors in three generations
Richard III of England Father:
Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York
Paternal Grandfather:
Richard of Conisburgh, 3rd Earl of Cambridge
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Isabella of Castile, Duchess of York
Paternal Grandmother:
Anne de Mortimer
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Alianore de Holland
Cecily Neville
Maternal Grandfather:
Ralph de Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland
Maternal Great-grandfather:
John Neville, 3rd Baron Neville de Raby
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Maud Percy
Maternal Grandmother:
Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland
Maternal Great-grandfather:
John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Katherine Swynford

Richard III in popular culture

Theatre and film

  • The foremost work of literature regarding Richard III is Shakespeare's eponymous play.
  • Films based on the play include Laurence Olivier's version (1955), and Richard Loncraine's adaptation (1995), starring Ian McKellen and set in a pre-WWII fascist England.
  • Shakespeare's play is also the basis for one of the earliest American feature films, Richard III (1912), starring Frederick Warde in the title role.
  • Tower of London (1939) has Basil Rathbone as Richard and Boris Karloff his (fictional) evil henchman.
  • Tower of London (1962) directed by Roger Corman stars Vincent Price as Richard III.


  • Sharon Kay Penman's The Sunne in Splendor gives a comprehensive account of the Wars of the Roses. However, the author has made additions and minor adjustments to enrich the story.
  • Anne Easter Smith's A Rose for the Crown reconstructs the life of the woman who bore Richard's illegitimate children. Historians think this may have been Katherine Haute, who is mentioned in household records: this book is an attempt to create her story.
  • Sandra Worth's award-winning The Rose of York: Love & War ( 2003) presents the account of Richard III from the Ricardian viewpoint.
  • The best-known treatment of the subject is Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time ( 1951), which looks at the evidence on all sides relating to the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower.
  • The fantasy series by George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire, takes place in a situation similar to Richard III's reign, but transposes the characters of that time. In this account, the deaths of Richard's nephews are faked. It represents a fantastical but parallel line, with many of the same names and circumstances.


A comic " secret history" of Richard III is presented in the British historical sitcom Blackadder. In the series' pilot episode, Richard III (played by Peter Cook) defeats Henry Tudor at Bosworth Field, but is accidentally killed by the bumbling nobleman Edmund Blackadder ( Rowan Atkinson). His nephew, Richard of Shrewsbury, becomes "King Richard IV" ( Brian Blessed). When the entire royal family dies in the series' final episode, Henry Tudor usurps the throne and rewrites history as it is known today.


Richard III has the dubious distinction of being immortalised in cockney rhyming slang, Richard the Third meaning turd.

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