Richard III - Shakespeare's Victim
The purpose of this work is to strip away the layers of damage done to the reputation of King Richard III. This monarch, unjustly maligned, initially by Tudor historians and in perpetuity by the plays of William Shakespeare, deserves a more honored place in history.
To clarify the true history of King Richard III and his era, each ‘crime’ attributed to him by Shakespeare’s play was scrutinized and then held up against the verifiable facts, or in some cases, lack thereof. The crimes were examined in two ways - as Shakespeare intended them to be perceived and then, using primary, contemporary and modern revisionist sources for the historical details, how events were really played out.
It is also the intent of this work to cause the reader of Shakespeare to question the history behind the drama. What was Shakespeare’s motive in making Richard a hunch-back with a shriveled arm? What did Richard have to gain in murdering his nephews? Had he really been plotting for the throne his entire life? To accept the play as history is to ignore the true timeline of events and the reality of human nature.
Following this analysis is a sampling of quotes pertaining to King Richard III entitled “What History Has To Say About Richard III”. In these writings, some of which are contemporary to Richard, there is further insight into the true character of this English king who has been denied his due.
Perhaps this work will entice you to read further into the life and times of King Richard III; to come to appreciate the man and king he really was and whose memory can still evoke passion in people to this day.
William Shakespeare’s play Richard III, written sometime between 1591 and 1593, can indisputably be called his masterpiece. In it, he has created a character of evil incarnate in the form of Richard III. Richard’s line, ‘I am determined to prove a villain’ foreshadows Shakespeare’s intent for the whole play.1 If asked of an average person to describe King Richard III, most would probably come up with a picture straight out of Shakespeare. Paul Murray Kendall wrote, ‘While the Tudor chroniclers made up the minds of subsequent historians about Richard III, Shakespeare has made up the imagination of everybody else.’2
The list of ‘crimes’ attributed to Richard III by William Shakespeare is long. In the play, he satisfies his all-consuming ambition by:
But what are the historical facts behind all this? Before we delve into each ‘crime’ and sift fact from fiction, it is necessary to examine the circumstances, timeframe and sources from which the play was written.
First and foremost, we must remember that Shakespeare was a playwright, not a historian. To him, the drama of the piece would have been of infinitely greater importance than a meticulous attention to historical truth. The daunting task of molding one of history’s most turbulent periods, the Wars of the Roses, into a coherent series would have created its own problems and he often took liberties such as combining two or three different events into one. Often times, one scene would contain incidents that had occurred months or even years apart. There are many instances of anachronisms and errors found not only in The Tragedy of King Richard III, but also in other Shakespearean plays. To just name a few, Richard appears in Henry VI, part two, during the first Battle of St. Albans, which took place in 1455. Shakespeare has Richard killing the Duke of Somerset, when in actuality Richard was only three years old. In part three of Henry VI, Richard is seen participating in the Battles of Mortimer’s Cross and Towton. In fact, Richard was eight years old and living in Burgundy.4 This telescoping of events and characters has done much to warp the true chain of events and, while it may serve to make the play flow better, has left us with having to separate the truth from dramatic license.
When attempting to ferret out the truth, it is always important to keep in mind the sources William Shakespeare used for writing his play. Shakespeare would have turned to the sources available to him at that time – among them Vergil and, most importantly, Sir Thomas More.
Polydore Vergil was an Italian scholar commissioned by Henry VII to write a history of England. He began his Anglica Historia in 1506 but it wasn’t published until 1534. At that time, King Richard III had been dead for 50 years. With Henry VIII now on the throne, and as much a Yorkist hater as his father, it is believable that no one would have questioned Vergil’s report, in which Henry VII is portrayed as a gallant savior destined to rescue England from the hands of a ‘bloody tyrant’. Richard III, on the other hand, was in a no-win situation.
Sir Thomas More had been born in 1478, seven years before the Battle at Bosworth, too young to remember anything first hand. More spent a portion of his youth in the household of Dr. John Morton. We may assume that More’s writings were based on what he heard and learned while there. Morton was one of Richard III’s bitterest enemies and we must view his recollections as tainted and biased. Sir Thomas More is considered to be a man of integrity, but with Morton as his source, his account cannot be considered reliable.
Another probable source would have been Ralph Holinshed, born circa 1529 to a Cheshire family. He lived in London from about 1560, where Reginald Wolfe, who was preparing a universal history, employed him as a translator. In 1573, after Wolfe's death, the extent of the work was shortened, and it appeared, with many illustrations, as the Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande, 2 vol. (dated 1577).
The Chronicles was compiled from many sources of varying degrees of trustworthiness. The texts of the first and second (1587) editions were refined by order of the Privy Council, with the deleted entries from the second edition being published separately in 1723. The complete, unchanged edition of 1587 was edited by Henry Ellis and given the title of Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland. This was published in six volumes (1807-08). Two selections have also appeared: Holinshed's Chronicle as Used in Shakespeare's Plays was edited by Allardyce and Josephine Nicoll (1927), and Shakespeare's Holinshed was compiled and edited by Richard Hosley (1968).
Holinshed’s importance to Shakespeare lies in the fact that the playwright leaned heavily on the Chronicles for his major history plays. It would probably have been the most comprehensive source existing for Shakespeare to use in writing not only The Tragedy of King Richard III, but also Macbeth, King Lear and Cymbeline.
It appears that Holinshed gathered his material from Thomas More, Polydore Vergil and Hardyng. The only veering off that Holinshed did was to include the name of Dorset to the list of those who had killed Edward of Lancaster.
While Holinshed may have provided a needed source for Shakespeare, it must be concluded that as a historical source he should be discounted. His writing must be subjected to the same criticism that is applied to that of the works of More, Vergil, et al. There appears to be nothing new that can be gleaned from his work that would in any way be construed as a reliable, unbiased piece of history.
Upon the writings of these early vilifiers of Richard, Shakespeare would build his foundation for his play.
Let us review each ‘crime’ attributed to Richard III and examine how it holds up against what we know to be historical fact.
The Death of George of Clarence
The Deaths of Henry VI and Edward of Lancaster
The Death of Edward IV
The Downfall of the Woodville Family
The Town Council Meeting and death of William, Lord Hastings
The Death of the Princes
ACT ONE, SCENE ONE
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amourous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;…
Richard is lamenting his physical attributes which are shown here to be that of a deformed monster, unattractive to women and so badly made that dogs bark at him as he walks by them.
In a superstitious age, deformity signified an evil character. We do not have much reliable information on the physical appearance of Richard III. However, what few contemporary descriptions exist do not mention any deformity. Rous, a dependant of the Warwick family, very likely saw Richard when he spent a week at Warwick after his coronation. Despite trying to ingratiate himself into the new Tudor regime by claiming that Richard had been two years in the womb, born long-haired and fully-toothed, Rous' only comments on his adult physique by saying that ‘he was small of stature, with a short face and unequal shoulders, the right higher and the left lower.’5 Sir Thomas More, writing later, would have them the other way round.
Dominic Mancini, sent to England by his patron, Angelo Cato, Archbishop of Vienne, does not mention any physical abnormality. Mancini's report, technically the result of a spying mission, was later used by the French chancellor to revile Richard. It stands to reason that any notice of deformity would have been remarked upon, recorded and used against him.
Another contemporary foreigner with no need to be sympathetic to Richard III was Philip de Commines, a Belgian-born historian and politician with close ties to Louis XI of France. Commines met Richard at Picquigny and though he chronicled his actions there, he did not report on anything strange in Richard’s appearance. Commines had previously commented on the physical appearance of other noted personages he had met, so there is no reason to believe that he would have omitted anything out of the ordinary.
Closer to home, among those who would have seen Richard III as an adult would have been the Croyland Chronicler. But, although the Chronicler had no qualms about making other accusations about Richard, he makes no reference to any physical peculiarities. Neither the Paston letters, Warkworth’s The Arrivall of Edward IV, or any other contemporary writing indicate anything other than the fact that Richard had a thin face and a pale complexion. The aged Countess of Desmond, who as a young girl had danced at the court of Edward IV, claimed that Richard was ‘the handsomest man in the room except his brother Edward, and was very well made.’6
The two earliest-known portraits of Richard do not show any evidence of a ‘crooked’ or hunched back. One, painted about 1505, and now in the Society of Antiquaries of London, shows him with straight shoulders. The other, belonging to the Royal Collection, has been examined by X-ray, which uncovered an original straight shoulder line that had been painted over to give the appearance of a raised right shoulder. Many copies were since made of this portrait.
It is, however, from Sir Thomas More that Shakespeare probably took his description of Richard III. More states:
‘…little of stature, ill-fetured of limmes, croke-backed,
his left shoulder much higher then his right,
hard-favoured of visage and suche as is in states called
warlye and in other menne otherwise.’7
Richard III was a seasoned soldier, a veteran not only of some of the principal battles of the Wars of the Roses, but also of the Scots Border Wars. A medieval soldier went into battle wearing heavy armour, carrying battle-axes, swords and other deadly pieces of weaponry, all while staying seated on a warhorse. Could a man who was hunch-backed and who possessed a shriveled arm have accomplished this? Could Richard III, as painted by Shakespeare, have charged down Ambion Hill, unseating the giant Sir John Cheyney and killing Henry Tudor’s standard bearer, Sir William Brandon?
The Death of George of Clarence
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew’d up,
About a prophecy, which says that G
Of Edward’s heirs, the murderer shall be
In these lines Shakespeare has Richard speaking of how he is going to eliminate his brother George, Duke of Clarence. To accomplish this, he has told his brother, Edward IV, about a prophecy, which says that someone with a name beginning with the letter “G” will murder Edward’s heirs. The king has taken this to mean his other brother, George Duke of Clarence. Accordingly, Edward has Clarence sent to the Tower. When Richard hears of this, he pretends to be on Clarence’s side and claims that it was Edward’s wife, Elizabeth Woodville, who caused him to be imprisoned. This is a good example of how Shakespeare has Richard III portrayed as being two-faced, double-dealing with everyone.
Further on, in a later scene, two men, whom he learns are his executioners, awaken Clarence in the Tower. At first he is led to believe that Edward IV has sent them in punishment for treason, but later comes to realize that his brother Richard has sent them. At first the two murderers discuss drowning Clarence in a vat of wine, but in the end he is stabbed repeatedly and thrown into a butt of malmsey.
Shakespeare’s version of George, Duke of Clarence is one of a good, loyal and rather naïve man. He is portrayed as being truly baffled as to why his brother Edward IV would accuse him of treason.
George, Duke of Clarence was, before the birth of Edward IV’s son in 1470, considered to be the king’s heir. Edward IV made generous provisions for him in the way of land and monies. He seems to have been a very ambitious and unstable man however, and when Edward blocked his plans to marry Warwick’s daughter Isabel Neville, he became very discontented. He was ripe to fall under the influence of his cousin Warwick, who, seeing his influence over Edward IV diminish soon turned against him.
When the Earl of Warwick, offered him the hand of his daughter Isabel with an eye towards placing them both on the throne, Clarence took him up on the offer and aligned himself with Warwick against his brother Edward. The two began to behave in a treasonable fashion, fomenting rebellions throughout the countryside and, with backing from the French king, mounting an invasion against England. Together they managed to knock Edward IV off his throne and into temporary exile in Burgundy. It should be noted that Edward’s other brother Richard, then Duke of Gloucester, shared this exile. Clarence’s hopes were dashed when Warwick made an unlikely alliance with Queen Margaret of Anjou, wife to Henry VI. With another marriage, that of Warwick’s younger daughter Anne to Margaret’s son Edward of Lancaster, Clarence must have known that the likelihood of becoming king now became slim. Indeed, once he gained control, Warwick placed the feeble Henry VI back on the throne.
Edward IV, with Burgundian backing, landed back in England in March of 1471. Clarence, hearing of this was probably ready to defect back to his brother if he had the opportunity. After some hesitation, indicating that he wanted to be sure he was on the winning side, Clarence met up with Edward IV and Richard on the Banbury road. The three brothers were reconciled. With Clarence’s contingent of men joining his own, Edward was now in a position to fight Warwick, resulting in the Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury.
It is easy to compare Clarence’s treachery and disloyalty with Richard’s unwavering support of his brother Edward. Richard had stood by Edward in rough times, exile and in battle. Edward could easily have stripped Clarence of his profitable possessions, but instead he allowed him to retain the lieutenancy of Ireland and granted him the forfeited Courtenay family lands in Devon and Cornwall, making him the greatest landowner in the West Country. For Clarence, this once again proved not to be enough.
Clarence showed that he had not learned a thing about loyalty and was soon embroiled in a quarrel with his brother Richard over the lands inherited by his wife Isabel and her sister Anne.
After Richard made clear his desire to marry the now-widowed Anne, Clarence did all in his power to prevent this from happening. It was probably greed and jealousy that led him to block Richard and keep the Neville lands for himself. He went so far as to hide Anne in London, disguised as a kitchen maid. Richard eventually found her and helped her to sanctuary at St. Martin’s. The argument between the two brothers became so public that Edward IV felt the need to intervene. Each of the brothers argued strongly and brilliantly, but in the end Edward forced a settlement. In return for giving up part of the Warwick inheritance to Richard, Clarence was given, among other things, the earldoms of Warwick and Salisbury. In addition, Richard generously gave up his office of Great Chamberlain of England to Clarence.
The situation between the brothers remained reasonably calm until 1477, when after losing his wife Isabel in childbirth in 1476, Clarence was looking to marry Mary of Burgundy. Edward IV, understandably still distrustful of his brother, refused to agree to it. Edward probably could foresee the danger of Clarence on the throne of Burgundy; it could easily prove to be a stepping-stone to the English throne. When Edward also denied Clarence the hand of Margaret, sister of James III of Scotland, relations between the two men turned hostile.
After this, Edward had a number of men hanged on charges of having conspired to the death of the king and Prince of Wales. One of these men, Thomas Burdett, was a member of Clarence’s household. Clarence chose to ignore Edward’s warning and in an act of defiance, he accused a former servant, Ankarette Twynho, of having poisoned his wife. She was taken from her home by force, brought to Warwick, was found guilty before the justices of the peace and was hanged. The jury claimed that they had been forced to their decision, against their conscience. Edward IV summoned Clarence before him and personally charged him with violating the laws of England and threatening judges and jurors. He was arrested in June 1477 and sent to the Tower. On January 19, 1478 he was arraigned on charges of high treason.
During the trial, according to the Croyland Chronicle, it was really brother against brother, “sad strife carried on before these two brothers of such high estate. For not a single person uttered a word against the duke, except the king; not one individual made answer to the king except the duke.”8
The outcome of the trial was a verdict of death. This was carried out ten days later, on February 18, 1478, in private.
Where was Richard III in all this? It is undeniable that Edward IV was responsible for what happened to Clarence. Edward brought forth the charges, spoke against him and gave final agreement that the death sentence was carried out. Mancini believed that the Queen and her Woodville relatives worked behind the scenes to bring about Clarence’s downfall.9 Richard was not implicated by any contemporary source. Both the Croyland Chronicler and Vergil blame only Edward IV and do not mention Richard at all. Mancini believed that Richard suffered much grief over his brother’s death and vowed vengeance.10 Sir Thomas More stated that Richard was not dissatisfied with the death of Clarence, but he adds, “of all this point there is no certainty, and whoso divineth upon conjectures, may as well shoot too far as too short”.11
ACT ONE, SCENE TWO
Nay, do not pause; for I did kill King Henry,
But ‘twas thy beauty that provoked me.
Nay, now dispatch; ‘twas I that stabb’d young Edward,
But ‘twas thy heavenly face that set me on.
The Deaths of Henry VI and Edward of Lancaster
Shakespeare has Richard admitting to having killed King Henry VI and also his son Edward of Lancaster. Richard claims that he was spurred on to these deeds by the beauty of Anne Neville, who he is wooing in this scene. Anne is shown mourning the loss of both her husband and father-in-law.
It was not until long after the Battle of Tewkesbury that the blame for Edward of Lancaster’s death was laid at Richard III’s door. There was never any such accusation in contemporary accounts. A Yorkist chronicler wrote, “The prince was taken fleeing the townwards, and slain in the field.”12 The Lancastrian chronicler, Warkworth also stated, “and there was slain in the field Prince Edward, which cried for succour to his brother-in-law the Duke of Clarence.”13
Robert Cole, Canon of Llanthony added an appendix to his Rental of all the Houses in Gloucester, 1455. This appendix was a history of the Kings of England, 1478-9 and 1482. In an entry about Henry VI, he wrote:
This Kyng tooke to his wyfe Margarete the Kyngus douztur of Cicile, whit wham he had his sone Edward, Pryns of Wales, that aftur he come from Fraunce with his moder with a gret ost was sley at the Batel by syde Tewskebur, the yere of Oure Lord MCCCCLXXII.’
The date given is wrong but the entry was added after 1471.
According to Paul Murray Kendall in his book, Richard The Third “no less than seven contemporary sources offer unanimous testimony that Prince Edward ‘was slain on the field,’ i.e., in the pursuit.”14 In addition to the Yorkist chronicler and Warkworth, as stated above, Kendall notes that the writer of the Croyland Chronicles words his account vaguely but nonetheless agrees with the Yorkist version in the Arrivall. Kendall’s fourth source is the Duke of Clarence, writing two days after the battle that “Edward, late called Prince,” and “other estates, knights, squires, and gentlemen were slain in plain battle”. Philip de Commines, the fifth source, simply states that Edward of Lancaster was “killed on the field”. For a sixth source, Kendall refers to a paper written after the battle in which “Edward, that was called Prynce” heads a listing of “Ded in the Feld”, along with a number of other lords. Lastly, Kendall’s seventh source is from The Tewkesbury Chronicle, written in a hostile tone towards Edward IV but stating that “Prince Edward was slain in the field”.15
The myth of Richard being responsible for Edward of Lancaster’s death was in all likelihood begun by Fabyan, a staunch Lancastrian, who wrote his London Chronicle during the reign of Henry VII. Despite having been in London during Richard’s reign, where he would have had access to the truth, Fabyan chose to embellish the story by claiming that Edward of Lancaster had been brought back to the tent of Edward IV and “by the king’s servants incontinently slain.”16
Shakespeare would have us believe that Richard III was also single-handedly responsible for the death of Henry VI. In the play, the death of this feeble monarch at the hand of Richard III, was just another indication of the playwright showing Richard’s ruthlessness in removing any roadblocks on his way to gaining the throne. The historical facts indicate otherwise.
On Tuesday, May 21 1471, after winning the Battle of Tewkesbury, Edward IV triumphantly entered his capital city of London. Later that evening he conferred with his advisers and then sent his brother Richard, along with a number of other noblemen, to the Tower with orders to be given to Lord Dudley, Constable of the Tower. These orders were to end the life of Henry VI and thus unequivocally put an end to the civil strife that had rocked England for so long.
It is important to note that Richard III at this time held the position of Constable of England. It would have been his duty to carry out the commandments of his brother the king. It would not have in any way been in his authority to act alone and order the execution himself. Sir Thomas More, ignoring the straightforward chain of command, wrote that Richard III must have slain Henry VI by his own hand, without the knowledge of Edward IV, because had Edward wanted King Henry dead, he surely would not have his own brother do so dirty a deed. Polydore Vergil has Richard III killing Henry VI with a sword so that his brother Edward might rule free from all fear of hostility.
However, there are no contemporary writings indicating that anyone, much less Richard III, acted alone in the death of Henry VI. The official Yorkist report was that he had died of “pure displeasure and melancholy”17. Warkworth, the Lancastrian chronicler, reports only that on the night Henry VI was killed the Duke of Gloucester (Richard III) “and many other” were at the Tower.18 A Milanese ambassador at the French court wrote in his version that King Edward “has caused King Henry to be secretly assassinated in the Tower…He has, in short, chosen to crush the seed”19 Even Fabyan, though accusing Richard, must admit that “diverse tales were told” about the death of Henry VI.20
At the time of Henry VI’s death, Richard III was eighteen years old. He had just proven himself in battle and in loyalty to his brother, Edward IV. To go against his brother and to act alone in the killing of King Henry would not have been part of his make up.
ACT TWO, SCENE THREE
The Death of Edward IV
Third Cit. Neighbours, God speed!
First Cit. Give you good morrow, sir.
Third Cit. Doth this news hold of good King Edward’s death?
Sec. Cit. Ay, sir, it is too true; God help the while!
Third Cit. Then, masters, look to see a troublous world.
First Cit. No, no; by God’s good grace his son shall reign.
Third Cit. Woe to that land that’s govern’d by a child!
Sec. Cit. In him there is a hope of government,
That in his nonage council under him,
And in his full and ripen’d years himself,
No doubt, shall then and till then govern well.
First Cit. So stood the state when Henry the Sixth
Was crown’d in Paris but at nine months old.
Third Cit. Stood the state so? No, no good friends, God wot;
For then this land was famously enrich’d
With politic grave counsel; then the king
Had virtuous uncles to protect his grace.
First Cit. Why, so hath this, both by the father and mother.
Third Cit. Better it were they all came by the father,
Or by the father there were none at all;
For emulation now, who shall be nearest,
Will touch us all too near, if God prevent not.
O, full of danger is the Duke of Gloucester!
And the queen’s sons and brothers haught and proud:
And were they to be ruled, and not to rule,
This sickly land might solace as before.
Shakespeare uses this technique of having three London citizens discussing events to set the scene for what was coming next. The three citizens meet in a street and discuss the news of King Edward IV’s death. The first citizen is optimistic that everything will remain calm in the kingdom. The second citizen voices fear that there will be a change in the governing of the kingdom and that it might not be a change for the better. It is his hope that his councilors will guide the new, young king wisely. The third citizen is very pessimistic, predicting “a troublesome world” due to that fact that the new king is just a boy. The example of Henry VI is brought up to show that his minority rule worked because he had virtuous uncles at hand to give him guidance. This is to compare Henry VI’s uncles with those of the new king, for Richard, Duke of Gloucester is “full of danger” and the queen’s relatives are “haughty and proud”. In short, the new king would have no one to guide him and that the two factions of Gloucester vs. Woodville would tear the throne apart.
What is very much a fact is that Edward IV died on April 9th 1483, leaving behind no question as to whom he had named to counsel his son. Shakespeare’s version leaves the question open as if Edward IV had made no provision for his son’s protection and guidance while still a child king but, in reality, Edward IV very clearly named his trusted brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester as Protector.
At the time of the king’s death, Richard III was Edward IV’s Lord of the North. He was very successful and well loved during his tenure in that capacity. Edward never had reason to doubt or complain of Richard’s conduct. Indeed, from the time of his youth it can be seen that Richard always looked up to and admired his elder brother. Edward, ten years older than Richard may even have been something of a father figure, their own father having been killed when Richard was still very young. As previously mentioned, Richard gladly shared exile with Edward during the turbulent months of 1470-1471. Upon their return to England, Richard further demonstrated his loyalty to Edward by proving to be a competent general, not only in the Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury, but also during the Scots Border Wars.
Richard’s own motto of “Loyaulte Me Lie”, Loyalty Binds Me, speaks volumes of where his feelings lie. That Edward IV trusted Richard to the utmost is evidenced by the fact that upon his deathbed, he left Richard in sole charge of the country and of his children. Polydore Vergil records this fact, and because he so rarely credits Richard with anything good, we may be fairly certain that it is accurate. As Protector, Richard immediately had to face innumerable crises and obstacles.
Edward IV died on April 9, 1483. It was not until mid-April that a messenger arrived at Middleham Castle bearing the news to Richard. The messenger came not from the queen, but rather from Lord Hastings, Edward IV’s closest friend. The message was urgent: “The King has left all to your protection-goods, heir, realm. Secure the person of our sovereign Lord Edward the Fifth and get you to London”21. Days later, a second message from Hastings arrived stating that the Woodvilles, the family of the queen, were attempting to gain control of the young king, Edward V. Faced with this first crisis, Richard had to hurry south to intercept the cavalcade bringing his nephew to London. But first, before setting off from York, he had the men accompanying him and the magistrates of the city swear an oath of fealty to King Edward V.
ACT TWO, SCENE FOUR
Arch. Here comes a messenger. What news?
Mess. Such news, my lord, as grieves me to unfold.
Q.Eliz. How fares the prince?
Mess. Well, madam, and in health.
Duch. What is thy news then?
Mess. Lord Rivers and Lord Grey are sent to Pomfret,
With them Sir Thomas Vaughn, prisoners.
Duch. Who hath committed them?
Mess. The mighty dukes Gloucester and Buckingham.
Q. Eliz. For what offence?
Mess. The sum of all I can, I have disclosed;
Why or for what these nobles were committed
Is all unknown to me, my gracious lady.
Q. Eliz. Ay me, I see the downfall of our house!
The tiger now hath seized the gentle hind;
Insulting tyranny begins to jet
Upon the innocent and aweless throne:
Welcome, destruction, death, and massacre!
I see, as in a map, the end of all.
In this scene, Elizabeth Woodville hears that her brother, Earl Rivers and her son, Lord Grey have been arrested along with Vaughn. Her younger son, Edward V is now in the hands of Richard, Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Buckingham. Elizabeth, knowing that Richard hates her, foresees the end of her family.
Richard had received messages from Earl Rivers, the young king’s uncle on his mother’s side, confirming that he was bringing the boy via Northampton, where they would meet up with the Protector. So far, everything seemed to be running according to plan. When Richard arrived at Nottingham, yet another message from Hastings implored him to secure the person of his nephew and hurry to London, where the Woodvilles were planning to ignore the Protectorship and crown the king immediately.
The Woodvilles were a greedy and ambitious lot. They were very unpopular due to their monopolizing of royal favor and were viewed as arrogant upstarts. Knowing that many blamed them for the death of Clarence, including Richard himself, they knew they needed to gain custody of the boy king in order to remain in control. They soon emptied the treasury, a portion of it going to the queen’s brother, Edward Woodville, who set out to sea with it.
Upon reaching Northampton, Richard learned that the young king’s party had already passed through the town and were now at Stony Stratford. Earl Rivers soon afterwards arrived, explaining that the party had moved on because there were no adequate accommodations. Seemingly accepting this explanation, Richard, Rivers and the recently arrived Duke of Buckingham passed the evening pleasantly enough. Early the next morning, the inn in which Earl Rivers was staying was surrounded and he was held in custody. Richard and the duke rode on to Stony Stratford. Here they finally took possession of Edward V.
Upon hearing this news, the queen, along with her daughters and younger son entered into the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey. On May 4th, the new king, accompanied by his uncle Richard and the Duke of Buckingham entered London. The first crisis had been avoided.
ACT THREE, SCENE FOUR
Glou. I pray you all, tell me what they deserve
That do conspire my death with devilish plots
Of damned witchcraft, and that have prevail’d
Upon my body with their hellish charms?
Hast. The tender love I bear your grace, my lord,
Makes me most forward in this noble presence
To doom the offenders, whatsoever they be:
I say, my lord, they have deserved death.
Glou. Then be your eyes the witness of this ill.
See how I am bewitch’d; behold mine arm
Is, like a blasted sapling, wither’d up:
And this is Edward’s wife, that monstrous witch
Consorted with that harlot strumpet Shore,
That by their witchcraft thus have marked me.
Hast. If they have done this thing, my gracious
Glou. If! Thou protector of this damned strumpet,
Tellest thou me of ‘ifs’? Thou art a traitor:
Off with his head! Now, by Saint Paul I swear
I will not dine until I see the same.
Lovel and Ratcliff, look that it be done:
The rest, that love me, rise and follow me.
The Town Council Meeting and death of William, Lord Hastings
This is Shakespeare’s version of the meeting at the Tower, whereby council members were assembled to discuss the date for the upcoming coronation of Edward V. In attendance was William, Lord Hastings. Richard asks the men what they think should be done to those who use witchcraft and conspire his death. Hastings is quick to respond that they deserve death. Richard then accuses Elizabeth Woodville and Jane Shore of having used witchcraft to shrivel his arm. Richard, much to the surprise of Hastings, calls for his execution, stating that Hastings has conspired with Elizabeth Woodville and has been the protector of Jane Shore, former mistress of Edward IV. In this scene, Richard condemns Hastings as a traitor and orders him to be beheaded immediately. Upon hearing this, Hastings blames himself for not seeing what was coming and stoically goes to his death full of foreboding:
O bloody Richard! Miserable England!
I prophesy the fearfull’st time to thee
That ever wretched age hath look’d upon.
Come, lead me to the block; bear him my head:
They smile at me that shortly shall be dead.
William, Lord Hastings had long been a staunch supporter of the Yorkist case. He had been Lord Chamberlain to Edward IV as well as a boon companion. It was Hastings who sent notice to Richard, then at Middleham in the North, that his brother, Edward had died on April 9th and had made him Protector. Although they had never been close, due to differences in temperament and the great distance of miles between them – Richard being for many years overseeing the North for Edward - Hastings and Richard both had the same goal in mind: To set Edward V on the throne of England. Hastings’ message to Richard also urgently urged him to secure the person of Edward V, who was at Ludlow under the guidance of Earl Rivers, brother to Queen Elizabeth. Within days another message arrived from Hastings warning Richard that the Woodvilles were plotting to bypass the Protectorship and place the young king firmly under their influence.
After administering the oath of fealty to King Edward V to London’s city magistrates and lords spiritual and temporal, Richard and his council set about determining a date for the coronation. June 22nd was fixed upon and young Edward was installed in the royal apartments in the Tower of London, from which all English monarchs proceeded to their coronation.
Soon after this, another crisis evolved that would totally alter the future of England and the life of Richard III.
On June 10th, in a letter addressed to the City of York, Richard asks for help against the queen and her followers in what appeared to be a plot against him and the Duke of Buckingham. What occasioned this letter were two totally unexpected events. One was a discovered conspiracy of Lord Hastings and the other a startling revelation from Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, who had been Chancellor of Edward IV. It was at a June 8th council meeting that Stillington announced that Edward V could not be lawful King of England due to the fact that his father, Edward IV had secretly been contracted to marry Eleanor Butler, before his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. Stillington himself had officiated at this contract ceremony, which under medieval law constituted a fully binding marriage. Edward IV therefore had committed bigamy when he married Elizabeth Woodville, making his sons and daughters by that marriage illegitimate.
It is probable that Elizabeth Woodville knew nothing of this pre-contract. If she had, she probably would have insisted that Edward marry her again after the death of Eleanor Butler in 1468, which would have solved the problem. There is no proof that this happened.
The matter was brought before Parliament for a final appeal and the Act of Titulus Regius was passed without any argument. Those who had been familiar with Edward IV’s womanizing character would have found the story to be very believable.
It may have been the pronouncement of Stillington regarding the pre-contract that led Lord Hastings to conspire against Richard. Hastings had been a close companion to Edward IV and owed his fortune to him. Seeing the implications that the pre-contract raised, he joined with John Morton, Bishop of Ely. As previously stated, Morton was at heart a Lancastrian and no friend to Richard. He probably saw the pre-contract as a means to further the cause of Henry Tudor, now living in exile in France. This conspiracy soon included Elizabeth Woodville and, as a go-between, none other than Jane Shore, late mistress of Edward IV.
Soon after sending the June 10th letter to the City of York, Richard acted quickly to crush the conspiracy. At a council meeting called at the Tower, Richard directly accused Lord Hastings, Morton, Lord Stanley and Rotherham, Archbishop of York. It was all over quickly. Morton and Rotherham were imprisoned in Tower quarters, Lord Stanley detained in his own lodgings. Hastings was beheaded, although the exact date of his execution is in question. Sir Thomas More claims that he was executed immediately, without trial, on June 13th. Others claim that it occurred a week later on June 20th. A strong argument for the June 20th date is given by J.A. Speares, who believes that an execution carried out in this manner, without trial, is something no monarch or Protector would undertake, as it would have been totally unconstitutional. The question of the date of Hasting’s execution may never be resolved due to a strange lack of official record of the council meeting. Audrey Williamson, in her book, The Mystery of the Princes, suggests that John Morton’s nephew, Robert Morton, who later became Master of the Rolls in the Tower under Henry VII, may have destroyed some of the documents.22
ACT FOUR, SCENE TWO
O bitter consequence,
that Edward still should live!
“True, noble prince!’
Cousin, thou wert not wont to be so dull:
Shall I be plain? I wish the bastards dead:
And I would have it suddenly perform’d
The Death of the Princes
In the play, Richard tests the loyalty of the Duke of Buckingham, his right hand man, by inciting him to arrange for the murder of the princes. When the duke only gives a vague answer, Richard dismisses him and asks a page to suggest an alternative person who would murder for money. The page suggests Tyrell, with whom arrangements are made to dispose of the princes. Buckingham returns having reconsidered the request made to him, but Richard dismisses him and apparently seeing the writing on the wall, Buckingham flees to his manor at Brecknock. In the next scene Tyrell, describes the murder of the children, for which he hired the services of Dighton and Forrest to do the actual deed. Tyrell describes to the audience how the children, lying in each other’s arms with a prayer book lying on their pillows, are smothered. He reports back to Richard III, who is pleased that the princes are dead and buried.
Of all the crimes attributed to Richard III by Shakespeare, none is so damning as the allegation that he murdered his two nephews, sons of Edward IV. It is this crime that has made the villainy of Richard III, as described in play, so complete. The idea of two innocent children murdered at the hands of their uncle in order to achieve his ultimate desire of becoming king has captured the attention of audiences for centuries.
It is interesting to note that on June 16th, Elizabeth Woodville, requested by Richard to release her younger son from sanctuary so that he might keep his brother company in the Tower, did so. It is doubtful that Richard would have used force to release the boy and Elizabeth could have refused to release him by right of sanctuary. That Elizabeth seemed to trust Richard with her sons is something that we will re-visit further on.
John Morton, Bishop of Ely was placed into the custody of the Duke of Buckingham, the consequences of which would prove to be devastating to Richard III.
It now remained to name Richard as king. As the next in line after Edward IV’s sons it was legally correct for him to be named so. On June 25th an assembly gathered at Westminster, the result of which was a roll of parchment endorsing Richard’s title, castigating the Woodvilles and reiterating the illegal marriage of the late king. This was presented to Richard the next day at Baynard’s Castle, his mother’s house.
The coronation was held on July 6, 1483. It was one of the best-attended coronations in history, with much care taken to divide honours between the Yorkists and Lancastrians. It was evident that this meant that Richard wanted to start his reign with reconciliation and peace. He held the throne legally and with full support of Parliament. The idea that Richard would now wantonly murder his nephews sounds irrational and stupid, and no one ever accused Richard III of being either.
Before turning fully to the matter of the princes, it would be best to touch on the Buckingham rebellion. The Duke of Buckingham had seemingly come out of the woodwork upon the death of Edward IV. He immediately established contact with Richard, who knew little about him, but seemed to trust him straight off. Buckingham was married to a sister of Elizabeth Woodville, which may or may not explain his antagonism towards that family. At any rate he gave Richard his full support during the turbulent days of the Protectorship and spoke for Richard before a group of Aldermen of the City and the Mayor concerning Richard’s accession. Richard rewarded Buckingham by making him Constable of England for life and by confirming his appointments as Chief Justice and Chamberlain of the North and South Wales.
Three weeks after his coronation, Richard set out on a royal progress. At this time, Buckingham went to his home at Brecknock, where John Morton had been sent. What led to Buckingham breaking from Richard and throwing in his lot with Morton and Tudor just three months later? Whatever the reason, Richard III’s reaction on hearing the news was one of such shock that even now, over 500 years later, we can still hear the anger in his words, written in his own hand: “the malice of him that had best cause to be true, the Duke of Buckingham –the most untrue creature living”.23
Could this cry of betrayal at Buckingham also have been caused by something even more evil? Audrey Williamson, in The Mystery of the Princes, puts forth the theory that Richard may have discovered that Buckingham had been involved in the either the death or disappearance of the princes. If so, the apparent and unfeigned anguish in his words indicates that Richard himself had not been involved. Once again, Richard III acted swiftly; Buckingham’s rebellion was squashed and the duke executed on November 2nd.
By this time, October of 1483, rumours had started concerning the two boys. According to Dominic Mancini, who left London in mid-July 1483, the boys “were withdrawn into the inner apartments of the Tower proper and day by day began to be seen more and more rarely behind the bars and windows, till at length they ceased to appear altogether”.24 The Croyland Chronicler, writing in 1486, recalled how in September of 1483 that “the princes, by some unknown manner of destruction, had met their fate”.25
Although there exists a number of accounts written near or at the time of the actual events pointing to Richard’s involvement, many of these are confusing and contradictory. A.J. Pollard relates that Philippe de Commines, writing in his Memoirs around 1500, gave out three different stories. The first being that Richard murdered his nephews and then declared himself king. Then Commines reversed himself to say that the murders occurred after becoming king. And finally Buckingham is said to have been the murderer.26 Other earlier sources also implicate the duke, such as Molinet, The Divisie Chronicle and the historical notes of a citizen living in London in 1488.
Robert Fabyan, whose first writings were published in 1516, declared that “and the more for asmoche as the common fame went that kynge Richarde hadde within the Tower put unto secret deth the ii sonnes of his broder Edward the iiii.”27
But once again, it was Sir Thomas More whose writings did the most to condemn Richard III to centuries of being named a child murderer. More goes into great detail in describing the events of the supposed murders. Which is surprising, considering that he prefaces his story by saying that not only did he himself hear many different versions about the fate of the boys, but also that many people alive at the time were doubtful about what had happened to them. Nevertheless, More’s version tells how the murders were committed and by whom. Firstly, according to More, Richard III sent someone to Sir Robert Brackenbury, Constable of the Tower, with orders to kill the two children. When Brackenbury refused to do the deed, Richard III apparently ordered Brackenbury to surrender the keys of the Tower for one night to Sir John Tyrell. Tyrell then contracted John Dighton and Miles Forest to smother the two boys in their bed and then bury them under a pile of stones at the foot of a stairway. Later, he states, they were re-buried somewhere more secretive.
Contemporary accounts would have been based on rumour and gossip and, while expressing fears and doubts, do not prove Richard to be guilty. The Tudor accounts, coming soon afterward, do not provide answers, but rather raise more questions.
Why would Richard III need to murder his nephews? He had a legal right to the throne through Titulus Regius, which had been passed by Parliament. If, for some reason, he felt the boys needed to be eliminated wouldn’t he have contrived to have the deaths look natural and then publicize that they had died from some illness?
What of Brackenbury? If he found it impossible to countenance the death of two children, why would he blithely hand over the keys to the Tower to enable this to happen? How did he then overcome his scruples when he went, without question, to fight and die for his king at the Battle of Bosworth?
Let us return to Elizabeth Woodville, widowed queen of Edward IV. In March of 1484, she left the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey along with her daughters, whose care she gave into the hands of Richard III. Although Elizabeth has been described as a greedy, grasping woman, well versed in fifteenth century politics, she was also a mother. We would also have to describe her as inhuman if we are to believe that she would hand over her daughters to a man she believed had killed her two sons. Moreover, she recommended her other son by her first marriage, Thomas, Marquess Dorset, to reconcile with Richard III.
Her eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, spent the following Christmas at Richard’s court, where she was seen dancing and enjoying the festivities. While she may not have known the elder brother very well, he being away at Ludlow most of the time, she would have known the younger, Richard of York, all his life. History sometimes overlooks the fact that these people were real human beings. Would she have felt so at ease and happy if she believed her uncle to have been the murderer of her brothers? Elizabeth had been much at her father’s court and could not have failed to see the trust her father placed in his brother Richard, nor could she have been blind to Richard’s unceasing loyalty to Edward IV.
Much has been made of Sir Thomas More’s story of the burial of the two princes under a staircase in the Tower. The question must be asked as to how, in an environment where hundreds of people lived and worked, two bodies could have been buried without anyone having seen or heard anything? The Tower was a working palace and people would have been coming and going all the time. Even given the fact that there may have been a heavy guard presence, we have to believe that somebody would have spread the tale. But this did not happen.
In 1674, workers rebuilding the stairs to the royal chapel in the White Tower dug up a wooden chest containing some bones. The bones were determined at the time to be those of Edward V and his brother Richard and were interred in an urn in Westminster Abbey. Even at the time, the bones were handled carelessly and when they were examined in 1933, no determination could be made of age, sex, or manner and time of death. Animal bones were also found mixed in with the rest. Results of the 1933 examination proved inconclusive and the bones remain in the Abbey to this day. Recent application to have them re-examined has been so far refused on the grounds that royal bones should not be disturbed. Shouldn’t it be determined first if they are indeed royal bones?
The Princes Project
ACT FOUR, SCENE THREE
Rumour it abroad
That Anne, my wife, is sick and like to die:
I will take order for keeping her close.
The Death of Queen Anne Neville
In the above lines, Richard is saying that he wishes a rumour to be started that his wife, Anne, is ill and will most likely die and in fact we soon learn that Anne has “bid the world good night.” Richard has heard that Richmond (the future Henry VII) has declared his desire to marry Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Richard must now carry out his plan to marry her first to thwart Richmond. To do so he must first rid himself of his wife. Shakespeare does not give us details of her death.
Richard III and Anne Neville were married in 1472. After all the recent turmoil in their young lives (he was twenty, she was sixteen) it would be easy to understand if both of them looked forward to a new life in the north of England as the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. At Middleham Castle, a previous home to both of them, Richard ruled as Lord of the North, a sign of Edward IV’s utmost confidence in his abilities.
While we cannot say for certain that it was a love match, Anne’s second marriage, to a cousin she already knew, had to have been far more comforting to her than her first had been. Richard had already shown concern for her when he secured her safety in the sanctuary of St. Martin’s. The couple had common interests evidenced when they both became members of the Corpus Christi Guild in 1477. Despite onerous duties as Lord of the North, Richard never failed to interest himself in the hopes and anxieties of the northern people. When, in 1480, Richard led forces of England against the Scots, the men of York served him devotedly and loyally. In this way, Richard and Anne made their mark on the north that lasts until this day.
Many had seen Anne and Richard’s devotion to their son Edward, who had been born in 1473. Despite having two illegitimate children, both born before his marriage, there seems to have been no further gossip about Richard’s family life, from which we may infer that his marriage to Anne was a happy one.
In 1484, the year after their coronation, Richard and Anne were dealt a devastating blow when young Edward died suddenly. Both parents were deeply affected by the death of their only child. According to the Croyland Chronicler, “…you might have seen his father and mother almost bordering on madness, by reason of their sudden grief.”28
It was after this death that Anne’s health began to deteriorate. While it seems that she was a victim of consumption, rumours began to the effect that Richard had poisoned her in order to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York.
Anne died in March of 1485 and the rumours took hold that Richard had indeed poisoned her because she could bear him no more children. Because of Anne’s highly contagious illness, Richard had been counseled to avoid sleeping in her bed. That, coupled with the fact that his niece had been highly present during the previous Christmas festivities, gave rise to the story that Richard planned to marry his niece. However, it is interesting to note that supporters of Henry Tudor, who had himself promised to marry Elizabeth of York, probably started these rumours. It would not have made sense for Richard to marry his niece, since he had made his claim to the throne based on the theory that all of Edward IV’s children were bastards. To do so he would have had to reverse Titulus Regius, thus making all the children legitimate.
While Shakespeare uses Anne’s death as yet another sign of Richard’s depravity, there is nothing to prove that she died of anything but natural causes.
After Richard III’s death at the Battle of Bosworth, the newly crowned Henry VII married Elizabeth of York. In order to do so he had almost all the copies of Titulus Regius destroyed, thereby making Elizabeth legitimate. This would have been the perfect opportunity for him to publicly proclaim and produce evidence to show that Richard had indeed murdered his two nephews. Henry did not do this and we have to ask ourselves why? There is no evidence that he ordered a search for the boys. Did he in fact find the boys alive and realize that they were more of a threat to his throne than they had ever been to Richard’s? A case could be made that Henry VII could have murdered the boys because they stood in his way. Or perhaps he couldn’t find them because Richard III had removed them to a place of safety. Richard, knowing that he would have to fight Henry may have arranged for the princes to be sent abroad to keep them safe from a possible Tudor regime.
Certainly, ‘pretenders’ plagued Henry VII. Lambert Simnel being one, followed by a more serious threat in the form of Perkin Warbeck. Warbeck was said to closely resemble Edward IV and was hailed as the younger prince, Richard, Duke of York. Henry took the Warbeck situation seriously, as many of his nobles supported Warbeck’s cause, including William Stanley, who had helped put Henry on the throne.
It wasn’t until the reign of the Tudors ended in 1603 that defenders of Richard III began to appear. The first defense to be published was in Essayes of Certain Paradoxes, written by William Cornwallis. While Cornwallis agreed that Richard was physically deformed, he claims that it only served to give him a more perfect mind. Cornwallis does not support Richard’s guilt in the deaths of Edward of Lancaster or of George, Duke of Clarence. He does however believe that Richard killed his nephews, but by doing so “he freed the people from dissension, and how better could he prove his love than by risking his soul for their quiet?”29
The first serious defense of Richard III came from Sir George Buck in The History of the Life and Reigne of Richard III. Although written in 1619, it was not published until 1646 and contains the first direct attack on not only the Tudor myth of Richard III, but also on the sources that created it. Buck became the first to report on Titulus Regius, thus clarifying the Eleanor Talbot/ Elizabeth Lucy question. Buck did not believe Richard to be guilty of any of the crimes ascribed to him by Shakespeare or Tudor historians. It was his belief that the princes had not been murdered at all. He states that Edward V died a natural death from illness and that Perkin Warbeck was in fact Richard, Duke of York.
While Buck’s version of Richard’s history contains errors and calls upon questionable resources, it is still important in that it spurred Sir Horace Walpole to publish Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third in 1768. It is this publication that, though weak in some arguments, produced the still on-going debate on King Richard III. Walpole, using the Croyland Chronicle as one of his sources, firmly believed in Richard’s innocence of all crimes attributed to him. He discounted More’s version of the story and also believed that the princes were not murdered.
Buck’s and Walpole’s accounts, while greatly criticized, were the first to call the Tudor legends into question and throw doubt onto their charges.
Caroline Halstead, writing in 1844, totally attacks Tudor legend in her work, Richard III as Duke of Gloucester and King of England. Halstead believed that the lack of contemporary evidence should exonerate Richard III from all crimes. She points out that Sir Thomas More had said that the bodies of the boys had been moved from under the Tower stairs and therefore the bones found there could not be theirs. Again, she believed that the princes had not been murdered but sent out of the country for safety reasons.
James Gairdner’s Richard the Third upholds Shakespeare’s portrayal, but admits that there is no evidence to support that Richard had murdered Edward of Lancaster. He believes that while Richard may have had a hand in the killing of Henry VI, Edward IV and his council share the blame. Gairdner may have been one of the first to list some of Richard’s qualities, such as his good law making, generosity to church, friends and enemies alike, and his military ability.
Following on Gairdner’s heels came Sir Clements Markham, who published Richard III: His Life and Character, in 1906. Markham’s book is an out and out vilification of John Morton, who he called “a treble-dyed traitor and falsifier of history.”30 Morton, wrote Markham, was the actual author of Sir Thomas More’s History of King Richard III. Using this as his basis, Markham dismissed all of the charges aimed against Richard III. His theory is that Morton, through More’s work, accused Richard III of the murders of Edward of Lancaster, Clarence, his wife Anne and made Richard deformed so that making Richard the murderer of the two princes became even more believable. Markham believes Morton was responsible for creating the slanderous propaganda about Richard III in order to make sure it looked as if the princes were dead before Henry VII came to the throne. Blackening Richard’s reputation as he did would make it easier for people to believe that Richard had done the deed. If Morton felt the necessity to go to such lengths we must ask the question of who was he covering for? Markham believed that Henry VII found the two boys alive after Bosworth, determined how much of a threat they were to him and then had them eliminated. He supports this claim by citing Elizabeth Woodville’s forced removal to nunnery, probably on finding out that Henry VII had killed her sons. Markham theorized that Henry VII had Sir James Tyrell commit the murders in 1486. He points to Tyrell’s subsequent double pardon from Henry as proof.
V.B. Lamb in The Betrayal of Richard III, contends that no one should be accused of the murders of the princes because there is insubstantial proof that they even took place. Lamb theorizes that if Henry VII had been responsible then he would have produced the bodies and placed the blame on Richard III. Doing this would have prevented all the pretenders and rebellions Henry faced. Lamb’s conclusion is that Henry did not know what had happened to the princes, but believed that they were still alive.31
With these revisionist writers leading the way, Paul Murray Kendall wrote what was, and still is for many, the definitive biography on Richard III. His Richard III, written in the 1950s, was based almost wholly on contemporary sources, even when Tudor biased. Kendall’s main view of Richard is one of a man caught up in problems inherited from and caused by his brother, Edward IV. Kendall believed that the princes died during Richard’s reign but only because there is nothing to prove that they were seen afterward. Kendall writes that no proof exists to Richard III murdering the princes, all evidence being circumstantial and contemporary writings being based on just rumour. He strongly points to the fact that the Croyland Chronicle only reports the rumour of the deaths, but does not make an actual accusation against Richard. Kendall also finds the behaviour of Elizabeth Woodville concerning her daughters to be indicative of Richard’s innocence. Kendall makes a strong case for the deaths to have been caused by the Duke of Buckingham. He believes that Buckingham had the opportunity and motive. If Buckingham was responsible he could have been planning to put the blame on Richard thus causing enough dissension around the country for either Henry Tudor or the duke himself to make a run for the throne.
These revisionist historians have started to chip away at the Shakespearean and Tudor myths. With on-going research and new scientific technologies, we will see a new perception of Richard III emerge. An image that is balanced, fair and truthful. If we ask ourselves if it is important to continue in this endeavour, our answer must be yes. The truth should always be brought to light, even if it has been buried under 500 years of lies, distortions and slanders.
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