Richard III

(1452—1485) king of England and lord of Ireland

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king of England (1483–5). Richard is one of England's most controversial figures, immortalized as evil personified by Shakespeare, sanctified by a society dedicated to clearing his name. Born at Fotheringhay (Northants), he was the youngest son of Richard of York and Cecily Neville. He was still a child when his brother Edward IV became king. Stalwartly loyal to his brother, he shared in the triumph of 1471, distinguishing himself on the field of Barnet. He was handsomely rewarded by Edward IV, who granted him the Neville estates and royal offices in the north of England. With these, and Warwick's daughter Anne as his duchess, he made himself even more powerful than the Kingmaker. In 1480 he led the war against Scotland, securing the recovery of Berwick in 1482.

In April 1483 Richard's future was put in doubt by the death of his brother. By a series of palace coups, he seized power, first to secure himself as protector of the realm in the minority of his nephew Edward V and secondly in June to make himself king. He was crowned on 6 July. In September his enemies in the southern counties raised rebellion in the name of Henry Tudor. Even though they were joined by the duke of Buckingham they were easily dispersed. Richard reigned for two further years in a climate of intensifying crisis as Henry Tudor planned to invade England. The two finally came to blows on 22 August 1485 near Bosworth. Although he fought courageously, Richard was overwhelmed and killed in the mêlée.

Almost every aspect of Richard's career is controversial. The coup of 1483 is interpreted as justifiable self‐preservation, or a skilfully executed usurpation, or a sequence of ill‐considered impulsive reactions. His reign has been seen as a valiant attempt to administer justice impartially, or as tyranny in which his northern retainers occupied the south. On the one hand he was genuinely pious, on the other hand he was a cynical hypocrite.

Above all looms the controversy over his crimes. He is probably to be found not proven on the princes in the Tower. Henry VII and the duke of Buckingham have been proposed as alternative culprits. Yet the fact remains that the boys were widely believed to be dead by the middle of September 1483 and Richard himself was believed by contemporaries to have been responsible. It is almost impossible to get to the bottom of all these controversies; partly because insufficient evidence has survived; partly because so much is coloured by propaganda; partly because he divided opinion sharply in his day; and partly because over 500 years the stories of Richard III have taken on their own independent life. Thus Richard III has become a literary figure. This was so from the very beginning, for the supposed peculiarities of his birth and the hunchback, for which he is renowned, were but inventions to signify evil.

Subjects: British History.

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