Richard III

Richard III

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Richard, the eleventh child of Richard, Duke of York, and Cecily Neville, was born in 1452. In 1471 Richard married Anne Neville, the daughter of the earl of Warwick. When Edward IV died in 1483 his eldest son, Edward, was only twelve years old. It was therefore decided that Richard, Edward IV's brother, should became Protector of England, until Prince Edward was old enough to become king.

Elizabeth Woodville did not trust Richard and called for a Regency Council to run the country. Richard reacted by persuading Parliament that Edward IV had not been legally married to Elizabeth Woodville, and therefore Prince Edward was not the true heir to the throne. As Edward IV's only surviving brother, Richard claimed the throne for himself.

Richard had Prince Edward and his younger brother, Richard, taken into custody. Soon rumours began to circulate that Richard had arranged for his two nephews to be murdered. Opposition to Richard was led by the Lancastrian, Henry Tudor.

In August 1485, Henry Tudor arrived in Wales with 2, 000 of his supporters. He also brought with him over 2, 000 mercenaries recruited from French prisons. While in Wales, Henry also persuaded many skillful longbowmen to join him in his fight against Richard. By the time Henry Tudor reached England the size of his army had grown to 5,000 men.

When Richard heard about the arrival of Henry he marched his army to meet his rival for the throne. On the way, Richard tried to recruit as many men as possible to fight in his army, but by the time he reached Leicester he only had an army of 6,000 men. The earl of Northumberland also brought 3,000 men but his loyalty to Richard was in doubt.

Richard sent an order to Lord Thomas Stanley and Sir William Stanley, two of the most powerful men in England, to bring their 6,000 soldiers to fight for the king. Richard had been informed that Lord Stanley had already promised to help Henry Tudor. In order to persuade him to change his mind, Richard arranged for Lord Stanley's eldest son to be kidnapped.

On 21 August 1485, King Richard's army positioned themselves on Ambien Hill, close to the small village of Bosworth in Leicestershire. Henry arrived the next day and took up a position facing Richard. When the Stanley brothers arrived they did not join either of the two armies. Instead, Lord Stanley went to the north of the battlefield and Sir William to the south. The four armies now made up the four sides of a square.

Without the support of the Stanley brothers, Richard looked certain to be defeated. Richard therefore gave orders for Lord Stanley's son to be brought to the top of the hill. The king then sent a message to Lord Stanley threatening to execute his son unless he immediately sent his troops to join the king on Ambien Hill. Lord Stanley's reply was short: "Sire, I have other sons."

Henry Tudor's forces now charged King Richard's army. Although out-numbered, Richard's superior position at the top of the hill enabled him to stop the rival forces breaking through at first. When the situation began to deteriorate, Richard called up his reserve forces led by the earl of Northumberland. However, Northumberland, convinced that Richard was going to lose, ignored the order.

Richard's advisers told him that he must try to get away. Richard refused, claiming that he could still obtain victory by killing Henry Tudor. He argued that once the pretender to the throne was dead, his army would have no reason to go on fighting.

A few of his close friends agreed to accompany him on his mission. So that everyone knew who he was, Richard put on his crown. After choosing an axe as his weapon, Richard and a small group of men charged down the hill.

Henry's guards quickly surrounded their leader. Before Richard could get to Henry, he was knocked off his horse. Surrounded by the enemy, Richard continued to fight until he was killed.

Tradition has it that Richard's crown was found under a gorse bush. Lord Stanley, whose intervention had proved so important, was given the honour of crowning Henry VII the new king of England and Wales.

He (Edward V) and his brother were transferred to the inner chambers of the Tower. Every day their appearances behind the bars and windows grew less frequent and eventually they ceased to appear altogether... However, I have not yet been able to establish whether Edward was murdered.

On Friday, 13 June, Lord Hastings, on the orders of Richard, was beheaded. Two senior churchmen, Thomas, archbishop of York, and John, bishop of Ely, were spared capital punishment out of respect for their status, and they were taken as prisoners to different castles in Wales.

Did Richard III really kill the Princes in the Tower?

For centuries, received opinion has had it that the Yorkist king ordered the murder of his young nephews, Edward and Richard, in a ruthless bid to secure his throne. But might the two princes instead have lived on into the Tudor era? Matthew Lewis and Nathen Amin debate the issue

This competition is now closed

Published: July 31, 2020 at 1:15 pm

It’s one of the most notorious episodes in all of British history, but one that stubbornly refuses to give up all its secrets. When Edward V and his younger brother, Richard of Shrewsbury, disappeared into the Tower of London in 1483 – where, many believe, they were murdered – the finger of blame for their fate soon alighted on their uncle, Richard III. And there it has stayed for the past 500 years. But proving Richard’s guilt has proved fiendishly difficult, and throughout those five centuries a strand of opinion has advanced the case for Richard’s innocence.

Here’s what we know: in April 1483, Edward IV died suddenly at the age of just 40. Edward’s eldest son was proclaimed king (as Edward V). But the young Edward was just 12 years old, and so a lord protector was required to help him through his minority – that role fell to the new king’s uncle, Richard.

Edward’s coronation was set for 22 June, but soon events had taken a dramatic turn: Edward IV’s marriage was declared bigamous, Richard was himself declared king (as Richard III) and then young Edward and his brother vanished into the Tower, apparently never to be seen in public again.

Richard arguably had the most to gain from eliminating the young princes but he wasn’t the only king to be menaced by rival claims to his throne in the late 15th century. After defeating Richard at 1485’s battle of Bosworth, Henry VII was confronted by two pretenders to his own crown: Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, the latter of whom claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury. Could these rebellions have been inspired by the continued survival of the young princes? In short, did Richard spare them, rather than ordering their deaths? Two leading experts debate this question.

Our experts

Matthew Lewis is a historian and author. His books include Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me (Amberley, 2018)

Nathen Amin is an author with a special interest in Henry VII. His books include The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown (Amberley, 2017)

Matthew Lewis: When the French philosopher Pierre Bayle declared that “the antiquity and general acceptance of an opinion is not assurance of its truth”, he wasn’t referring to the princes in the Tower. But his observation applies perfectly to this famous mystery. Many claim to know beyond reasonable doubt what happened – usually that the boys’ uncle Richard III had them murdered – but no one truly does. I believe the potential that they lived beyond Richard’s death in 1485 has never received the attention it deserves.

The certainty that the princes died in Richard’s custody was born on the continent. Contemporary English sources were much less confident of the boys’ fate (or fates – for they might have differed). Well into the Tudor era, many writers suggested that at least one of the brothers survived – smuggled from the Tower across the sea or spared by their would-be murderers. It was a common concession that, after murdering Edward V, the killers took pity on his younger brother, Richard. In fact, I suspect that they were never in any danger at all from their uncle Richard, and there are several compelling theories that offer a glimpse of their survival into the Tudor era – when they would have been a far greater threat to the crown than they were in 1483.

Occam’s Razor, the principle that the simplest explanation is usually the right one, has often been used to bolster the suggestion that Richard murdered his nephews. Relying on it is a symptom of the lack of evidence to support that conclusion. But it can also be applied to aspects of the story to make their survival seem more likely, not less.

Listen: Nathen Amin considers some of the possible explanations for the princes’ disappearance and whether Richard III was behind their murder

When the princes’ mother, Elizabeth Woodville, sent her daughters out of sanctuary and into Richard III’s care in spring 1484, can she really have believed he had killed his nephews months earlier? Her daughters were a threat to Richard the eldest, Elizabeth of York, was to marry Henry Tudor if he could win Richard’s throne. Yet they all survived. The simplest explanation for all this is that she knew her sons were safe.

Why did Elizabeth of York keep a book that had belonged to her uncle Richard and sign her name beneath his? That is hardly the action of someone who believed he had murdered her brothers. The behaviour of the main protagonists is among the most compelling evidence that there were no murders.

It is striking that none of those closest to the princes made accusations against Richard III. Elizabeth Woodville lived until 1492, but never once accused Richard of their murder. Their sister, Elizabeth of York, was queen until her death in 1503, and even when she had her own dynasty to protect, she, like her sisters, remained silent on the fate of her brothers.

Some historians insist on relying entirely on Thomas More’s account of the fate of the princes. In his History of King Richard III, written between c1513 and 1519, More claims that one of Richard’s henchmen, James Tyrrell, confessed to the princes’ murder. Yet More’s version of events is not supported by any evidence whatsoever, and his story of Richard III is riddled with demonstrable errors.

In fact, the best-informed contemporary writer, the Crowland Chronicler, says only that rumours of the princes’ deaths emerged as part of a major uprising against Richard III in October 1483, but does not say they were true. For me, therefore, the possibility of the princes’ survival into the reign of Henry VII is very real indeed.

Nathen Amin: If we want to introduce philosophical quotes, none are simpler than ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ – though it’s perhaps not as pleasing to the ear as Pierre Bayle’s laudable effort. It is not possible to argue conclusively that the princes were murdered, for irrefutable evidence of their fate is frustratingly vague. But the evidence we do have strongly suggests they were.

Firstly, too many people stood to gain from the princes’ demise. Richard III’s kingship rested on the assertion that his nephews were illegitimate. It is flawed to say they posed no threat to him, because parliament could have overturned their status as illegitimates. There always remained the possibility that these fallen princes would one day seek to recover their stripped inheritance – why wouldn’t they?

If Richard wasn’t concerned about his present position, he certainly needed to safeguard the crown he intended to one day pass on to his son, and thereafter grandson. The Wars of the Roses, after all, were a dynastic fallout several generations after the deposition of Richard II. Nobody had foreseen those issues in 1399, but in 1485 the third Richard was acutely aware of the dangers a latent claim could one day pose.

There were others who stood to prosper from the princes’ deaths, too. These included the Duke of Buckingham, who briefly soared high under Richard III, and the father-and-son team of John and Thomas Howard, who had previously seen their claim to the dukedom of Norfolk dismissed in favour of the younger of the princes, Richard. Richard’s attainder [forfeiture of lands and rights] and disappearance paved the way for the Howards to receive the Norfolk title, which the family still retain today.

All the principal suspects had vast affinities swollen with men who sought to rise with their masters, giving many lesser-known figures around London ample incentive to dispense with the princes to advance their own careers. And Yorkist opponents of Richard III would hardly have put forward a Welsh-Lancastrian nonentity like Henry Tudor as a plausible contender for the throne had there been any doubt whatsoever that the princes had been killed.

What of precedent? Well, deposed kings were typically slain, as was the case with Edward II, Richard II and Henry VI. Though young Edward V had not been crowned, he had been recognised as king, with fealty to his crown widely sworn.

Even mere pretenders to the throne could prove seriously disruptive if they weren’t dealt with promptly. Richard II’s failure to execute Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV), and the Yorkist failure to capture Henry Tudor, both proved costly. It made little sense in 1483 not to subdue a threat before it could develop further. This same principle ultimately led Henry VII to order the execution of Edward, Earl of Warwick – who, as Richard III’s nephew, had a strong claim to the throne – in 1499.

Sadly, the deaths of the princes were a necessary evil to secure the futures of the sitting dynasties of the day. The lack of evidence regarding the princes’ death does not justify the argument that they survived. Quite simply, as 1483 progressed, their presence was a risk that exposed many who stood to gain from their demise. It’s implausible that they lived on in such a fragile atmosphere. This is one scenario where Occam’s Razor is most fitting.

Heirs and pretenders: 5 potential threats to Richard and Henry’s crowns

Edward V

When Edward IV died in 1483, it was widely expected that his 12-year-old son, also Edward, would accede to the throne. Edward’s coronation was set for 22 June but, by the end of the month, his uncle Richard had seized the crown and consigned his nephew to the Tower. Young Edward was apparently never seen in public again – his fate the source of a 500-year mystery.

Richard of Shrewsbury

Edward V’s younger brother, nine-year-old Richard, was also sent to the Tower when his uncle seized the throne. Richard of Shrewsbury’s fate is unknown: most historians argue that Richard III ordered his murder, though others speculate that he could have survived into the reign of Henry VII.

Edward, Earl of Warwick

As the nephew of kings Edward IV and Richard III, Edward, Earl of Warwick (born 1475) had a powerful claim to the English throne. Henry VII certainly regarded Edward as a threat and imprisoned him in the Tower. Edward’s fate was sealed when he became involved in a plot to flee the Tower with Perkin Warbeck (see below). Henry had Edward executed for treason in 1499.

Lambert Simnel

In May 1487, Henry VII’s Yorkist enemies had Lambert Simnel (c1477– c1525) crowned ‘King Edward VI’ in Dublin, claiming that he was Edward, Earl of Warwick. Having landed in England, Simnel’s rebel army was defeated at the battle of Stoke Field – but Henry pardoned Simnel, putting him to work in the royal kitchen.

Perkin Warbeck

In 1497, Perkin Warbeck (c1474–99) headed an uprising against Henry VII in Cornwall, declaring that he was Richard of Shrewsbury. The rebels headed for Taunton but, on learning of the approach of loyalist forces, Warbeck fled. He was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London. There he remained until a botched escape attempt ended in his execution.

Matthew Lewis: Poor Warwick. A fatted calf slaughtered for Tudor security. That was the Tudor way. Yet it wasn’t Richard’s. Based on the previous 30 years of his life, such an act was way out of character, and cannot have been his first choice.

It’s true: Edward IV’s children remained a threat to Richard. And there was a precedent of killing, or at least claiming to kill, deposed kings. But in all these cases, a body was produced to silence rumours and vanquish danger. Why didn’t Richard do the same with the princes? He could have blamed Bucking-ham, the plague, or a botched plan to free them… it mattered less whether people believed the story than that they knew the boys were dead.

When Henry IV took the throne in 1399, Richard II’s heir presumptive was Edmund Mortimer, a seven-year-old boy with a younger brother, Roger. No one knew where they were for years, until the death of Henry IV in released them, allowing Edmund to take possession of his inheritance.

Richard had a perfect model for what to do with two boys: not kill them, but hide them. His sister was Duchess of Burgundy, while after more than a decade in the north, Richard had properties he was intimately familiar with, filled with men who were passionately loyal to him. He had places to hide his nephews in fact, their presence might explain the appointment of another of Richard’s nephews, John de la Pole, to run the Council of the North.

Aside from the princes, 17 of Richard’s nephews and nieces were alive at the beginning of his reign. Every one was still alive on the day of his death at the battle of Bosworth.

As for Occam’s Razor: two missing boys, two pretenders to Henry VII’s throne – this surely points in the direction of Henry being responsible for their deaths.

Nathen Amin: Warwick indeed was a fatted calf slaughtered for Tudor security – killed to satisfy the single biggest preoccupation of any sitting medieval king, the endurance of their line. Why is it so implausible that Richard III was capable of the same act in 1483? He may have been an exemplary duke hitherto, but upon becoming king the goalposts had moved significantly and his new mission as a good father was to secure his son Edward’s future.

Killing the princes may not have been Richard’s first choice, and I reject all assertions he was a tyrant or monster. But when you place yourself in his shoes during that tense summer – uncertain who around him was friend or foe – it is surely credible he acted decisively to the benefit of himself and his line. Unpalatable as it may be to the modern observer, I’d argue Richard had learnt from the hesitancy of his father, Richard, 3rd Duke of York, who ended his life with his head spiked on a gateway after defeat in battle by the Lancastrians.

Edmund Mortimer is an intriguing precedent, but only if we overlook the fact that, unlike Edward V, he was never roundly recognised as king, with oaths sworn across the realm to uphold his kingship. Do not underestimate the strength of loyalty in the heart of a medieval Englishman who had sworn fealty to his king.

So why were the boys’ bodies not produced? If Richard presented the corpses of the princes, just 12 and 9 respectively, to the citizens of London, he would surely have opened himself to accusations of murder at home and abroad. Rumours of their demise were already rife, and the sight of their bodies would have confirmed the suspicions of many. With proof, resistance to Richard’s rule would have hardened, for while previously deposed kings had lost their crowns through their own transgressions, these boys were truly innocents. Only usurpers killed their predecessors, and this was not an accusation that Richard wished to invite.

As for Henry, he simply followed Richard’s policy – to act as though nothing was untoward and hope the matter was gradually forgotten. To propose that the princes outlived Richard and survived into Henry’s reign merely raises questions about the competency of those involved. Richard and Henry were many things – but they weren’t incompetent.

Matthew Lewis: The Warwick example shows that kings did not tend to murder child hostages: Warwick was kept alive for 14 years before his execution. And the point I’m making about Richard III’s failure to produce the bodies is this: murdering the princes and keeping it quiet did nothing to remove any threat.

So what did happen to the princes? There are several survival theories with at least as much circumstantial evidence to support them than the notion they died in 1483. I strongly suspect that the Lambert Simnel rebellion against Henry VII of 1487 was an uprising in favour of Edward V, not Edward, Earl of Warwick. Why would Elizabeth Woodville and her son Thomas Grey be suspected of involvement in a revolt favouring Warwick? They had absolutely nothing to gain from it. Elizabeth of York was already queen and had a son, Prince Arthur. The only thing that placed Elizabeth Woodville in a better position in 1487 than having her daughter on the throne was putting one of her sons on it.

The Tudor court poet Bernard André was adamant that the rising was in the name of a son of Edward IV. A 1526 report on Ireland for Henry VIII asserts the same. Then you have John de la Pole’s decision to overlook his own very strong Yorkist claim and declare his support for Lambert Simnel. Take all of these into account and it soon becomes clear that something other than the official Tudor story was almost certainly going on.

Perkin Warbeck, another pretender to Henry VII’s throne, was given a similar Tudor spin – an odd name, humble background, documented torture, beatings to the face – to paper over the strong possibility, backed by crowned heads across Europe, that he was the genuine Richard, Duke of York (the youngest of the princes in the Tower).

It requires a feat of cognitive dissonance to assert, with any certainty, that Richard III murdered the princes. Their survival is a real possibility – one that demands recognition and examination.

Nathen Amin: I would counter that Warwick’s example shows that Henry learnt from Richard that it was vital to keep a princely child alive so that they could be presented if called upon. In fact, when Lambert Simnel arrived on the scene and was put forward as Warwick, Henry simply brought the real Warwick out of the Tower and paraded him through London, quelling much of the doubt in his subjects’ minds and forcing Simnel’s backers to seek support in Ireland rather than England. Richard had never been able to do this with his other nephews, and the uncertainty cost him his crown, and his life. Henry, on the other hand, had the benefit of keeping alive a child who had never been recognised or accepted as king, and indeed was not the son of a king.

The problem with accepting the survival story in favour of the ‘traditional’ one is that it raises doubts in some areas while ignoring vast evidence to the contrary. Bernard André does indeed suggest that Simnel claimed to be Edward V, not Warwick, but this is an author roundly derided by Ricardians and other historians for his lack of credibility. Are we to accept this sole statement as truth while disregarding his other errors?

And there are other reasons to doubt André: it disregards the fact that Simnel’s cause was generally advanced by the former household of Warwick’s father, George Duke of Clarence. And, granted his life by Henry after his capture, Simnel lived a quiet life under Tudor rule until at least 1525. If he had truly been Edward V, he would surely have been recognised by his sister Elizabeth of York and other courtiers. Is this at all a likely scenario, particularly under the reign of Henry VIII? It rails against logic. If there had been any doubt whatsoever, it would have been sheer madness for Henry VII or VIII to keep Simnel alive.

As for Perkin Warbeck, there are discrepancies in the confession he gave post-capture, but an abundance of sourced evidence corroborates the assertion that he was quite simply an effective, even impressive, imposter. Like Simnel, Warbeck was also granted his life – twice – by Henry. And when Henry did eventually order Warbeck’s execution, it was arguably only to secure the downfall of the real Yorkist heir, the true surviving prince in the Tower: Warwick.

Surely the best approach to this saga is to weigh up the material available and come to the most rational conclusion, while conceding that it is unlikely we will ever be able to give a definitive answer to the debate. Just like the Jack the Ripper case, and the disappearance of the crew of the Mary Celeste, this is one mystery that will run and run.

Matthew Lewis is a historian and author. His books include Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me (Amberley, 2018)

Nathen Amin is an author with a special interest in Henry VII. His books include The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown (Amberley, 2017)

Find out more about Richard III and his era.

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Richard III

In August 2012, during an archaeological excavation in a Leicester City Council car park a remarkable discovery was made: the skeletal remains of King Richard III. The blend of dark historical deeds and modern detective work captured peoples’ imaginations around the world and re-wrote the history of a much-maligned monarch whose grave had been lost for over 500 years.

There is an enduring interest in King Richard III, who reigned from 1483-1485. He is probably England’s most controversial medieval monarch he was the last king of the House of York and the Plantagenet dynasty (which ruled England for over 300 years) and the last English king to be killed in battle.

The life of Richard III

Richard Plantagenet was born on 2 October 1452 at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire. He was the seventh and youngest child to survive infancy of Richard, Duke of York and his wife, Cecily Neville.

Only a few years after Richard was born the First Battle of St Albans took place in 1455. This battle marked the start of the ‘Wars of the Roses’ conflict between the ruling Lancastrian dynasty of Henry VI and the House of York led by Richard, Duke of York.

When King Edward IV was crowned in 1461, he gave his younger brother Richard the title of Duke of Gloucester. Richard spent some of his childhood at Middleham Castle, Yorkshire, owned by his cousin the Earl of Warwick. As Richard grew up he loyally supported his brother, the king, and was rewarded with further titles and roles including admiral, High Sheriff of Cumberland, Governor of the North, Constable of England, Chief Justice of North Wales, Chief Steward and Chamberlain of Wales, Great Chamberlain and Lord High Admiral of England.

On 9 April 1483 Edward IV died and his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, became King Edward V. At the age of only 12 Edward was too young to rule and a protector (regent) was required. The late King’s will had nominated Richard as Lord Protector, but Edward V’s mother, Elizabeth Woodville, resisted this appointment. After a few months of factional manoeuvring that resulted in arrests and executions of Elizabeth’s supporters, Edward V and his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York, found themselves under the care of their uncle, Richard, in the Tower of London. On 22 June 1483 a sermon was preached declaring that Edward V and his brother were illegitimate and that Richard should be king. A few days later on 26 June, Richard was declared King Richard III and he was crowned in Westminster Abbey on 6 July.

The Battle of Bosworth

Richard III’s reign was short, lasting just over two years. His nephews soon disappeared from sight and contemporaries came to believe that they were dead. Opposition to Richard’s rule grew, coalescing around Henry Tudor, the last Lancastrian claimant to the throne (then exiled in France). By 1484 the king was increasingly reliant on a small group of associates and the threat of an uprising against him overshadowed his reign.

Finally, in 1485, the long-awaited invasion occurred and Richard successfully forced a confrontation with the rebels near the town of Market Bosworth in Leicestershire. Having spent a night in Leicester at the Blue Boar Inn, Richard marched out across the Bow Bridge to confront Henry’s army. On 22 August, Richard’s greater force met Henry Tudor’s army in battle in what would become a pivotal moment in English history. Richard was slain, and his death brought to a close thirty years of bloody civil war, leaving Henry victorious as King Henry VII, the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty which would rule England for the next 118 years.

The road to the car park

After the battle, Richard’s body was carried to Leicester where a community of Franciscan (‘grey’) friars buried him in their friary church. Half a century later, the friary closed and was dismantled during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. The king’s grave remained marked into the 17th century but eventually disappeared, and by the Victorian period it was widely believed that the body had been dug up and thrown into the River Soar.

In the 20th century, historians Charles Billson and David Baldwin started to cast doubt on this popular story but it wasn’t until 2011 when Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society approached the University of Leicester, that plans were drawn up to excavate the Grey Friars site and possibly locate King Richard’s grave.

Digging for Richard

On 25 August 2012, a digger broke the tarmac of the car park and a team of archaeologists led by Richard Buckley and Mathew Morris began the task of locating the actual friary.

The first trench revealed evidence of medieval buildings – possibly parts of the friary – and a human burial represented by pair of leg bones. Further trenches uncovered more of the friary, providing clues to the layout of the buildings and the location of the friary church. Soon it was realised that the human remains found in the first trench lay under the church choir where King Richard was reportedly buried. The Ministry of Justice issued a licence for the University of Leicester Archaeological Society to exhume the burial and osteologist Jo Appleby painstakingly uncovered the skeleton, which had an S-shaped spine.

The bones, bearing obvious battle wounds, were carefully recorded, exhumed and transported to the University of Leicester for further study.

Identifying a lost king

Using a combination of archaeological, historical, forensic, genealogical and DNA evidence, the conclusion of these studies showed that the skeleton was a male aged 30-34 who had sustained multiple battle injuries. He had died between 1455 and 1540 and was buried in the choir of the Grey Friars church with minimal reverence. Other evidence included spinal abnormalities (scoliosis). Crucially, the skeleton had a genetic match with known relatives on the female side of Richard’s family.

Dr John Ashdown Hill, building on earlier work, importantly identified the Ibsen family as being female-line relatives of Richard III. Professor Kevin Sch ürer set out to confirm the family link and to find another individual who could act as a comparator. The Professor and his team confirmed t he skeleton’s mitochondrial DNA was matched with two female-line relatives of Richard III, the king’s 16x great-nephew Michael Ibsen and 18x great-niece Wendy Duldig.

Closing the case…

Analysis of the combined evidence led to the announcement in February 2013, at a packed press conference, that “It is the academic conclusion of the University of Leicester that the individual exhumed in September 2012 is indeed King Richard III.”

Richard III’s legacy in Leicester

Richard III is indelibly etched into the city’s fabric. Roads, schools and pubs are all named after him, whilst memorials and statues have honoured his memory since the 17th century. Thousands of people turned out to watch his reinterment in 2015 and today, Leicester remains guardian of the king’s remains, reinterred less than 100m from where he was originally buried, in a new tomb in Leicester Cathedral.

Read more about the search for Richard III at the University of Leicester website.


Richard III was killed fighting the forces of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, the last major battle of the Wars of the Roses. The Welsh poet Guto'r Glyn credited Richard's death to Sir Rhys ap Thomas, a Welsh member of Henry's army who was said to have struck the fatal blow. [1] Richard III was the last English king to be killed in battle. [2]

Richard's body was stripped naked and taken to Leicester [3] [4] where it was put on public display. The anonymous Ballad of Bosworth Field says that "in Newarke laid was hee, that many a one might looke on him" —almost certainly a reference to the collegiate Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady of the Newarke, [5] a Lancastrian foundation on the outskirts of medieval Leicester. [6] According to the chronicler Polydore Vergil, Henry VII "tarried for two days" in Leicester before leaving for London, and on the same date as Henry's departure—25 August 1485—Richard's body was buried "at the convent of Franciscan monks [sic] in Leicester" with "no funeral solemnity". [7] The Warwickshire priest and antiquary John Rous, writing between 1486 and 1491, recorded that Richard had been buried "in the choir of the Friars Minor at Leicester". [7] Although later writers ascribed Richard's burial to other places, the accounts of Vergil and Rous were seen by modern investigators as the most credible. [8]

Burial site Edit

In 1495, ten years after the burial, Henry VII paid for a marble and alabaster monument to mark Richard's grave. [9] Its cost is recorded in surviving legal papers relating to a dispute over payment showing that two men received payments of £50 and £10.1s, respectively, to make and transport the tomb from Nottingham to Leicester. [10] No first-person descriptions of the tomb survive, but Raphael Holinshed wrote in 1577 (perhaps quoting someone who had seen it in person) that it incorporated "a picture of alabaster representing [Richard's] person". [11] Forty years later, Sir George Buck wrote that it was "a fair tomb of mingled colour marble adorned with his image". [11] Buck also recorded the epitaph inscribed on the tomb. [11]

Following the dissolution of Greyfriars in 1538, the friary was demolished and the monument either was destroyed, or slowly decayed as a result of being exposed to the elements. The site of the friary was sold to two Lincolnshire property speculators and was later acquired by Robert Herrick, the mayor of Leicester (and eventual uncle of the poet Robert Herrick). The Lord Mayor Herrick built a mansion close to Friary Lane, on a site now buried under the modern Grey Friars Street, and turned the rest of the land into gardens. [12] Although Richard's monument had evidently disappeared by this time, the site of his grave was still known. The antiquary Christopher Wren (father of Christopher Wren the architect) recorded that Herrick erected a monument on the site of the grave in the form of a stone pillar three feet (1 m) high carved with the words, "Here lies the Body of Richard III, Some Time King of England." [13] The pillar was visible in 1612 but had disappeared by 1844. [14]

The cartographer and antiquarian John Speed wrote in his Historie of Great Britaine (1611) that local tradition held that Richard's body had been "borne out of the City, and contemptuously bestowed under the end of Bow-Bridge, which giveth passage over a branch of Soare upon the west side of the town." [15] His account was widely accepted by later authors. In 1856 a memorial plaque to Richard III was erected next to Bow Bridge by a local builder, stating, "Near this spot lie the remains of Richard III the last of the Plantagenets 1485". [16] The discovery of a skeleton in 1862 in the river sediments near the bridge led to claims that Richard's bones had been found, but closer examination showed they were probably those of a man in his early 20s and not Richard's. [16]

The origin of Speed's claim is unclear it was not attributed to any source, nor did it have any antecedents in other written accounts. [16] The writer Audrey Strange suggests that the account may be a confused retelling of desecration of the remains of John Wycliffe in nearby Lutterworth in 1428, when a mob disinterred him, burned his bones and threw them into the River Swift. [17] The independent British historian John Ashdown-Hill proposes that Speed made a mistake over the location of Richard's grave and invented the story to account for its absence. If Speed had been to Herrick's property he would surely have seen the commemorative pillar and gardens, but instead he reported that the site was "overgrown with nettles and weeds" [18] and there was no trace of Richard's grave. The map of Leicester drawn by Speed incorrectly shows Greyfriars where the former Blackfriars was, suggesting that he had looked for the grave in the wrong place. [18]

Another local legend arose about a stone coffin that supposedly held Richard's remains, which Speed wrote was "now made a drinking trough for horses at a common Inn". A coffin certainly seems to have existed John Evelyn recorded it on a visit in 1654, and Celia Fiennes wrote in 1700 that she had seen "a piece of his tombstone [sic] he lay in, which was cut out in exact form for his body to lie in it remains to be seen at ye Greyhound [Inn] in Leicester but is partly broken." William Hutton found in 1758 that the coffin, which had "not withstood the ravages of time", was kept at the White Horse Inn on Gallowtree Gate. Although the coffin's location is no longer known, its description does not match the style of late 15th-century coffins, and it is unlikely to have had any connection with Richard. It is more likely that it was salvaged from one of the religious establishments demolished following the Dissolution. [16]

Herrick's mansion, Greyfriars House, remained in the possession of his family until his great-grandson Samuel sold it in 1711. The property was subsequently divided and sold in 1740 three years later, New Street was built across the western part of the site. Many burials were discovered when houses were laid out along the street. A townhouse, 17 Friar Lane, was built on the eastern part of the site in 1759 and survives today. During the 19th century, the site became increasingly built on. In 1863 Alderman Newton's Boys' School built a schoolhouse on part of the site. Herrick's mansion was demolished in 1871, the present Grey Friars Street was laid through the site in 1873, and more commercial developments, including the Leicester Trustee Savings Bank, were built. In 1915 the rest of the site was acquired by Leicestershire County Council which built offices on it in the 1920s and 1930s. The county council relocated in 1965 when its new County Hall opened, and Leicester City Council moved in. [16] The rest of the site, where Herrick's garden had once been, was turned into a staff car park in about 1944, but was not otherwise built on. [19]

In 2007, a single-storey building from the 1950s was demolished on Grey Friars Street giving archaeologists the opportunity to excavate and search for traces of the medieval friary. Very little was unearthed, except for a fragment of a post-medieval stone coffin lid. The results of the dig suggested that the remains of the friary church were farther west than previously thought. [20]

The location of Richard III's body had long been of interest to the members of the Richard III Society, a group established to bring about a reappraisal of the King's tarnished reputation. In 1975 an article by Audrey Strange was published in the society's journal, The Ricardian, suggesting that his remains were buried under Leicester City Council's car park. [21] The claim was repeated in 1986, when historian David Baldwin suggested that the remains were still in the Greyfriars area. [22] He speculated, "It is possible (though now perhaps unlikely) that at some time in the twenty-first century an excavator may yet reveal the slight remains of this famous monarch." [23]

Although the Richard III Society remained interested in discussing the possible location of the king's grave, they did not search for his remains. Individual members suggested possible lines of investigation, but neither the University of Leicester nor local historians and archaeologists took up the challenge, probably because it was widely thought that the grave site had been built over or the skeleton had been scattered, as John Speed's account suggested. [24]

In 2004 and 2005, Philippa Langley, secretary of the Scottish Branch of the Richard III Society, carried out research in Leicester in connection with a biographical Richard III screenplay and became convinced that the car park was the key location for investigation. [25] In 2005, John Ashdown-Hill announced that he had discovered the mitochondrial DNA sequence of Richard III after identifying two matrilineal descendants of Richard III's sister Anne of York. [26] He also concluded, from his knowledge of the layout of Franciscan priories, that the ruins of the priory church at Greyfriars were likely to lie under the car park and had not been built over. [27] After hearing of his research, Langley urged Ashdown-Hill to contact the producers of Channel 4's Time Team archaeology series to propose an excavation of the car park, but they declined as the dig would take longer than the standard three-day window for Time Team projects.

Three years later, writer Annette Carson, in her book Richard III: The Maligned King (the History Press 2008, 2009, page 270), published her independent conclusion that his body probably lay under the car park. She joined forces with Langley and Ashdown-Hill to carry out further research. [28] By now Langley had found what she called a "smoking gun"—a medieval map of Leicester showing the Greyfriars Church at the north end of what was now the car park. [29]

In February 2009, Langley, Carson and Ashdown-Hill teamed up with Richard III Society members David Johnson and his wife Wendy to launch a project with the working title Looking for Richard: In Search of a King. Its premise was a search for Richard's grave "while at the same time telling his real story", [20] [30] with an objective "to search for, recover and rebury his mortal remains with the honour, dignity and respect so conspicuously denied following his death at the battle of Bosworth." [31] To ensure support from decision makers in Leicester, Langley had secured interest from Darlow Smith Productions for a televised documentary, which Langley envisaged as a "landmark TV special". [20]

The project gained the backing of several key partners—Leicester City Council, Leicester Promotions (responsible for tourist marketing), the University of Leicester, Leicester Cathedral, Darlow Smithson Productions (responsible for the planned TV show) and the Richard III Society. [30] Funding for the initial phase of pre-excavation research came from the Richard III Society's bursary fund and members of the Looking for Richard project, [32] with Leicester Promotions agreeing to pick up the £35,000 cost of the dig. The University of Leicester Archaeological Services—an independent body with offices at the university—was appointed as the project's archaeological contractor. [33]

In March 2011 an assessment of the Greyfriars site began to identify where the monastery had stood, and which land might be available for excavation. A desk-based assessment [note 1] was conducted to determine the archaeological viability of the site, followed by a survey in August 2011 using ground-penetrating radar (GPR). [20] The GPR results were inconclusive no clear building remains could be identified owing to a layer of disturbed ground and demolition debris just below the surface. The survey was useful in finding modern utilities crossing the site, such as pipes and cables. [34]

Three possible excavation sites were identified: the staff car park of Leicester City Council Social Services, the disused playground of the former Alderman Newton's School and a public car park on New Street. It was decided to open two trenches in the Social Services car park, with an option for a third in the playground. [35] Because most of the Greyfriars site had been built on, only seventeen per cent of its former area was available to excavate the area to be investigated amounted to just one per cent of the site, owing to the limitations of the project's funding. [36]

The proposed excavation was announced in the June 2012 issue of the Richard III Society's magazine, the Ricardian Bulletin, but a month later one of the main sponsors pulled out leaving a £10,000 funding shortfall an appeal resulted in members of the several Ricardian groups donating £13,000 in two weeks. [37] A press conference held in Leicester on 24 August announced the start of the work. Archaeologist Richard Buckley admitted the project was a long shot: "We don't know precisely where the church is, let alone where the burial site is." [38] He had earlier told Langley that he thought the odds were "fifty-fifty at best for [finding] the church, and nine-to-one against finding the grave." [39]

Digging began the next day with a trench 1.6 metres (5.2 ft) wide by 30 metres (98 ft) long, running roughly north-south. A layer of modern building debris was removed before the level of the former monastery was reached. Two parallel human leg bones were discovered about 5 metres (16 ft) from the north end of the trench at a depth of about 1.5 metres (4.9 ft), indicating an undisturbed burial. [40] The bones were covered temporarily to protect them while excavations continued further along the trench. A second, parallel trench was dug next day to the south-west. [41] Over the following days, evidence of medieval walls and rooms was uncovered, allowing the archaeologists to pinpoint the area of the friary. [42] It became clear that the bones found on the first day lay inside the east part of the church, possibly the choir, where Richard was said to have been buried. [43] On 31 August, the University of Leicester applied for a licence from the Ministry of Justice to permit the exhumation of up to six sets of human remains. To narrow the search, it was planned that only the remains of men in their thirties, buried within the church, would be exhumed. [42]

The bones found on 25 August were uncovered on 4 September and the grave soil dug back further over the next two days. The feet were missing, and the skull was found in an unusual propped-up position, consistent with the body being put into a grave that was slightly too small. [44] The spine was curved in an S-shape. No sign of a coffin was found the skeleton's posture suggested the body had not been put in a shroud, but had been hurriedly dumped into the grave and buried. As the bones were lifted from the ground, a piece of rusted iron was found underneath the vertebrae. [45] [46] The skeleton's hands were in an unusual position, crossed over the right hip, suggesting they were tied together at the time of burial, although this could not be established definitively. [47] After the exhumation, work continued in the trenches over the following week, before the site was covered with soil to protect it from damage and re-surfaced to restore the car park and playground to their former condition. [48]

On 12 September, the University of Leicester team announced that the human remains were a possible candidate for Richard's body, but emphasised the need for caution. The positive indicators were that the body was of an adult male it was buried beneath the choir of the church it had severe scoliosis of the spine possibly making one shoulder higher than the other. [49] An object that appeared to be an arrowhead was found under the spine and the skull had severe injuries. [50] [51]

DNA evidence Edit

After the exhumation the emphasis shifted from the excavation to laboratory analysis of the bones that had been recovered. Ashdown-Hill had used genealogical research to track down matrilineal descendants of Anne of York, Richard's older sister, whose matrilineal line of descent is extant through her daughter Anne St Leger. Academic Kevin Schürer subsequently traced a second individual in the same line. [52]

Ashdown-Hill's research came about as a result of a challenge in 2003 to provide a DNA sequence for Richard's sister Margaret, to identify bones found in her burial place, the Franciscan priory church in Mechelen, Belgium. He tried to extract a mitochondrial DNA sequence from a preserved hair from Edward IV held by the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford but the attempt proved unsuccessful, owing to degradation of the DNA. Ashdown-Hill turned instead to genealogical research to identify an all-female-line descendant of Cecily Neville, Richard's mother. [53] After two years he found a British-born woman who had emigrated to Canada after World War II, Joy Ibsen (née Brown), was a direct descendant of Richard's sister, Anne of York (and therefore Richard's 16th generation great-niece). [54] [55] Ibsen's mitochondrial DNA was tested and found to belong to mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup J, which by deduction should be Richard's mitochondrial DNA haplogroup. [56] The mtDNA obtained from Ibsen showed that the Mechelen bones were not those of Margaret. [53]

Joy Ibsen, a retired journalist, died in 2008, leaving three children: Michael, Jeff, and Leslie. [58] On 24 August 2012, her son Michael (born in Canada in 1957, a cabinet maker based in London) [59] [60] gave a mouth-swab sample to the research team to compare with samples from the human remains found at the excavation. [61] Analysts found a mitochondrial DNA match among the exhumed skeleton, Michael Ibsen, and a second direct maternal line descendant, who shares a relatively rare mitochondrial DNA sequence, [62] [63] [64] mitochondrial DNA haplogroup J1c2c. [65] [66]

The other living female-line relative of Richard III is Wendy Duldig, an Australian resident in England and a 19th generation descendant of Anne of York. Duldig, who has no surviving children, is connected to the Ibsen family through Anne's granddaughter Catherine Constable, née Manners. Descendants of Constable, including one of Duldig's ancestors reportedly emigrated to New Zealand. Duldig's mitochondrial DNA is reportedly a close match, i.e. it features one mutation. [54]

Despite the matching mitochondrial DNA, geneticist Turi King continued to pursue a link between the paternally-inherited Y DNA and that of descendants of John of Gaunt. Four living male-line descendants of Gaunt have been located, and their results are a match to each other. The Y DNA from the skeleton is somewhat degraded, but proved not to match any of the living male-line relatives, showing that a false-paternity event had happened somewhere in the 19 generations between Richard III and Henry Somerset, 5th Duke of Beaufort work by Turi King and others has shown that historical rates of false paternity are around 1–2% per generation. [62]

Professor Michael Hicks, a Richard III specialist, has been particularly critical of the use of the mitochondrial DNA to argue that the body is Richard III's, stating that "any male sharing a maternal ancestress in the direct female line could qualify". He also criticises the rejection by the Leicester team of the Y chromosomal evidence, suggesting that it was not acceptable to the Leicester team to conclude that the skeleton was anyone other than Richard III. He argues that on the basis of the present scientific evidence "identification with Richard III is more unlikely than likely". However, Hicks himself draws attention to the contemporary view held by some that Richard III's grandfather, Richard, Earl of Cambridge, was the product of an illegitimate union between Cambridge's mother Isabella of Castile and John Holland (brother in law of Henry IV of England), rather than Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York (Edward III's fourth son). If that was the case then the Y chromosome discrepancy with the Beaufort line would be explained but obviously still fail to prove the identity of the body. Hicks suggests alternative candidates descended from Richard III's maternal ancestress for the body (e.g. Thomas Percy, 1st Baron Egremont, and John de la Pole, 1st Earl of Lincoln) but does not provide evidence to support his suggestions. Philippa Langley refutes Hicks's argument on the grounds that he does not take into account all the evidence. [67] [68]

Bones Edit

An osteological examination of the bones by Jo Appleby showed them to be in generally good condition and largely complete except for the missing feet, which may have been destroyed by Victorian building work. It was immediately apparent that the body had suffered major injuries, and further evidence of wounds was found as the skeleton was cleaned. [47] The skull shows signs of two lethal injuries the base of the back of the skull had been completely cut away by a bladed weapon, which would have exposed the brain, and another bladed weapon had been thrust through the right side of the skull, striking the inside of the left side through the brain. [69] Elsewhere on the skull, a blow from a pointed weapon had penetrated the crown of the head. Bladed weapons had clipped the skull and sheared off layers of bone, without penetrating it. [70] Other holes in the skull and lower jaw were found to be consistent with dagger wounds to the chin and cheek. [71] The multiple wounds on the king’s skull indicated that he was not wearing his helmet at the time, which he may have either removed or lost when he was on foot after his horse had become stuck in the marsh. [72] [73] One of his right ribs had been cut by a sharp implement, as had the pelvis. [74] There was no evidence of the withered arm that afflicted the character in William Shakespeare's play Richard III. [75] [76]

Taken together, the injuries appear to be a combination of battle wounds, which were the cause of death, followed by post-mortem humiliation wounds inflicted on the corpse. The body wounds show that the corpse had been stripped of its armour, as the stabbed torso would have been protected by a backplate and the pelvis would have been protected by armour. The wounds were made from behind on the back and buttocks while they were exposed to the elements, consistent with the contemporary descriptions of Richard's naked body being tied across a horse with the legs and arms dangling down on either side. [71] [74] [77] There may have been further flesh wounds not apparent from the bones. [75]

The head wounds are consistent with the narrative of a 1485 poem by Guto'r Glyn in which a Welsh knight, Sir Rhys ap Thomas, killed Richard and "shaved the boar's head". [78] It had been thought that this was a figurative description of Richard being decapitated, but the skeleton's head had clearly not been severed. Guto's description may instead be a literal account of the injuries that Richard suffered, as the blows sustained to the head would have sliced away much of his scalp and hair and slivers of bone. [78] Other contemporary sources refer explicitly to head injuries and the weapons used to kill Richard the French chronicler Jean Molinet wrote that "one of the Welshmen then came after him, and struck him dead with a halberd", and the Ballad of Lady Bessie recorded that "they struck his bascinet to his head until his brains came out with blood." Such accounts would certainly fit the damage inflicted on the skull. [77] [79]

Sideways curvature of his spine was evident as the skeleton was excavated. It has been attributed to adolescent-onset scoliosis. Although it was probably visible in making his right shoulder higher than the left and reducing his apparent height, it did not preclude an active lifestyle, and would not have caused a hunchback. [80] The bones are those of a male with an age range estimation of 30–34, [73] consistent with Richard, who was 32 when he died. [75]

Radiocarbon dating and other scientific analyses Edit

Two radiocarbon datings to find the age of the bones suggested dates of 1430–1460 [note 2] and 1412–1449 [note 3] – both too early for Richard's death in 1485. Mass spectrometry carried out on the bones found evidence of much seafood consumption, which is known to make radiocarbon dating samples appear older than they are. A Bayesian analysis suggested there was a 68.2% probability that the true date of the bones was between 1475–1530, rising to 95.4% for 1450–1540. Although by itself not enough to prove that the skeleton was Richard's, it was consistent with the date of his death. [81] The mass spectrometry result indicating the rich seafood diet was confirmed by a chemical isotope analysis of two teeth, a femur, and a rib. From the isotope analysis of carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen in the teeth and bones the researchers discovered the diet included much freshwater fish and exotic birds such as swan, crane, and heron, and a vast quantity of wine – all items at the high end of the luxury market. [82] Close analysis of the soil immediately below the skeleton revealed that the man had been infested with roundworm parasites when he died. [83]

The excavators found an iron object under the skeleton's vertebrae and speculated it might be an arrowhead that had been embedded in its back. An X-ray analysis showed it was a nail, probably dating to Roman Britain, that had been in the ground by chance immediately under the grave, or was in soil disturbed when the grave was dug, and had nothing to do with the body. [75]

On 4 February 2013, the University of Leicester confirmed that the skeleton was that of Richard III. [84] [85] [86] The identification was based on mitochondrial DNA evidence, soil analysis, and dental tests, and physical characteristics of the skeleton consistent with contemporary accounts of Richard's appearance. Osteoarchaeologist Jo Appleby commented: "The skeleton has a number of unusual features: its slender build, the scoliosis, and the battle-related trauma. All of these are highly consistent with the information that we have about Richard III in life and about the circumstances of his death." [84]

Caroline Wilkinson, Professor of Craniofacial Identification at the University of Dundee, led the project to reconstruct the face, commissioned by the Richard III Society. [87] On 11 February 2014, the University of Leicester announced a project headed by Turi King to sequence the entire genome of Richard III and Michael Ibsen—a direct female-line descendant of Richard's sister, Anne of York—whose mitochondrial DNA confirmed the identification of the excavated remains. Richard III is thus the first ancient person with known historical identity whose genome has been sequenced. [88] A study published in Nature Communications in December 2014 confirmed a perfect whole-mitochondrial genome match between Richard's skeleton and Michael Ibsen and a near-perfect match between Richard and his other confirmed living relative. However, Y chromosome DNA inherited via the male line found no link with five other claimed living relatives, indicating that at least one "false-paternity event" occurred in the generations between Richard and these men. One of these five was found to be unrelated to the other four, showing that another false-paternity event had occurred in the four generations separating them. [89]

The story of the excavation and subsequent scientific investigation was told in a Channel 4 documentary, Richard III: The King in the Car Park, broadcast on 4 February 2013. [90] It proved a ratings hit for the channel, watched by up to 4.9 million viewers, [91] and won a Royal Television Society award. [92] Channel 4 subsequently screened a follow-up documentary on 27 February 2014, Richard III: The Untold Story, which detailed the scientific and archaeological analyses that led to the identification of the skeleton as Richard III. [91]

The site was re-excavated in July 2013 to learn more about the friary church, before building work on the adjacent disused school building. In a project co-funded by Leicester City Council and the University of Leicester, a single trench about twice the area of the 2012 trenches was excavated. It succeeded in exposing the entirety of the sites of the Greyfriars presbytery and choir sites, confirming archaeologists' earlier hypotheses about the layout of the church's east end. Three burials identified but not excavated in the 2012 project were tackled afresh. One burial was found to have been interred in a wooden coffin in a well-dug grave, while a second wooden-coffined burial was found under and astride the choir and presbytery its position suggests that it pre-dates the church. [93]

A stone coffin found during the 2012 excavation was opened for the first time, revealing a lead coffin inside. An investigation with an endoscope revealed the presence of a skeleton along with some head hair and fragments of a shroud and cord. [93] The skeleton was at first assumed to be male, perhaps that of a knight called Sir William de Moton who was known to have been buried there, but later examination showed it to be of a woman—perhaps a high-ranking benefactress. [94] She may not necessarily have been local, as lead coffins were used to transport corpses over long distances. [93]

Plans and challenges Edit

The University of Leicester's plan to inter Richard's body in Leicester Cathedral was in keeping with British legal norms which hold that Christian burials excavated by archaeologists should be reburied in the nearest consecrated ground to the original grave [83] and was a condition of the licence granted by the Ministry of Justice to exhume any human remains found during the excavation. [95] The British royal family made no claim on the remains – Queen Elizabeth II was reportedly consulted but rejected the idea of a royal burial [83] – so the Ministry of Justice initially confirmed that the University of Leicester would make the final decision on where the bones should be re-buried. [96] David Monteith, Canon Chancellor of Leicester Cathedral, said Richard's skeleton would be reinterred at the cathedral in early 2014 in a "Christian-led but ecumenical service", [97] not a formal reburial but rather a service of remembrance, as a funeral service would have been held at the time of burial. [98]

The choice of burial site proved controversial and proposals were made for Richard to be buried in places which some felt were more fitting for a Roman Catholic and Yorkist monarch. Online petitions were launched calling for Richard to be buried in Westminster Abbey, [note 4] where 17 other English and British kings are interred York Minster, which some claimed was Richard's own preferred burial site the Roman Catholic Arundel Cathedral or in the Leicester car park in which his body was found. Only two options received significant public support, with Leicester receiving 3,100 more signatures than York. [83] The issue was discussed in the Houses of Parliament the Conservative MP and historian Chris Skidmore proposed that a state funeral should be held, while John Mann, the Labour MP for Bassetlaw, suggested that the body should be buried in Worksop in his constituency—halfway between York and Leicester. All options were rejected in Leicester, whose mayor Peter Soulsby retorted: "Those bones leave Leicester over my dead body." [100]

After legal action brought by the "Plantagenet Alliance", a group representing claimed descendants of Richard's siblings, his final resting place remained uncertain for nearly a year. [101] The group, which described itself as "his Majesty's representatives and voice", [93] called for Richard to be buried in York Minster, which they claimed was his "wish". [101] [102] The Dean of Leicester called their challenge "disrespectful", and said that the cathedral would not invest any more money until the matter was decided. [103] Historians said there was no evidence that Richard III wanted to be buried in York. [93] Mark Ormrod of the University of York expressed scepticism over the idea that Richard had devised any clear plans for his own burial. [104] The standing of the Plantagenet Alliance was challenged. Mathematician Rob Eastaway calculated that Richard III's siblings may have millions of living descendants, saying that "we should all have the chance to vote on Leicester versus York". [105]

In August 2013 Justice Haddon-Cave granted permission for a judicial review since the original burial plans ignored the common law duty "to consult widely as to how and where Richard III's remains should appropriately be reinterred". [102] The judicial review opened on 13 March 2014 and was expected to last two days [106] but the decision was deferred for four to six weeks. Lady Justice Hallett, sitting with Justice Ouseley and Justice Haddon-Cave, said the court would take time to consider its judgment. [107] On 23 May the High Court ruled there was "no duty to consult" and "no public law grounds for the court to interfere", so reburial in Leicester could proceed. [108] The litigation cost the defendants £245,000 – far more than the cost of the original investigation. [83]

Reburial and commemorations Edit

In February 2013, Leicester Cathedral announced a procedure and timetable for the reinterment of Richard's remains. The cathedral authorities planned to bury him in a "place of honour" within the cathedral. [109] Initial plans for a flat ledger stone, perhaps modifying the memorial stone installed in the chancel in 1982, [110] proved unpopular. A table tomb was the most popular option among members of the Richard III Society and in polls of Leicester people. [111] [112] In June 2014 the design was announced, in the form of a table tomb of Swaledale fossil stone on a Kilkenny marble plinth. [113] That month, the statue of Richard III that had stood in Leicester's Castle Gardens was moved to the redesigned Cathedral Gardens, which were reopened on 5 July 2014. [114]

The reburial took place during a week of events between 22 and 27 March 2015. The sequence of events included:

  • Sunday 22 March 2015: Richard's bones were sealed in a lead-lined ossuary and placed in a wooden coffin. [115] The remains were moved from the University of Leicester to Leicester Cathedral via the site of the Battle of Bosworth at Fenn Lane Farm and through Dadlington, Sutton Cheney, Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre on Ambion Hill, and Market Bosworth retracing part of Richard's last journey. [83][116] The coffin, made from English oak from the Duchy of Cornwall estate by Michael Ibsen, [60] was transferred from a motor hearse to a four-horse-drawn hearse for entry into the city of Leicester. [117]
  • Monday 23 – Wednesday 25 March 2015: Remains lay in repose in the cathedral. Waiting times to view the coffin were reported to exceed four hours. [118]
  • Monday 23 March 2015: Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, celebrated Mass for Richard III's soul in Holy Cross Priory, Leicester, the Catholic parish church, and in Holy Cross Church.
  • Thursday 26 March 2015: Reburial in the presence of Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, and senior members of other Christian denominations. The service, shown live on Channel 4, included memorial prayers for Richard III and the victims of Bosworth and other conflicts. Actor Benedict Cumberbatch, a distant relative of Richard III, who would soon portray him in the BBC Shakespeare adaptation The Hollow Crown, [119] read a poem written for the service by the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. [120][121] The royal family was represented by Sophie, Countess of Wessex, Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and Birgitte, Duchess of Gloucester—Richard III was Duke of Gloucester before his accession. Music during the service included a setting of Psalm 138 by Leonel Power Ghostly Grace, an anthem composed for the service by Judith Bingham a setting of Psalm 150 by Philip Moore and an arrangement of "God Save the Queen" by Judith Weir. [122]
  • Friday 27 March 2015: Unveiling the tomb to the public, in a Service of Reveal at Leicester Cathedral, followed by commemorations across Leicester. [123]

After the discovery, Leicester City Council set up a temporary exhibition about Richard III in the city's medieval guildhall. [124] The council announced it would create a permanent attraction and subsequently spent £850,000 to buy the freehold of St Martin's Place, formerly part of Leicester Grammar School, in Peacock Lane, across the road from the cathedral. The site adjoins the car park where the body was found, and overlies the chancel of Greyfriars Friary Church. [100] [125] It was converted into the £4.5 million King Richard III Visitor Centre, telling the story of Richard's life, death, burial and rediscovery, with artefacts from the dig including Philippa Langley's Wellington boots and the hard hat and high-visibility jacket worn by archaeologist Mathew Morris on the day he found Richard's skeleton. Visitors can see the grave site under a glass floor. [126] The council anticipated that the visitor centre, which opened in July 2014, would attract 100,000 visitors a year. [124]

In Norway, archaeologist Øystein Ekroll hoped that the interest in the discovery of the English king would spill over to Norway. In contrast to England where, with the possible exceptions of Henry I, and Edward V, all the gravesites of English and British monarchs since the 11th century have now been discovered, in Norway about 25 medieval kings are buried in unmarked graves around the country. Ekroll proposed to start with Harald Hardrada, who was probably buried anonymously in Trondheim, beneath what is today a public road. A previous attempt to exhume Harald in 2006 was blocked by the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage (Riksantikvaren). [127]

Richard Buckley of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services, who said he would "eat his hat" if Richard was discovered, fulfilled his promise by eating a hat-shaped cake baked by a colleague. [98] Buckley later said:

Cutting-edge research has been used in the project and the work has really only just begun. The discoveries, such as the very precise carbon dating and medical evidence, will serve as a benchmark for other studies. And it is, of course, an incredible story. He's a controversial figure people love the idea he was found under a car park the whole thing unfolded in the most amazing way. You couldn't make it up. [128]

Some commentators suggested the discovery and subsequent positive exposure and good morale around the city contributed to Leicester City F.C.'s shock Premier League victory in 2016. A few days after the burial, Leicester City began a winning streak to take them from bottom of the league to comfortably avoiding relegation, and they went on to win the league the following year. Mayor Peter Soulsby said:

For too long, people in Leicester have been modest about their achievements and the city they live in. Now – thanks first to the discovery of King Richard III and the Foxes' phenomenal season – it's our time to step into the international limelight. [129]

The two events inspired Michael Morpurgo's 2016 children's book, The Fox and the Ghost King, in which the ghost of Richard III promises to help the football team in return for being released from his car park grave. [130]

  1. ^ A desk-based assessment involves gathering together the written, graphic, photographic and electronic information that already exists about a site to help identify the likely character, extent, and quality of the known or suspected remains or structures being researched.
  2. ^ Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC)
  3. ^University of Oxford's Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit
  4. ^ Richard's wife Anne Neville is buried within Westminster Abbey it is uncertain where their only child Edward of Middleham, Prince of Wales, is buried theories have included Sheriff Hutton Church, or Middleham, both in North Yorkshire. [99]
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  10. ^Baldwin (1986), pp. 21–22.
  11. ^Carson, Ashdown-Hill, Johnson, Johnson & Langley, p. 18.
  12. ^ abcCarson, Ashdown-Hill, Johnson, Johnson & Langley, p. 17.
  13. ^Morris & Buckley, p. 26.
  14. ^Carson, Ashdown-Hill, Johnson, Johnson & Langley, p. 20.
  15. ^Halsted (1844), p. 401.
  16. ^Morris & Buckley, p. 28.
  17. ^ abcdeMorris & Buckley, p. 29.
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  19. ^ abLangley & Jones (2014), pp. 7, 10.
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  27. ^Carson, Ashdown-Hill, Johnson, Johnson & Langley, pp. 26–27.
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Have we completely misinterpreted Shakespeare’s Richard III?

Many of Shakespeare's plays have been taken as works of historical fact, but we may have been deceived for the past 400 years – particularly in the case of Richard III. Shakespeare's original audience, argues Matthew Lewis, would have recognised the leading character as representing a more contemporary figure.

This competition is now closed

Published: August 22, 2020 at 3:00 am

William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of King Richard the Third is a masterpiece: the depiction of evil that dares us to like the villain and question, as we laugh along with his jokes, why we find such a man attractive.

The play is believed to have been written in around 1593 and its political context gives it a wider meaning. Queen Elizabeth I was ageing and obviously not going to produce an heir. The question of the succession grew like a weed, untended by all (at least in public), yet the identity of the next monarch was of huge importance to the entire country. Religious tensions ran high and the swings between the Protestant Edward VI, the Catholic Mary I and the Protestant Elizabeth I were still causing turmoil 60 years after Henry VIII’s reformation.

William Shakespeare is believed by some to have been a devout Catholic all of his life, hiding his faith and working for sponsors such as the earls of Essex and Southampton, whose sympathies were also with the old faith. Opposed to those keen for a return to Catholicism was the powerful Cecil family. William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, had been Elizabeth’s constant supporter and advisor throughout her reign and was, by the early 1590s, as old age crept up on him, paving the way for his son to take on the same role. The Cecils favoured a Protestant succession by James VI of Scotland. It is against this backdrop that Shakespeare wrote his play and his real villain may have been a very contemporary player.

The Tragedy of King Richard the Third is replete with demonstrable errors of fact, chronology and geography. The first edition reversed the locations of Northampton and Stony Stratford to allow Richard to ambush the party of Edward V (one of the princes in the Tower) party rather than have them travel beyond the meeting place. Early in the play Richard tells his audience “I’ll marry Warwick’s youngest daughter./ What, though I kill’d her husband and her father?’” Accounts of both the battle of Barnet (April 1471) and the battle of Tewkesbury (May 1471) make it almost certain neither Warwick nor Edward of Westminster was killed by Richard.

The ending of the play is also misinterpreted. The infamous “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” is often mistaken for a cowardly plea to flee the field. Read in context, it is in fact Richard demanding a fresh horse to re-enter the fray and seek out Richmond (Henry Tudor). Even Shakespeare did not deny Richard his valiant end.

Shakespeare’s Richard delights in arranging the murder of his brother Clarence by their other brother Edward IV through trickery when in fact Edward’s execution of Clarence was believed by contemporaries to have driven a wedge between them that kept Richard away from Edward’s court. The seed of this misdirection is sown much earlier in the cycle of history plays too. In Henry VI, Part II Richard kills the Duke of Somerset at the battle of St Albans in 1455, when in fact he was just two-and-a-half years old.

The revelation at the beginning of the play that King Edward fears a prophesy that ‘G’ will disinherit his sons is perhaps another signpost to misdirection. Edward and Richard’s brother George, Duke of Clarence tells Richard “He hearkens after prophecies and dreams./ And from the cross-row plucks the letter G./ And says a wizard told him that by G/ His issue disinherited should be./ And, for my name of George begins with G./ It follows in his thought that I am he.”

George is therefore assumed to be the threat, ignoring the fact the Richard’s title, Duke of Gloucester, also marks him as a ‘G’. Before Clarence arrives, Richard appears to know of the prophesy and that George will be the target of Edward’s fear, suggesting that he had a hand in the trick and that a thin veil is being drawn over the obvious within the play. The true villain is slipping past unseen as signs are misread or ignored.

The language of the play’s famous opening soliloquy is interesting in the context of when it was written. In autumn 1592, Thomas Nashe’s play Summer’s Last Will and Testament was first performed in Croydon. Narrated by the ghost of Will Summer, Henry VIII’s famous court jester, it tells the story of the seasons and their adherents. Summer is king but lacks an heir, lamenting “Had I some issue to sit on my throne,/ My grief would die, death should not hear me grone”.

Summer adopts Autumn as his heir but Winter will then follow – and his rule is not to be looked forward to. When Richard tells us “Now is the winter of our discontent/ Made glorious summer by this sun of York” it is perhaps not, at least not only, a clever reference to Edward IV’s badge of the sunne in splendour.

Elizabeth I, great-granddaughter of Edward IV, could be the “sun of York”, and this might explain the use of “sun” rather than “son”. Using Nashe’s allegory, Elizabeth is made summer by her lack of an heir that allows winter, his real villain, in during the autumn of her reign. The very first word of the play might be a hint that Shakespeare expected his audience to understand that the relevance of the play is very much “Now”.

Richard was able to perform this role for Shakespeare because of his unique position as a figure who could be abused but who also provided the moral tale and political parallels the playwright needed. The Yorkist family of Edward IV were direct ancestors of Elizabeth I and attacking them would have been a very bad move. Richard stood outside this protection. By imbuing Richard with the deeds of his father at St Albans, there is a link between the actions and sins of father and son, the son eventually causing the catastrophic downfall of his house. Here, Shakespeare returns to the father and son team now leading England toward a disaster – the Cecils.

I suspect that Shakespeare meant his audience to recognise, in the play’s Richard III character, Robert Cecil, William’s son – and that in the 1590s they would very clearly have done so. Motley’s History of the Netherlands (published in 1888) described Robert’s appearance in 1588 as “A slight, crooked, hump-backed young gentleman, dwarfish in stature” and later remarked on the “massive dissimulation” that would “constitute a portion of his own character”. Robert Cecil had kyphosis – in Shakespeare’s crude parlance, a hunchback – and a reputation for dissimulation. I imagine Shakespeare’s first audience nudging each other as Richard hobbled onto the stage and whispering that it was plainly Robert Cecil.

The warnings of the play are clear: Richard upturns the natural order, supplanting a rightful heir for his own gain, and Shakespeare’s Catholic sponsors may well have viewed Cecil in the same light as he planned a Protestant succession. We almost like Richard, and we are supposed to. Elizabeth called Robert Cecil her “little imp” and showed him great favour. Richard tells us that he is “determined to prove a villain” and Shakespeare was warning his audience that Robert Cecil similarly used a veil of amiability to hide his dangerous intentions.

Robert Cecil got his Protestant succession. William Shakespeare became a legend. Richard III entered the collective consciousness as a villain. Perhaps it was by accident and the time has come to look more closely at the man rather than the myth.

Matthew Lewis is the author of Richard, Duke of York: King by Right (Amberley Publishing, 2016)

Richard III: A Modern Perspective

From the standpoint of Tudor history, the most important event in Richard III is the conclusion, and the most important character is Richmond. The victory of Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather at Bosworth Field and his marriage to Elizabeth of York ended the Wars of the Roses and established the Tudor dynasty. 1 On Shakespeare’s stage, however, the future Henry VII was a pallid figure with a minimal part, and he was not even mentioned on the title page of the first published edition, which identified the play as The Tragedy of Richard the third, Containing, His treacherous Plots against his brother Clarence: the pittiefull murther of his iunocent nephewes: his tyrannicall vsurpation: with the whole course of his detested life, and most deserued death. The monstrous villain of Tudor history became the star of Shakespeare’s play. Almost always onstage, he dominates the dramatic action in a role that has attracted leading actors from Shakespeare’s time to our own. The most memorable scene in the play, moreover, is Richard’s courtship of Anne Neville, which had no relevance, either in history or in Shakespeare’s play, to his plot to win the throne. Richmond’s marriage to Elizabeth of York was the foundation of the Tudor dynasty, but we see nothing of their courtship or wedding, and the bride-to-be never even appears on Shakespeare’s stage.

Shakespeare’s portrait of Richard as a moral and physical monster has been discredited by modern historians, but it had ample precedents in Tudor historiography. A new dynasty whose founder had won his crown in battle, the Tudors fostered official histories that vilified Richard in order to authenticate their own claim to the throne. That Richard would be remembered as a monster during the reign of the Tudors is easily understandable what is perhaps more difficult to understand is his popularity during that same period as a subject for theatrical representation. 2 A Latin play Richardus Tertius, written by Thomas Legge and performed at Cambridge in 1579, was repeatedly copied in manuscript and much admired during the period. An anonymous play entitled The True Tragedy of Richard III, published in 1594, continued to be performed well into the seventeenth century. Shakespeare’s Richard III was one of his most popular plays, the subject of numerous contemporary references and an exceptionally large number of early reprints. 3

This contradiction between Richard’s villainous role in Tudor historiography and his popularity on the Tudor stage points to the very different functions served by historical writing and theatrical performance in Shakespeare’s time. History was an honorable institution, respected as a source of practical wisdom and moral edification. Sir Thomas Elyot, the English humanist, made it the center of his educational program: “Surely if a noble man do thus seriously and diligently rede histories,” he wrote, “I dare affirme there is no studie or science for him of equal commoditie and pleasure, havynge regarde to every tyme and age.” 4 As Elyot’s title— The Boke Named the Gouernour —suggests, the projected audience for history came from the upper reaches of the social hierarchy. So did its subjects. Having a history, in fact, was equivalent to having a place in the status system. As the prefatory letter to Hall’s Union explained, “what diversitie is betwene a noble prince & a poore begger . . . if after their death there be left of them no remembrance or token.” Just as the Tudor monarchs fostered histories that justified their claim to the throne, Tudor subjects provided a thriving business for the heralds who constructed coats of arms to represent real or fabricated genealogies that would authorize their status as gentlemen.

Written during a time of rapid cultural change, Tudor history looked to the past to stabilize a hierarchical status system based on heredity, a system threatened by the unprecedented social mobility produced by an increasingly commercial economy. The commercial theater was a recent innovation, associated with many of the disturbing changes that threatened to destabilize the social order. The official status system was based on inheritance, which determined the place each person should occupy. But playhouses were open to anyone who could afford the low price of admission, permitting the common rabble to rub shoulders in the audience with their betters (and sometimes pick their pockets) because the playgoers could sit or stand in whatever part of the theater they had paid to enter instead of occupying places that were dictated by their ranks in the social hierarchy. Sumptuary laws dictated the sort of apparel that could be worn by people of different social positions, but the common players who impersonated kings and nobles were costumed in the cast-off clothes of aristocrats, and the stories they enacted allowed common subjects in the audience to spy on the private lives of their betters, pass judgment on their character and statecraft, and enjoy the spectacle of the sufferings of nobles and the deposition and murder of kings. Since women were not allowed to appear on the English stage, female parts were acted by boys dressed in women’s clothing but, as the pious were quick to point out, this practice violated biblical injunctions against cross-dressing and threatened to evoke illicit lust among the playgoers. Sex, in fact, figured prominently in denunciations of the theater. Prostitutes and procurers, it was claimed, turned the playhouses into “a generall market of bawdrie,” and even the virtuous were in danger: “the pure chastitie bothe of single and maried persons, men and women” was so quickly corrupted that “such as happilie came chaste unto showes, returne adulterers from plaies.” 5

Antitheatrical tracts denounced the dangerous allure of playhouses, “the springs of many vices, and the stumbling-blocks of godliness and virtue,” where audiences were seduced to every sort of “ungodly desires,” crimes, and treason. 6 “If you will learne to . . . blaspheme both Heaven and Earth,” wrote Philip Stubbes, “if you will learn to rebel against Princes, to commit treasons . . . if you will learne to contemne GOD and al his lawes, to care nither for heaven nor hel, and to commit al kinde of sinne and mischeef, you need to goe to no other schoole, for all these good Examples may you see painted before your eyes in . . . playes.” 7 This is an extreme—although certainly not unique—example of antitheatrical invective, and the theater had its defenders as well. If opponents of the stage argued that playgoing incited personal vice and political subversion, its defenders could argue just the opposite. Representations of moral virtue and heroic patriotism could provide uplifting models for their audiences, and dramatizations of criminal actions punished by divine providence could serve as cautionary examples. According to Thomas Nashe, reenactments of the valiant deeds of heroic forefathers would inspire the men in the theater audience with patriotic sentiment and martial valor. According to Thomas Heywood, the spectacle of rebels and traitors punished would inspire obedience to the crown. 8

Both Nashe and Heywood used the example of the English history play to argue that playgoing could make the lessons of history accessible to the ignorant and unlearned. One of those lessons, according to the first English treatise on historiography, was to provide “notable examples” of God’s “wrath, and revenge towardes the wicked, as also his pittie and clemencie towardes the good,” for “though things many times doe succeede according to the discourse of man’s reason: yet man’s wisedome is oftentymes greatlye deceyved” because “nothing is done by chaunce, but all things by [God’s] foresight, counsell, and divine providence.” 9 Richard III seems admirably calculated to teach this lesson. Richard “greatlye deceyves” himself and the other characters, but prophecies, prophetic dreams, and curses that take effect all suggest that supernatural forces are at work in the events that Richard believes are completely under his control. The play begins with Richard’s clever manipulations and self-congratulatory soliloquies as he arranges his brother Clarence’s death, but Clarence’s prophetic dream and death’s-door recognition remind the audience that Clarence’s impending doom is actually God’s punishment for the crimes he committed in the time of Henry VI. The play ends with Richmond’s victory, heralded by prophetic dreams and heavenly imagery that clearly identify him as God’s agent, just as the many references to Richard’s diabolical nature define his own place within the providential scheme.

Most members of the audience that entered Shakespeare’s theater were probably well aware of Richard’s villainous role in Tudor history, but the character they encountered on Shakespeare’s stage threatens to subvert the providential moral of his story by the sheer energy and dramatic force of his characterization. The images of theatrical dissembling traditionally associated with Richard’s character are reinforced in Shakespeare’s representation by allusions to the seductive player described in the antitheatrical tracts. In 3 Henry VI Richard has a long soliloquy in which he identifies himself as a villain in exactly the same terms that Renaissance writers typically used to describe actors:

Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile,

And cry “Content” to that which grieves my heart,

And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,

And frame my face to all occasions. . . .

I can add colors to the chameleon,

Change shapes with Proteus for advantages,

And set the murderous Machiavel to school.

In Shakespeare’s time, the “chameleon player” was a standard epithet for actors, and allusions to Proteus the shape-shifter appeared not only in admiring descriptions of leading actors like Richard Burbage (who perhaps played Richard’s part) 10 but also in condemnations of actors and other upstarts who refused to abide in the social place to which God had assigned them. In Richard’s self-description, moreover, the reference to Proteus slides inexorably into a reference to the Machiavel, a far more sinister symbol of unprincipled hypocrisy, who was also associated with Proteus in contemporary thought. 11

In Richard III, Richard’s identity as a master performer becomes the structural principle of the dramatic action. The play begins with a long soliloquy in which Richard announces his chosen dramatic role (“to prove a villain”), and the early scenes are punctuated by more soliloquies in which he not only describes his motivations but also presents himself as the contriver of the entire drama. “Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,” he says, identifying his plots with the plots of the action to come. Like the tragic playwright himself, Richard takes an amoral, artistic delight in cleverly arranging the ruin of the other characters. Richard’s power on Shakespeare’s stage is not simply or even primarily the product of his role in the represented historical action. It derives mainly from his theatrical presence—the wit and energy that allow him to monopolize the audience’s attention and the ability to transcend the frame of historical representation that allows him to address the audience directly without the knowledge of the other characters. In the early scenes of the play, it is always Richard who has the last word (along with the first). He comes to the front of the stage to share his wicked plots with the audience, steps back into the upstage frame of dramatic representation to execute them upon the other characters, and then returns to the forestage to boast to the audience about the efficacy of his performance. Confiding in the audience, flaunting his witty wickedness, and gloating at the weakness and ignorance of the other characters, he draws the playgoers into complicity with his wicked schemes.

By defining his villainy as a theatrical tour de force, Richard invites the playgoers to evaluate his actions simply as theatrical performances. Significantly, the most striking instance of this maneuver occurs in his soliloquy at the end of the scene when he seduces Anne. “Was ever woman in this humor wooed?” he asks the audience. “Was ever woman in this humor won?”

What, I that killed her husband and his father,

To take her in her heart’s extremest hate,

With curses in her mouth, tears in her eyes,

The bleeding witness of my hatred by . . . ? . . .

Hath she forgot already that brave prince,

Edward, her lord, whom I some three months since

Stabbed in my angry mood at Tewkesbury?

A sweeter and a lovelier gentleman,

Framed in the prodigality of nature,

Young, valiant, wise, and, no doubt, right royal,

The spacious world cannot again afford.

And will she yet abase her eyes on me,

That cropped the golden prime of this sweet prince

And made her widow to a woeful bed?

On me, whose all not equals Edward’s moiety?

This soliloquy, which ends the scene, is thirty-eight lines long, reminding the audience of the historical wrongs that should have made Anne reject his suit, flaunting the theatrical power that made her forget the past. Here, and throughout the first act of the play, Richard performs a similar seduction upon the audience. For the audience as for Anne, the seduction requires the suspension of moral judgment and historical memory, since the demonic role that Richard had been assigned in Tudor history was well known but the sheer theatrical energy of his performance supersedes the moral weight of the historical tradition.

The conflation of the historical seduction represented onstage with the theatrical seduction of the present audience and of Richard with the actor who played his part is implicit in a well-known anecdote associated with the play from the beginning of the seventeenth century. In March 1602, John Manningham wrote in his diary,

Upon a tyme when Burbidge played Rich. 3. there was a citizen greue [i.e., grew] soe farr in liking w th him, that before shee went from the play shee appointed him to come that night unto hir by the name of Ri: the 3. Shakespeare overhearing their conclusion, went before, was intertained, and at his game ere Burbidge came. Then message being brought that Rich. the 3 d was at the dore, Shakespeare caused returne to be made [i.e., sent an answer] that William the Conquerour was before Rich. the 3. 12

Although Shakespeare triumphs at Burbage’s expense, the anecdote clearly suggests that, even in Shakespeare’s time, the theatrical power of Richard’s part was identified with erotic conquest. Richard’s perverse seduction of Anne over the coffin that contains the body of Henry VI is, as I stated earlier, irrelevant to the historical plot (Richard merely mentions that he has a “secret close intent”), but it works onstage as the most compelling demonstration of that power. The scene also serves as an anticipation of another wooing scene near the end of the play when Richard attempts to persuade his brother’s widowed queen to give him her daughter Elizabeth in marriage. Richard’s motivation for this second courtship, and the reason for its inclusion in the play, are absolutely clear: as the daughter of a king, Elizabeth, unlike Anne Neville, plays a crucial role in the contention for the crown. But there is no more basis in Shakespeare’s chronicle sources for this courtship scene than there was for the earlier one. It is worth noting that Shakespeare does not dramatize Richmond’s courtship of the Queen’s daughter: all we get is the laconic announcement in a later scene that “the Queen hath heartily consented / He [Richmond] should espouse Elizabeth her daughter” (4.5.7–8) and Richmond’s reiteration at the end of the play that the marriage will take place. What matters from the point of view of the dramatic action is Richard’s loss rather than Richmond’s victory, a loss that is dramatized in the implicit contrast between the two scenes.

In both cases Richard encounters a woman who insists on recalling the historical record of his villainy, in both he attempts to blot it out with an outrageous erotic conquest, and in both he thinks he has prevailed but the structure of the two scenes is significantly different. Richard dominated the action of the earlier scene, interrupting Anne as she went to bury the murdered king, sending her offstage at the end so he could gloat to the audience in a long soliloquy. In Act 4, scene 4, by contrast, Richard does not appear onstage until line 140, and now it is Richard himself who is interrupted: attempting to cross the stage in a martial procession, he is “intercepted” by a chorus of outraged women and forced, unwillingly, to hear their reproaches and curses. The ending of the scene offers an even more striking demonstration of Richard’s inability to control—or even to anticipate—the course of the dramatic action. When Elizabeth leaves the stage, he exclaims, “Relenting fool and shallow, changing woman!” apparently prepared to deliver one of his characteristic, gloating soliloquies. This time, however, he has no leisure to continue his address to the audience or to exult about the victory he thinks he has won because he is immediately interrupted by Ratcliffe, who brings the news that Richmond has arrived on the west coast of England with a powerful navy. The scene ends in disarray with the rapid entrances of no less than four additional messengers and Richard’s confused and agitated responses to their reports about the offstage progress of Richmond’s invasion.

Richmond arrives like a deus ex machina to save the suffering country from Richard’s tyrannical rule. Characterized simply as Richard’s antithesis, he has no real theatrical presence. On Shakespeare’s stage Margaret is a much more powerful antagonist than Richmond because she opposes Richard’s amoral theatrical appeal by reminding the audience of the providential moral of the historical action. Railing at the Yorkists, she recalls the crimes committed during the time of Henry VI that justify their present sufferings. Leading the other women in a litany of lamentation, she identifies Richard’s role in the providential drama as the agent of divine vengeance and foretells his destruction.

Although Margaret appears in only two scenes, the other characters’ recollections of her curses and prophecies sustain her status as Richard’s competitor for control and interpretation of the dramatic action. At the beginning of Act 4, scene 4, it is Margaret and not Richard who addresses the audience, defining the previous action in theatrical terms as a “dire induction” [i.e., prologue] and identifying the generic form of the drama when she confides her hopes that the conclusion will be just as “tragical.” From the point of view of Richmond and England, of course, the play has a happy conclusion when Richmond kills the tyrant and invites the playgoers as well as the actors onstage to join him in a prayer for a peaceful and prosperous future that will be theirs as well as his own. Nonetheless, whoever wrote the title that appeared on the early printed editions regarded the play as “The Tragedy of King Richard III,” and modern critics have echoed that judgment in their descriptions of the many ways in which Shakespeare’s characterization of Richard anticipates his practice in the later tragedies. The comforting pieties of Richmond’s final prayer probably elicited more enthusiasm in Shakespeare’s time than they do today, but even then the attraction that drew audiences to the playhouse was not the victory of the virtuous Richmond but the dangerous theatrical vitality of Richard III.

1. Edward Hall’s chronicle history, one of the main sources for Shakespeare’s English history plays, was actually entitled The Union of the two noble and illustre famelies of Lancastre and Yorke, beeyng long in continual discension for the croune of this noble realme, with all the actes done in bothe the tymes of the princes, bothe of the one linage and of the other, beginnyng at the tyme of Kyng Henry the fowerth, the first aucthor of this devision, and so successively proceadyng to the reigne of . . . Kyng Henry the Eight, the undubitate flower and very heire of both the said linages (London, 1548). As Hall explained, Henry VIII was the “undubitate” heir to the English crown because he was the product of the union between “Kyng Henry the seventh and the lady Elizabeth his moste worthy Quene, the one beeyng indubitate heire of the hous of Lancastre, and the other of Yorke” ( Union, p. 1).

2. Hugh M. Richmond, Shakespeare in Performance: King Richard III (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1989), pp. 25–30.

3. E. A. J. Honigmann, introduction to King Richard the Third (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1968), p. 7. See also “An Introduction to This Text.”

4. The Boke Named the Governour, edited from the edition of 1531 by Henry H. S. Croft (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, 1883), 1:91.

5. Stephen Gosson, The School of Abuse (1579) John Northbrooke, A Treatise wherein Dicing, Dauncing, Vaine playes, or Enterluds . . . are reproved (1577) and Anthony Munday, A Second and Third Blast of Retrait from Plaies and Theaters (1580), all quoted by Ann Jennalie Cook in “ ‘Bargaines of Incontinencie’: Bawdy Behavior in the Playhouses,” Shakespeare Studies 10 (1977): 271–90, esp. pp. 272–74.

6. George Whetstone (1584) and Gervase Babington (1583), reprinted in E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), 4:227, 225.

7. The Anatomie of Abuses (London, 1583), in Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, 4:224.

8. Nashe’s defense of plays appeared in Pierce Penilesse his Supplication to the Devil (1592), Heywood’s in An Apology for Actors (1612). It is worth noting that both Nashe and Heywood wrote plays for the commercial theater.

9. Thomas Blundeville, The true order and Methode of wryting and reading Hystories (London, 1574) F3–F3 v .

10. For a good summary of Elizabethan descriptions of actors, including Burbage, see Louis Adrian Montrose, “The Purpose of Playing: Reflections on a Shakespearean Anthropology,” Helios, n.s. 7.2 (1980): 56–57. On the image of Proteus as applied to actors, see Jonas Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), pp. 99–107.

11. The Machiavel was a stock character on the English stage who embodied the ruthless ambition, atheism, and deceptiveness that were associated in popular thought with the Florentine political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli.

12. Manningham’s Diary (British Museum, Harleian MS. 5353, fol. 29 v ), reprinted in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans et al. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974), p. 1836.

How to tell if it was King Richard III?

Richard’s resting corpse had a narrow escape back in the 19th century. Richard Buckley reports it came very close to being destroyed when the foundations of an outhouse being built on the site missed the skeleton by only a few inches. Because the remains were buried just 27 inches under the friary church flagstones, they may have had several such close calls over the centuries.

Today, radiocarbon dating and DNA testing can provide proof. So, historians, archaeologists, residents of Leicester, Richard III fans everywhere, and British Heritage readers waited for the results of those scientific tests. Fortuitously, a 17th-generation descendent of Richard’s Yorkist family provided what proved to be the DNA match.

A t a press conference, covered by media from 130 countries, Richard Buckley, Jo Appleby, university geneticist Turi King and others involved in the work announced the findings. Poor Richard, it is, with 10 wounds to his body, including two mortal head wounds.

There are two DNA matches and carbon dating says the bones are the right age. “It’s beyond a reasonable doubt,” concluded Buckley.

King Richard III statue in grounds of Leicester Cathedral, England, UK

The following is a brief factual biography of Richard III which provides links to more in-depth articles and papers on his life, career and reputation.

Richard Plantagenet was born on 2 October 1452 at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, the youngest son of Richard, Duke of York, and his wife, the former Cecily Neville. York, a cousin to the reigning King Henry VI, held senior government positions but was unpopular with the Lancastrian regime. York’s disputes led to his early death at the Battle of Wakefield on 30 December 1460. His eldest son, Edward, seized the throne of England in March the following year and defeated the Lancastrians at Towton on 29 March.

The young king Edward IV now assumed responsibility for the upbringing of his younger siblings who had hitherto experienced an unsettled childhood. The elder son, George, was created duke of Clarence and the younger, Richard, was created duke of Gloucester at the age of eight and entered the household of his cousin, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, to begin his education as a nobleman. This took place primarily at the earl’s Yorkshire estates of Middleham and Sheriff Hutton.

Meanwhile, King Edward clandestinely married a Lancastrian widow in 1464 and thus began to alienate Warwick, his most powerful ally, who had favoured a political match with a European princess. Over the next five years the relationship between king and ‘over-mighty’ earl deteriorated until civil strife was resumed in 1469 and the following year Edward was driven into exile. One of the causes of their dispute was the marriage of Warwick’s elder daughter to Clarence without the king’s permission.

Richard accompanied Edward to the continent and on their return to England in 1471 the eighteen-year-old duke was given command of the vanguard at the Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury . These battles were resounding Yorkist victories and both Warwick and the Lancastrian heir, Prince Edward of Wales, were killed. The former king, Henry VI, died a few days later in London.

Richard now assumed the responsibilities of his position. He had been admiral of England since 1461 and he was now appointed constable. King Edward granted Richard many of Warwick’s forfeited estates and the following year the duke married Warwick’s younger daughter Anne, who was the widow of Prince Edward who was killed at Tewkesbury.

The couple took up residence in the north of England, which King Edward effectively entrusted to his brother, and Richard was created Warden of the West Marches of Scotland. Richard took his duties seriously and held the north against any Scottish incursions. In 1476, Duchess Anne gave birth to their only child, who became known as Edward of Middleham.

During the remaining years of his brother’s reign, Richard of Gloucester rarely left the north. Two such occasions included the invasion of France in 1475 and attending the parliament of 1478 when their brother Clarence was attainted for treason and privately executed . In the summer of 1482, Richard invaded Scotland at King Edward’s behest. He was accompanied by the Scots king’s brother, the duke of Albany. Richard and Albany marched as far as Edinburgh before Richard strategically withdrew over the border.

On 9 April 1483 King Edward died, a few days short of his forty-first birthday. There had been no time to prepare for a transition of power and the heir, another Edward, was twelve years old. Factions were immediately formed, each believing that they had an important role to play in the government of England. There was the queen and her extensive family the old nobility, represented in the former king’s Council, which included the late king’s friend and chamberlain, William, Lord Hastings and his surviving brother, Richard, who was appointed the lord protector.

At the time of his father’s death, the new king was at Ludlow under the tutelage of his maternal uncle, Earl Rivers. The queen sent for them to come to London and for the king to be crowned without delay. Lord Hastings possibly sent messengers north to inform Richard of his brother’s death and urge that he come immediately to London. Richard was joined on his journey south by the duke of Buckingham, a distant cousin. At Northampton, Richard and his followers met and arrested Earl Rivers. Richard then moved on to Stony Stratford where the king was resting, made three further arrests and escorted his nephew to London.

The queen, on hearing of these events, withdrew to sanctuary in Westminster Abbey with her family.
Edward V arrived in London on 4 May, the day for which his coronation had been planned, and the event was rescheduled for 22 June. Richard and the Council continued with the preparations for the coronation and with the governance of the country, but on 13 June Richard announced that a plot against him had been discovered and accused Lord Hastings of being the instigator . The latter was immediately executed and Archbishop John Rotherham, Bishop John Morton and Thomas, Lord Stanley, were arrested.

On 16 June the young king’s brother, Richard, Duke of York left sanctuary in Westminster Abbey and joined his brother in the royal apartments at the Tower. On 22 June Dr Ralph Shaa, brother of the mayor, declared to the citizens of London, that King Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was illegal. This was because of a pre-contract of marriage between Edward IV and Lady Eleanor Butler and the clandestine nature of the king’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. The children of the marriage were declared illegitimate, and therefore barred from succession to the throne of England. Within four days Richard was acclaimed king of England.

King Richard III was crowned, together with his wife Anne, on 6 July at Westminster Abbey. Shortly afterwards the couple began a progress around the country which ended in York with the investiture of their son Edward as prince of Wales. In the autumn of 1483, however, King Richard suffered a serious set-back. His former supporter, the duke of Buckingham, became involved in a rebellion, based primarily in the west country and Kent . Although swiftly repressed, the effects were far-reaching and King Richard now began to rely more on his northern supporters, placing them in the offices left vacant by the rebels.

The rebellion had been supported by a scion of the house of Lancaster, the exiled Henry Tudor, a descendant of King Edward III through his son John of Gaunt’s legitimised Beaufort family. Tudor had assumed the role of representative of the Lancastrian line and had become the focus for disaffected English nobles and gentry.

On Christmas Day 1483, in Rennes Cathedral, Henry Tudor declared his intention of marrying King Edward IV’s eldest daughter, the Lady Elizabeth, when he became king of England. He then spent the next eighteen months planning his invasion.

King Richard meanwhile called his first, and only, parliament in January 1484 . The legislation covered three main areas, the ratification of Richard as king, the passing of acts of attainder against the October rebels and the passing of a number of acts designed to reform part of the legal system.

King Richard’s reign was overshadowed by the threat of Tudor’s invasion and by personal loss. Near the anniversary of the death of his brother, King Edward, Richard’s son died and the king and queen shut themselves in their apartments at Nottingham Castle to mourn their loss. Richard’s queen died less than a year later on 16 March 1485.

The long-awaited invasion came on 7 August 1485 when Tudor landed at Milford Haven in Wales. King Richard mobilised his forces and on 22 August king and invader joined battle at Bosworth Field in Leicestershire. Despite Richard’s superior army, the battle was lost when the king was slain after Sir William Stanley turned traitor in favour of his step-nephew, Henry Tudor, and led his forces into the battle on Tudor’s side. Richard Plantagenet was the last king of England to die on the battlefield.

The victor of Bosworth was to establish his own dynasty but his genealogical claim to the throne was both tenuous and cadet. It may also have been illegal without an act of parliament to amend Henry IV’s legitimisation of his Beaufort siblings who were barred, together with their descendants, from inheriting the throne. Tudor wisely decided to claim the throne by right of conquest but was cognizant of the need to take every opportunity of enhancing his own reputation at the expense of his predecessor. Richard’s actions and behaviour were the subject of attention and scrutiny and were presented, in the weeks and years after his death, as those of a wicked and unscrupulous tyrant.

During his own lifetime, however, Richard’s reputation was high, the loyal brother of Edward IV who administered the north of the realm and defended the country against the Scots. The premature death of Edward IV led to a national crisis in which Richard emerged as king. With the benefit of hindsight, historians have generally interpreted the fateful events of 1483 in the light of Richard being a calculating usurper. There are, of course, some contemporary criticisms and rumours about Richard but these are inevitable in view of his high profile. The decisive arrests of Rivers and others thus appear as pre-emptive acts to gain control of Edward V. The fact was that Richard had not been officially informed of his brother’s death and that his sister-in-law sought to crown her son with unseemly haste, an act which would have reduced Richard’s power to rule the king despite his appointment as Protector. Once crowned, Edward V would have ruled through his Council, the composition and performance of which could be manipulated by the Woodville faction.

Richard’s next decisive act was based on the revelation of a plot and the execution of its alleged leader, Hastings. Traditional historians have accused Richard of inventing the plot in order to rid himself of Edward V’s staunchest supporter. However, documents are extant which demonstrate that Richard was aware of the conspiracy before taking action, sought to obtain re-enforcements to support his protectorship and conducted a mop-up operation to neutralise other conspirators, all of which suggest that Richard was suppressing a genuine plot.

The declaration of the illegality of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville has been interpreted as a convenient excuse for Richard to overturn his nephew’s succession and it was indeed a timely discovery. However, the legality of Richard’s actions and of the precontract dispute are still the subjects of academic debate.

Once Richard was crowned and his nephews bastardised, the young princes were no longer an important factor at the Ricardian court. Their ‘disappearance’, however, led to the greatest controversy surrounding King Richard – did he kill his nephews?

Accusations of infanticide, however, were not enough for the historians seeking to defame the dead king. The death of Richard’s own wife came under suspicion with hints of him murdering her with poison, of murdering her former husband after the battle of Tewkesbury, of murdering King Henry VI, and even of his own brother Clarence, despite his treason being confirmed by the act of attainder passed by King Edward IV’s own parliament. By the time the Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare penned what was to become one of his most popular and frequently performed plays, The Tragedy of King Richard III, the works of the anonymous Croyland Chronicler, John Rous, Bernard André, Polydore Vergil, Sir Thomas More, Edward Hall, Richard Grafton and Raphael Holinshed had been written. Shakespeare followed their tradition and presented his anti-hero as the murderous, deformed tyrant so well known to theatre, television and cinema audiences.

Within a few years of its first production a backlash against the ‘traditionalist’ version of King Richard’s history was written by Sir George Buck although it remained unpublished for some years. Later in the sixteenth century, Richard’s fate as the archetypal villain was sealed when John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough is reputed to have said ‘I take my history from Shakespeare’ despite the fact that Richard’s villainy was so over the top that the character has failed to gain acceptance as a real and identifiable person with many audiences.

The Great Debate, as the study of Richard’s reputation became known, truly began in the seventeenth century when Horace Walpole wrote his Historic Doubts and rattled the cages of the traditionalists. That debate is not yet over, with the majority of the British historical academic community still promoting Richard as an infanticide. Some academics have acknowledged that Richard was a talented administrator and that he cannot be held responsible for the deaths of Henry VI and his son, but their overall assessment is still that of an evil and avaricious man. This shift in his reputation has now led to new claims of avarice in that his motivation for taking the throne is said to be found in his fear of losing the Neville inheritance.

Gaining a re-evaluation of Richard’s reputation entails the painstaking task of examining the primary and Tudor sources and assessing his actions, both as duke and king, against the background of his times, his contemporaries, his predecessors and his successors. The art of rhetoric, so beloved of one of Richard’s greatest critics, Sir Thomas More, comes into play as the interpretation of his actions, such as his 1484 legislation, which has been described as either ‘enlightened’ or ‘divisive’, depends on the writer’s orientation. There is no clear evidence that Richard was guilty or innocent of his so-called ‘crimes’, but historians, whether detractors or sympathisers, must work with the information derived from the sources and endeavour to present a balanced view of this controversial figure.

Political Turmoil

In 1469, the War of the Roses resumed with Richard&aposs brother losing power in 1470. King Henry VI resumed his reign only briefly, however. Edward IV was back on the throne the following year. His loyalty to his brother Edward during this time brought Richard great rewards, including lands that once belonged to those who rose up against the king. He also was able to marry Anne Neville, the daughter of the earl of Warwick, and gain a share of her substantial wealth. Richard and Anne only had one child together, a son named Edward, around 1476.

In the early 1480s, Richard III distinguished himself in battle. He helped his brother invade Scotland and received an area of Cumberland and the right to other lands for his efforts. His role in the campaign against Scotland had increased Richard III&aposs prominence and power.


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