[This post is extremely long! Consider yourself warned.]
Today is the day! I have been hinting at this day for months (see 6 July, 22 August) and it has finally arrived – the birthday of Richard III. Richard’s birthday is practically a holiday in my world because I’m just that kind of weird-o.
As you have no doubt already figured out, Richard III was born on 2 October 1452 (same year as Leonardo da Vinci, FYI). Richard was born at Frotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire, the eleventh of twelve children. Given that Richard’s younger sister Ursula (what a name!) died in infancy, Richard was officially the baby of the family when he was three. Richard’s parents, Richard, duke of York, and Cecily Neville, duchess of York, had seven children live beyond childhood: four boys and three girls. Richard’s eldest brother Edward became King Edward IV, founder of the Yorkist dynasty.
When Richard was born his father’s political fortunes were beginning their downhill slide, but they were to wax and wane throughout Richard’s childhood. Long story short, despite earlier battles, civil war was in full swing by 1459/1460. Richard’s father, the Duke of York, had claimed the English throne in October 1460, claiming he had a better hereditary claim (which he very well may have, depending on who you ask). Although it was agreed that Richard of York would succeed King Henry VI, this required discounting the claims of Henry’s young son Edward. Not everyone, especially the Queen, Margaret of Anjou, was pleased with this and war ensued. Richard of York won some and lost some, until he was finally defeated in December 1460 at the battle of Wakefield. He was killed, and then his decapitated head was taken to York, placed on a pike on the city walls, and allowed to rot there all while wearing a paper crown. Ahh, they knew how to treat their opponents right in the middle ages!
While killing the Duke of York no doubt originally seemed like a huge victory, the shit really hit the fan. York’s eldest son Edward stepped up to the plate, won a bunch of battles, and became King Edward IV in spring 1461. At that time, little Dick wasn’t even in England, as his mother had sent him and another brother (George) to the Low Countries (Belgium and Netherlands today) after their father’s death.
When Richard and George returned to England, they were made the Dukes of Gloucester and Clarence respectively. Within the next few years, Richard was then sent away to live at Middleham Castle, in Yorkshire, with his much-older cousin, Richard, Earl of Warwick. This Richard is also called Warwick the Kingmaker because he made and unmade two kings during his lifetime. In the early 1460s, though, he was loyal to Edward IV and an excellent choice of magnate to educate Richard (not that Warwick did so himself. He just kept the boy around the house is all). Anyway, historians aren’t exactly sure when Richard went to Warwick’s or when he left, but we know he was there. As his time with Warwick went on, it might have become a bit awkward for Richard because the times, they were a-changin’. Warwick had been one of Edward IV’s most important supporters, but as the king favored other people (including his wife’s family, whom many nobles regarded as upstarts) Edward and Warwick grew distant. This was ultimately to have disastrous results.
This disaster began in 1469 when Warwick rebelled and kept Edward as a prisoner for a short time. Eventually the air was cleared and it seemed like things were going to get better. They weren’t. Long story moderately short, Warwick and his family (including his elder daughter who was married to George, brother of Edward IV and Richard) sailed to France in 1470 and became allies with the hated Margaret of Anjou. Eventually Edward IV, Richard, and their friends and allies had to leave England while Warwick made Henry VI king again. To seal this alliance, Warwick’s younger daughter Anne married Edward, the son of Margaret and Henry VI (yes, yet another repeat name!). By 1471, Edward IV was back in England, where he fought two battles: Barnet and Tewkesbury. Warwick was killed at the battle of Barnet and Edward, son of Henry and Margaret, was killed at Tewkesbury (or murdered, take your pick). Shortly thereafter, Henry VI died of melancholy (yeah, right) in the Tower of London. Edward’s throne was secure.
Now Richard has been variously accused of murdering Edward (son of Henry and Margaret) and of killing Henry VI. Some chronicles say Edward was killed in battle, others that he was killed afterwards, but no one names Richard as the doer. Some chronicles accept the story that Henry died of sadness, while others suggest he was murdered (and some say by Richard). In essence, there is evidence to support whatever story you want. The best reason for Richard to kill Edward was probably to marry Anne (which Shakespeare suggests), while presumably he killed Henry as part of his grand plot to usurp the throne. Both could be possible, but both also stretch belief, especially concerning Henry. At 18 was Richard seriously gunning for the throne already? He had two brothers, a newborn nephew, and a bunch of nieces in the way (just in his own family), making it seem unlikely. Some have suggested Richard murdered Henry on Edward’s orders, which could be possible. Edward, after all, benefittedmasturbator?). If you wimp out (Edward IV, *ahem*), it just comes back and bites you in the ass later.
Now we can move on to the Edward (son of Henry and Margaret, who will henceforth be termed “Edward, son of”) problem. Did Richard kill him? If so, was it to marry Anne? And, most important to me, did Anne even like Edward, son of? As I mentioned before, we don’t even know Edward was murdered, let alone who did it, so that answer is a big ole “probably not.” If Richard did kill Edward, it was presumably because he wanted his wife. Why? Was Richard a jealous lover (meaning he did, in fact, love Anne, which is a problem for the Richard-haters out there)? Did he want Anne’s money? That seems more reasonable, but one must bear in mind medieval rules about treason. Anne’s father and husband were traitors, meaning Edward IV could have attained them, which meant they forfeited their property and none of their heirs could inherit it (because they were tainted in their blood). So, as far as Richard knew, Anne was damaged goods, as untouchable as some knocked-up 1950s high-school girl. If he did kill Edward, he must have really loved Anne (which is sweet, but creepy). Or maybe he just didn’t murder Edward, son of. I’m going with that.
Finally, I want to rant about Anne Neville and Edward, son of. Shakespeare acts like Anne totally loved him, and some writers (mostly historical fiction ones) have followed suit. I find this hard (nay, impossible!) to believe for one simple reason: Edward, son of was the enemy. Prior to his about-face, Warwick had hated Margaret, her son Edward (son of), and Henry VI. They were on opposing sides in a civil war. Warwick had called Edward, son of, a bastard before. If Anne knew much about Edward, son of, it was almost certainly all bad. She had practically been taught to hate him. That doesn’t mean she did hate him (she was only going on 15 when she got married), but in the few months they were married she probably didn’t fall madly in love with him, either. Seeing as how Edward, son of had almost certainly been taught to hate Warwick and his spawn, the marriage was probably an exercise in tolerance. I’m betting they spent long periods apart and when they were together, there were many awkward silences.
Be that as it may, after Edward’s glorious victories, Anne Neville was a young, fatherless widow. She was sent to live with her elder sister, who just so happened to be the wife of George, Duke of Clarence, brother of Richard and Edward IV. George was none too pleased when Richard evidenced a willingness to marry Anne because if Anne became a nun he (George) would inherit all of the Neville property. Things were at an impasse, when Anne suddenly disappeared. Richard later found her hiding in a London cookshop, rescued her, and took her to St Martin’s le Grand, a London church where she would be looked after by the clergy. Exactly how and why Anne disappeared remains a mystery, though. Some writers believe George spirited Anne away in order to keep her from Richard, while others suggest Anne ran off and hid herself. Those holding the latter idea are of two mindsets: Anne left to get away from George or she left to keep from marrying Richard. Since Anne later married Richard, we can either assume that she was trying to get away from George or that her plan was extremely ineffective. Whatever Anne’s reasons for hiding away in a London home (a place very different from her aristocratic upbringing), she and Richard were married shortly after Easter in 1472.
Now I’m going to go on a little historian rant here. Historical fiction writers sympathetic to Richard III often like to suggest that he and Anne (who had grown up together when Richard lived with Warwick) married because they loved one another (or, at the bare minimum, had a very strong mutual affection). I highly doubt that Anne and Richard were in love with each other, and that’s okay – few elite people were back then. But I also don’t think Anne was totally repulsed by Richard and had to be tricked in marrying him a la Shakespeare. Anne Neville was a great heiress and she knew it. Everybody knew it. She wasn’t going to marry some scummy townsman or a mere lord or baron. She deserved at least an earl, maybe a duke. Marrying a prince of the blood was a good step for Anne, especially since there weren’t a lot of other marriageable men around. And if she didn’t want to go into a convent, Anne needed a husband with wealth and power to get her her fair share of land and keep her in the lifestyle she was accustomed to. Richard fit the bill perfectly, just as Anne did for him. He needed a high-born, rich wife, and Anne was just that, as well as newly single. It was probably an added bonus that the two already knew each other, and might have been friends or shared some childhood cousinly affection for each other. And maybe they grew to love one another; they certainly got along decently well by all accounts. All I’m saying is, I don’t think Anne Neville would have objected to marrying Richard, and both probably desired the union, not because they loved each other but because it was in the best interests of them both.
After the hassles of 1471 and Anne’s disappearing act, Richard and Anne moved north. They spent much of their time at Middleham, a castle once owned by Anne’s parents and where both of them had spent substantial portions of their childhoods. Early in their marriage, Anne and Richard had a son named Edward, who was to be their only child. (Richard also had an illegitimate son and daughter, both perhaps born before his marriage). Later, Richard went with Edward IV to France in 1475, for what was supposed to be a great war. In the end, Edward accepted a pay-off from the French king, and everyone went home with few arrows being fired. Richard was not pleased with this turn of events, but he was able to take out his martial frustrations on the Scottish, who he spent much of the late 1470s and early 1480s battling on the border. About the only dark spot was the 1478 execution for treason of Richard’s (and Edward IV’s) brother George, who was supposedly drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. Although Richard has been accused of murdering George as well, the king did sign a death warrant for his brother, which was what presumably precipitated George’s demise.
And that brings us to 1483, the year that will live in infamy. Edward IV died, unexpectedly in his early 40s, in April of 1483. The king’s eldest son, now Edward V (I know – another Edward!) was not quite thirteen and experience had shown that minority reigns tended to result in (at least) mild disasters. Nothing seemed to proceed smoothly. Richard was belatedly notified of his own brother’s death; he was not informed until after the funeral had taken place. Once he received word, Richard rallied his supporters, took oaths of allegiance to his nephew from leading citizens, and preceded south towards London, where he expected to be named Protector in accordance with Edward IV’s will. Richard was supposed to meet his nephew outside of London, but when he arrived at the meeting point, he discovered his nephew and the young king’s companions had moved ahead. That was when shit hit the fan. Richard overreacted, seeing conspiracy in the air, and had the young king’s maternal uncle and uterine half-brother arrested. He then escorted Edward V into London, where the boy was lodged in the Tower of London (not sinister, as this is where all monarchs spent the night before their coronation). At some point the queen fled to Westminster Abbey with her other children, but an archbishop convinced her to let her other son (named Richard) go stay at the Tower to keep his brother company. Shortly after both boys were lodged in the Tower, the Bishop of Bath and Wells claimed that Edward IV had been precontracted (basically already married) before he wed the queen, making all of their children illegitimate. Scholars have spilled enough ink over this issue to deplete the resources of the world’s octopi, and we still don’t have a satisfactory answer. Edward was a playboy, so it’s possible he was making promises he couldn’t keep to any number of ladies. He was, however, a king, so you would think he would be more careful. Based on crazy-ass medieval marriage law, if the precontract was real, Edward’s kids were bastards, giving Richard a legal (if not moral) right to the throne. Some writers (scholars and fiction writers alike) contend that George found out Edward’s secret and this was what caused his execution. We just don’t know. Whatever the truth of the matter, in a rapid succession of events, Richard ended up taking the throne instead of his nephew (and FYI: a few more people were executed along the way, including the maternal uncle, uterine half-brother, and a trusted former counselor of Edward IV’s). After being declared illegitimate, no one ever saw the two princes in the Tower again. Who killed them? No one knows for sure, but the good money is on Richard III. He had the most to gain, and, as I have suggested before (and as medieval history shows), when you overthrow a king, you need to kill him. Richard III had taken the throne from Edward V, which meant Edward V was a liability and needed to go. After all, who would want a repeat of 1470, when Henry VI was briefly restored? Other choices for murderer include Richard’s successor Henry VII (who also had no reason to want any rival princes left alive) or the Duke of Buckingham (an early supporter of Richard’s who had personality problems and access to the Tower). Guilt cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt (plus, kings are subject to a slightly different standard), so this murder mystery will remain unsolved for the time being.
Richard III had a pretty short reign: it only lasted from late June 1483 (coronation on 6 July) to 22 August 1485. That’s about two years and two months, which isn’t much time in which to get anything done. And Richard didn’t get a ton of stuff done. He had one Parliament, in 1484, which ratified his title to the throne and passed some laws that sympathetic historians have seen as being just. Otherwise, the main highlights are a series of tragedies: a rebellion (started by Buckingham, one of his former supporters) in October 1483, the death of his son in April 1484, and the death of Queen Anne, probably from tuberculosis, in March 1485. By the time Bosworth rolled around, Richard might have been happy to go. Life hadn’t exactly been a crowning success those past few years.
Despite all the murders Richard III is supposed to have committed,* the only one that I really, vehemently want to be false is the one that he killed his wife. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m growing up and identifying more with adults, or that my feminist leanings are showing themselves, but I really don’t think (and desperately don’t want) Richard to have killed Anne Neville. I admit, I find few tropes of historical fiction as satisfying as the Richard III and Anne Neville love-story, although I am historian enough to know that’s not true. But I hate the idea that people suggest he murdered her – she was already dying of consumption. For some reason, I can brush off the murder of the nephews (thinking “They were probably annoying little shits anyways”) and all the men with ease, but not Anne. If I ever find some cold, hard evidence that Richard really did kill Anne, it will break my heart.
*These include: Edward, son of; Henry VI; George, Duke of Clarence (his brother); Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers (maternal uncle of Edward V); Richard Grey (uterine half-brother of Edward V); Thomas Vaughan (servant of Edward V); William Hastings (loyal servant to Edward IV); Hastings (Edward V and Richard, Duke of York (the Princes in the Tower); and Anne Neville (his queen)
Total = 10
To learn more about Richard III, try:
Paul Murray Kendall, Richard the Third (1955) – an extremely sympathetic view of Richard
Hicks, Michael. Richard III (revised edition). Stroud: Tempus, 2002. Less sympathetic
Ross, Charles. Richard III. London: Methuen, 1981.
Ashdown-Hill, John. Eleanor: the Secret Queen: the woman who put Richard III on the
throne. Stroud: History Press, 2009.
Carson, Annette. Richard III: the Maligned King. Stroud: History Press, 2009.
Fields, Bertram. Royal Blood: King Richard III and the Mystery of the Princes. Stroud:
Hicks, Michael A. Richard III as Duke of Gloucester; a Study in Character. York: St
Anthony's Press, 1986
Horrox, Rosemary. Richard III: A Study in Service. Cambridge, 1989.
Wilkinson, Josephine. Richard: the Young King to Be. Stroud: Amberley, 2008.
Primary sources include:
The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486. Ed. by N. Pronay and J. Cox. London,
Ingulph’s Chronicle of the Abbey of Croyland. Ed. by H.T. Riley. London, 1854.
Mancini, Dominic. The Usurpation of Richard III. Ed. by C.A.J. Armstrong. 2nd edn.
Three Books of Polydore Vergil’s English History. Ed. by H. Ellis. Camden Society,
As far as historical fiction is concerned, I am a fan of any book that treats Richard III sympathetically (I won’t say fairly because they don’t). This policy, however, has led me to read a number of books of very questionable quality (see post on 13 April 2011). Therefore, I would recommend Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour. If you only read one Richard III novel (and if you read this one, you’ll only need to read one), make it Penman’s. It’s sympathetic without being ridiculous, and has a great Richard and Anne Neville relationship (one that doesn’t devolve into Harlequin-romance territory). I love this book; it rocks.
One a related note: if you prefer your historical fiction to have a healthy dose of fantasy (making it non-historical fiction) I would recommend The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford. In this book, Europe is still pagan, magic and vampires are real, and Richard III doesn’t die in the end! It’s weird, but it has its moments (mainly, the one where Richard doesn’t die).
For a more extensive list of historical fiction than I could ever hope to give, check out this link: http://www.r3.org/reading/Medieval Fiction_112709.php.