Thursday 27 September 2012

Richard, duke of York (1473-83)

Since Richard III’s birthday is next week (Tuesday, October 2), it’s important to spread the word about all the Dicks in his life. Last week we had Warwick the Kingmaker, previously we had Richard, duke of York (his father), and today we’ll have his nephew.

As you astute readers no doubt suspect, little York was one of the “princes in the Tower.” In conspiracy theories, he’s the one who didn’t die and came back in the 1490s, bearing the name Perkin Warbeck, to claim the throne. Perkin/Richard/whoever he was was not successful, but there are scholars out there who contend that Perkin was the real deal.

Anyway, Richard, duke of York was the second son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. He was born on 17 August 1473 (so he probably died just before or very shortly after his tenth birthday). Richard was made Duke of York before he was a year old, in May 1474; he was knighted in April 1475 and made a Knight of the Garter in May 1475. Damn! That’s a lot of honors for a kid who probably wasn’t even potty-trained.

Of course, the adults in poor Richard’s life seemed content to put his life on the fast track to adulthood. Edward IV knew that he needed to provide a substantial landed endowment for his second son, so that the boy could be a great magnate and prop to his brother’s throne. Edward was working on this endowment when an even better opportunity arrived – a rich heiress! When her father died in January 1476, Anne Mowbray (who was all of three going on four) was left sole heiress to the mighty pile of estates of the Dukes of Norfolk. Negotiations for a marriage between Richard and Anne started almost immediately; such a marriage would allow Edward to endow his son at minimal cost to the crown (rather like what Edward did for his brothers with the Neville lands). Richard and Anne finally married in January 1478 when the groom was four and the bride five. Sadly, Anne Mowbray died at age nine in November 1481, leaving her eight-year-old husband a widower.

After Edward IV died in 1483, Richard went into sanctuary with his mother and siblings (minus his elder brother who was now king Edward V). As was customary for medieval kings, Edward V was lodged in the Tower of London to await his coronation. After the king had been there for several weeks, the queen dowager was finally persuaded to release Richard from sanctuary so that he could spend time with his brother. On 16 June 1483, Richard joined his brother at the Tower, and (in all probability) neither boy ever left. It’s as though the Tower swallowed them alive (or, you know, their uncle put out a hit on them).

So that’s Richard, duke of York, younger brother of Edward V. Given that he probably died at age nine, it’s no surprise we know so little about him. I realize he had a life of privilege, but it’s a little sad and a little mind boggling how accelerated his life was. He lived nine years but he managed to “earn” a dukedom, be knighted twice, get married, and be widowed before his premature death. That’s a lot of milestones for one so young.

Rosemary Horrox, “Richard, duke of York and duke of Norfolk (1473–1483),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 26 Sept 2012]

Richard, duke of York, from a stained-glass window in Canterbury Cathedral


  1. I'm hoping that, if the DNA tests come back that those Leicester bones are Richard III, they'll do more testing on the princes' bones as well. Imagine finally solving that 500-year-old mystery!

  2. You're right, that would be awesome. It would also be a huge deal! Although, even if the bones were conclusively proven to be the princes', people would still claim someone else (not Richard III) murdered them. I wouldn't (I don't now), but there are definitely some people out there who would. Of course, on the off chance the bones at Westminster aren't the princes', I wonder what the abbey would do with them?