Richard III became king in 1483. He had been Lord Protector of England during the short reign of Edward V. Edward’s legitimacy was questioned and Parliament declared Richard to be king. Richard’s reign was a short one. He died in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field. His remains were the subject of much mystery for centuries, until they were discovered by a team of archaeologists and scientists from the University of Leicester. Richard’s reign, his political decisions and his own legitimacy have been the subject of a great deal of historical discussion. He is often remembered based on the play by Shakespeare which does not portray him positively. This is not necessarily an accurate view of Richard III.
Early life of Richard III
Richard III was born into the House of York at a time of great turmoil. His father had become Protector during Henry VI’s incapacity. In 1460 Richard’s father and one of his brothers were killed at the battle of Wakefield. This left Richard’s elder brother, Edward, as the Yorkist claimant to the throne and Richard himself as 2nd in that line of succession.
As an important member of the Yorkist family he and his brother were often moved around the country, or into exile, for their safety or in custody. Much of the time was spent under the tuition of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. Richard later married Anne Neville, daughter of Warwick and whom he met in childhood. Following the defeat of the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton in 1461, Richard was based at Middleham Castle. He stayed here until Neville changed his allegiance in 1470 and took up exile with his brothers in the Low Countries.
Richard’s role in the government of Edward IV
When Edward IV returned to face the Lancastrians in 1471, Richard accompanied him. It is believed that he was a commander in the army that defeated them and regained the crown for his brother. He is documented as having fought at Tewkesbury and was present at the trial and execution of Somerset.
Richard had many titles bestowed upon him once his brother’s reign resumed following the fall for a second time of Henry VI. He was Duke of Gloucester, Great Chamberlain, Lord High Admiral and Lieutenant of the North. These were in addition to titles such as Constable of England, that he had been granted prior to Henry VI briefly regaining the crown.
From 1471 until the latter days of Edward IV’s reign, Richard was responsible for the governance of the North of England. In this capacity he oversaw the safety of the Anglo-Scottish borders and led successful campaigns against the Scots on several occasions. He was commander when Berwick-upon-Tweed fell to English forces.
Richard, Lord Protector
Upon the death of his brother, Richard was named Lord Protector of England. It was his job to act as guardian of Edward V and the realm until Edward was old enough to rule himself. Richard informed the young king of a plot by the Woodville family. Earl Rivers, his nephew and some associates were swiftly arrested on Richard’s orders and taken to Pontefract Castle.
Richard escorted Edward to London. Here Edward’s mother discovered the news of her brothers arrest and fled to Westminster Abbey with her other children for sanctuary. Edward, under Richard’s safekeeping was transferred to the Tower of London’s Royal Apartments: it was traditional for Kings to stay here before their coronation.
On June 16th, Edward’s brother joined him at the Tower of London. Parliament had set the date for Edward’s coronation for 22nd June. The boys could prepare together.
Declaration as King Richard III
Rumours circulated around the court about Edward IV’s marriage. On 22nd June a sermon was preached outside St Paul’s Cathedral. It was a simple sermon. It said that King Edward IV’s marriage was invalid. Edward and his brother, if true, were not next in line for the throne.
A delegation of Lords presented to Richard Duke of Gloucester a petition. This petition stated that the marriage of King Edward IV to Elizabeth Woodville was invalid, due to an existing pre-marital contract with Eleanor Butler. A member of the clergy had testified that this was indeed the case. The petition further suggested that neither King Edward IV nor George Duke of Clarence was born legitimately. The legal ramifications of the statements within the petition were huge. The Lords were stating that Edward V was not actually in line to inherit the throne. Nor was Prince Richard. As a result, the petition asked Richard to take the crown as King of England.
The truth behind the claims is hard to determine accurately. A sermon had been preached several days earlier stating the same allegations. It and the petition from the Lords appear to have been accepted by the nobility and there are no extant records of protestations at this stage. True or invented, Richard accepted the proposal within the petition and became King of England.
Nobles and members of the commons met to discuss matters. They asked Richard to be king. On 26th June he accepted. Parliament confirmed this in an Act. Richard was crowned on 7th July.
Buckingham’s Revolt and the threat of Henry Tudor
Richard faced a rebellion against his rule very soon. The Duke of Buckingham raised an army. In Brittany, Henry Tudor gathered a force together. Tudor set sail but many ships were forced back in rough seas. He himself lay anchor off Plymouth and awaited news of Buckingham’s revolt. The news, for Henry Tudor, was not good. Buckingham’s plot was unravelled quickly. The Duke was captured, found guilty of treason and executed in Salisbury. Henry Tudor fled to France, where he gained the support of the King.
In April 1484 the only legitimate son of Richard III, his heir, Edward of Middleham, died aged six. Richard named a nephew as his heir, then changed the succession to another nephew.
Richard also had to consider the threat that Henry Tudor posed to his rule. Tudor had fled to France upon the failure of Buckinghams revolt. Here, Tudor had set about gathering support. In 1485 Henry Tudor made his move to claim the throne.
Henry Tudor’s campaign and the Battle of Bosworth Field
Tudor set sail from Harfleur in France on 1st August 1485. He had a fleet of 30 ships carrying a force compromised of Englishmen, French and Mercenaries. Exact numbers are not known and estimates vary. Tudors ships landed at Milford Haven in South Wales. Tudor was from this area and was greeted warmly by the locals. Richard had known of Henry’s preparations. He learnt of his landing on 11th August. Messengers were sent around the country calling for the men, who were on alert, to be readied and sent for war with the invading Tudor.
Tudor moved his force slowly through Wales. He rested his men at Shrewsbury and then resumed a steady march into England. His force grew in size as sympathisers joined him. He also had the support of the Stanley family with whom he had communicated from exile.
Richard’s force was gathering at Nottingham. From here they made their way to Leicester. A vantage point called Ambion Hill was chosen as a camp that overlooked the approach of Tudors forces. It offered natural advantages to Richard’s men.
22nd August 1485 the forces of Richard III and Henry Tudor fought the Battle of Bosworth Field. It is estimated that Richard had a force of between 7500 and 12000 men. Tudor is estimated to have had a force of between 5000 and 8000.
Richard III was killed in the Battle (details here). His body was strapped to a horse and taken to Leicester. Here his body was displayed and then placed in a grave in Greyfriars. Greyfriars was demolished during the dissolution of the monasteries and knowledge of the whereabouts of Richard’s grave were lost.
The remains of Richard were found by a team of archaeologists from Leicester University in 2012. Scientific tests proved beyond reasonable doubt that they were the remains of the king. He received a ceremonial burial within Leicester Cathedral in March 2015.
|Henry II||Richard I||King John|
|Henry III||Edward I||Edward II|
|Edward III||Richard II|
|House of Lancaster|
|Henry IV||Henry V||Henry VI|
|House of York|
|Edward IV||Edward V||Richard III|
|Murder of Thomas Becket||Magna Carta||Ten Facts about the Black Death|
|Edward I's Conquest of Wales||Madog ap Llywelyn||Causes of the Peasants Revolt|
|Timeline of the Peasants Revolt|
|Sources and Interpretations|
|Paston Letters||John Rous|
BBC History – brief biography accompanied by video and audio
Richard III Society – Home of the Richard III society. Excellent place to find discussion and debate about Richard’s life and kingship. Rich in scholarly research and up to date interpretations of events.
Leicester University – Leicester University led the search for Richard’s remains. On this website they outline his reign and the scientific and archaeological methods used to find his remains.
History Extra – 6 myths about Richard III.
Future Learn – online learning provided by the University of Leicester. Free course with Certificate of Participation, or an upgrade for ongoing access and resources.
Richard the Third Experience – Museum based in York, largely aimed at school groups. Has a variety of resources available online.
Battles in the Wars of the Roses
First Battle of St. Albans – Battle of Blore Heath – Battle of Ludford Bridge – Battle of Northampton – Battle of Wakefield – Battle of Mortimer’s Cross – Second Battle of St. Albans Battle of Ferrybridge – Battle of Towton – Battle of Hedgeley Moor – Battle of Hexham – Battle of Edgecote Moor – Battle of Losecote Field – Battle of Barnet – Battle of Tewkesbury – Battle of Bosworth – Battle of Stoke Field
Documents, Maps and Evidence
People and periods
British History – The Wars of the Roses – The Plantagenets – The Tudors – King Henry IV – King Henry V – King Henry VI – King Edward IV – King Edward V – King Richard III – King Henry VII – Margaret of Anjou