To what extent did Richard III’s reputation differ in the North from that elsewhere?

Assess the extent to which Richard’s reputation in the north differed from that elsewhere in the country.

Richard acquired a reputation as being a Lord of the North. His governance there created a dominant position over most of the region. His “Good Lordship” created a power base through patronage. Similar ties were not made elsewhere. Loyalties based on reputation were formed and stuck in the north, they were absent in the rest of the realm.

Richard as Lord of the North

With his positions coming from the monarch, Richard had controlled the Council of the North. His acquisition of lands, through grants and marriage, led to control over most of the region. While he was not the only major landowner in the region, the policy of Edward was to allow his brother significant amounts of control. This was a consequence of the recent history of the north. Land disputes had led to feuds. Scottish raids had been frequent, and the economy was weakened. Brooks (1954, page 3) explains that in the north direct ownership or patronage was the route to power and popularity[i]: Richard’s reputation gained the support of the nobility and gentry, resulting in peace and prosperity.

Examples include: The Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland accepted Richard as their superior. The City of York provides evidence of Richard being held in high regard. In 1476 the Mayor and Council stated:

The saide day and tyme by the forsaide Maire and Counsaile it was holie agreed and assented that the Duk of Gloucestre shall for his grete labour of now late made unto the kinges good grace for the conservacion of the liberties of this Citie, that he shalbe presented at his commyng to the citie with vj swannes and vj pikes (City of York[ii])

He was also considered to be fair and just. This is evidenced by his inclusion as executor in wills[iii], a role that requires a degree of authority, patience and fairness.

Much of his reputation in the North is based upon his position. His day to day handling of affairs had boosted the economy, improved administration and brought about fairer dispensation of justice. For example, he established a mayoral system in Scarborough otherwise only matched in larger cities such as London, or Bristol. These issues were not his concern in the South of the country until his accession. As Constable of England and intervened in disputes between Gold merchants. Otherwise, the management of the Southern Shires was the responsibility of other nobles.

London at the time of Richard III
London at the time of Richard III *artist unknown though I believe this to be art held in the Museum of London. Accurate attribution welcomed

Richard III’s reputation in the South

Richard’s reputation in the South was formed by reports of his actions in the North and his military achievements. On the battlefield he was proven, having led the vanguard at Tewkesbury, commanded in France and against the Scots. Victories were noted as was his chivalric approach: his men did not sack cities, he refused to take honours for having fought.

These roles led to a reputation of Gloucester being an excellent leader, a pious man, just, fair but firm. Southern Chroniclers and foreign dignitaries demonstrate the level of high regard that he was held in within Southern England and the Midlands. John Rous called him a good lord and praises his justice[iv]. Dominic Mancini, an Italian dignitary, wrote of Richard’s virtues[v]. William Caxton dedicated a book about Chivalry to Richard[vi].

Rous Roll. Illustration of Richard III portraying him a positive light. Rous later writes negatively abour Richard, influencing his reputation in the early Tudor era

Image of Richard III from the Rous Roll.

The level of respect and high regard shown for Richard was demonstrated whilst on his post coronation progress around the realm. Thomas Langton, Bishop of St. David’s, wrote to the Prior of Canterbury,

“ On my trouth I lykyd never the condicions of ony prince so wel as his; God hathe sent hym to us for the wele of us al …”

As king, Richard held just one Parliament. It is an example of effective law-making. Land disputes from across the country were tackled: The Duchy of Exeter, for example. Francis Bacon later wrote of Richard that he was a “good lawmaker for the ease and solace of the common people.”

Different regional roles of Richard III

Why then is there a suggestion that Richard may have had a better reputation in the North? The nature of Richard’s accession sent shockwaves through the country. He may have had valid arguments about the legitimacy of Edward IV’s children. He may have been the next in line. Richard, however, disrupted the structure through which Edward had managed the south of the country. Here, his reputation counted for nothing. Edward IV’s system of devolved power meant that loyalties in these areas were to other nobles. Richard’s image was that as Lord of and king from the North. Carpenter explains that Richard had been,

“unable to rely on most of the leading gentry in southern England, as servants, retainers or local officers, and there must be serious doubts about the loyalty of many midland gentry.” (Carpenter, p214)

In ousting Hastings, Richard challenged the existing structures. The nobles of the south were willing to risk all in joining Buckingham’s uprising. He then enforced implanted nobility on the south. This harmed his reputation. They were ambivalent toward his cause in the summer of 1485.

A diminished reputation as king?

However, similar problems occurred in the north. Pollard ( noted that, “arguably the Earls of Northumberland and Westmorland were sorely disappointed.” The promotion of the Earl of Lincoln to positions in the north caused tension. Carpenter notes that “there was no relying on the loyalty of men who had been bought.”

This suggests that the reputation of Richard, from the nobility at least, had also suffered. His standing in the south influenced the view of him in the north. Low expectations of his chances of success, caused by his poor reputation and actions in the south, “made Henry a real candidate for the throne and impelled the northern lords to doubt Richard’s ability to win.” (Carpenter, p218) This is supported by Pollard who says of the Bosworth Campaign, “most of the barons absented themselves while less than a quarter fought for Richard III… Colin Richmond suggested that only 6 fought for Richard… while Charles Ross suggested that no less than 20 peers fought for Richard III.” (Pollard, p92)

Richard had no deep-rooted history in the south. It caused a problem for him. Carpenter suggests that, “it revealed to Richard that his brothers powerful network was no longer at his disposal [following Hastings execution] (and that) he would have to build a base of his own… and he did not have a great deal of time to do it.”

This led to a situation in the south in which Richard was well regarded for his victories and law making: but not for his management of local issues, and that is what matters to people. Therefore his reputation is different. In the north the City of York risked lamented his loss, in London, shortly before his death, there were rhymes such as this, written by William Colyngbourne[vii] in circulation:

The Cat, the Rat and Lovel our Dog
Doe rule all England under a Hog

Richard’s reputation suffered posthumously. There were no positive accounts of him published for years after Bosworth: though some were discovered later. Literature, chroniclers and officials reflected the change and portrayed Richard as a usurping, evil man. This culminated in the famous image of Richard III as depicted by Shakespeare. The villainous role was cast and the reputation it gave Richard stuck.

Poster for a 1912 film about Richard III. The film was based on Shakespeare's play which contributed to a bia view and poor reputation of Richard

Richard III and regional reputations: A Conclusion

There is evidence of Richard’s reputation rising and falling in all parts of the country. He was never universally liked or disliked in the north, or anywhere else. His dominance in the north led to loyalties that outlasted him: Henry Percy’s in York murder in April 1489 has been attributed to his failure to support Richard at Bosworth[viii]. Discontent across the country was not just due to his actions, “but also from the resistance of members of Edward IV’s household, loyal to young Edward V.[ix]” That household was based in the south. His repute with them was low. This lends itself to the argument that his reputation was better in the north than elsewhere. Pollard summarises it by saying that, “one might seriously doubt that the first of the wars were in any way a meaningful way a conflict between north and south, it would seem that the last wars, the wars of 1483-87, were more so.”


[i] Brooks (1954, page 3) explains that in the North, power came not through monetary wealth but through patronage and local power. “landowning families of the second rank… attach themselves to greater magnates who could reward good service.” As lordship is a two-way affair, it stands to reason that this second tier align themselves with the better of the great magnates. Gloucester not only held sway over this second tier of nobility but also had the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland accepting his dominance.

[ii] City of York quoted on the Richard III Society website. Retrieved on 13/6/18.

[iii] The Richard III Society cite the example of Sir John Pilkington’s will.

[iv] British Library

[v] Mancini’s text is partially translated by Crowther.


[vii] Richard III Society

[viii] Dr Andy Boyle, private correspondence

[ix] Dawson, I. Quote taken from pre-publication drafts of an A Level textbook distributed to myself by the author.


Bret, D., 2014. The Yorkist Kings and the Wars of the Roses: Part Two: Richard III. 1st ed. London:

Brooks, F., 1954. York and the Council of the North. 1st ed. London: Borthwick.

Carpenter, C., 1997. The Wars of the Roses: Politics and the Constitution in England, C. 1437-1509. Cambridge University Press

City of York. Various Papers.

Crowther, D. 2018. Dominic Mancini and the “Usurpation of Richard III. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 13 June 2018]

Howell, M. 2015. A Meditation on King Richard Iii. Xlibris.

Pollard, AJ. Richard the Third Society. 2018. Governor of the North. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 14 June 2018].

Pollard, AJ. 2013. The Wars of the Roses. Palgrave Macmillan.