Richard III - Encyclopedia

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RICHARD III. (1452-1485), king of England, youngest son of Richard, duke of York, by Cicely Neville, was born at Fotheringhay on the 2nd of October 1452. After the second battle of St Albans in February 1461, his mother sent him with his brother George for safety to Utrecht. They returned in April, and at the coronation of Edward IV. Richard was created duke of Gloucester. As a mere child he had no importance till 1469-1470, when he supported his brother against Warwick, shared his exile and took part in his triumphant return. He distinguished himself at Barnet and Tewkesbury; according to the Lancastrian story, after the latter battle he murdered the young Edward of Wales in cold blood; this is discredited by the authority of Warkworth (Chronicle, p. 18); but Richard may have had a share in Edward's death during the fighting. He cannot be so fully cleared of complicity in the murder of Henry VI., which probably took place at the Tower on the night of the 21-22 of May, when Richard was certainly present there. Richard shared to the full in his brother's prosperity. He had large grants of lands and office, and by marrying Anne (1456-1485), the younger daughter of Warwick, secured a share in the Neville inheritance. This was distasteful to George, duke of Clarence, who was already married to the elder sister, Isabel. The rivalry of the two brothers caused a quarrel which was never appeased. Richard does not, however, seem to have been directly responsible for the death of Clarence in 1478; Sir Thomas More, who is a hostile witness, says that he resisted it openly "howbeit somewhat (as men deemed) more faintly than he that were heartily minded to his wealth." Richard's share of the Neville inheritance was chiefly in the north, and he resided usually at Middleham in Yorkshire. In May 1480 he was made the king's lieutenant-general in the north, and in 1482 commanded a successful invasion of Scotland. His administration was good, and brought him well-deserved popularity. On Edward's death he was kept informed of events in London by William, Lord Hastings, who shared his dislike of the Woodville influence.

On the 29th of April 1483, supported by the duke of Bucking- ,ham, he intercepted his nephew at Stony Stratford and arrested Lord Rivers and Richard Grey, the little king's half-brother. It was in Richard's charge that Edward was brought to London on the 4th of May. Richard was recognized as protector, the Woodville faction was overthrown, and the queen with her younger children took sanctuary at Westminster. For the time the government was carried on in Edward's name, and the 22nd of June was appointed for his coronation. Richard was nevertheless gathering forces and concerting with his friends. In the council there was a party, of whom Hastings and Bishop Morton were the chief, which was loyal to the boy-king. On the 13th of June came the famous scene when Richard appeared suddenly in the council baring his withered arm and accusing Jane Shore and the queen of sorcery; Hastings, Morton and Stanley were arrested and the first-named at once beheaded. A few days later, probably on the 25th of June, Rivers and Grey were executed at Pontefract. On the 22nd of June Dr Shaw was put up to preach at Paul's Cross against the legitimacy of the children of Edward IV. On the 25th a sort of parliament was convened at which Edward's marriage was declared invalid on the ground of his precontract with Eleanor Talbot, and Richard rightful king. Richard, who was not present, accepted the crown with feigned reluctance, and from the following day began his formal reign.

On the 6th of July Richard was crowned at Westminster, and immediately afterwards made a royal progress through the Midlands, on which he was well received. But in spite of its apparent success the usurpation was not popular. Richard's position could not be secure whilst his nephews lived. There seems to be no reasonable doubt that early in August Edward V. and his brother Richard (whom Elizabeth Woodville had been forced to surrender) were murdered by their uncle's orders in the Tower. Attempts have been made to clear Richard's memory. But the report of the princes' death was believed in England at the time, "for which cause king Richard lost the hearts of the people" (Chronicles of London, 191), and it was referred to as a definite fact before the French states-general in January 1484. The general, if vague, dissatisfaction found its expression in Buckingham's rebellion. Richard, however, was fortunate, and the movement collapsed. He met his only parliament in January 1484 with some show of triumph, and deserves credit for the wise intent of its legislation. He could not, however, stay the undercurrent of disaffection, and his ministers, Lovell and Catesby, were unpopular. His position was weakened by the death of his only legitimate son in April 1484. His queen died also a year later (March 16, 1485), and public opinion was scandalized by the rumour that Richard intended to marry his own niece, Elizabeth of York. Thus the feeling in favour of his rival Henry Tudor strengthened. Henry landed at Milford Haven on the 7th of August 1485, and it was with dark forebodings that Richard met him at Bosworth on the 22nd. The defection of the Stanleys decided the day. Richard was killed fighting, courageous at all events. After the battle his body was carried to Leicester, trussed across a horse's back, and buried without honour in the church of the Greyfriars.

Richard was not the villain that his enemies depicted. He had good qualities, both as a man and a ruler, and showed a sound judgment of political needs. Still it is impossible to acquit him of the crime, the popular belief in which was the chief cause of his ruin. He was not a monster; but a typical man in an age of strange contradictions of character, of culture combined with cruelty, and of an emotional temper that was capable of high ends, though unscrupulous of means. Tradition represents Richard as deformed. It seems clear that he had some physical defect, though not so great as has been alleged. John Stow told Buck that old men who remembered Richard described him as in bodily form comely enough. Extant portraits show an intellectual face characteristic of the early Renaissance, but do not indicate any deformity.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. - The chief original authorities are Sir Thomas More's History of Richard III., based on information supplied by Archbishop Morton, and therefore to be accepted with caution; the more trustworthy Continuation of the Croyland Chronicle in Fulman's Scriptores, the History of Polydore Vergil, written in a Tudor spirit; the Chronicle of London (ed. C. L. Kingsford, 1905), and its biased expansion in Fabyan's Chronicle. See also Letters and Papers Illustrative of the Reigns of Richard III. and Henry VII., ed. J. Gairdner, in Rolls Series. Of later accounts those in Stow's Annales (preserving some oral tradition) and George Buck's Richard III. ap. Kennet History of England deserve mention. Horace Walpole attempted a vindication in his Historic Doubts (1768). The best modern account is James Gairdner's Life of Richard III. (2nd ed., 1898). The latest and fullest defence is given in Sir Clements Markham's Richard III., His Life and Character (1906); G. B. Churchill's Richard the Third up to Shakespeare (Palaestra x., 1900) is a valuable digest of material. (C. L. K.)

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