History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.



Medieval Britain

Richard III - A Vindication

by Mick Baker, 10 August 2004. Updated 20 June 2007

Throughout English history, every so often there emerges a figure whose name and reputation becomes blackened by such political intrigue, biased reporting, and general bad press to end up portraying a much-distorted image to generations of readers down the ages.

Tostig Godwinsson (brother of King Harold II) was one such; MacBeth another, but none presented a more enigmatic picture than Richard, duke of Gloucester, who became King Richard III in 1483.

Many people have written about the problems and riddles concerning his perplexing reign, and still there are more unresolved questions than solutions.

The traditional view; as seen through the eyes of playwright William Shakespeare, (who in turn drew largely upon the writings of Sir Thomas More, himself a Tudor apologist and aged only four at the time of Bosworth), presents Richard as the epitome of evil.

Cunning, ambitious, and ruthless, the hunch-backed Richard disposes of rivals without turning a hair, his most heinous crime being the cold-blooded murder of two innocent little boys - his nephews, the orinces in the Tower.

The Ricardian apologists, or revisionists as they are called, see things in an entirely different light. For them Richard was a kindly uncle and a loyal and capable administrator and leader, whom Edward IV appointed as lord protector and entrusted to look after his sons. Popular with the people, Richard represented constancy. No one wanted the instability of a minor on the throne, given the nature of the civil war which had raged since 1455. Woe unto the land whose king is a child.

Recent evidence, uncovered in 2002 in the library of Rouen Cathedral by historian Dr Michael Jones, shed new light on these matters and indicated that Edward IV was almost certainly illegitimate, which meant that Richard III was the last true English king and had a very real claim to the throne.

28 Apr 1441

Birth of Edward (IV), earl of March, son of Cecily Neville and (probably) an archer named Blaybourne (Louis XI was once heard to exclaim: 'His name is not King Edward - everyone knows his name is Blaybourne!'). During the only possible five week period of conception, Edward's 'father', Richard, the third duke of York, was on campaign in Pontoise!

To dispel the rumours, the palace 'spin doctors' suggested that conception had taken place in May 1440, in Yorkshire, but this would have meant an eleven month pregnancy! Edward's christening at Rouen was a very low-key event, taking place in a side chapel with no big celebration. By way of contrast, that of his younger brother Edmund was a huge affair, with the cathedral thrown open for enormous festivities. The suggestion is that such a low-key affair would be quite compatible with an illegitimate birth (see below for further information).

10 Jul 1460

Battle of Northampton: Henry VI captured by the earl of Warwick ('The Kingmaker').

31 Dec 1460

Battle of Wakefield: the third duke of York and Edmund - Richard's father and brother respectively - killed.

2-3 Feb 1461

Edward claims the crown and becomes Edward IV after the Battle of Mortimer's Cross.

17 Feb 1461

Second Battle of St Alban's: Warwick defeated.

4 Mar 1461

Edward IV proclaimed king in London.

29 Mar 1461

Battle of Towton. Yorkists crush Lancastrians.

1 Nov 1461

Richard made duke of Gloucester.

1 May 1464

Edward IV marries Elizabeth Woodville.

Jun 1469

Rebellion of the earl of Warwick.

29 Jul 1469

Battle of Edgecote, near Banbury, Oxfordshire.

17 Oct 1469

Richard, duke of Gloucester made constable of England.

12 Mar 1470

Second rebellion of the earl of Warwick. Battle of Losecote Field. Warwick and George, duke of Clarence, flee and ally themselves to Henry VI.

Sep 1471

Warwick invades with aid from France. Edward IV's authority collapses.

2 Oct 1470

Richard accompanies his brother, Edward IV, into exile. Restoration of King Henry VI.

14 Apr 1471

Battle of Barnet: Warwick killed in defeat.

4 May 1471

Battle of Tewkesbury: Henry VI's son - Edward, prince of Wales killed. Restoration of Edward IV.

21 May 1471

Henry VI murdered in the Tower of London.

Spring 1472

Richard marries Anne Neville, daughter of the late earl of Warwick. He develops his dominance in the north as Warwick's political heir.

29 Aug 1475

Picquingy meeting between Edward IV and Louis XI ends England's invasion of France.

Edward IV

Edward IV was the only War of the Roses commander to win all of his military battles, and was possibly also England's very first Renaissance king. It's thanks to him that the printing press finally arrived in England.


Bill of attainder disbarring George, duke of Clarence, and his offspring from the succession.

18 Feb 1478

George, duke of Clarence, convicted of treason and murdered in the Tower - traditionally by being drowned in a butt of Malmesey wine.

9 Apr 1483

Death of King Edward IV who had appointed his brother, Richard, duke of Gloucester as SOLE protector and guardian of his sons - Edward, prince of Wales and Richard, duke of York. Prince Edward is at Ludlow Castle with his uncle, Earl Rivers, and his half-brother, Lord Richard Grey.

At the news of King Edward's death, his widow Elizabeth, head of the powerful Woodville faction, is dismayed at the amount of power which is vested in Richard and his elimination is planned.

30 Apr 1483

Richard learns of the plot and thwarts the Woodvilles, arresting Rivers, Grey, and Thomas Vaughan and taking Prince Edward into protective custody. After a fair trial they are executed. Queen Elizabeth has sought sanctuary at Westminster, taking her daughters and the nine-year old Richard Duke of York.

4 May 1483

Richard escorts the prince of Wales to London and proceeds with the coronation arrangements.

10 May 1483

The council officially and unanimously confirms Richard as protector of the realm.

19 May 1483

Prince Edward is taken to the palace of the Tower of London to await his coronation. He is to be crowned Edward V on 22 Jun 1483

5 Jun 1483

Richard issues final instructions for the ensuing coronation.

8 Jun 1483

Richard receives a visit from Robert Stillington, bishop of Bath & Wells and Edward IV's lord chancellor. He gives evidence that he had been witness to a pre-marriage contract between Edward IV and Lady Eleanor Butler prior to his 1464 marriage to Elizabeth Woodville.

9 Jun 1483

Stillington repeats his allegation to the lords in parliament, and a report is prepared to place before parliament when it reassembles on 25 June.

The duchess of York and the duke of Buckingham, in light of this evidence, urge Richard to claim the crown for himself. The last thing the country needs is the uncertainty, internecine strife and power-politics which accompany a child as king.

The queen opposes this and, together with Sir William Hastings, Lord Thomas Stanley, and John Morton, bishop of Ely, plots to assassinate Richard.

13 Jun 1483

William Catesby betrays Hastings to Richard and the conspirators are arrested - except the queen, who is still in sanctuary. Hastings is executed but his co-conspirators are released.

16 Jun 1483

Cardinal Bourchier, archbishop of Canterbury, persuades Elizabeth Woodville to surrender her son, Richard, duke of York to join his brother, the prince of Wales, in the Tower. Edward V's coronation has now been postponed to November.

22 Jun 1483

Friar Ralph Shaa, brother of London's lord mayor, preaches an open-air sermon at St Paul's Cross, reiterating the allegations of illegitimacy against the two princes. With King Edward's offspring set aside, and the son of the duke of Clarence disbarred through Clarence's attainder, Richard of Gloucester was the true heir of York and therefore rightful king of England.

Other, lesser preachers are bold enough to resurrect an old scandal, one which the House of York hoped had long since been buried; namely the illegitimacy of Edward IV himself! This was no momentary invention. The scandal had been whispered abroad for years. The court was rife with whispers of an affair.

(The writer Paul Murray Kendall, in his book, Richard III, says that court historian, Dominic Mancini, states categorically that when the duchess of York learned that her son Edward was married to Elizabeth Woodville, she:

...fell into such a frenzy, that she offered to submit to a public enquiry and asserted that Edward was not the offspring of her husband the duke of York, but was conceived in adultery, and therefore in no wise worthy of the honour of kingship.).

In 1477 Clarence, of course, had made use of the story. There is no reason to suppose that Richard considered using this story to blacken the name of his brother, for whom he had the highest regard. (Surely the twisted blackguard of tradition would have grasped such a heaven-sent opportunity to endorse his claim?)

23 Jun 1483

The duke of Buckingham makes a similar speech to a group of eminent London citizens.

25 Jun 1483

Parliament reassembles and upholds allegations of illegitimacy against the royal princes. They offer Richard the crown and he accepts.

6 Jul 1483

Richard is crowned King Richard III and leaves London on his royal progress. The duke of Buckingham remains in London.

29 Jul 1483

Richard is joined in Gloucester by the duke of Buckingham, who is his second in command. There is a serious rift, though no reason is recorded. Neither man ever speaks to the other again. (One is tempted to speculate here on a possible reason, namely that Buckingham - believing that he was doing Richard a favour and, incidentally, paving his own way forward - had actually eliminated the princes before leaving London.)

(Richard could hardly produce them now to confound his accusers and he is unlikely to have been believed if he accused Buckingham).

Rumours are beginning to circulate that the princes have been murdered. There are also rumours that the boys have been transferred to Middleham Castle in Yorkshire.

Oct 1483

Duke of Buckingham goes to his Welsh estates, where Bishop Morton is being held. Buckingham leads a rebellion in support of Henry Tudor, which fails. Buckingham pays the ultimate price. Henry Tudor, who had been hoping to meet Buckingham near Plymouth, retreats without even landing because of the proximity of Richard's forces.

25 Dec 1483

Henry Tudor swears an oath in Rennes Cathedral to take the crown of England and marry Elizabeth of York, the sister of the missing princes.

23 Jan 1484

Parliament passes a statute of Titulus Regius, officially laying out the princes' illegitimacy and Richard III's right to the throne.

March 1484

Elizabeth Woodville emerges from sanctuary with her daughters and is received affably at Richard's court. She writes to her surviving son, Thomas Grey, marquis of Dorset, beseeching him to return from France and... make his peace with Richard... (Would she really have behaved in this manner if she believed Richard to have murdered her sons?)

9 Apr 1484

Richard's only legitimate son and heir, ten year old Edward, prince of Wales, dies. Richard is now the sole legitimate survivor of the House of York. He knights his bastard son, John, and his nephew Edward, earl of Warwick, whom he names heir to the throne.

(With the knowledge of his 'brother' Edward's illegitimacy, if Richard was the character portrayed by the traditionalists, would he really have made Warwick his heir? Surely, he had more to fear now from those who would seek to use this boy as a focal point for rebellion? Edward IV's bill tainting all of Clarence's line would, by definition be much weakened and almost certainly reversed.)

April 1484

Richard now spends most of his time in Nottingham to be prepared for the inevitable invasion force of Henry Tudor. He introduces enlightened legislation, which includes the abolition of 'benevolences', whereby gifts were obliged to be made to the king without the sanction of parliament. As a Northerner himself, Richard has problems with the ever widening 'North/South Divide'.

16 Mar 1485

Death of Richard's wife, Anne Neville. Invasion by Henry Tudor thought to be imminent.

7 Aug 1485

Henry Tudor lands at Milford Haven in south Wales. His army, supported by Welsh chieftains and eventually numbering 5,000, reaches Shrewsbury within a week.

20 Aug 1485

Henry Tudor arrives at Atherstone, eight kilometres from Sutton Cheney, near Market Bosworth. Richard's army numbers some ten thousand and he is relying on being augmented by the forces of Lord Thomas Stanley (two thousand), and Sir William Stanley (three thousand).

Thomas Stanley had previously been imprisoned by Richard for conspiracy, and Lord Stanley was married to Margaret Beaufort, Henry Tudor's mother. Their support, therefore could not be relied upon.

21 Aug 1485

Henry Tudor has a private interview with both Stanleys, attempting to win them over. He is apparently unsuccessful.

22 Aug 1485

Richard sees Henry Tudor riding towards the Stanleys' placement and makes a reckless charge down Ambion Hill. He is unhorsed, surrounded and killed. His body is stripped and tied naked to the back of a horse. It is displayed for two days at Leicester before being buried at the church of Greyfriars. His tomb is later desecrated and his remains scattered in the River Soar. He is the last English king to be killed in battle.


Sorry, the table is not available for this display width. Please try viewing the page in landscape.

The murder of the princes - prime suspects and significant factors
Richard III Henry VII Duke of Buckingham
Richard was named 'Protector of the Realm' and guardian of the princes. He was loyal to his brother, being popular and a good leader. Rumours abounded (in the south) of his having disposed of the princes. See mayor of York on Bosworth. Henry had a very tenuous claim to the throne - so much so that his reign was dogged by pretender after pretender during his reign. Buckingham had a stronger motive than Richard. He was Richard's right-hand man, but it was said that he became very jealous the moment Richard was crowned. He also had a claim to the throne - perhaps even better than Henry Tudor's.
Richard had no need to eliminate the princes, as they were alive after he had been anointed and crowned. They were disbarred through the Act of Illegitimacy. It has been argued that Richard still needed them dead for fear they be used as a focal point of rebellion. Acts of bastardy, just like bills of attainder, can be reversed in parliament.   It has been argued that Richard still needed them dead for fear they be used as a focal point of rebellion. Acts of bastardy, just like bills of attainder, could be reversed in parliament. Buckingham would also have needed the princes dead to pave his own path to the crown.
Richard did not have his other nephew - Edward, earl of Warwick - murdered, who must have been just as big a threat. (see above regarding reversal of parliamentary bills) In fact, in light of common knowledge within court circles with reference to Edward IV's legitimacy, the bill of attainder as applied to Warwick must have been on thin ice, so Richard had more to fear from that quarter. After all, the children of Edward IV were disbarred on two counts now. However, Richard named Clarence's son as his heir on the death of his own son, Edward, Prince of Wales. Henry DID have the earl of Warwick executed on a trumped-up conspiracy charge in 1499, having kept him as a prisoner since Bosworth in 1485.

Henry, in order to marry Elizabeth of York and therefore strengthen his position, had to legitimise her and her brothers, thereby reversing the act of parliament. If they were not already dead, they would very soon have to be! Henry had a much stronger motive for having them killed. He was quite probably unaware of the scandalous story of Edward IV's illegitimacy, otherwise he would not have been too eager to marry into that house! Marriage to the daughter of a bastard was only marginally less damaging than marrying one!
When Buckingham met Richard for their rendezvous at Gloucester, the two men had a furious row and never spoke to each other again. Buckingham rode off to his lands in Brecon, where Bishop Morton was being held. Buckingham had a long conversation with him and then began to plot Richard's downfall, thereby aiding Henry Tudor. The plot failed and Buckingham was executed.
Richard only became king because the pre-contractual marriage agreement between Edward IV and Lady Eleanor Butler rendered the two princes illegitimate, and one must not forget that it was others who brought this news to Richard and persuaded him to go for the crown. However, even if this were a 'put up job', his appointment was ratified by the council. Richard was home and dry by 06.07.1483. Henry was not around in the summer of 1483 when the princes were last seen alive. COMMYNES - At one point he names Buckingham as possible murderer. Other MS which name him as possible murderer are MS Ashmole 1448-60 CHR of Jean Molinet & Historic Notes of a London Citizen (1483-1488).
Richard was ruthless. See his summary execution of Hastings, although given the family history of the Woodvilles and their supporters, it is hardly surprising; not that Hastings was a Woodville sympathiser.

It was impossible for anyone who was not a close associate of Richard's to have the princes killed as they were kept in the tower. However, they may have been killed without his knowledge and in this, Buckingham is the prime suspect.
Primary sources

The official Tudor historian, Polydore Vergil, didn't know how the Princes died. Robert Fabyan (1513) was a cloth-merchant who liked colourful stories. John Rous, a chantry priest at Warwick wrote in detail of Richard's supposed deformities, and Sir Thomas More (1513) gave even more 'detail' of Richard's physical defects, evil personality and absolute ruthlessness.
If Buckingham WAS the guilty party it would explain a lot. Richard could hardly produce the princes if Buckingham had murdered them. If Richard blamed Buckingham for their deaths, people would not believe him. Perhaps this was the cause of the major rift between the two men? By the time rumours began to be noised abroad Buckingham had already been executed. In this scenario it was better for Richard to keep quiet.
Court historian, Dominic Mancini, reported the worry of the people. Nicholas von Popellau, a wealthy German visitor who met Richard, described him as being 'three fingers taller than myself and much slimmer, with delicate arms and legs and also a great heart'. There was no mention in The Croydon Chronicle of the deaths of the princes, only that 'Bosworth avenged their cause'. One would have expected some kind of reference if they were dead. Tudor propaganda is responsible for blackening the name of Richard III. Paintings were re-touched to indicate misshapen deformity (1530). (How could Richard have ridden into battle wearing armour if he was that deformed?) Sir Thomas More, Richard's main detractor, was only aged four at the time of Bosworth, but was brought up in the home of none other than Richard's arch-enemy, Archbishop John Morton! It does not take too great a leap of faith to speculate that More's later picture of Richard had been coloured by Morton's prejudiced briefing. More was also writing a history which was favourable to his masters - the Tudors. Archaeologival evidence: the bones

1) Bones of an ape discovered in (?), and accorded royal status!

2) Bones of two children discovered c.1640, behind a wall in a passage not far from the royal rooms.

3) Bones of two children discovered in 1674 in the oldest part of the Tower, dumped on a rubbish tip and then re-interred in an urn at Westminster. The bones were found at a depth of three metres in an area of the Tower used for a thousand years by the time of Richard's reign. Archaeologists find Roman remains at 1.8 metres!
However, why did Richard not produce the princes and thereby clear his name when the rumours started?

1) They may have been killed by someone else, as stated elsewhere, in which case he couldn't.

2) If he blamed someone else, no-one in the south would believe him.

3) One theory stated that Edward had died of natural causes [hence why no-one in later years appeared pretending to be him] but people would never have believed that either.

4) If, on the other hand Richard had secretly spirited his nephews out of the country, he would have nothing to gain by telling people where they were, as this would again bring them into the limelight and make them focal points for any disgruntled gentleman with a grievance. Far better to keep the people guessing. He had little to fear from these boys now, as they were no longer a threat to him on two counts.

Elizabeth of York wrote a letter to Richard
(according to Sir George Buck) in which she writes that she is 'Richard's in heart and in body and in soul'. Would she have written this to her brothers' murderer?

Why did Elizabeth Woodville entrust her daughters to Richard's keeping, and request her son, the marquis of Dorset, to desert Henry for Richard? Why did she aid the proposed marriage of her daughter Elizabeth of York to Richard if she believed him guilty?
Questions to be put to Henry Tudor - if only!

1) Why did Henry not accuse Richard directly of the murder of the princes in his act of attainder following his accession in 1485? All there seems to be is a vague allusion to 'the shedding of innocents' blood'.

2) Why did he not enquire closely into the disappearance of the princes? It was the least he could do on behalf of his wife, the boys' sister.

3) If the princes were dead, why did Henry not search out their bodies and display them as proof?

4) How does one account for Henry's generosity to Sir James Tyrell, Miles Forest, and John Dighton - the alleged murderers? Each was given land, money and official jobs.

5) Why did Henry not publicise the alleged 'confession' of Sir James Tyrell immediately (given under torture just before Tyrell's execution on another charge in 1502). There was no public repeat of the confession on the scaffold as Henry had hoped. Tyrell's 'confession' just slipped into the public consciousness after an unspecified time.

6) And why were no prayers requested by Sir James's family? - an unthinkable omission if he were really guilty.










Cunningham, Sean - Richard III - A Royal Enigma

Drewitt, Richard & Readhead, Mark - The Trial of Richard III

Fields, Bertram - Royal Blood - King Richard III and the Mystery of the Princes

Gill, Louise - Richard III and Buckingham's Rebellion

Gillingham, John - Richard III - A Medieval Kingship

Jenkins, Elizabeth - The Princes in the Tower

Kendall, Paul Murray - Richard III

Macalpine, Joan - The Shadow of the Tower

Pollard, Anthony J - Richard III and the Princes in the Tower

Potter, Jeremy - Good King Richard?

Stanyon, Annie - Prove It! - Investigations in History

Weir, Alison - The Princes in the Tower

Other sources

Bennett, Michael S - Richard III On Trial For Murder, a short play containing only three characters

Bennett, Michael S, Baker, Michael D, and Horeckji, Andrew - The Trial of Richard III - an expanded version of the original play containing nine or ten characters, performed five times between 2013 and 2016 to great acclaim

Britain's Real Monarch, featuring new evidence discovered by Professor Michael Jones on the subject of Edward IV's legitimacy - presented by Tony Robinson for Channel 4 on 3 January 2004



Text copyright © Mick Baker. An original feature for the History Files.